The Middle Path to (Design) Wisdom

“Everything is shit. The word art must be redefined. This is the age where everyone creates.”
–Patti Smith

“The blogosphere is itself a commodification of authenticity”
–Andrew Keen

Clay Shirky posted some thoughts about humility and arrogance in design on A Brief Message this morning. I’ve been considering some similar ideas over the past few months, as have many others, I’m sure. It’s almost impossible to avoid the topic in the design community, with all the discussion of crowdsourcing and folksonomies and metadesign and web 2.0 and…

I appreciate Clay’s thoughts on the ugliness of myspace (true) and the arrogance of apple (also true). As a design strategist working with interaction and innovation, I spend a inordinate amount of my time considering ways to bridge the gap between the worlds of user-generated and expert contribution; sometimes the distance feels too great to fathom.

There was even something of a internet dustup earlier this year when Andrew Keen published his book “The Cult of the Amateur”. Crowdsourcing? But what about virtuosity? You think you’re an auteur? But what about youtube? What do you say, Clay? Andrew, any comments for the crowdsourcing crowd?

Okay, this is the world we live in, and it’s our challenge to find a way to make these work together. So here’s what I would like to do; I propose setting up a tag-team cage match between the avatars of the leaders of different factions of the media world. Maybe we could do it in second life.

In the red trunks, Mark Cuban, telling stories of the long tail ghetto. You want to get paid for that? Well, unless you own the Dallas Mavericks you’re going to need OPM (other people’s money).

In the blue trunks, it’s Jimmy Wales going all wikia on everything. The future is open source. Hey, everyone is an expert in something, right?

Jimmy gets in a couple of virtual smackdowns, and Cuban tags off to the talented single moniker duo brangelina. Big Hollywood talent and money in the ring, what are the little guys going to do?

Wales escapes to his corner and is replaced in the ring by Lonelygirl15, and she gets additional support from Ask-a-Ninja. Wow, this is going to be some match. Who will be standing at the end of the day?

In truth, the process and results of design are changing. Processes tend to be more collaborative and distributed than in the past; this is true both when working with expert teams and with the folks creating their own folksonomies. In some cases, we’re building an iterative framework to allow the design to define itself over time. In other cases, we start with a expert vision, and refine and revise as we move forward.

There is still a long way to go. New paradigms are being developed; we are still exploring technologies and have yet to really understand the potential for stories in this newly connected environment. We’re still watching the Lumiere brothers fly to the moon, and we haven’t had our Eisenstein show us the potential of cinematic montage.

There is room for both the expert and the amateur in the world of design. Wisdom will come from knowing which approach is appropriate and when.

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