Stuff I'm Thinking About

Opposite Reactions

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It’s always been an interesting thing to me, a physical reaction to a non-physical trigger — something we see or hear or feel that causes an emotional response which the body then responds to in seemingly inexplicable ways. Make myself clear, you ask? Well, okay.

Music has always had the ability to give me goosebumps and shivers. Not all music by any stretch, but there are a good number of songs in my iTunes library that, given the right state of mind (though there are a few that I always cringe at), and the right melody, drum beat, lyric or any combination there of can produce a bizarre feeling. It’s almost as if I momentarily leave my body and am in an expansive space within my own head, surrounded by this amazing sound. (I know, that sounds a little fruity, but I couldn’t explain it any other way.) Sometimes the sensation can be very fleeting, passing in the blink of an eye. Sometimes, however, the physical response to the music will occur multiple times within a single song, these cool waves occasionally lasting upwards of ten seconds.

I also experience odd reactions in my stomach upon seeing really good graphic design. I’ve been known to often use the phrase “It makes me sick…” when I see something I really like, and many times I literally mean it. Whether it be a logo, poster, or even a typeface (which is becoming more and more common as my love of type is growing on a daily basis), that amazing collision of concept and execution can turn my stomach. I’ve never puked, but sometimes it feels close. What’s perhaps even more interesting, to me at least, is that when I’m working on a piece that I’m particularly excited about (for whatever reason it may be), my heart races and I can get light-headed. Who ever said working in front of a computer isn’t exhilarating?

During college I lived with a girl that would get goosebumps from visual stimulus; we went to a French Masters collection on view at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and she mentioned reacting to a few that were shown, so I know I’m not alone. Does anyone else out there have any sort of experience like this?

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13 thoughts on “Opposite Reactions

  1. Yes! All the time, especially about typography or a pieces of good mid-century illustration or a old book filled with Swiss design. There’s just something about seeing so carefully and thoughtfully crafted or when things finally come together in a project that just like hearing an old song.

    Cheers!

    • Perhaps it’s our acknowledgment of seeing something nearing what we consider “perfection” that sends our senses into overload, not knowing how to respond appropriately.

  2. Dee says:

    Absolutely! Especially with music — the song that immediately comes to mind is Eric Clapton’s version of “Hard Times” — the chill starts somewhere along the back of my neck and radiates outward. Visually, it’s a color, somewhere around PMS 284, that, since childhood, has had the ability to cause a wave of nausea to wash over me. On a positive note, seeing Renoir paintings in person takes my breath away and brings tears to my eyes. Great blog!

    • Dee, I love that you’ve got a specific Pantone chip that makes you ill — hilarious. I can’t say there are any particular colours that I physically react to.

  3. Chills: a lot of times, but it has to be something well-made, witty, and inexplicably awesome at the same time.

    Getting a physical sick feeling: only when I get struck by the realisation that I’ll never, ever be able to muster up the skill at persistence to create something as good.

    • I totally agree, Andrey. I’ve received many compliments on my work before, but I generally end up thinking that there’s a bunch of people that could’ve done it with more smarts and creativity. I can only hope that either A: this goes away eventually; or B: most others experience the same sensation. If B were true, I wonder if anyone can truly appreciate their own talents. I mean, I don’t think I suck or anything, I just have a much higher appreciation of other people’s work.

      • You’re forgetting C: you can try and improve. Assuming you always look at your work and think “well that is a bit crap” (and the truth is, your work can always be better), if you can pinpoint exactly what you don’t like about it, then you can keep an eye out for that same thing in the future. Ideally, you can do this and keep improving ad infinitum, compensating for any perceived lack of talent by just plain being stubborn. You might not become as good as others, but at least you’ll be getting better.

        At least that’s what I try to do.

  4. Bad design and the extreme over-use of once good fonts makes me want to vomit, or reel back in horror and confusion. Unresearched (or what would appear to be unresearched) design is one of the most mind-boggling things I could imagine. You’re being hired to DO WORK, and good work at that. If you can’t take the time to research something properly (and keep yourself from looking like an ass), then you deserve to be designing horrible things.

  5. Excellent point Andrey, and something I kind of assumed without mentioning. I’m a strong believer that people are should be constantly learning and improving upon their own skills, and I’m no exception; if I look a year back, I see major changes, and the year before that etc., “ad infinitum” as you smartly put it.

    And Zack, I’m with you on the under-researched design. That drives me nuts. What drives me especially nuts is people that don’t pay even the least bit of attention to detail — using three similar looking sans-serif typefaces on a single page always escapes me. On the note of typefaces, I must say I don’t share the same disgust for overused “once good fonts”. I’m a big sucker for Swiss Modernism and the International Typographic Style, so Helvetica has a big place in my heart. And Gotham, a sort of quasi new Helvetica in its overabundance, is still a gorgeous typeface when employed properly. (Note: I’m leaving out the usual suspects as I’ve never considered Brush Script, Comic Sans, Papyrus et al to be “once good”, because that would suggest that they were indeed good at one point.)

    • I do see what you mean about the font thing. I guess it’s just that sometimes I see the same font everywhere and wonder what the hell happened. Where did all of this one-sided design come from? I get over it though, as most people do with most things. What I’ve just noticed though (I’m watching TV right now), is when people, use default fonts (arial, trebuchet, etc.) for things that absolutely, in no way require that that specific font be used. This, in this specific example, is applying to video. The font is rendered into the video, so there’s no need to make sure that other computers have it. For inter-studio work, all the computers should have the same fonts anyway. if they don’t, then someone’s lacking on the hardware / software management side of things.

      Anyway, to sum up, I just think that uninformed / unresearched design (as I said earlier, and what this really all comes back to anyway) is just ridiculous. Almost as if it’s a function of natural selection, letting the designers pick out what not to do, and causing those who are making the “mistakes” to become less and less wanted.

      Although, there’s always got to be a “bottom of the barrel”, so there’s really no getting away from it. I guess it’s just what happens once you begin to become more and more educated about design. You can always find things to complain about. 😉

  6. Dee says:

    I think I know one answer to Zack’s question: Where did all of this one-sided design come from?

    Clients. Seriously, many times a designer must bow to the wishes of the client, regardless of the client’s experience in choosing fonts, paper, color, etc. Oftentimes, the client has seen a killer ad, and thinks, “wow, I want that for my company.” Rather than ask the designer what it is that makes that ad (or any ad, for that matter) successful, the client assumes it’s the font, and dictates that the same font be used.

    • Too true. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve had to grin and bear simply to appease the client working for the company I am now. I always hope clients will respect my opinion as a professional, but they don’t always — even if they do, they have sometimes still ignored it. I also hate it when a client wants to knock off an idea; follow the leader marketing is so lame. What drives me nuts, with one client in particular, is that the idea/look we’re ripping off isn’t that good, occasionally even bad.

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