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Are Design Blogs Killing Design Writing?

( via subtraction )

Though I posted it to this site’s Elsewhere section, I want to take a moment to point out Rick Poynor’s recent article for Print Magazine, “Easy Writer.” Since its publication, this piece has stirred up a little bit of controversy because it can be fairly easily read as an indictment of design blogs and their allegedly low standards for serious writing and criticism about the practice and art of design. Right or wrong, it’s an important essay that bears a closer look. At the same time, it’s worthwhile to take at least a passing glance at the response to Poynor’s article by D. Mark Kingsley at the design blog Speak Up, too.

Hatin’ on Design Blogs
Poynor essentially contends that the informal, loosely researched and often emotional quality of most of the writing about design seen on the Interweb shortchanges truly revealing discourse. In essence, he’s arguing against the very form of weblogs and their unsupervised nature:

“The biggest single problem with blogs as a medium for writing is the very thing that bloggers tend to love them for: the lack of editors. It’s naïve to imagine that you can just sit down at the keyboard, shoot from the hip, and hit the target unaided every time.”

I happen to think that Poynor, one of the most prolific and in my opinion one of the most valuable design thinkers working, is both right and wrong in this. But it’s difficult to see the nuances of his reasoning when he concludes his article with this fairly damning assertion:

“In the meantime, for range of commentary, depth of research, and quality of thought, printed publications are still the best source.”

Ouch. You wouldn’t blame a design blogger if she read that reasoning as old media jealously calling out new media’s pretensions. And in some respect, it’s very true that this is a case of the prior regime lashing out at the new regime. In a response to Kingsley’s response, Poynor explains why, though he was a founding editor at the blog Design Obsever, he ultimately gave it up:

“Despite everything I have said above, I have nothing against blogs in general and if they paid, I would probably continue blogging.”

Great Expectations
Before I get to why I think Poynor is right, I want to point out why he’s wrong. It’s unfair to expect design weblogs to routinely produce the sort of lengthy, highly articulate and well-researched writing that Poynor produces as a matter of course. That’s just not what the medium is about, and to complain that it does not live up to the standards of, say, the thoughtful Eye Magazine (which Poynor edited for several years during a stellar run) is unrealistic. It’s a bit like complaining that YouTube has yet to produce an equivalent to “.” Which is to say, so what?

Here’s where he’s right. YouTube and art cinema can co-exist, at least for now. But if you want to talk about new media eating old media’s lunch, then the danger posed to Hollywood entertainment creators by the internet is like a far-off tectonic shift of no particular urgency compared to the immediate, pressing and under-appreciated danger posed by design blogs to serious outlets for design criticism.

Read full article here >

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Filed under: design, new media, technology

One Response

  1. Julia says:

    Have you looked at the Writing PAD Project (Writing Purposefully in Art and Design) led by Goldsmiths University of London with over 40 other UK A&D institutions. The project is now developing an international following with the launch of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, published by Intellect.
    Wriitng PAD offers UK art and design institutions an arena in which to explore and develop the notion of ‘thinking through writing’ as a parallel to visual discourse in art and design practice. Writing PAD has not only brought together tutors from across the disciplines, but also from across roles: i.e. studio staff, theory staff, learning support, and learning and teaching (L&T) coordinators.

    If your institution is interested in becoming a part of the network please check out our website http://www.writing-pad.ac.uk, our glossary http://www.writing-pad.org or contact the project director, Julia Lockheart, j.lockheart@gold.ac.uk

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