Jordan Wayne Lee
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Metamodern Design : Chapter 11 – A New Path for the Future of Design

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If we can observe, recognize, reflect and develop a new sense of self-awareness as a designer, the future role of our work will result in the ability to solve greater challenges, lead through design, and build new meaning in society by understanding the oscillation culture is experiencing through the pendulum of modernism and post-modernism emerging through as metamodernism.

We often compare our internal value in relation to the world with how our external body of work compares and holds up against the validation of other designers. We often apply our meaning and worth to how our work is perceived emotionally in the sense of an art form versus the pragmatic impact and rational in context we seek in the depth of work beyond the surface. We compete the validity of our work the surface context of our work in relation to the validation of inspired work within the world.  Don’t get caught in the emotional trap of feeling inadequate to other designers

We focus on the milestones and pillars of our work and accomplishments. Yet, the work that goes unnoticed, never makes it to our portfolios or doesn’t receive accolades or recognition from others is the very work that hones our craft. It is the work that defines who we are and who we are to become within our pursuit of design. You are the collection of work and experience over time.

Don’t get caught in the emotional trap of feeling inadequate to other designers.

We often compare our internal value in relation to the world with how our external body of work compares and holds up against the validation of other designers. We often apply our meaning and worth to how our work is perceived emotionally in the sense of an art form versus the pragmatic impact and rational in context we seek in the depth of work beyond the surface. We compete the validity of our work the surface context of our work in relation to the validation of inspired work within the world.

Our personal body of work is not in competition with other designers. Our work is a contribution to larger pursuit of designing a better world. The perspective of our work should be focused on the humble approach to meeting the needs of those we are designing for and simultaneously aligned with the pursuit of adding value to the labor of design. In congruence with others, we can work within a silo of seeking to design better and grow as an individual while also working to add more value within the design community. Our work oscillates between the individual pursuit of our own body of work and also adding to the value of design within the world as a whole. Our focus to accomplish this must be rooted within true empathy of our desires in our work and simultaneously holding empathy for those we are designing for and the design community as a whole.

We must choose to shift our individual focus of design as one that is not in competition for attention, adoration or admiration for our work, but points to the intentional pursuit of solving greater challenges for others within our work. The best design often goes unnoticed and unseen, whereas good design is often invisible. We must seek to be invisible. We must seek to let our intentional work speak for itself without the desire of trying to out-design others. Our value system changes when we focus our work on others and care less about the admiration of others for our contributions. If we choose to hinge the value of our work on the acceptance, admiration and congratulatory notions of others for our efforts, we become enslaved to the opinions of subjectivity. The alternative is to allow our intentional design efforts lead through impact, solution driven efforts and design thinking that can achieve outcomes to complex challenges within our work. The efforts can only manifest themselves in greater solutions when we shift the value of our work from the subjective acceptance of others, to the objective reality of solution driven design.

As this shift occurs, we begin to forget about comparing our work to others, or fast following trends or seeking the admiration from many. We begin to look at our work from a perspective of empathy, whereas our labor seeks to solve greater challenges.

Context of work is important.

Appreciate other designers and creatives who have solid work. They are helping to contribute to the value of design just as much as your are. We are all on a path to make the world better. Every journey and every path is different. Sometimes, the best work doesn’t see the light of day for reason’s outside a designer’s control. So, if your work isn’t as exciting, beautiful, artistic or inspiring as another designer – don’t fret or be discouraged. Appreciate the beauty and intention and the overall ethos your work contributes to the value of design. Realize that boring design of layouts and type and UX driven work – if impactful and accomplishing the goals – exceeds what it is meant to do, then those in business will value that work and thinking. That type of design is just as impactful (if not more) than the exciting and inspiring designs you see from other designers.

You are the collection of your work and your experience over time.

We focus on the milestones and pillars of our work and accomplishments. Yet, the work that goes unnoticed, never makes it to our portfolios or doesn’t receive accolades or recognition from others is the very work that hones our craft. It is the work that defines who we are and who we are to become within our pursuit of design.

Many times, we celebrate the significant milestones in our career. We highlight the key parts we think others would take notice of. We point to highest marks of competition in our work, whether by way of agency, freelance, collaboration or sheer luck. We point to the collection of companies we’ve worked with and have worked for. We hope future possible clients who don’t yet exist may find us or recognize us or choose to hire us based on our merits.

Of the 20% of my work that I am proud of, the other 80% is still significant, to me personally. I find those moments of work that may never see the light of day, land on my portfolio or never turned out quite the way I wanted, to be just as significant as the work that gets celebrated. For this work, that goes unseen, is the training ground for working with with others, business models, collaborations, creative thinking and problem solving. This work is like those mornings you don’t want to go to the gym, but do it anyways. Over time, this work molds my greatest work into what it is.

You are the collection of work and experience over time. Inch by inch. Our progress and success in design is not celebrated by the pinnacle milestones, but in the journey of our pursuit to create meaningful and purposeful work. We must choose to work away each day at some part of our work and lives to because a better designer. Not purely in the execution sense, but in the process, the approach, the business and the sentiment of what it means to work within design.

The journey is about growth and exploration. But is also about your impact.

Through this pursuit of constant and consistent growth as a designer, we choose to grow and explore many facets of what it means to be a designer. However, this must also be a pursuit of discovering how to have impact. Impact within our work, within our company, within our community and within the world. Our pursuit aligned with a focus of impact will position our trajectory in life as a designer to seek to work on meaningful and purposeful work. Whereas we decide what is important based on our values and align our work and future work to pursue those values within the miopic approach to our work for greater impact on work as a whole.

Design 20 years ago does not look like what design is today. We shouldn’t assume that design 20 years from now will look anything like what it is today.

Always evolve. As design changes and new industries have emerged, most of the design practices today did not exist 20 years ago. It becomes important that we simultaneously master our craft and seek to evolve for the uncertain future of design. Our work may not translate into future roles, however, our thinking and approach to design and solving problems will. As we evolve, we learn how to grow and progress from our current state of design into new paradigms of design that do not yet exist. We must be aware of changes within the landscape of technology, design and global economics and prepare our future paths of design to be relevant to new challenges. It is only through the mediums that currently and have yet to exist where we can apply our progressive growth and evolution of design thinking, process and approaches to help create new solutions through the future that has yet to be formed. We are simultaneously creating solutions for the present day to lead us into the uncertain future that will progress from our work in current day.

   Find the core foundations of design outside of the tactical execution of the craft

  • Design is not software.
  • Design is not a collection of fonts.
  • Design is not watching tutorial videos.
  • Design is not browsing images for ideas and remixing.
  • Design is not putting together moodboards and executing based on gut feelings.

These examples are tactics of design, and if they are the core of your design process, then the process is inherently flawed within. The notion and understanding of design in society today is that design is aesthetic and must move quickly to constantly grasp and capture the attention through visual, audio and messaging put forth in an inspiring way. However, this approach within itself becomes a flawed attempt at design, where the aspect of design is about creating better system for humanity, not more noise to keep up with the cultural conversation. If the design and vision is set to be forward focused and innovative, then the time and space to understand the validity of the ideas to move forward must be captured deeper than the execution and tactic of fast moving and focusing on the external narrative of design. This approach is an amateur view and perspective about the use and impact of design. Design is first about people, then systems and process and identifying the challenges in society to create better solutions. Without understanding these key parts, no amount of new aesthetic, new fonts, new tools or fast iteration of creative efforts will create long term sustainability through a flawed perspective of design. It may give short term gains, but it is not sustainable.

Seek to be multidisciplinary.

There is a narrative driven within the creative industry that leadership presents that you should focus on a single sector within the creative field and become a master of this work. However, this is misguided and bad advice.

   This is dangerous and misguided.

   Do not buy into the narrative that hiring managers and agency leadership are selling you to “focus on a single craft”.

Design is solving complex challenges, whereas the singular act of a specific tactic requires the ability to think about solving challenges in complex ways. When our lens is solely focused on a single disciple, we being to look at the challenges and solutions through a single perspective. The alternative is the ability to see the connectivity of multiple disciplines and creative efforts, connect the threads of thinking patterns within those disciplines and apply complex solutions to complex problems through a single tactic. This is the ability to exist at a 30,000 foot view of the landscape and discover how creativity in discovering solutions exists within a single tactic. If we operate within the nuanced perspective of a single discipline, we limit our ability to solve complex problems through our limited perspective. This does not allow design to lead at the forefront of challenges, but to exist as a cog within a wheel of executing as a tactic. However, our perspective of design should not be limited to focusing on a single discipline, but to work diligently at understanding multiple disciplines and applying the thinking across multiple design disciplines in preparation of solving complex design challenges.

This takes away your leverage.

Those in leadership who profess that you must focus on a single discipline and to not be multidisciplinary do not want the best for your career. Instead, they want to maintain power of their own position and hire those who can only serve as singular functions within the larger vision they intend to create. The alternative is working with many multidisciplinary people who are talented at many different things and bring a wide spectrum of ideas and insights to solve challenges through creative thinking, holistic approaches and staying curious within their work.

The message given to young creatives to “not be multidisciplinary” is a power play.

Whereas, we become order takers and not contributors to the greater challenges. Business executives, marketing leaders, and organizational leadership needs the perspective of design to help lead and guide through solving greater and more complex challenges that exist within the world today.

Your work and discipline likely did not exist 30 years ago and their is no promise or guarantee that the discipline you seek to double-down on will be relevant or in demand 30 years from now. You must allow yourself to learn many different ways of designing and creating and solving problems with the intention that how you think about solving problems is more important than how you execute. We live in a digital world where work exists and then is forgotten. We are not focused on making art that will exist for hundreds of years. We are designing solutions to solve problems. These solutions arise from many different avenues and ways of thinking. There is a thread of thought that transcends a single discipline and when understood, you can work through the thinking of any creative discipline and apply your thinking across multiple pursuits. There is no risk in protecting your future and diversifying your creative efforts and design acumen.

I have a strong disregard and reject the message that you should not be multidisciplinary. We must have the ability to see the larger problems and design systems that serve outside of our nuanced perspective. When we choose to focus on a single discipline in design and creative efforts, we are limiting our thinking to look through a single lens and apply that thinking across all other creative and design efforts. The inverse is to be well-equipped and versed in many areas of design and creativity whereas you can connect the patterns of creativity and design throughout multiple disciplines and apply that thinking across nuanced tactics to be carried out appropriately when it serves the needs of the challenges you are solving within your work.

Design is about thinking in systems. To solve challenges both creatively and pragmatically. When you focus on a single discipline, you look through the lens of design from a single nuanced perspective that can be limiting in your capacity to connect the creative dots within your solution driven thinking and also be blind to the notion of creating impactful systems through design because you exist in silo versus thinking both holistically and through the lens of a discipline. When you focus on a single craft within design, you are looking through a siloed lens and then expected to solve systematic problems.

Contradictory to design. When you only focus on the craft of design, you cannot see the integrated parts of business, brand, audience and development. You must build an understanding of all the moving parts to build and innovate in more impactful ways. The moving parts will inform the opportunities and constraints within your work and it will shine a light into the paths of creative problem solving where the real excitement emerges. When you understand the functioning parts of not just your discipline, but the vastness of your own discipline combined with the various segments of the challenge you are trying to overcome, you develop a new lens of thinking creatively to build new solutions that radically innovate and move your work into another hemisphere of opportunity and impact.

Being multidisciplinary makes you future proof.

Learning new tools, understanding how to execute in various mediums and learning to perform various tasks is an excellent skill to have. But more importantly, the ability to learn new tools and skills quickly is even better. With a lens of holistic design and perspective, you can apply your approach, process and thinking across many versions of design practice. The result is that those various practices feed into each other and into your view of design from a systematic, visual, functional, form and development process. This creates a bigger worldview of design where you can see and manage challenges more effectively and better than those who solely focus on a single trade within design. Many times I have heard the term “Jack of all trades, master of none” however, with the amount of information and tools at our expense, we cannot afford to be stagnant. To be a master of one. The Jack’s of trades are those who see the connective tissue of design, creativity, functionality, development and systems and can adapt and pivot. The ability to evolve and grow and understand multiple trades does not diminish your value, but makes you more valuable. I have personally saved millions of dollars in mitigating risk for clients, found new opportunities for business growth and generated billions in revenue through platform development specifically because I have explored many disciplines of design and development throughout my career in a way where I am not only creating the end product, but informing the risks and opportunities along the way. This can only occur if you have a holistic perspective about design, brands, business and technology.

Apply foundational design principles, approaches, and thinking to various design disciplines.

You will discover patterns within various design disciplines. These patterns emerge through your process, your intention and your creative thinking as your work through the discipline of design with various disciplines. The patterns exist as nuances and as large holistic truths about design. For example, the details of typography and the foundations of their existence and effectiveness translate to the design and usage of icons. The interactions and desires of humans in physical space translate the interactions and expectations in the digital space – creativity breeds within these truths if you seek to surprise and delight your audience along the way during these experiences. Understanding the connective truths will give you insight and opportunity to create and innovate with intention and delight. Building upon the the connective patterns you can discover by being multidisciplinary is far more effective to the long term sustainability of your design journey versus working to become a master of a discipline that may or may not exist in a decade. The power of your work exists in process, approach, and the translation of information to create new and innovative delightful experiences for others. When you work in a silo, when you live in a silo, when you exist your life in a silo, you short yourself to the possibilities of thinking in new and innovative frameworks that being a multidisciplinary design provides.

Follow the leaders

There has been great foundations, designers, thinkers, and leaders within the design industry over the past 100 years. Learning the foundational principles of design is important, and just as important, learning from the works and thoughts of those designers who have come before you is just as necessary to envisioning a future of design by understanding where it has been.

The following designers are a list of those whom I admire, have studied, learned from and continue to reference their work and thoughts for inspiration.

  • Adrian Frutiger
  • Alan Aldridge
  • Alan Fletcher
  • Alexey Brodovitch
  • Alvin Lustig
  • April Greiman
  • Armin Hofmann
  • Bradbury Thompson
  • Bruce Mau
  • Bruno Munari
  • Cassandre
  • Chip Kidd
  • David Carson
  • Dick Bruna
  • Eddie Opara
  • Emil Ruder
  • Eric Carle
  • Eric Gill
  • Erik Nitsche
  • Erik Spiekermann
  • George Lois
  • Giambattista Bodoni
  • Hans Hulsbosch
  • Harry Beck
  • Herb Lubalin
  • Herbert Bayer
  • Herbert Matter
  • István Orosz
  • James Victore
  • Jan Tschichold
  • John Alvin
  • John Lloyd
  • John Maeda
  • Jon Burgerman
  • Jonathan Barnbrook
  • Josef Müller-Brockmann
  • Julian House
  • Kate Moross
  • Katherine McCoy
  • László Moholy-Nagy
  • Leif Podhajsky
  • Margaret Calvert
  • Massimo Vignelli
  • Max Ernst
  • Max Huber
  • Michael Bierut
  • Milton Glaser
  • Muriel Cooper
  • Neville Brody
  • Otl Aicher
  • Paul Rand
  • Paul Renner
  • Paula Scher
  • Peter Saville
  • Philip B. Meggs
  • Reza Abedini
  • Saul Bass
  • Search
  • Shigeo Fukuda
  • Stanley Donwood
  • Stefan Sagmeister
  • Steven Heller
  • Storm Thorgerson
  • Susan Kare
  • Tibor Kalman
  • Vincent Connare
  • Wally Olins
  • William Morris
  • Wim Crouwel
  • Wolfgang Weingart

WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE OF COMPARING OUR WORK WITH OTHERS

If we compare our work and it’s value to others, we will never actualize and manifest the opportunity of working towards creating the work that has yet to exist within us. If our work in design is a lifelong journey to make the world a better place, our work should be a reflection of that pursuit and the continuous journey to fulfill that work at every juncture. If we compare our work to others for the measurement of it’s validity, we are not being true to our self and we are not allowing our own work to have value and grow.

Our intention as designers and creators should be built on the idea that we are striving to be the best version of ourself. Our work is a never ending process of growth, evolution and new perspectives of how to look at the world and humanity. Over the course of your career you will seek to design things that garner attention, but as time roles on, the shift happens where you seek to design for impact. Creating work that has immense purpose does not have to attract the attention of the design community or the recognition of others. Our journey is our own and design is a tool and practice that creates opportunities for us to contribute to building meaningful things for humanity. Our job is not to compare our work with others, but to compare our work with the impact we seek to have through our work.

Intention vs execution

Intention must be examined. The reason behind what drives the work. The meaning of why the work is existing or will exist is just as important to understand, examine and define as much as the work itself.

There are those in the metamodern way of thinking who believe that metamodernism is defined by the execution. The examination of the external parts of a piece are not the determining factors of deciding if a work is metamodern. Many so called ”scholars” of metamodernism are getting this wrong.

Metamodernism is about the intention and the oscillation of the execution. Meaning that the intention must be first understood and the execution should strive for aesthetic oscillation of the intention.

The intention can be sincere or ironic. If choosing the be sincere, the execution should find ways to be ironic against the sincerity of the intention. If the intention is to be ironic, the execution must find ways to create sincerity within the irony.

Within the execution you can then find new ways to oscillate between grand narratives against itself to drive a work forward. This is where I believe so many people fail to recognize and examine Metamodernism at its true form. The most powerful forms of metamodernism are the works which oscillate sincerity and irony between the intention and execution.

Suspended between sincerity and irony.

Metamodernism relies on the oscillating balance of a body of work to suspend itself between sincerity and irony. Many have tried to identify this by comparing the external parts of a body of work against each other to make comparisons and find the contrasts. However, I believe this is a false observation and we should be weary to accept these proclamations about metamodernism.

Metamodernism is about the simultaneous oscillation of sincerity and irony happening within a work. Yes. But the way the work was manifested, created and put into the world takes on a part of either the sincerity or the irony of the work in of itself. Therefore, we must look at the intention behind the work. The way the work was created. How the work was thought through and the execution through that work aligned with either it’s own sincerity or irony in it’s incubation. This is where I believe most have failed to identify true metamodernism.

As a creator, metamodernism takes on an entirely different meaning versus the audience. The metamodernism is not strictly within how the audience feels, but also how the work makes the audience feel within the confines of how the work was created. If the work was sincerely made but forces the audience to receive it as ironic while understanding the sincerity of the execution – that is metamodern. However, I have seen where metamodernism is defined on the external constructs of the work making the audience feel one way or another while dismissing the creation of the work itself playing a major role in defying the work itself as metamodern.

How a work was created is a part of metamodernism that has yet to be defined. For example, a sincere message for a brand on a social media post combined with some post-modern imagery is not metamodern. It’s post-modern. However, that same message executed in a different way by the brand may become metamodern. For example, the message could be handwritten, or typed on a  typewriter and scanned, or audio from a sincere letter or message to invoke the same emotion. Point being: the way the message aligns to the visual communication in of itself becomes a defining piece of how metamodern something is.

Personal impact of metamodernism

Through observing culture through a design lens and coming to discover the sensibilities align with the idea of metamodernism, I have learned and developed a few key personal ideas and evolution of myself during this process. I’d say that my journey has existed through observation and seeking to recognize and define these movements in culture since around 2007 after I stepped into the real world as a designer. But even before then, my observations go back to the early days of my teenage years where I was playing in punk rock bands, skateboarding and growing up in a small town outside of Seattle.

Metamodernism has become a tool to unpack and define observations about the world. It has become a tool to observe and identify truth’s within the world, and also truth within myself. I have evolved more as a person by recognizing the oscillation within this new global society. The polarity of ideals, morals, virtue signaling, economics, politics and religions have built a new perspective in which I view the world from.

Recognizing the oscillations in culture allows me to explore ideas, philosophies and narratives within modern and post-modern ideologies. Existing within both cultural movements, I find myself going back and forth between mainstream media, news, articles and joining panels and discussions and communities with vastly different viewpoints from the far left to the far right. I engage with a wide variety of people who exist in both places where I find the opportunities to listen and learn from their perspectives.

The exploration of defining this sense of unrest as “Metamodernism” led to discerning my own views of the world where “both-and” can exist. Where if we choose one side of the pendulum or the other in this growing global cultural narrative, we are forced to rationalize and follow a “side”. However, I think the skeptic with myself has led me to look at the larger challenges both places of modernism and post-modernism exists and seek to understand the pro’s and con’s of each. From this, I have very differing views politically, religiously, economically where the focus of my own thinking exists in the continuity of logical thinking – applying the same logic across every touch point where the polarity of modernism and post-modernism of today find themselves in contradictory and hypocritical rationale.

I have developed a new found discovery of the importance of faith, spirituality and the belief in God. Apart from the expected ideals we understand in the modern religious systems. Or the abandonment of any religion whatsoever. I believe there is a deeper meaning and truth beyond the validity or historical accuracy of the Bible in which exists a grand narrative if we choose to unpack it for ourselves. I find it absolutely captivating in many ways. And if you look at the broader message of the Bible, the designed story framework and the underlying intention applied metaphorically to our own lives in modern day – it becomes a truly beautiful book in which to apply living. I’ve gone the other path for many years, believing that my life and success is completely up to me. And that is true. But the greater purpose beyond a narrative rooted in modernism or post-modernism provides a better framework in which we can navigate our own lives.

I have seen the value of social justice, socially liberal ideas – however I don’t agree with the narrative and execution around them. I work and have worked with many companies, organizations, and businesses in the social justice space. From art collectives, Fortune 100 companies, Financial institutions, health and wellness companies and non-profits. I 100% value the efforts of their greater purpose, however, I believe there is a greater purpose and meaning beyond the tonality in which we create. That both/and can exist in these conversations. A win-win. A place where there doesn’t need to be a villain to have a hero. A place in which equality of opportunity reigns supreme and the ability for the individual to discover their own purpose beyond a narrative.

I have seen the importance of embracing traditional values around family, home, and traditional means of belief and thinking. Whereas, the idea of progressive policy and ideology has not lost it’s value, but it has a time and place within our society. It becomes dangerous for us to consider the homogenization of culture through a battling between modernism and post-modernism. I find value in both and see the benefits of modernist ideals related to traditional values, beyond the rhetoric of political agendas. The practicality of these ideals hold a form of truth in which can withstand the narrative between modernism and post-modernism and exist as a place to build a foundation for a solid life.

I see the value of disruption through a postmodern lens, but I believe it can be applied in different ways to build a better world. As a Designer, it is within our nature to observe the world through a skeptical lens. But as I grow older, I realize that this skepticism does not equal cynicism. I believe it to be healthy to positively look at ways in which disruption can be a tool, not the means to an end. Disruption in capitalism creates opportunities for free markets. Disruption in technology creates new paths of job creation and innovation. Disruption in work life balance creates new ways of living and increasing our quality of life for a more sustainable humanity. Disruption of economics means that we can reassess and improve upon ways in which we trade and value goods and services. Disruption is not bad in which it is meant to build and create and expand new opportunities and paths for advancement of humanity as a whole. Disruption becomes a problem when the focus has no other means but to disrupt without the follow up of discovering new solutions to challenges.

Metamodernism has created a space where I can exist as the individual where ideologies from opposing sides of culture can exist. Choosing to agree or disagree with a set of cultural thoughts or ideas does not make me a patriarchal-mysognist-alt-right-toxic-masculine male, nor does the belief in certain liberties for those whom are not like me make me a bleeding heart idealistic progressive concerned with furthering the agenda of the deep state. There exists a balance between the extreme polarities in which we are currently experiencing in culture at a local and global level. 

Both/and can exist within cultural narratives. For me, “both-and” represents the deep universal sentiment of love and truth that dates back thousands of years and is embedded in cultural, historical and religious stories we have been experiencing and hearing for years.

There is an ancient truth and modern ideals for the future of design to build upon.

We must have the courage to step within ourselves first before we can decide to impact the world through design.

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