Sometimes when I see design work that I like, my response is “wow – that looks like it took a lot of work.” I am impressed in a very serious way with work like this. I appreciate the dedication and craft of the people responsible. I probably even feel a tinge of jealousy or envy. It can be hard not to, in the face of great talent.
After a time, I sometimes question my reaction to work like this. Do I love it because it’s impressive? Is it really doing anything useful with regard to the goals of that project? Is it good design, or has it crossed over to the (equally important, but very different) realm of art?
There’s another kind of work where I feel more at ease with my admiration. It’s the work where you barely notice the design. It’s so simple and appropriate – the designer’s intent lies quietly behind the content, gently guiding you through the work without distraction. It may not be until after the experience that you even think about the designer, so natural is your interaction.
This kind of work – to me – may be the hardest to pull off, simply because it’s making something very difficult look very easy.
Like many kids growing up in the 80’s, I thought Eddie Van Halen was the coolest guy ever. In particular, the Hot For Teacher video really stuck with me. There’s this one part where Eddie is playing one of his great guitar solos while walking down a long classroom table towards us. The whole time he’s shredding the shit out of his guitar, but his face says he’s not even paying attention to what he’s doing. He’s looking us right in the eye with this goofy – almost sarcastic – look on his face like “uh-oh, I bet this looks really hard, right?”
He makes it look so easy. But I guarantee you it’s not.
The great Charles Eames once said it well: “never let the blood show.” I think Charles and Eddie are on the same wavelength. You want to give people something wonderful, but they don’t need to know the pain involved in getting there.
Someday I hope I can be a little like Eddie and Charles, where my work is a more selfless gift to the world, and all the difficulty and struggle is my own private experience. Maybe someday. In the meantime, I’ll just keep trying to make it look easy.