Jessica Helfand | Essays

Does It Have To Be A Lightbulb?

A few days ago, I found a gingerbread decorating kit I'd forgotten we had, and handed it over to our twelve-year old, who took one look at the example on the box cover (left) and harrumphed. 

Then she produced the image on the right.

Obviously, children tend to be, by their very nature, natural at improvisation. They're also pretty good at bypassing a brief. You know that joke about how many graphic designers it takes to screw in a lightbulb? To which the answer is: does it have to be a lightbulb?

Wishful thinking. In truth, most designers just think they're reinventing the question. In all fairness, this is because doing so is actually pretty hard once you've passed puberty.

"SomeGuy" — the man behind the 1000Journals project — has spent a considerable amount of time trying to come to terms with the implicit dilemma here. In the documentary by Andrea Kreuzhage, he describes feeling drawn to challenge the assumption that as we get older, we tend to be less likely to consider ourselves candidates for a creative life. This extraordinary project — which began with empty journals being anonymously distributed around the globe — has spawned a film and an exhibition, but its more enduring accomplishment may lie in the fact that it has begun to change the conversation about making things.

It may well be that the whole idea of changing the conversation originates in precisely this sort of thinking. It worked for President Bartlett on The West Wing, and it worked with Metahaven and the Wikileaks branding brouhaha, and it may well lie at the core of the viral success of most "new" ideas (which as we well know, are not really new at all, but newly presented). Regrettably, in the quest for inspiration-with-a-capital-I, tools for creative motivation themselves often take the form of stilted, Michael Scott in The Office -worthy aphorisms: Don't color inside the lines! Think outside the box! Subvert the brief!  Before you know it, one person's image economy is another person's fruit sprinkles. Unless of course that person is a child, and then just give it up right now, because there's no economy in sight.

This post is part of multi-site online conversation looking at food, curated by Good magazine's Nicola Twilley.

Comments [3]

Is it just me or does the gingerbread man on the right look like Mango from SNL? A few years ago, the commencement speaker for our school was Tina Fey, Emmy-winning actor, writer, and producer. You probably know her from SNL. Tina ended up talking about her own journey after college and told the audience how studying improvisation changed her life. Yes, improvisation. As I said in the comments under the Conversation with Daniel van der Velden of Metahaven & in response to A Quest for Meaning in a Dystopian Era I think the designers irreverence is their ability to improvise as they use design as an instrument to imagine.
Carl W. Smith

But why are her breasts on her head?

Jerry, those are rave gogs, and the mustache says that's a man in a vest. And showy briefs. It is the fault of the kit he has no legs (just shoelaces coordinated with his hair.) This automatically happens when you pay your barber over $35.
Steve Nordquist

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