10 April 2018
Out of all the numerous events there were, I decided to go to the 3rd Annual Phil Patton Lecture featuring Natasha Jen and Khoi Vinh. I chose this event particularly because the lecture topic, “Designer as Critic” seemed interesting and caught my appeal. Another plus were the featured speakers. Natasha Jen is an award-winning designer, faculty member at SVA, and partner at the world’s largest design agency, Pentagram. Khoi Vinh is a Principal Designer at Adobe, previous design director for the New York Times, and author of subtraction.com, a blog about design, technology, and culture.
The event was located at the SVA Beatrice Theatre at 333 W 23rd Street. The space was fairly small but large enough to have an engaging experience. The center stage is close to the audience. The way this lecture worked was that Natasha Jen presented her argument along with a projected presentation, and then Khoi Vinh presented a counter-argument. After the two presented their cases, they both came to center stage and answered questions led by moderator, Adam Harrison Levy, Faculty Member, SVA MA Design Research. Following this discussion was a Q&A from the audience but was ultimately cut short due to time.
From Natasha Jen’s point of view, she feels that designers should not be design critics. Her definition of a critic and the role of a critic is that it requires special, intellectual rigor. To be a critic is not something every designer can do or should do. As designers, we make and create things, whereas, critics are the observers. They assess the work that designers make. She also went on in saying that, “As a maker, there is a kind of closeness not only to your own work but also to the feel itself that is not healthy for a maker to function as a critic.” I completely agree with her point that as designers we should not critical of design because we have knowledge of what to do and what not to do as makers. Also, I understand the feeling of being close to your work. It is hard and in her case “unhealthy” because you then become very one-sided and limit yourself from a multitude of other possibilities.
On the other hand, you have Khoi Vinh’s point of view. He believes that designers are most comfortable defining design to one another, to those who already have the understanding and vocabulary of the world of design, which in turn has worked against us. He stated that, “They’ve limited our opportunities, the chances we get to contribute to the full extent of our ability and they’ve limited our capacity to fulfill designs true potential as the world changing force that we’ve all been insisting that it can be.” In terms of design thinking, it doesn’t matter to him whether or not it leads to bad designs. What is most important to him is whether design thinking, “helps broaden the language of design, if It helps expand the community of design, if it helps build a world where people understand design better than they do today.” Vinh closes his argument with a question, “What do we want design to be?” Honestly, I have to give it to Vinh. In this field, we are very secluded in the sense that we care more about ourselves, what we see, what our peers see but not what non-designers see. We have limited our knowledge and understanding of design to the outside world. This has opened my eyes and made me realize that I want to become a designer embraces others, that people can understand and connect with.
At the end of the lecture, I got to speak with both Khoi Vinh and Natasha Jen. As nervous as I was, I don’t feel like I made a complete fool out of myself. I asked Khoi about his creative process when it came to design, what he did to get himself out there in the field, and whether there were currently any internship opportunities available at Adobe. Overall, he was very informative and polite. He didn’t carry his business card on him and neither did Natasha Jen. However, he did tell me his email. As much as I was looking forward to receiving a business card from them, it wasn’t a complete bust. I got to speak to two very influential designers in the field and gained a new perspective on things. I’d say this experience was a win/win. It got me out of my comfort zone of going up and talking to people as well as a learning experience.