True Lies

Those who track and analyze cultural trends generally agree that our culture has become design-driven. It’s no longer based on business or technology but on design. We consumers generally assess the value of a product or idea based on post-modern criteria: its design, its visual appeal, how we experience it, how we feel about it. Design has overtaken business and technology as the impetus for consumption and economic growth. For example, chewing gum products are packaged to look good when sitting next to a Blackberry or iPhone. This, of course will increase their appeal and resulting sales.

Because we are design-driven, there is ample opportunity for innovation and new ideas to flourish when presented to the public in desirable “packaging”. Thus we judge a book by its cover and the contents inside the box by the graphics on the box. Designers develop these visual assets, packaging and experiences to, in essence, present ideas. Any idea presented in an elegant, exciting “package” generally achieves greater acceptance than one that isn’t. A good idea offered in a cheesy “box” will be passed over in favor of a bad idea presented in a thoughtful, aesthetically-sound container. Design persuades us to accept something based on its packaging or graphic environment.

A designer can take any idea – whether authentic or not – create an appealing graphic environment for it, provide a positive user experience, and it doesn’t matter if the idea is authentic or not. It matters only if it makes the user authentically feel good. As long as the design appeals, the idea it presents will gain acceptance, even if unprovable or dangerous.

Thus, surrounded by aesthetically-sound design, any idea can be accepted as valid. There is danger in this. Not every idea is valid or even worth consideration. Not every idea is “true”.

In our post-modern, design-driven culture, form has taken priority over content and style rules over substance. Post-moderns gauge authenticity based on experience rather than proof. It doesn’t matter if something is verifiable or not, as long as we feel good about it, as long as it makes us popular, provides a sense of community and belonging, or is compatible with our desire for absolute freedom. If it accomplishes any of those things, it must be authentic. If it is presented as being authentic, it will be considered as such even when proven otherwise.

Does it matter if we create excellent design to package a lie? Does it matter if we might be helping to spread inaccuracy and fabrication? Does anyone care, as long as something looks good?

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.