Why Bad Design Is Good for the Soul – Part 1

Midway through getting my BFA, the school administrators began discussing a shift away from the conservatory model. Instead of putting students in space and resource-intensive studio classes, the faculty would lecture and assign “conceptual homework.”

Less getting our hands dirty. More intellectual gymnastics.

Perhaps they believed that if our conceptual skills were strong enough, the physical skills would fall into place (plus you can fit more tuition paying students into a lecture hall than you can a wood shop or a painting studio).

I saw it as a giant leap in the wrong direction. As my father likes to say “architects should be forced to live in the buildings they design.”

“architects should be forced to live in the buildings they design.”

For him, it’s a passive criticism of structures that look beautiful, but fail to function properly – usually due to a disconnect between the physical and conceptual realms of design.

For me, as a marketer, it’s an admonition to test ideas in the real world. A campaign can be conceptually elegant and creative, but fail to draw in enough buyers to justify the expense.

And in defense of architects, I’m sure they would love to have a couple million dollars in the budget to “test” the structure – it just isn’t realistic. Of course, the failure can be pretty catastrophic, like the infamous Tacoma Narrows bridge incident (aka “Galloping Gertie” – see video).

A flawless design is a marvel to behold and a bad design can teach you valuable secrets and reveal rare insights. If you’re hungry to learn.

A bad design is an opportunity to humble yourself, whether you’re the designer or an unfortunate victim at the mercy of someone else’s “mistake.”

People are brilliant at finding fault. But could you really have done it better? Be honest – give yourself a budget and a deadline, and a board of directors breathing down your neck – is your version still better?

It’s easy for me to stand on the shoulders of the man or woman who designed the thing I’m whining about.

As a designer, are you willing to be the thank-less shoulders, not just the joker with his head in the clouds?

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