Style Does Not Equal Fart
While listening to Stefan Sagmeister talk at this years HOW Conference I was shocked to hear him say that he did not believe in Style=Fart anymore. He said this, and then went right on with his presentation. Most people don’t just put their philosophy on promotional material, on the National AIGA Conference poster, carve it into their chest and then change their mind. In my mind this was similar to the moment in history that Jan Tschihold abandoned the New Typography. Or was it? I asked Stefan about this switch in philosophy and he was kind enough to respond by saying:
“I just found that the utilization of good or appropriate style can be very important in communicating content. So I started to take it more seriously.
I still don’t like stylish pieces that have nothing to say (in the same way I don’t appreciate well dressed people with nothing to say).
But if dressing well gets you heard, why not do it?”
This answered most of my questions. Looking at Stefan’s work, I’m not sure that it has changed drastically from his style=fart days. The difference that I do see is that he seems to not try so hard to make things appear ugly or undesigned.
At the conference I also went to hear Matt Mattus talk. He shared a multitude of places to gain inspiration and trends from. It was all fascinating, and dare I say inspiring? Reflecting on the session I couldn’t help but to think of the practical application (or lack there of) of these trends. Matt was showing us trends. Style without content. If I worked in toy design or fashion this would be very useful. Most of the clients I work with don’t have the budget or need to change their look every season. So where does style fit within the everyday world of the average graphic designer? Very carefully and in the back of the mind, in my opinion.
I know that I am not saying anything drastically new here, but I think it is a poignant time to look back on what style means to the designer. We now have a healthy distance between us and the over-styled pieces of the ’90s. Is there a place in the profession for firms to have a unique style? Will firms like CSA still be relevant in the years to come if they don’t start focusing more on function rather than cool surface appearance? Is it OK for CSA to keep rehashing the same style since they serve as more of an illustrator rather than a corporate design firm?
If Stefan believes in style then who is against it? Is there even such a thing as being against style? If you try to make your work look un-styled, isn’t that a style in and of itself? Should we all just embrace style and use it gracefully? I know I am asking more questions than giving answers, but the issues of style are very significant to the designer. The form/function discussion is as old as our profession but a topic worth visiting again and again.
I will end with some quotes on style.
“Style is viewed by many as a shallow obsession with disembodied surfaces. However, our activity as designers are based on style’s function as a cultural communicator.” Anne Burdick, Neomania: Feeding The Monster, Emigre no. 24, 1992
“As graphic designers, we are not necessarily predisposed to chase after fads, those who do are participants in (victims of and party to) a hegemonical social condition whose pressures are compounded by the design establishment’s system of rhetoric and rewards.” Anne Burdick, Neomania: Feeding The Monster, Emigre no. 24, 1992
“What resonates even today is the assumption that what we do during our working lives is a succession of tricks pulled from a bag filled with stuff of our own, mixed willy-nilly with that we’ve borrowed from others; and that we grab our gambits and gimmicks based on whatever’s hot, or not, at the moment.” Dugald Stermer, The Curse of the New, AIGA Journal of Graphic Design, vol. 10, no. 3, 1992
“Ugliness as a tool, a weapon, even as a code is not a problem when it is a result of form following function. But ugliness as its won virtue - or as a knee-jerk reaction to the status quo - diminishes all design” Steven Heller, Cult of the Ugly, Eye no. 9, vol. 3, 1993
“Design is an art of planning. A problem is presented, a conceptual blueprint is formed in response, a solution is achieved. Style is a matter of appearance - the way something looks or feels.” Paula Scher, Make It Bigger, 2002
“On the other side were those (including Sagmeister) who felt that design driven by style (for instance, Brody-esque in the 1980s, Carson-esque in the 1990s) was vacuous. Hence the prominent Sagmeister slogan. style=fart.” Peter Hall, Sagmeister, 2001
“The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.” Bob Dylan