Design View | Articles and opinion on design professionalism, technique and culture by Andy Rutledge

So Long Design Observer

June 1, 2007

With its latest article, Design Observer shirks its responsibility to readers in favor of senselessly indulging its own political agenda. The article, written by William Drenttel, is a political diatribe and lobbying effort that has no place in a design publication. I don’t know William Drenttel, but I do know that he doesn’t understand the distinction between personal values and personal political views. He flaunts his unfortunate lack of understanding for all to see in his article, “Al Gore for President:”

Drenttel writes:

“A warning to all those readers who do not like politics mixed with design, because frankly, I’m not sure you can be a serious, working designer and separate the two. Writing as a designer, as a writer, as a husband and father, but most of all, as a human being — I believe we should draft Al Gore to run for the Presidency of the United States.”

Drenttel’s suggestion is, of course, as erroneous as it is regrettable. Every serious, working, responsible designer must separate politics from design. It is wholly unprofessional for a designer to bring political views to commissioned design work. Only in our personal projects is there room for indulgence of our personal political views.

…For others, politics is a gross fetish that taints their every endeavor. In such a case, personal values are neglected or become forgotten altogether in favor of petty, arbitrary agendas.

If he had thought about it, rather than “felt” about it, I believe Mr. Drenttel meant to write was that it is likely that one cannot be a serious, working designer and not mix one’s personal values with design work. These values might tend toward liberal or conservative, which Drenttel childishly naïvely confuses with Democrat and Republican. No, politics is something that Mr. Drenttel irresponsibly imposed upon his contribution to Design Observer. To its detriment.

Politics is a worthy realm for action, discussion, and debate, and for some it can be a healthy part of a responsible life. For others, politics is a gross fetish that taints their every endeavor. In such a case, personal values are neglected or become forgotten altogether in favor of petty, arbitrary agendas. By his own words and actions I am now led to believe the latter would describe Drenttel’s approach to design and to his writings.

I don’t begrudge Drenttel his political ideals. Our nation is great, in part, because we have varied political ideals. The political debate is an important one and it must continue—in it’s appropriate context. Outside of this context, the expression or imposition of political ideals can rob endeavors, organizations, and sometimes even a person, of all credibility. I believe such is the case with Mr. Drenttel’s article in DO. Drenttel should have written about values, not politics. I suspect there’s a specific reason for his choice: He couldn’t fathom any other choice. Apparently, neither could DO.

Design Observer’s choice to publish this wholly political article is disappointing, offensive, and seemingly senseless. They have defined their purpose and place in our community and it is not one that I care to associate with. There are too many real design publications available online where one can find articles and community news. DO will no longer be on my daily reading list and I’m not sure how—Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative—it could be on any designer’s list. Best of luck to the Democrat Observer staff in their newfound endeavors.

Update:

Some have written suggesting that my actual beef with DO is that they chose to support a Democrat rather than a Republican. I would think that my essay would make this clear, but if not, let me do so now: It is not the expressed political affilitation that is at issue. Rather, it is the wholly irrelevant presence of entirely political subject matter that makes Drenttel’s article inappropriate. I would hope that anyone would take issues with his diatribe, were it advocating Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton, or Ralph Nader.

The Democrat Observer is supposed to be a publication about design and the relevant culture. It is not, was not, a political mouthpiece for the any party and I'm appalled that any designer is happy to see it become that. Shame, shame.

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