Timeless Design is a Lie

Timeless design. Who started this lie? I want to find someone to blame. Timeless design is a candy bar wrapped in a banana peel: you’re going to need to examine the evidence before you give full credit to the surface and become convinced of its health. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as people (designers, mostly) have scrutinized the new American Airlines identity.

“The object of a design is to create an image that the public will remember and associate with the company or product. It should have a lifespan of fifteen to twenty years or more; it is costly to introduce a new logo.” – Doyald Young Dangerous Curves

Now that’s more like it, Doyald. Like any good piece of art, a well designed thing is composed of mostly tradition, partially trend. Trend will bring both striking beauty and mortality to any piece just like eggs will do to rice. Rice will last longer, uncooked, and on its own. But any taste test with fried rice vs. plain rice will yield a predictable winner.

It’s kind of a silly, and flimsy, lie when you think about it. What design has lasted beyond two hundred years, let alone all of time? Elements maybe, but not pieces. And I’m not going to argue against any evangelical traditions concerning a God achieving long lasting beauty through the creation of plants, animals, and the universe—because, well, it makes things too complicated. Not to mention, conceiving that a perfect God would create a timeless design is one that both seems obvious and is incomprehensible.

This is a lie that bleeds into daily living. We’re obsessed with viewing timelessness as a possibility. We want to get to the point where every interaction is a kind one, or that if we take good enough care of our vehicles they will never break down, or that if we practice enough we will make perfect. Whatever “making perfect” means.

I’m sure I’ll rant on this more, later. But for now this satisfies what irks me.