is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
It was a charming idea for The New York Times Magazine to commission nine prominent graphic designers to design posters for one of the nine Democratic candidates vying for the presidential nomination, but charming is exactly the problem. Each designer drew a candidate’s name from a hat, so there was no deliberate synergy in politics or artistic temperament, which may explain why most all of these posters are so flat and lifeless, but it doesn’t explain why, first of all, almost none of these designers really bothered to address the central challenge of the exercise, and second, why a disproportionately high number are all drawn from the same source.
When Wit Won’t Work
For the first criticism, I have to say that I was plainly disappointed to see that these designers had either so little interest or so much contempt for the challenge of making political issues understandable, palatable or interesting to voters that they chose instead to indulge their own wittiness. I’m a big advocate of injecting wit into design whenever possible, but not at the expense of solving as urgent a communication problem as this — or even to communicate something in and of itself — which is a trade that almost all of these posters make.
None of them could be used on the campaign trail, not even Brian Collins’s poster for Carol Moseley Braun, one of the only exceptions to the tomfoolery that actually says something compelling about its subject. By and large, these designs completely fail to step up to the plate and take on the thorny, unwieldy, complicated matter of turning a political agenda into reality. One suspects that these design luminaries would be much more comfortable selling toothpaste.
Talk Amongst Yourselves
Beyond this failure to step up to the plate, I’m just completely dumbfounded by the two overt references to the work of Milton Glaser — one by the James Victore and the other by Number 17 — this in spite of the fact that Mr. Glaser himself is a participant in this same design exercise. It’s a remarkable exhibition of the shortsightedness of most designers that fully one-third of these posters are drawn from the work of one man, no matter how formidable a legend he is. It’s also somewhat sad proof that when given a choice of preferred audiences, designers will almost invariably choose a peanut gallery of other designers.+