What would do you some good is an establishing shot or an articulation of the circumstances. Circumstances can’t be ignored, but they might happily de-intellectualize the approach. Any design, from weaponry to cobblin’ (not sure why, but it seems right to omit the terminal “g” here.) is a provisional response to particular and irreproducible circumstances. Our circumstances, in their barest psycho-skeletal detail, were to design and program a website for Yale Union (YU), an institution that hasn’t been around since the Pleistocene epoch or anything. Things are un-smelted here. Our arms are sausagey, our knuckles-drag, and we are trying to adjust ourselves to change, shifting our frame, looking for a position that doesn’t shoot pains down the backs of our thighs. Design plays its part; decisions depend not on their immutability but on their adaptability to all this change.
The attempt was low-altitude. We wanted to take in some ‘real life’ in the design, which is to say, we wanted to take up the real concerns of our institution. So, we made a website that was responsive, like responsive in the superficial it-adapts-to-the-size-of-the-device-way, but also responsive in the sense that the site—a very chopped and screwed Wordpress—can respond in real time to additional content and editorial changes. With the internet, everything too is un-smelted. Nothing ends. So you can make something and then change it and then undo that change and then change it again. We wanted to make that pliability a loud fact. We wanted to build something forgiving, you know, something that allowed us to think and make at the same time.
What else should we say? Should we say, “Well, the site follows the old modernist notion that anything is possible, the postmodernist notion that everything is exhausted, the post-postmodernist notion that since everything is exhausted, everything is permitted.” Bushwa. Not untrue. But a total stucco job. It’s always tempting to put this kind of response before stimulus, to sit back, make finger-steeples and retire into elaborate theoretical justifications for your work, but if we treat our work too ponderously we might negate the very qualities that give it oxygen.
Higher intelligence and special consultation arrived in the third act when Stuart Bailey, a close friend and kind of avuncular figure, invited us to speak to his class at Otis College of Art and Design. Even now, we aren’t all that inclined or enabled to counter the students’ insightful criticism and questions:
1. The pressure of language is perhaps too constant.
2. The site is afraid to let itself go. Better said, perhaps it pays too much respect to formal requirements.
3. (1+2). At worst it behaves like a kid in a tuxedo, at best, it behaves like a kid in a tuxedo.
4. By nature, humans organize information hierarchically, so the absence of a hierarchy naturally makes a statement. Is that statement worth the number of readers that will defect?
Still, the nightmare is involution. The nightmare is that the site produces communication signals, but does not in fact communicate. Have you ever been to a party and someone is just talking at you, like really chewing your face off, and you don’t actually need to be there for the conversation to carry forward? And like, yeah, wow, we don’t want the reader to think it’s a great idea, but palpably an idea. We have a thing about ‘ideas’.
—A.Flint Jamison, S. Ponik, R. Snowden for Yale Union (YU)
Signage on the east wall at The Hollywood Burger Bar, 4211 Northeast Sandy Boulevard, Portland, OR 97213. One example of how in the course of this design we went a decent distance in a circle, to arrive not far from where we started, but considerably more informed. So much for being sui-generis, first to the apple, the original progenitor. I mean, dig how deeply sunk in our subconscious this place is. Clearly our copulation is simulated. Fraudulent. Deeply imitative of the Burger Bar!
Yale Union (YU) home page