To begin, its worth mentioning that I frequent the very websites I am complaining about, I have served as a blog editor, but I still believe in the romance of personal discovery. I like finding things for myself, sifting through used books, discovering music, trolling antique shops. I love the idea of vernacular, naiveté, and context – I love knowing there are people and crafts and reasons and wonderful mistakes behind the art we’ve the pleasure to experience.
As the internet has continued to (cough) mature, we find ourselves inundated with imagery, music, tweets, kitteh videos, good news, bad news, opinion parading as news, and an absolutely endless, dizzying, spell-binding array of mental traffic. As my good buddy Ben Pieratt recently put it, “endless scrolls make me feel agoraphobic.”
This sense of limitless imagery and information can make one feel daunted, if not paranoid – as if we’re missing out if we don’t see everything that’s made available to see. I take particular issue with image bookmarking services, which have devalued content in favor of this static. I frequently click images I like to find myself on another blog, another page with more blind reference imagery, or a tumblr with some serialized image title and a date – I simply cannot find the artist responsible for the work. The internet is rather fleeting as it stands, and we’re walking through a fog of stylized imagery devoid of artists, explanations, and history.
We no longer seek out the portfolios of incredibly talented illustrators and designers, writers or filmmakers, but the convenience of aggregated, often dodgy, mass sourcing. We rarely discover inspirations for ourselves because we’re busy letting others do it for us. To what degree do the tastes of the masses dictate what content editors choose, and inversely, will designers/illustrators create imagery to appease these editors? Will artists avoid experimentation at the risk of popular scrutiny?
Its a bit dramatic, sure, but as our industry continues giving itself to the masses – popular polling, crowd sourcing, design-by-committee, don’t-worry-my-cousin-knows-photoshop – I don’t want to have to think about the further homogenization of imaginations and the commercial systematization of our media. Instead of telling new visual stories, or codifying new ways of seeing or representing things, we’ll be commercially relegated to the fastest most efficient way of saying something as dictated by visual metrics combed from popular image pools that never credited the right person in the first place.
Anyway, the internet is equal parts pro and con, but there are certainly times where it feels like a big booby-trap. Would love to hear what our peers felt about the issue. Back to my tabbed browsing sesh!
Mario Hugo is a New York based artist, designer, and one half of the creative management agency Hugo & Marie. Though he spends an inordinate amount of time in front of his computer, he still feels most honest with a pencil and two or more sheets of paper. www.mariohugo.com
I couldn’t agree more. This has been the main topic of most of my recent conversations with fellow designers. We were debating about the risk that this new tendency of image gobbling has on future generation of designers.
A few of our colleagues, who have been teachers for quite a few years now, commented on how their new students, upon being asked for home assignments, would return to class with a piece of work that conveniently resembled yesterday’s most bookmarked image on your ffffavourite site. Worse even, when they were asked why did they choose to imitate that designer, they actually didn’t have a clue who was the originator of that piece.
It’s also a little bit scary knowing that this is the first post I ever read about the topic. Or maybe I don’t read enough blogs…
As long as you have the means and time to source the content then what’s wrong with aggregation (of any type)?
Back in the day a similar process would happen with the “popular” pages/designers sharing links with each other to raise their heads in a sea of online portfolios. (Where getting your foot in the door was much more difficult.)
I for one prefer grabbing feeds from all over the globe and saving them as a meta-tagged archive. The best work can be dragged and dropped to a local archive of inspirational images that are named automatically with the original artist’s URL. I may well then re-share this content at a later date as some sort of homage to the original creators. It’s the digital equivalent of a scrapbook, the only homogenization comes with lacking the enthusiasm to search beyond the obvious.
Hey Mario! I went to your AIGA Lecture earlier this year… Love your work! Anyway… This has also been on my mind and on many of my friends/peers’ minds too. I think it’s also contributing to all the sameness out there, and it relates to a previous “It’s Nice That” discussion called “Blog Blackout.” Everything is just becoming about style, since thats what blogs and image bookmarking promote: Looks but no brains, no context, no concept. It’s all about the style of it; certain typefaces, certain color palette, certain use of geometric forms, certain type of photography, certain grids, certain minimalism, etc. Right now I feel like EVERYTHING out there looks the same, I think its because it has become obvious what type of design is more popular in blogs and in image bookmarking sites, and now designer’s have made appearing in one of those sites their ultimate goal, so they design towards that audience. I think I was also becoming one of them. Right now I’m taking a step back from design blogs, and re-evaluating myself as a designer. It really got to me, and I’m really disappointed right now, but hopefully it will pass and I will find myself again and feel comfortable in my own designer skin, instead of wanting to design like everyone else out there. It’s pretty and all, but its boring!
Hey Jono, I agree to you that as long as there would be proper sourcing for every image that anyone drags and drops on their preferred folder, everything would be fine (and the only problem there is laziness). But you gotta agree that sites like ffffound do not exactly act in favor of deep investigation (they’re pretty much best friends with laziness). They are promoting the image by itself which yes, it is powerful and important, but it is missing a great deal behind it: the idea. And sadly, the meta-data you mention not always does (or can) hold the proper information regarding author, project, origins, etc. And as Hugo says I sometimes simply cannot find the artist responsible for the work behind that image, which comes from and endless tail of links.
I think the debate here is that we have to be careful with what kind of design exploration, sourcing and investigation we promote, because that laziness you talk about (even if you avoid falling for it) will end up affecting us all.
All these websites that aggregate visual inspiration deal almost exclusively with the high impact kind of inspiration. People respond to high impact. In music, in sports, in food, and in art. And there’s definitely a higher amount of these kinds aggregators out there. But anyone who’s work is derived solely from this form of research isn’t producing anything new.
They have a job to do and they like the fact that they don’t have to go very far to find a “good enough” solution to their problem. The reality of the situation is that there are designers out there who are not trying to produce anything new and are completely content skimming the surface for design inspiration.
Surface skimming is a by product of the information age. When everyone has access to everything, everyone sees the same things, everyone starts producing the same things. Things look the same, act the same, smell the same… and things start to SEEM like they’re not as good as they used to be.
Things like crowd-sourcing, popular polling and the like will never be able to replace those individuals and institutions that have the skill, the eye and are truly committed to their cause. I’d trust one person who knows what they’re talking about over 1000 people who don’t know shit, any day.
If one thing still reigns true today it’s that If you want to be successful at anything, you can not continue to do the same things that everyone else is doing. You have to dig deeper. You have to work harder. You have to be more committed.
Totally agreed, boroughbaby – this particular tendency shouldn’t affect the truest out there – it could add a lot of value to the best new ideas. I still worry about statisticians, and its still a travesty that with infinite access, this particular global village seems to bent on beating good ideas to death. ;)
Thanks Maristella! Flattered!
not so sure about that. first off, I don’t use fffound as a primary source of inspiration. it’s one of many. and though it’s annoying when i can’t trace an image back to its source to try to track down the root of an idea, just seeing an image or idea that is new to me is really useful.
second — i can tell the difference between a new idea and something that’s been repeated a million times. in fact ffffound is a great way to see things like ‘oh! large type helvetica posters are totally overdone! not going to make one of those!’
finally, really. it’s an aggregator. it’s not curated. if you want to see great new art with all of the proper citations, go to a gallery. ffffound does a great job of what it does.
I don’t believe it is different than it ever was. The reality is there are those that let the ‘media’ choose for them and influence their take on things and that has existed before the prevalence of these image aggregators. It takes a greater effort to dig deeper within any ‘culture’, whether it’s art, design, music or fashion (or any others) and get past the facade and hype.
Style is so easily copied that what differentiates great ‘art’ is concept and context. Fortunately, it’s really easy to scan through and skip over work that lacks substance. A lot of work out there tries way too hard to be pretty and grab attention, just for attentions (or praise from peers) sake.
At the end of the day it is the same as it ever was, maybe just a little more pronounced due to the ability to ‘share’ any type of content digitally.
The problem really goes back to the people who choose style/hype over content/substance and therefore allow it to propagate. What’s beautiful about this though is that it allows the ‘underground’ to thrive in contrast, something for those who dig a little deeper, work a little harder and sharpen their perception.
Reserves, Jsnuggle – agreed, but I think the value of dropular/ffffound/buamai lies primarily in visual anthropology. Obviously, aggregations of information have value and have existed before, and I’m confident honest talent will continue to rise to the top. I am, however, concerned about the nature of this particular aggregation, and the problem doesn’t all lie with the trend hopping designer, but with a future of clients with a bottom-up mentality and a mineable database of visual information.
This is a really interesting article for a number of reasons. I agree that it is a concern that our inspiration sources are narrowing, without a perspective on the past. I added a post to our blog a few days ago about Recollection, an online inventory of Australian graphic design produced in a period circa 1960–1980. In a time where our discipline seems to be so heavily influenced by the next big idea; or whatever rises to the top of everyone’s favourite visual bookmarking blogs, it’s inspiring to see such refined and enduring work from a refreshingly less digital, not so distant past. See http://www.recollection.com.au/
Mario. Yes. Yes. Yes. I share your ambivalence about this. I depend upon the web but I also find myself despising it at times for the same reasons you mention. Particularly, the trend toward frequency and volume. Your thought touches on something I think most people are sensing- the overload not just of available information, but also the individual compulsion to create and consume more information. Anyone working in a web-related field, not to mention news and entertainment media (and, as you point out, design), likely spends the majority of their time with an anxiety fueled by trying to simply keep up. I’d love to see some critical mass gained in rejecting this trend (I wrote about this in a recent blog post: http://www.newfangled.com/questioning_the_value_of_online_content). We need to prioritize value, not just volume.
Yes, the homogenization of tastes is surely a tragic thing. The boundless internet is expanding, and our tiny attention spans are shrinking, meaning it’s easier than ever to be spoon-fed and stripped of your autonomy.
Reading this was like confiding an anxious concern with a friend to find they feel the same way. I HATE the feeling that I’m missing out on something, light forays into the interweb often spiral into multi-tabbed sessions like Mario points out!
That we have such a multitude of portals to inspiration is wonderful but on the other
hand it can present a quite unhealthy way to consume culture. Like a glutton at a banquet, we’re not likely to appreciate the subtleties of each dish if we go around trying to gobble everything!
“Things like crowd-sourcing, popular polling and the like will never be able to replace those individuals and institutions that have the skill, the eye and are truly committed to their cause. I’d trust one person who knows what they’re talking about over 1000 people who don’t know shit, any day.” – boroughbaby
Crowd-sourcing, popular polling is ALREADY replacing design individuals/institutions. Arguably the most culturally resonant company in the world, Google, “designs” by statistics. Numbers dictate the form of each of its products, because numbers are easier (for Google) to trust—cold hard math is at the heart of its business. Perhaps justifiably. Now count the blurring steps between dropular/ffffound/buamai and google.
I teach on the Foundation course at Leeds College of Art. After completing an extensive diagnostic program, from a year group of 250 students, 108 have opted to specialise in the Graphics, Illustration and Digital Media area, with just 25 choosing the 3D Craft specialisation. We have one student aspiring to study on an Architecture degree and nearly 70 expressing an interest in Illustration. Of course, our hope is that with further understanding of contemporary design practice their interests and aspirations will diversify, but it is a concern of mine. The internet has effected the education of design students dramatically. Inspiration drawn from the astounding work of established creatives can be a great motivator, but so prevalent is design culture on-line, it is begging to bamboozle some students beyond even picking up a pencil.
i understand the frustration here. and must admit i’m as guilty of this as i’m sure many of us are. in fact, to read this article i used a Readability bookmarklet so I could view the words how I wanted to. Design for the web is a part of this ever changing and growing aspect. Most sites I read through an RSS reader so I never even see their design, couldn’t tell you who did it or any of that.
This is the problem with the internet. I often get annoyed with myself for wasting hours just ‘browsing’. It’s really easy to loose an hour or so going from link to link to link, with nothing to show for it at the end.
But really, it’s up to you to decide what is useful and where you find inspiration.
Ffffound is a great site if used correctly, I’ve come across some great imagery and artists/designers that I wouldn’t have found otherwise, but that’s not to say that this is my main port of call for inspiration.
There are parts of this article that I do agree with. One thing that I agree with is the problem with designers not getting credit when work is posted over and over. A couple of times I have been excited to spot my own work on a blog but I receive no credit because my name is not on it. But as mentioned in other topics these websites give us the opportunities to see work that we probably would have never seen if not posted on a blog.
“We rarely discover inspirations for ourselves because we’re busy letting others do it for us” – How is this any different than our one friend who was onto Nirvana way before us?
Discovery can be accidental or it can be pursued. Yes you can spend hours offline, traveling the globe searching for inspiration, but will that really have an effect on your own work? In school the issue is students are never given proper opportunities that reward or encourage original thinking. Very little at best. I know, as one class during my schooling helped me begin to process everything I had ever experienced, thought or wanted to say. And it wasn’t a design class.
And I don’t think you have to worry about complete homogenization Mario. There will always be pockets where non-conforming subcultures pop up or exist. Though the article is a curiously manic in that this is the way its always been. Punk became pop. Indie became mainstream (almost). There will always be something to replace it.
‘Inspiration in the age of digital aggregation’. Me, bastardising Benjamin.
ffffound.com and dropular.net are, currently, the predominant source of inspiration for the design industries. Old methods will still be used, some will still troll, but the majority will use these peer aggregated services, exactly because the majority are using them:
They are forging the pop-commercial visual language. To compete commercially, designers are having to use them. It’s bubble up trickle down in overdrive. A bun fight on a bandwagon to use modify the latest meme.
But there is hope says Dr Kate Blackmon via guardian.co.uk: ‘the future is not about crowdsourcing but crowd filtering’ and I couldn’t agree more, because the quantity that comes via these services is becoming unmanageable and unsustainable.
How this crowd filtering will come about I don’t know, but sites like It’s Nice That are surely our greatest hope:
Groups of recognisable individuals who personally curate personally found and aggregated content through a consistent and digestible outlet.
Not clever algorithms fuelled by click happy cool kids following the same 100 blogs like a möbius strip of incestuous ‘I found it first’ one-upmanship.
OK, so I’m getting a bit ranty. I should explain my real frustration with socially aggregated content:
Reference / Context – meaning the images posted on some of these sites are orphaned without links back to where they came, and without credit given to the original creator, a process that results in any kudos falling on the scavenger.
So while I agree to the internet being equal parts pro and con in general, I can see nothing but con in those individuals who do not give or make attempt to directly reference original sources.
That’s what’s ffff*cked up.
PS. Hats off again to http://flickfindr.info for helping battle the reference rot happening to Flickr accounts.