Design, Fiction and The Logic of the Impossible

Why can’t we have more of that!? (Fiona Raby, Newsbar, 2018)

This question, asked by Fiona as we ate our sandwiches at the Newsbar, has lodged itself in my mind since leaving New York. We were discussing the brilliance of The Third Policeman over lunch. O’Brien’s wondrous, surrealist, postmodern masterpiece, written between 1939–1940, has been a continual source of inspiration to me for over 20 years. It was my last day with Fiona, Tony and Carolyn and, as with many lunches over those 3 months, our conversations drifted towards our favourite films, artists and fiction. Fiona demanded, with a sense of almost indignation, why the freedom, creativity and imagination of the great surrealist, postmodern and magical realist fiction writers, like Flann O’Brien, didn’t populate the world of design. We talked about the freedom and joyous expression of literary fiction in relationship to experimental design practice.

Also during my last week in NYC I went to see Rams with the brilliant Matt Brown. A beautiful documentary about the legendary head of design for Braun, Dieter Rams. I, like many of my generation, enjoy a bit of design fetishism as much as the next white-male-middle-class-designer. But I came away deeply frustrated by the gulf between the object obsessive conservatism and the lack of genuine follow through by many of the fanboys (or put more clearly; Rams lived his ideas, those that hero worship him often take his ideas as superficial styling to fuel consumption). My other deep frustration was why did it all need to be so fucking earnest?

So much of design culture is occupied by people that take themselves so very seriously. When thinking about our conversations in the Newsbar about magical realism and surrealism, it became apparent to me that the level of imaginative freedom allowed in the world of experimental fiction, would struggle to exist in contemporary design culture (and academia) because there’d be some form of backlash about how it wasn’t ‘real’… that the work didn’t address the world’s real issues or problems… that it would never succeed in the ‘real world’. We are a discipline that is reliant on our creativity and imagination, but have become terrified of the imaginary….

(continue reading on medium)

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