You can't get fired if you don't have a job. by Anthony Schmiedeler

I'm going to be completely honest here. It's embarrassing but I didn't really know who Margaret Atwood was before Monday. I don't consider myself "well-read" but I'm trying to get to a point where I do. I was slightly aware of her status as an iconic female author so I knew that hearing her deliver the Kenneth A. Spencer Memorial Lecture at KU was a good opportunity for me. So I made the trek out to Lawrence and I wasn't disappointed.

Margaret Atwood is an honest speaker. She was thoughtful and didn't pull any punches. She talked about the state of our world very bluntly, starting with where we came from and what we are.

We came long ago and we came equipped with the arts. Inside every one of us is an artist of some sort — maybe not a very good artist, but an artist nonetheless.

She ended with her answer to where we are going, urging us to embrace the humanities because they are "what make us human" and warning us to avoid the steadily growing "zombie" movement that appears to be doing the opposite. It was hopeful in a weird way and reassuring to hear that maybe I'm on the right track. It helped that in her explanation of the impermanence of ideas, she was able to insert some dancing Super Bowl sharks

My favorite part of the conversation were the audience questions and her super witty responses that always went much deeper than the original queries. Hear are a few I jotted down (largely paraphrased): 

• In response to "what made you get into writing?" she referred to the famous line "They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started playing..." which was a great way to say she didn't know what she was doing when she started. She finished with "I will explore almost anything to see how it works." I guess writing is what stuck.

 In response to "How do you address people who take your book too seriously?" she said "It's only a book. Just take the cover and close it." She writes books, not as a gloomy prediction of what's to come, but more as a map on how to avoid it. Nothing is inevitable and the future is not set in stone.

 My favorite line of the night was in response to "How did you get into activism?". She said she hates activism! It's more of a chore than anything else. But there are people who can't say what they want to say because they have jobs. Due to her time in the Girl Scouts she feels compelled to go a bit further than most. So she says what she wants for those who can't because "You can't get fired if you don't have a job!".

After the talk I guess I still don't know her that well but I can say that I'm a new fan. And I will be reading The Handmaid's Tale very soon.

Future Library. A 100 year project, started in 2014, of which Margaret Atwood is the first contributor.

Future Library. A 100 year project, started in 2014, of which Margaret Atwood is the first contributor.

Impact, by Design by Anthony Schmiedeler

Art vs Design

I’ve been privy to many arguments about the differences between art and graphic design. Some say art is more about expressing emotion and design is a calculated outcome defined by rules. Others say art is all about how a viewer interprets it and design has intended goals. I think there is a lot more overlap than that. A lot of times, art take a rigorously planned out path where as design comes out as a spontaneous gesture. Likewise, a design can be interpreted in many different ways no matter how much effort was put into crafting an obvious conclusion.

Impact vs Aesthetics

Despite their similarities, I do believe that they should be criticized on different scales. The primary focus of good design is to solve a problem. That problem could be as simple as forming an honest representation of a product with a brand or figuring out a comfortable path for readers in the layout of a magazine. Art can at times be used to solve a problem but I would argue that those artworks are designed to do that. So why is it that design isn’t judged on it’s ability to solve problems?

The Beauty in Solutions

In my experience, most graphic design is judged on the way it looks rather than what it does. No matter how much thought is put into function, form seems to win out. This perpetuates those trendy waves that swell and die out year after year. It also seems to cut down on people’s efforts to actually use graphic design for good. In a perfect world design would be judged on impact. Even if that impact is very small or only has the potential to be effective. After all, any design that tries to solve a problem is inherently beautiful no matter what it looks like.