Be meaner. On the front page of my ideal design blog is a daily fugging of something from the world of visual culture. That’s essentially what Unhappy Hipsters is doing for Dwell, or more specifically, for Dwell’s preferred mode of architectural photography. But I can tell they are already tiring of their limited field — the captions are getting wordier, generally a sign of weariness. Or Pr*tty Sh*tty for advertising but again, I think he might be getting tired. A rotating cast of bloggers, each tasked with a different visual field, could provide the morning hit of acid I crave. The internet creates much more opportunity for short and shallow and funny (as well as long and thought-provoking and serious). Remember the instant viral jokes about the iPad? Not to bite the hand that feeds (only in the digital sense), but sometimes this site can be a little snoozy. More criticism and shorter criticism might give it something readers had to look at every day. As I tell my students, when you are primarily writing a sweet review, it is important to add a dash of pepper. Love doesn’t mean you have to love everything.
The short format might also broaden the perception of the field of design criticism, and mess up the categories of design. Magazines have traditionally had to differentiate and categorize themselves. Now that they are all gone, I think the future lies in writing about design as it appears in life — the houses in TV shows, the architecture behind the cars, the selling of architects as personalities. I loved all the discussions of the faux-denim Olympic snowboarder outfits, which migrated from the sports pages to various design blogs. There is a subset of (mostly male) writers and designers that seem to take special pleasure in re-inserting sports into a world typically dominated by cultural pursuits. For most people interested in design, there’s no need to segregate uniforms in the sports section and advertising on the business blogs.
There are plenty of products that it would be horrifying to review in one paragraph. Buildings, for example, once built, need to be taken seriously and treated at greater length. They aren’t just trotted out for the Oscars, and, as Paul Goldberger has said, “Nobody tears down a building if the architecture critic doesn’t like it.” There need to be more architecture and design critics given 1000 words or more to review buildings, and a platform to show their work to readers. Maybe new buildings of note could be reviewed by two or three people, an exercise I always include in my criticism classes. Maybe we need to forget about buildings and review transformed neighborhoods. This would be the long-form part of the blog, for which the daily dose of poison serves as a kind of loss leader.

April 24, 2010