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 design director at Alvalyn Creative, an independent practice near Thousand Oaks, California. She creates visual branding, publications and books for business, entrepreneurs and authors. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business roadmap program for creative freelancers. Contact her for your visual branding, graphic and digital design needs. Join her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and subscribe to her free monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. To answer your frist question I would have to say yes; especially if someone is looking to sell it. The answer to the secound question is no; if one is looking to bend the ideals of others so that they will do or think as one likes. The last question I believe, though, is to be left up to the individual. As for me, I do care for “more” than just simply superficial quilitys in an object or ideal, however, it is evident that many Americans don’t at this time. But, in this is the question then; why is it that most people in America don’t care? Why is it that our cultures have pushed away from looking past the surface of an ideal? I believe the answers to these questions can be found in the affect capitalism has on human nature. If you would please, Alvalyn Lundgren, tell me what you think.

  2. Hello, whitesp0422, thanks for your comments.
    It’s human nature to follow a path of least resistance. This is a tendency that is not confined to the United States or to any economic or political system. Nor is it only a late-century attribute. We see laziness and complacency in people throughout history. So that is my response to your statement that Americans don’t care and tend to look only at surface issues.

    Beyond that, though, the questions I pose are about ethics and morals, not about economies. In my studies of capitalism and free markets compared to other options, I have concluded that capitalism provides the best environment for encouraging innovation and spreading new ideas. Now you know my position on that. Even so, my questions are not about systems, but about ethical considerations in design. So I want to keep any discussion within that pail.

  3. Now I hope I am not intruding or taking this to far, but do not the systems that make up economy affect culture as for the systems that make up government, and is it not these systems, overtime, that make up ethics? If the anwser is yes; then would it not be that only by changing the inductive process of our ethical delime could we achive a ethical system,that look past the searface of meir personal gain over that of the colective. This is the way and by far the only way for us to progress to our next level as a nation. A Democratic Socialistic Republic is the true meaning of equality, and high educated cultural standard, which can then lead us to a greater ethical understand; helping us progress as a hole rather then just as indvduals amongest ourselves. (I apologize en advance)

  4. Great piece. It almost sounds as if you are questioning whether your work has true value. I would not underestimate the value of design or aesthetics as something that brings joy or enhances lives. As far as it is used to sell something, I do not find it unethical to package something in a pleasing way. If the thing that is packaged is not so good, will that not be reveled in the “taste test”? Attractive packaging, to me, shows that the “seller” is interested in excellence. They probably judge the contents to be excellent, even if it is not. If the said chewing gum, that looks lovely next to my iphone, tastes bad, I will not buy, nor recommend it to others again. Whereas, if the idea or product create an authentic experience for the user, what indication is there that the idea or product in not authentic?

  5. I am not questioning the validity of my work. I have refused projects and releasee clients due to the unsound ideas behind their services or product.

    What I am posing is simply that not every idea is valid and that ideas, valid or not, become accepted when their presentation is tantalizing. Design presents ideas. Excellence in packaging does not make a bad idea good. It only makes it more acceptable. A bad idea is accepted when it provides the audience with a good experience: it’s visually pleasing, it creates a sense of belonging, it causes a person to feel moral, etc.). You’re correct that a person will initially judge the contents by the packaging and may change his mind once the “package” is opened and the product is revealed or consumed. WIth chewing gum, that revelation will be quick and sure. With an idea that is capable of fundamentally changing culture and how people think, the effect will be proven over time, and sometimes it’s too late to go back. The idea has done its work.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Menu

Get tips

Subscribe to the Eye Level Newsletter and get a FREE color guide. You’ll also receive updates on new lessons, tutorials, and more!