I stumbled across a post yesterday pertaining to elegant.
I am fond of the term. I'll make no qualms about it. I firmly believe that with some stringent caveats, elegant is the term we need to nail.
There is a larger issue here however. It is a problem of context. The absolute neglect of traditional art and design theory / thinking when people start bandying words around as though we live in some sort of absolutist miasma.
We do not.
From ZOMFG to DO NOT WANT: Typical Libre Cultural Responses
Why should we pay attention to this? Why should we take an otherwise innocuous post from Hylke and investigate the core of what is being forwarded?
Because at the core of Hylke's message is a very important design decision. For us as a Libre culture to enact such a design direction involves a good deal of sophisticated thinking. It involves an entirely holistic approach to the technical execution of art and design that isn't simply a 'little ditty here' and a 'little ditty there'.
We so often care so little about design presence that we look at a post such as Hylke's and do one of two typical comments:
"DO NOT WANT!!!!"
Sometimes the commentary has some sort of half baked addendum as to why a particular commenter's view is more valid or less valid, which is glazed over by participant next who asserts their viewpoint. No one reads those comments anyways...
Two steps this way, two steps that way, then two steps over there. Interest turns to apathy and yet another case of "Oh well... it's just ( bikeshedding | fanboyism )."
If you wonder or get angry when a project shuts their doors down to community 'involvement', it is precisely this reason. Art and design thinking that stopped at age six or seven being shout out with extremely loud voices. Blam: Stop energy.
STFU You Semantic Idiot. We All Know Elegant. Get on With It!
Seems simple enough doesn't it?
What is unfortunate here is that the dark strain of absolutism will actually rear its head in ways that are not pleasant. Every time you hear someone scream out "I KNOW WHAT I LIKE", you can almost immediately dismiss them.
"Anyone that cares for his art seeks the essence of his own technique." -- Dziga Vertov, 1922
The following little evaluation is largely for a Westernized North American audience. It may extend further, but the bias will most certainly be rooted in language. Note the words in single quotes below:
'Beauty'. Did you immediately think feminine / female?
'Truck'. Did you think masculine / male?
I will acknowledge that most of the readers of this blog have proven to be pretty darn clever. Perhaps you already spotted the pitfalls and are aware of the trap.
If you take one thing away from this reading, it should be that absolutism is nasty. It is ethnocentric, egocentric, ignorant of the ever mercurial historical context, and fosters othering via the implied difference.
How the Hell Can We Do Anything?
Tricky question, no?
The very premise of art and design theory is that you think those very real pitfalls through. Be aware that what you assume is only, as the old adage goes, making an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'.
Great. We got elegant. Now what?
- Did you consider age demographic? What is elegant for a hip pre-twentysomething female snowboarder is likely entirely different than a middle aged thirtysomething female lawyer living in a downtown apartment. Only ten years difference is a generation gap. Remember that. What was noise for your dad is alternative or classic rock for you.
- Did you consider culture? What is elegant for the aforementioned pre-twentysomething female is probably well... not exactly relevant or on point for a pre-twentysomething woman living in India, Africa, or Japan. Global design? Global myth.
- Did you consider your contemporary context? When you think of flying, it makes sense to show lovely tall buildings with planes, right? Not so much in North America these days. I'd cite the relatively unfortunate ad campaign of Greyhound Bus Lines here in Canada. The tagline was "There's a reason you never heard of bus rage." Makes sense right? Rather funny even.Until a moment of darkness.
- Are you really certain you know what the hell you are talking about? Seriously. If I asked 10 high profile art directors to define elegant, they would all likely be stymied. It's a nebulous thing. Do your homework. Do your research. What elegant are you talking about? Build a mood board. Gather data. What is the historical reasoning behind your vision of elegant? Prepare to start peeling apart an onion of complexity. Once you have clearly localized exactly what you mean visually, try to make sure that everyone that needs to be involved understands that. It is a universal truth that time is perceived left to right in our heads, right (PDF LINK)?
Look Before We Leap
It's only four points, but you can likely see how complicated this can get extremely quickly. By clearly defining the constraints and the vision, you can greatly avoid paradoxical situations that flame out into stop energy.
Remember, when you start seeing bike shedding or the opportunity for it, the project's designer'(s)' vision is weak. You should be able to tactically evaluate every decision in light of the vision.
Finally, consider who is calling the shots. I'd be so bold as to say the cares and attention a kernel hacker can offer on art and design are likely moot. A loud Free Software evangelist that heads a project is likely not the best person to be evaluating GDM design.
Our eagerness to move forward must be tempered with the full realization that there are formal and traditional approaches to execution.
Thank you all for taking the time to read the post. Keep the art and design thinking alive and well. Keep caring and be wary of the 'simple' terms that some bandy about like candy...
I am but the sum of your clicks.
 There is a long bunch of mumbling and drooling from me about elegant and its ties to living spaces, casual communicating, and the need to distance ourselves from clinical terms such as 'users' and 'computers'. I don't want to clutter up the post with that sort of thing.