Brian Feeney

Designer & Front-End Developer

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Resident of Brooklyn, NY. Senior Product Designer at the Wall Street Journal.

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April 15, 2012

Getting Those Hyperbolic Design Talk Blues

Mattan Griffel:

Very quickly, society is becoming divided into two groups: those that understand how to code and therefore manipulate the very structure of the world around them, and those that don’t – those whose lives are being designed and directed by those that do know how to code.

The surface impression I get from statements like these is that designers/developers are often too self-important. For the last ten years, I've been reading "serious" designers like Michael Beirut and Steven Heller and other Design Observer type folk, and the assumption that so many of them make is that design has as much power as money or political status. I don't think it does. But I do understand the idea.

Yes, one of the functions of design (especially product design) is to control the behavior of the user, but it does so passively. Literally passively.

I understand what Mattan is saying. As technology becomes more and more virtual, i.e. Web based, those who can code have more control. Just like city planners have control over city dwellers, and interior decorators have control over people in their own living rooms. But it is incredibly hyperbolic to say that entire lives are "being designed and directed" by someone typing letters into text editors.

I think it comes down to the fact that we don't yet have a very clear way of talking about how design is affecting our lives in 2012. Part of the conversation around the New Aesthetic is questioning whether or not it actually is a thing (I'm not yet convinced.) because the idea is so vague. Computer generated data and art can look really strange or it might look incredibly analogue. Skueomorphism is a thing because transitioning from landline telephones and paper address books into digital versions is difficult for many people. By the time we get to 2020, we will have integrated a lot more internet-connected products into our daily lives. Slowly but surely we will adapt. It will all become normal. Or the rapid pace of change will start to feel normal.

Do I think it's important people learn to code? Designers should learn how to code. CEOs of technology start ups should know something about coding. But everyday "normal people" (as Marco would say) don't need to know any more about coding than they do about farming. They get their apps the same way they've been getting their hamburger for decades.

I could probably write an entire article on the hyperbolic, self-inflated talk of some design writing, and I might, but what I really want to say right now is: Chill. Technology is pretty awesome at the moment, but we're still living in a physical world. Let's not lose sight of that.