Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

My taste is why my work disappoints me

October 19, 2011, 7:37 AM

A thought-provoking piece, something that should probably be read as a mantra each morning, titled “Your taste is why your work disappoints you”:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have that special think that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one story. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just gotta fight your way through.
— Ira Glass

In short, there is no easy way out. You have to sweat over everything you do if you want it to be any good. Of course, you need talent just to have a real chance of getting somewhere in what you’re doing, but that will only get you as far as ‘decent’ — you need perseverance to make it to the ‘good’ section. And, with a bit of luck, you might even see a glimpse of ‘great’.

It felt like a small epiphany reading this — too often I’ve found myself unhappy with my work. I’ve always thought that a good way of learning is to watch others how they do it. And it was, for me at least. I would often surprise my college friends by being able to work in their style after watching them do just one or two drawings. But watching is not enough. It can break the ice for you, but if you want to make it to the shore, you’re on your own, with no one to help you. You have to go through it alone, fighting your own damned self. Beacons (mentors, colleagues, other sources of inspiration) might guide you awhile now and then, but most of the time, you’re in the dark, swimming for your very soul. You do get better with age if you keep going, but your best chance is to barely make it to the shore when you die. Any other way is just Sirens fucking with your mind. If you ever think “It’s easy, I know how to do this”, they’ve probably got you.

You do get better with age if you keep going, but your best chance is to barely make it to the shore when you die. Any other way is just Sirens fucking with your mind.

The quote is a transcript from a video interview with Glass, the “On Taste…” part. You can watch it here on Youtube. Via Untitled Mag, Kottke.



On creative “un-aired” gems and Russell Brand’s jaw-dropping skills

December 18, 2010, 1:03 AM

Any creative — whether they’re a musician, actor, architect, designer or any other — can tell you that, more often than not, the best things they come up with never get published. And the more commercially you’re involved, the worse it gets. Lone-wolf-like artists might get away with it from time to time, since they’re supposed to be working for their own ego, pleasure, spirit or whatever you want to call it. Or at least that’s the theory. In real life however, even Balzac had to “write” off his debts from time to time.

As a designer, I’ve seen plenty of great ideas that never got out of the agency (“pitching” inside the team is a great way to keep the creative fire burning, but it can lead to frustration sometimes, especially when you’re doing it between more than three good designers), or lost to other lesser ideas due to client’s uninspired choices — unfortunately, we’re not Paul Rand to present just one idea. So by the time you’ve been in the business for a few years, I bet you’ll have quite a collection of great ideas that “never made it”, one reason or the another.

Now, I’ve disliked Russell Brand from the first time I saw him. It was pretty much obvious: a “oh-look-at-my-pretty-hair” attention-whore that probably spent more time in front of the mirror than his girlfriend, the kind of guy that doesn’t have any kind of decency and respect for anything except for his own self-centered ego — thus, the perfect show host, the kind of celebrity two-dime tabloid journalists would not have to invent stories about, they’d have plenty each week. The successful kind.

Having such a good opinion on Mr. Brand (oh, the irony), it was only out of boredom that I watched “Get Him to the Greek“. Even if Russell seemed to just be playing his own self, not a fictional character, I did enjoy the movie. A good popcorn one, not great like “The Hangover“, but still enjoyable enough.

So, cutting it short, I definitely wasn’t prepared for the following effortless, jaw-dropping proof of uncanny acting talent from Russell. This is a raw, behind-the-scene gem, and I doubt that his finished-film performance will top this. Here are the details about how and why we have the pleasure of seeing this:

Famous for his onscreen improvising, Russell Brand has to stick to the Shakespearean text in Julie Taymor’s film The Tempest, where he plays the jester Trinculo. Still, an antic comedian like Brand needs some sort of outlet for his verbal flights of fancy, and so it is that when Taymor asked Brand to expound on his character during rehearsals, he responded with a dizzying, dazzling monologue delivered in character for almost five minutes. Vulture’s got exclusive video of the moment, which rendered Brand’s co-star Alfred Molina practically speechless.

But enough ranting, just see for yourself:

No need to tell you that I’m really looking forward to watching this film, first of all because of Alfred Molina’s class, but now also hoping to see some of the above Russell Brand “magic” in the actual, published film. Being an american one, however, my hopes aren’t very high — American films are so much like “design by commitee” projects.


Since we’re on the subject, there’s another great British actor that’s usually underrated, Tim Roth. These days he’s ‘conducting’ a TV series called “Lie to Me“, which is already in its third season. He plays the role of a specialist in reaching the truth through applied psychology: interpreting micro-expressions, through the Facial Action Coding System, and body language. I know, sounds boring, but, believe me, you’ve rarely seen such a high-class performance in a TV series (the way Tim walks, tilts his head, grins — all in character — is simply wonderful). Here’s a third’s season poster, as an apetizer:

If you need any more proof that Russell Brand is a smart fellow underneath all that show that he puts on, watch this BBC interview with Jeremy Paxton: Paxman quizzes Russell Brand on the cult of celebrity.


• Russel Brand video via Joshua Blankenship, from NY Mag;
• Thanks Peter for the BBC interview.