Raging Bull by Rick Poynor had me changing my mind with the wind as he wrote on the perceptions and usages of the term bullshit. it’s funny how he writes to convince you, then continues to write to confuse you by convincing you to believe the contradiction of what he previously convinced you of. confusing, right? i have to wonder if it’s all bullshit. truthfully, i don’t and i found his essay to be very stimulating either way you look at it.
My thoughts on Rick Poynor’s Raging Bull.
Defining bullshit never seemed so academic before reading the essay Raging Bull by Rick Poynor, mainly because the definition I default at almost makes the word not worthy of further exploration. Until now. Poynor was asked by colleague, Michael Bierut, a question regarding the relationship between design and bullshit, and the barn doors were suddenly opened. I love Bierut’s explanation, or rather, defense for the word. “The design process always combines the pursuit of functional goals with the countless intuitive, even irrational, decisions.” He brings it into another light which I firmly believe and have truthfully experienced. Coming from the corporate world where I have to justify my creative in order to sell it, is as simple as he put it — part bullshit.
Despite the dictionary definition which leaves the word to be frowned upon, I believe that there has to be a bridge between left-brain thinkers and right-brain creators. Bullshit is part of that equation and generally supports the measurable goals that lead left-brain decisions. Poynor takes the same stand in his essay, but looks at it from all angles. The acceptance of bullshit in the design process leaves design suspect to it’s value. Does bullshitting mean that the designer doesn’t care? Or that they are recklessly lazy? I don’t think so. There is a difference in the process of design and in the selling of design, or creative in general. Explaining the process in order to sell the creative might be to it’s own detriment, so bullshit steps in as a sort of sugar on top. This doesn’t mean that the process is in itself bullshit. It’s not a matter of misleading the client when selling creative, but a matter of translating the intuitive process in a rational sense. There is a value to both positions.
Later in the essay, Poynor makes great disclaims for the term bullshit outside of our design professional world and contributes the rest of the communications world, like advertising media and commercial promotion, as the ultimate downfalls in bullshit. It may be an art form to bullshit through something, but it holds no substance when it’s the shifting of lies. Because lies only turn into more lies and before you know it you have a spiderweb effect that is pretty hard to get untangled from. With that said, there has to be a sensitivity in the way we throw around the word bullshit. Pretty soon it will fall into the likes of the word “tolerance.” The people who preach tolerance are breaking the true definition of the word and soon hypocrisy rules over any validity within the word’s context. “The last thing we can afford is to view the bullshitter indulgently as a source of amusement…there has to be a basis for trust…” and that is why it is so important to make sure we know that our bullshit is appropriate and without deceiving intentions. Otherwise we are just dealing with an image and platform that is as shallow as the advertising/PR and political agendas themselves. Design means more than that. Design is not meant for that. Design is truthful and factual, not vague and confusing. So, bullshit is ok, as long as you’re not bullshitting in the process.
Designer, as artist, creates with an intention and purpose, and many times the result is a surprise — for better or worse. How the client perceives the end result is in the presentation of the creative. When mixing concrete, definable, quantifiable tools such as sales volume and market share, supply chain and logistics, productivity, dollar signs and risk management with non-linear thinking, like emotion, rhythm, intuition and insight, you need a moderator like bullshit.
to read Poynor’s essay yourself, it can be found on page 149 of Looking Closer 5: Critical Writings on Graphic Design (Bk. 5) by Bierut, Drenttel and Heller: