I love when people put together their “top designer” lists because no two are ever alike — they always represent the subjective views and opinions of the list creator since design (and art) are both open to subjectivity. Andy Denton and Jason Calacanis just put together theirs. One person’s masterpiece is another person’s 00.com, so when creating a list you’re not really making a Top 10 Designers list you’re making a My Favorite 10 Designers list and there’s a big difference.
I just read a good article about Jay-Z in the latest GQ magazine, and one of the interesting things he talked about was the concept of making music that’s not just a flash-in-the-pan but everlasting and continually solid. Lil’ Jon makes club music that has a big beat but no symbolism behind it, so in a few years we just won’t listen to it because he makes disposable music. Jay-Z said that his goal is to always make classic songs and albums, ones that we can listen to over and over and always retrieve deeper meaning. I still listen to Reasonable Doubt (his first album, dropped 1996) because the entire album is comprised of classic, solid music. All the pop songs, jewelry raps, and emo ballads will soon be forgotten just like the vast majority of albums made in the 60s and 70s were forgotten except for a handful that were timeless and great.
Great design isn’t about mashing the latest trends together and throwing against the wall and seeing what sticks. So much of the design work I see in the industry today is what Jay-Z called “disposable” — designs that only represent the trends being used currently but will look foolish and outdated in a year, or a few months. If you want to see what classic web design looks like, just hop over to Stopdesign andCuban Council. Those two sites have looked essentially the same for years and are still two of the most beautiful agency sites out there. Doug took some stock photography and brought them into Photoshop to add new colors and linework, then coupled that with a solid layout (who else does 1/3rd width per column so eloquently?) and perfect typography. The Fantastic Four from Cuban Council have worked on everything from the iPod Store to Suicide Girls so their site is a pixelized feast with useful Flash additions and only the most relevant information shown. They don’t talk about superfluous junk like the processes they use, they just show you who they are and what work they’ve done. Usable and timeless.
Unfortunately, timeless creations like Stopdesign and Cuban Council are few and far between because design like that just isn’t appreciated in this disposable industry. Ah! That’s what Web 2.0 really means, it means that applications, design, and companies are disposable, flash-in-the-pan creations with no individual redeeming values. A dozen social networks, a hundred bookmarking sites, a thousand Office-replacement web apps, all with designs that look like this, this, this, or this. Plain sites with no zest, no visual direction, no classic layouts or typography, nothing to separate them from all their competitors.
The best visual design stands the test of time like a solid album, where you can visit it now and a year from now and it still has the same allure. Disposable design is me-too design, throwing the trends everyone else is using into a blender and then churning it out into HTML with no overall sense of visual direction, flow or cohesiveness.
Create classic albums, not disposable songs.