*In response to Travis Gertz’s article, “Design Machines: How to survive the digital apocalypse”
I really enjoyed this article. It’s unlike any article I’ve read on the web. The design is fantastic and original, and the writing doesn’t seem like the sanitized bullshit we’re used to. You can tell Travis Gertz poured his heart into writing about an issue he cares about.
Where do I even start with this? Gertz hit on a lot of points that I’ve thought about for a long time, but never had the words for. I guess we’ll start where he does.
EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME and COPYCAT CULTURE
I touched on this very briefly in my second process post, but I’ve felt that website is becoming increasingly unoriginal. Everyone is obsessed with this sort of new-wave minimalism (As Gertz describes it, a darkened stock photo with a centered, white, sans-serif font on top). This was a huge gripe of mine when creating my website. I thought all the templates looked like shit. They were trying to copy what was popular. I didn’t want what was popular, I wanted something original. I picked a barebones theme with virtually no customization features, and I’ve since butchered it so much that it’s nearly unrecognizable from the stock template. But you know what? It’s mine. It’s not some cookie-cutter template that hundreds of others are using, it’s mine. And even if it’s been a pain in the ass to setup, I would say it’s worth it. I’m very happy with the design of my site.
One of my biggest inspirations design-wise was thirdworlds.net, the website for the band Death Grips. Funny enough, their website was completely overhauled the day before I wrote this, so most of my design inspiration is based off the old site.
On the old site, they kept it extremely simple. The top of the page displayed a gallery of videos the group has released, or tour information if they were currently on tour. Scrolling down, you would be presented with a list of all the albums they put out, with links to play the songs, buy the album, and all of the lyrics. Below that was some miscellaneous information about past live shows or links to buy their merch, and finally some contact/booking information at the bottom. None of these things I just mentioned linked to other pages, it was just one long page you would scroll. The site didn’t try to be flashy because it didn’t have to be. It was a very simple site layout that conveyed all the information necessary. I wanted my site to follow this idea. Their site did not use menus, but unfortunately by site would have too much content to do this. I instead opted to keep a very simple menu on the top and avoid the use of dropdown menus. I used their idea of the one long scrolling page for my “archive” section. And finally, I was inspired by their site to use the colour scheme of white text on a black background.
As much as I loved the old site, the redesign they just pushed out is great. They still do not use menus, however they have streamlined the section of the website that hosts their music. There is now a sort of file explorer within their website that puts all the music they have put out into folders. Within these folders, there is the music, album artwork, stems (the separate tracks of the songs split up, really cool considering most artists don’t release that) and any extra artwork, including promo images and unreleased drafts of album artwork. They’ve created a sort of digital archive of their own work. This is sort of what I’m trying to do with my own site, a place to archive my work that doesn’t rely on others.
CRAP CONTENT SELLING CRAP
Another huge gripe of mine with the current internet landscape is how little substance most of the “content” actually has. Gertz talks about how most of the content put out exists simply to pad numbers and sell things. Influencing is the name of the game nowadays. If you don’t keep up that engagement, you’re falling behind. Oops, now you’re irrelevant. The social media metagame has become a fucking meat grinder due to all this contentfarmed nonsense. It doesn’t matter if the content is shallow, as long as it appeals to the widest audience possible. This approach to creation pisses me off. Everything is so sapped of originality anymore.
There’s a girl I went to high school with who is quite skilled in visual arts. She draws and she animates. I recently discovered she has an Instagram account with over 40,000 followers. I checked the content she was posting, and none of it was original. She would just draw fanart of other peoples work. She had a second account where she posted original work (which I personally think is much better than that fanart garbage), and it doesn’t even have 1,000 followers. She seems to pour all her time into running the account that just siphons off other people’s creative work, spamming every post with hashtags to grow her engagement. I admire the hustle, but fuck man. Is this what it takes nowadays? This girl is genuinely really talented, but all she seems to do is bite other peoples work, because that’s what pays the bills. It sucks. As an artist nowadays, you can either keep artistic integrity, or appeal to the masses, pick one.
“The content should speak to the few people who can identify with this personality because this is the only audience that matters.”
I like this quote Gertz puts forward. I think about this a lot with the work I put out. I don’t like hashtags, I don’t like gaming the algorithm, I like making content that appeals to myself and a small group of likeminded individuals. My creative partner and I (@drainpercapita on Instagram) are working on a project right now with the goal of attracting a smaller following of likeminded individuals. We don’t expect to make money on it, actually we expect to lose a lot, but we want to keep that artistic integrity alive.
HOW WE COLLABORATE
I’m glad Gertz wrote about the importance of collaboration in the creation of content. A lot of my content is collaborative in nature, particularly in collaboration with drainpercapita. Any time we work together, we aren’t delegating parts of a process to one another, we’re constantly in collaboration. Sometimes there will be things that I am an expert in, sometimes things he is an expert in, or sometimes things other collaborators are experts in, but no matter what, it is always a collaborative process.
Having a fellow creative mind to bounce ideas off of is extremely helpful to the creative process. Like Gertz wrote, designers should not be in charge of testing and evaluating their own work. Having other eyes look over work, or enlisting the help of others to refine ideas is what helps make original content.