Just Say No to Safe

 

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Once in awhile, we’re lucky to have a confluence of events that create an epiphany. These are mine: Marian Bantjes’ documentary by Lynda.com, a lecture at the AIGA Pivot Conference, a hellish week of one crisis after another, and the German newspaper Die Welt. Let me explain.

I’m sick to death of “safe.” Somewhere along the way, I forgot that my job is to create wonder, excitement, thought, and challenge the status quo. During the recession, I found myself acceding to committee decisions and research that led to benign and banal solutions. Marian always reminds me that I am able to make whatever I want. Our job as designers is to make extraordinary, not nice and forgetful. At the Pivot conference, there was a subtext that graphic design was no longer relevant, individual vision must be assimilated into collaboration, and artifacts were about “delight” with the same weight as a nice floral arrangement. One speaker relentlessly hammered the audience with factually flawed doom and gloom, suggesting that charts, submission of the individual, and meetings were the future of the profession. Let me off now if that is true.

On Friday, I reached a snapping point. Every job was a rush, every deadline critical. The designers in the office were panicked. So I stopped everything. We are designers, not a quick print shop. Stop, think, make something great. If it takes more than five minutes, good. Of course, everyone went right back to work, but with a sigh of relief. Sometimes it’s good to remember we are not performing neurosurgery and a patient is on the table with half a skull.

On Saturday, my oldest and best friend Erica Shapeero, who has the most fabulous life of anyone I know, returned from a trip to London and Munich with Die Welt. This issue was designed to honor an exhibition by Ellsworth Kelly. The culture editor, Cornelius Tittel, convinced the newspaper to run Kelly shapes in place of all photographs. It’s genius, brave, and uncompromising. How do you convince a newspaper to swap the soccer image with an Ellsworth shape? Unbelievable and wonderful. This reminded me that I started as a designer to make incredible things, challenge others, and myself, not to make nice, listen to banal strategy, and trade remarkable for benign. There is a reason this blog is named burning settlers cabin, not the quiet settlers cabin. Light the house on fire. Fuck safe.

Die Welt newspaper, sports section

Die Welt newspaper, detail

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Die Welt newspaper,Financial section

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

Die Welt newspaper, Ellsworth Kelly imagery, Cornelius Tittel Culture Editor

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3 Responses to “Just Say No to Safe”

  1. Brett Beynon Says:

    Great post Sean!

  2. editorial designer Says:

    this really is fantastic. but in your lament you oversee a few crucial points. first, this issue of “die welt” is not really a regular one, its a collectors edition, exactly one year before there has been an issue completely designed by german artist georg baselitz. second point, the idea comes from an editor, not a designer. and third point, it is not designed by an art director or layouter, it was the artist himself. it was an artist, not a designer. so you might have started as a designer to create incredible things, but the status of a layouter in an editorial office is in the level of service, less in creation. so it mostly depends to the editor, and maybe to the ability of the designer to convince. if you feel the need to create wonder, just be your own editor and create stuff without order.

  3. Csaba Szigetvári Says:

    An excellent idea !!!