A few words about pretty things

My ability to do anything creative has been utterly and completely shut down by my loathing of things that are ugly. It’s rather sad, but I’m unable to move forward on a number of cool ideas I have because I can’t stand the thought of creating them and having them be anything but gorgeous. First, a little history of how I got to this point…

When I was in elementary school I loved skateboarding and BMX biking. I loved Freestyle Magazine and Transworld Skateboarding. Both magazines featured full glossy pages, high resolution photos, and kept the advertising in its rightful place. I hated Thrasher magazine and BMX Plus. Both featured crummy paper quality, print errors, and advertisements all over the place. Freestyle and Transworld were like works of art every month while Thrasher and BMX Plus looked like a plate of Spaghetti’O’s tossed against the dirty pavement. I didn’t realize it then, but my discerning eye for good design was taking shape.

Later when I quit skating and biking and started playing guitar I favored Guitar for The Practicing Musician over Guitar World. The former had glossy pages and well written articles on everything from jazz music to the history of the blues while the latter seemed to feature the same Megadeth interview on newspaper print every month.

Pretty much as long as I can remember I’ve liked things that look good. But I haven’t liked them nearly as much as I hate things that look bad. I won’t use Yahoo because the design is so bad. I hate Facebook not for its ability to make the most boring and mundane things interesting but rather because the user interface is a disaster. I can’t stand the thought of buying an HP computer because the whole of it seems so lazy, as if the only thing guiding the design was a budget analysis of which hinges and screens and ports would be cheapest on the assembly line. I can’t handle going to the mall because so many of the stores are noise – noisy music, noisy clothes racks, noisy workers….as if overpowering my senses will lead me to buy something.

Conversely, I love Google and Twitter and Mercedes because they are designed well. There is nothing extraneous about them, every pixel and screw is essential to the mission. I like Starbucks not for the coffee but because the atmosphere is exactly what a 21st century coffee shop should be. I like to drink at places that have beers on tap and big wooden bars. I hate drinking wine but could stand in the wine aisle for hours looking at the labels.

So I find myself in a bad position. With the knowledge that I will never be a master drawer, I do not draw at all. With the knowledge that I would never be a master guitar player, I do not play at all. ANd with the knowledge that the beautiful thing in my head is likely to be an abomination on the screen, I can not release any software. I’m paralyzed by the fear that what I work on, what I create will be so ugly upon appearance that I’d rather not create it at all.

I’ve read more books and blogs about “getting started!” and “walk before you run!” and “design isn’t as important as having a working prototype!” that I truly should have no hangups about simply putting something to paper and knowing that its okay for me to use an eraser to fix the parts I don’t like. No, I can’t do that. Steve Jobs was asked if he thought the people who designed the PC Jr. didn’t have pride in their work. His response was “If they had, they wouldn’t have designed the PC Jr.”

That’s a bit like how I feel. Better to have nothing created then to create something ugly.


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