Kelli Anderson provides innovative examples of challenging the design status quo in her lecture, “Disruptive Wonder for a Change.” She takes very ordinary artifacts: a Christmas card, a wedding invitation, and a newspaper, and gives them new life by questioning their purpose, the materials she uses to create them, and their social relevance. While I am familiar with challenging the design process in order to break away from our heuristic biases, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it engaged quite like Anderson does it in this video.
I watch a lot of cooking competition shows, and there almost always seems to be one challenge where the contestants are asked to “deconstruct” a classic dish. This is usually a staple, something everyone is familiar with, like chicken pot pie, for example. They often use most, if not all of the original ingredients in the dish, but they find a new way to present it that is exciting and unexpected. This seems to be at the heart of what Anderson is suggesting. The parts and pieces of what she wants to communicate stay the same, but she bends the materials and context to repurpose the message and give it new life.
I am certainly open to disruptive wonder, but I don’t always invite it the way I should. When I open Illustrator and set the artboard to 3.5 x 2 inches, I make a decision about what I believe a business card is. It may be a perfectly reasonable and appropriate decision, but it is not the only option out there. In fact, I did a little research and I came across a site with some very creative solutions for business cards. You can check them out here:
http://creativecriminals.com/compilations/creative-business-cards/. One of my favorites was this one, designed for a house painting company:
One reason I think that I find it challenging to engage in “disruptive wonder” is that I’ve been essentially designing in the same medium for most of my career. When I design a tee shirt, I know for one, that it is a tee shirt, and secondly, that I can’t design larger than a 12 x 16 rectangle. I know that the design must be less than 8 or 9 colors, and that it has to be printed in ink, and that it must able to withstand 400 degree heat. Sometimes our materials will provide inevitable and unavoidable boundaries. This is the nature of living in a physical world.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t question the way we go about communicating the message. After all, Anderson still made a wedding invitation with classic materials, like paper and vellum, but was able to transform it into an experience. She does this first by questioning what is at the heart of the message. What makes her friends unique? What is exciting about their story? Second, she asks how the materials can support this story she is trying to tell. She doesn’t show off simply for the sake of being flashy, but rather it supports her overall communicative goals. What really makes this design work is the narrative it tells: a story of meeting, love, learning, making music and growing old together.