Michael Bierut | Essays

The Persistence of the Exotic Menial

It was September, 1981, when design critic Ralph Caplan first unveiled the phrase. He was speaking at a Design Management Institute conference in Martha's Vineyard. His talk was titled "Once You Know Where Management Is Coming From, Where Do You Suggest They Go?"

"I want finally to address in some detail," Caplan said toward the end of this talk, "a role that I call 'the designer as exotic menial.' He is exotic because of the presumed mystery inherent in what he does, and menial because whatever he does is required only for relatively low-level objectives, to be considered only after the real business decisions are made. And although this is a horrendous misuse of the designer and of the design process, it is in my experience always done with the designer's collusion."

It's 25 years later. Has anything really changed?

Yearning for the spotlight — respect from the business community and attention from the general public — has been a ceaseless, all-consuming theme of ambitious designers for the last quarter century, and maybe long before that. W.A. Dwiggins, the American designer and typographer credited with introducing the term "graphic design," mocked this yearning in a 1941 essay, "A Technique for Dealing with Artists," that purported to advise clients on how they might get the most out of the design process: "If you like the work an artist shows you, do not try to express your approval in the form of apt technical comment. Confine yourself to the simple formula: 'I like that'; or grunt in an approving way." Sounds familiar.

Caplan expanded on his original speech in his 1982 book By Design, which was reissued last year with a new chapter aptly titled "The More Things Change, the More We Stay the Same." In it, he enumerates the many ways that the awareness of design has increased among the general public. However, he adds, this increased awareness "cannot be equated with an understanding of design, which is still easily confused with styling."

The confusion is forgivable. Over the past quarter-century, designers have reacted to client disregard by upping the ante in exoticism, so that many of today's well-known professionals are as famous for their sartorial choices as their actual output. Capes and cigarette holders used to be reserved for a few iconic figures like Frank Lloyd Wright and Raymond Loewy, but now designers of all types are eager to cloak themselves in a suitable air of mystery. Eyeglasses, especially, have been a potent device with which to command public attention: witness Daniel Libeskind's square black frames (which provoke cries of "Hey, Mister Architect!" on the sidewalks of New York) or Karim Rashid's even more aggressive rose-colored aviators.

Graphic designers have had no proponent of this approach more exciting than Peter Saville. Greeting visitors to his Mayfair apartment in a silk dressing gown, voted the "most admired individual working within the creative industries," currently in possession of a sinecure at M&C Saatchi that seemingly requires no actual work, surely the indisputably talented Mr. Saville would seem to have it all. Yet even a character this charismatic seems unable to break through to the general public at broader levels. Much excitement in graphic design circles attended the release of "24 Hour Party People," the story of Factory Records and the Manchester music scene of the 1980s, a scene as much associated with Saville's persona in the minds of designers as that of any of the actual musicians. What a disappointment is was to find the Saville character reduced to a bit part: in the credits, Enzo Cilenti, the actor who played Saville is listed 27th, right after Tracy Cunliffe, billed as "Other Girl in Nosh Van." And a running gag as well, since the character is usually shown arriving at the Hacienda with freshly-printed invitations to events that took place the night before. The exotic menial strikes again! If Peter Saville can't do it, what chance have we mere mortals?

For those who find that more exotic is not doing the trick, the other line of attack can only be less menial. And designers seem to have lost patience with halfway measures. Design in the service of low-level objectives? Forget about it! Rather than trying to inch up the totem pole, the favored strategy today is to declare that design is the totem pole itself, or perhaps even the whole reservation. Bruce Mau's Massive Change project started with exactly this kind of insight, a napkin sketch transposing design's role from something embedded, pearl-like, within concentric circles representing Nature, Culture and Business, to something encompassing All of the Above. "No longer associated simply with objects and appearances, design is increasingly understood in a much wider sense as the human capacity to plan and produce desired outcomes," it says elsewhere on the Massive Change website. "Engineered as an international discursive project, Massive Change: The Future of Global Design, will map the new capacity, power and promise of design. Massive Change explores paradigm-shifting events, ideas, and people, investigating the capacities and ethical dilemmas of design in manufacturing, transportation, urbanism, warfare, health, living, energy, markets, materials, the image and information." Or, in other words, everything.

Similarly ambitious napkin-based impulses informed the founding of the Institute of Design at Stanford University. The D-School seeks to "tackle difficult, messy problems," the solutions to which are unlikely to be featured in the pages of I.D.'s Annual Design Review. These include drunk driving, oppressive commercial airline travel and the boredom of waiting in line. In a world even more virtual, the NextDesign Leadership Workshop has no napkin but plenty of diagrams nonetheless, repositioning design practice from its tired focus on (menial) things like websites, chairs, buildings, and brands to more visionary, "unframed" problems. The scope of these problems is painted with a big brush: "Unlike traditional design, NextD focuses on building cross-disciplinary leadership skills and behaviors. NextD is designed to not only scale-up problem solving skills but to make such ability applicable as the primary form of leadership navigation in any kind of problem solving situation. Unlike traditional design, NextD recognizes a multitude of possible value creating outcomes beyond the creation of objects." Tomorrow's designer, it appears, will settle for nothing less than a vast, limitless remit, and keep those goddamn objects out of it, thank you.

NextD, Stanford's D-School...a pattern starts to emerge, and it involves the fourth letter of the alphabet. What better way to transcend the earthbound chains of traditional design by abstracting it to a single letter? Indeed, language is an especially vexing problem for the graphic designer. "Most business people — the ones that hire us — think that we are at the table to create the 'look and feel,'" complain the proprietors of the website Beyond Graphic, in a nearly note-for-note reiteration of Caplan's 25-year-old speech which blames the word "graphic" for our travails. "They see our work as decoration, a nice-to-have after the strategic thinking is performed. This is why graphic designers remain at the bottom of the communications chain — below advertising professionals, communication consultants, and marketing strategists." Below ad guys: ick. The recommended solution appears to be the substitution of "communication design" for "graphic design." Nice try, but a little behind the curve. More up-to-date is the American Institute of Graphic Arts, now officially known as "AIGA, the professional association for design," leaving generations to come wondering what those four letters once represented. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future we can achieve the perfection of "AIGA, the professional association for D" and final victory over the dreary inhibitions of specificity can be declared once and for all.

Whipsawed between the roles of unchallengably exotic stylemeister and incomprehensibly non-menial solver-of-all-problems, what's a designer to do? As writer and critic Virginia Postrel observed in a recent interview, "The first mistake is to justify design's importance by ignoring its unique contribution. Designers say 'We solve problems' and 'We can do strategy,' and they forget that everyone else is also solving problems and contributing to strategy. The question is what problems can you uniquely solve?"

"The second mistake," she continued, "is to swing in the opposite direction and push the style equivalent of basic research when the marketplace wants style's equivalent of applied engineering...Theoretical physics and engine mechanics are different, and both are valuable. So are cutting-edge design and less prestigious, more mundane design. It's important to remember that 'good design' depends on context—good design for whom, for what purpose?"

Good design for whom? And good designers for whom? Thinking about the exotic menial brought Ralph Caplan back to the same point 25 years ago. "Making things nice is not making things right," he wrote in By Design. "And it is in the rightness of things that consumers have a stake. More than a stake, a role to play. For the designer's final collaborator is the end user." He concluded: "There is an implicit contractual relationship between designer and user and — as with other contractual relationships — the contract may be betrayed."

In our quest for respect, designers spend a lot of time trying to muscle our way to center stage. Maybe we — and the world — would be better off if we spent less time worrying about the spotlight and more time worrying about all those people out there in the dark.

Posted in: Business

Comments [28]

The good news for design is "those people out there in the dark" are now in control of the spotlight. It varies sector by sector, but there is an inexorable power shift from the producer to the user. This is caused by the perfect storm of the emergence of flexible production systems for both information and products, and by consumers being able to buy things from more producers than those living within their borders. "Give them any color they want as long as it is black" has been replaced by "Give me what I want, in the form I want and the price I want." In the producer centered world the end user was at the weak end of the process, and the designer, being one-step away from the end user, was only marginally less menial (although more exotic). Now, still standing close to the user, the designer gets to use a sub-set of traditional competencies that, while still exotic, are no longer menial. Producers did not like it, but they have discovered that it is now good business to treat users with respect.

Patrick Whitney

Yearning for the spotlight — respect from the business community and attention from the general public — has been a ceaseless, all-consuming theme of ambitious designers for the last quarter century, and maybe long before that.

I think that depends on your definition of 'ambitious designer.'
Ahrum Hong

Yearning for the spotlight — respect from the business community and attention from the general public — has been a ceaseless, all-consuming theme of ambitious designers for the last quarter century, and maybe long before that.

It started with the appearance of Raymond Lowey on the cover of Time Magazing in 1949.
Dan Lewis

One of my senior coworker once said. "Im sorry you have to do this but we are all just worker bee"

I think it is true and I dont really mind and I dont think that it is really insulting. From the lowest intern to the impecably clad principle we are essentially there to help.

I am reminded of William Golden's writing "Type is to be Read". He said a when speaking of a semanticist that was trying to describe our profession, "he likened us to performers. Actors whospeak other peoples lines. Musicians who interpret what composers write."

I think if a designer, as in any proffesion, want to truely create they must transend the function of a consultant and take a leadship role. This (with my two years of design experience) seems like something that is difficult in the traditional form of the design studio. Designer as the word currently exists is as much a persauder and sales man as an artist.

I tend to enjoy the designer client relationship. I personally have always been more creative with a framework, with somebodys ideas to energize me. And I feel this is central to design, being interested in what other people are doing and drowning yourself in there idea and communicating it clearly

Fascinating article by the way. I'm a freshly-graduated designer and trying to figure this whole mess of titles out at the moment.

What I find interesting is that in my limited experience as a web designer (being a "classically" trained print designer) is that I find myself siding with the big-idea designers a bit.

Since websites are pluarlistic by nature, and as organisations tend towards the large, the poor webdesigner's job is often to wrap a pretty face around a mountain of data. So as web designers go, the more clever and experienced ones seem to pick up skills which we would consider information design.

Personally, I think Jonathan Harris's Ten by Ten site is the pinnacle of web design. It communicates a vast amount of data in a clear and user-friendly way, without sacrificing smart looks. But isn't that what these new big-idea designers are pushing as the pervue of graphic design?

I don't know, but from a web standpoint, I'm going to expand the definition of web design a fair bit. Then again, I highly doubt we'll be seeing any celebrity web designers any time soon.

Coincidentally, over at Speak Up, Mark Kinsgley has launched a parallel discussion about the public face of design.

I like his advice for designers, presented in the form of a quote from Stendhal by way of Nietzsche: "To be a good philosopher, one must be dry, clear, without illusion. A banker who has made a fortune has one character trait that is needed for making discoveries in philosophy, that is to say, for seeing clearly into what is."
Michael Bierut

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Patrick puts it well (at top). As John Thackara says in In The Bubble, design is now really about designing with people, not merely for them. By prioritizing people and working with the end-users of our work, designers are becoming respected 'enablers' and agents of change (on all sorts of levels). What we offer (the user) is no longer a menial skill-set being practised in the shadows but hopefully thoughtful, artful and useful ideas and methodologies that improve people's lives. And if you wish to do that wearing fancy eyewear, that's your choice.
Andrew Haig

I appreciate all the noble talk about respecting end users.

In actual practice, however, how does this differ from overreliance on focus groups? How can the design process lead public opinion so that people get things they don't even know they want?

I get the impression that at Apple the name of the game is delighting one end-user: Steve Jobs. Isn't this how real design breakthroughs come about?
Tobias K.

"Since websites are pluarlistic by nature, and as organisations tend towards the large, the poor webdesigner's job is often to wrap a pretty face around a mountain of data."

Fresh out of school? Really, yah don't say...

Ditto Tobias above. Creative vision is hit or miss, and usually there is one person who can see around the bend without losing the rest of us. On the cusp.

Brilliant Essay

God I find this kind of discussion painful. So why do I need to comment? I guess I want to counter the assumption that all designers want/need respect from the "business community" and "the general public"... and that we either have to be "more exotic" or "less menial"?.. I want to suggest that its that inbetween-ness that a lot of us engage with actually... many of us aren't at all interested in demystifying 'The Design Process' so as to be able to climb the corporate ladder... personally I'd rather re-mystify it/us... I mean what the f*ck wrong with mystery exactly?... I want to believe in magic... Dot Dot Dot's become realtively popular recently, precisely because it doesn't give a f*ck, and FINALLY we have something to read!... When last did you go see a band who "spent less time worrying about the spotlight and more time worrying about all those people out there in the dark"? Peter Saville's pictures have appeared on the walls, shelves, t-shirts, and tatoos! of thousands of people... who f*cken cares if anyone knew the name of the guy that did the record cover... it 'engaged' a whole bunch of people in a deep (read mystical/magical) way... now that's something to aspire to... please realise world that some of us are plenty happy to work in away in our dingy little basement studios with no natural light or decent paying clients because we want our pictures to engage you in a natural, intuitive, romantic conversation... dance on the roof-tops people!
Design Wolf

The question brought up by Tobias about the difference between "respecting end users" and an "over reliance upon focus groups" is important. The main difference is focus groups are good for getting users to tell you about incremental improvements in an offering; they almost never lead to anything really new. There are new methods of observing what users do (not focusing on what they ask for) that can lead to surprising innovations. Companies are filled with MBAs who have helped make focus groups one of the standard processes in large companies. These companies are finding that an over reliance on focus groups is preventing them from being innovative and are rapidly adopting ethnographic methods that based in anthropology and being modified by design researchers.

This is all driven by the "power shift" from producers to users that I mentioned in my first comment to Michael's posting. This is why these new methods of user observation have become core to innovation.

Leading business schools are trying to incorporate methods of user-understanding and other design processes into their programs. Jeneanee Rae, a faculty member at Georgetown's business school is teaching a course on gathering user insights. Northwestern's business and engineering schools have a Masters of Manufacturing Management degree that incorporates design, including user observation into some of their classes. University of Toronto's Rotman School is probably the most aggressive, bringing design thinking into the core curriculum and making a radical change in their introduction to marketing class.

Of course, a few design schools are also working on the integration of design and business. As Michael mentioned, Stanford's design school is launching new classes that make it easier for design and business students to work together. Here at IIT's Institute of Design we have worked with our business school to make it easy for our Master of Design students to get an MBA in much less time than is normally the case.

In her current column in Business Week's on line channel about innovation and design, Jeneanne Rae correctly states that corporations are crying out for this type of thinking. As I write this in my office at the Institute of Design, there are, conservatively, 600 job interviews going on in every available corner the school (for about 90 students). GE Health Care, General Dynamics, Mayo Clinic, McDonald's, Microsoft, Motorola, SAP, Sapient, Unilever, and Yahoo! (plus all the usual consulting offices and search firms) are just a few of the guests. Companies come to this event each semester because they are looking for leaders of innovation, not only in their design and product development teams, but throughout their companies.

The power shift toward users from producers is a seismic change that is not going away in the foreseeable future. Designers who can help companies understand what users really need, even when they can not ask for it, are in a great position.....a position that is becoming less exotic and is certainly not menial.
Patrick Whitney

So Saville actually was one of those truly great designers who "who can help companies understand what users really need"... although maybe 'want' is a better term eh? Of course Saville screwed the company over as a result, which highlights something really important that you won't ever hear self professed "leaders of innovation" talking about, and that's that real innovation is almost always entirely marginal! And certainly ain't good for business.
Design Wolf

And can I just say that I would love to describe what I do as 'exotic/menial'... as the Experimental Jetset have pointed out "The banalisation of graphic design. We should be so lucky".
Design Wolf

Talk to any young designer today and they have all been led to beleive that they are the savours of the world and are about to embark on some fantastic voyage of discovery and imagination. But when firms don't return their phone calls or jump with glee at the sight of their teaser portfolios it becomes painfully clear that their services are not really needed after all. Especially when the economy continues to go down the crapper. Anybody who really believes that designers are going to create some new upper echelon "creative class" are kidding themselves and deserve the disapointment that is sure to come. When the oil runs out you'll be lucky to have a job designing propoganda posters for the next regime change.

"Give me what I want, in the form I want and the price I want."

The problem with the above comment is that most clients I encounter on a daily basis have only a vague idea of what they want and more often than not have absolutely no idea of the possibilities. This is where the designer must step in and rather than merely do what is requested, should show the client the best solution to their problem. In other words, the designer must think on behalf of the client. That is the primary role of the designer which is why they should not "...be considered only after the real business decisions are made."

I suspect that the world would be a better place if we spent less time worrying about getting respect and more time being worthy of respect.

I guess I'm old as the blog population goes and I don't remember a time when we weren't in the midst of an identity crisis. A dozen years ago I used the phrase "exotic menial" in a conversation with Saul Bass. He had never heard the phrase but he smiled and said "Well, we used to be exotic."

Gunnar Swanson

Amen, Gunnar

Lots of interesting thoughts posted here. Thanks to Michael for the mention of NextD. We are working in our humble little corner of the universe over here.

Of course its easy to joke about design but the reality is that unless multiple parts of our community work hard on creating the kind of future that design deserves it is unlikely to arrive by accident. We have to get out there and create it or at least try to make a small dent in the vast forces in play in the marketplace. The harsh reality is that many of those forces are not acting in our favor. Gunnar is right about working on "being worthy." There is no special place reserved for design at the cross-disciplinary innovation table. The expectations, values and rules have changed. All old bets are off. We have to re-earn that place on a regular basis and there are lots of folks from outside of design who now want that seat at the table. Lets not miss that.

I noticed numerous eloquent product creation related comments posted here so perhaps I might best add a few words in this regard. Although our friends in the new business press seem to have only recently discovered product design and now champion that faith at full volume lets not confuse that with the real present or future of design. Lets not forget that there is already much more to design then what we see inside that relatively small picture. It is no secret that many in the broader design community question if focusing on the creation of more and more consumer products, however user-centered they might be, is really a worthy place to focus so much design brainpower. Is this really a worthy focus for our leading institutions? Lets not be afraid to expect more. Beyond that it is unlikely that this activity will be enough to sustain the community as the future unfolds in all of its "on-shore" and "off-shore" complexity.

There are tremendous forces acting on what design will become in the 21st century. It is no longer simply about looking on a design services menu and deciding what is cool and what we might like to be. Some aspects of our present community will be gone in ten years, some likely sooner. That is the harsh reality of it. Design is in the big squeeze, from the strategic top as well as the tactical bottom. There is no way to stop those forces but at least we can try to get our collective selves out of denial and start recognizing sooner rather then later that these forces exist.

Here at NextD we try to encourage not waiting for the new business press to decide, frame and explain the future of design. We can and we must create our own future and write our own strategic stories. Frankly I could care less about how much or how little the new business press has figured out about design and innovation. I am certainly not waiting for them to figure out our destiny.

Needless to say there are numerous future visions around. The "power shift" towards product design as innovation thing is just one of many. Some are concerned that box is far too restrictive for design. It does not take a rocket designer to figure out that many of the challenges facing the world, facing organizations, cannot be solved by creating more products. In many cases products are a solution to a problem we do not have.

To say this in the most positive way, there are lots of other opportunities for next generation design innovation leaders beyond product creation. Helping organizations and communities build proactive innovation capability is just one of many but one cannot get to that future simply by teaching everyone ethnography. It's not going to be that simple. The shifting terrain of next design necessitates being more expansive, adaptable and proactive.

Suffice it to say that it is not in pursuit of a theoretical ideal but rather the real and sustainable that we do what we do through NextD. For many of us working on the ReRethinking of design it has never been about changing the design community but simply creating new paths through the forest.

Recently, after I presented at an AIGA conference a young guy in the audience stood up under the guise of asking a question and instead announced that none of what we are trying to talk about on NextD is needed. He said Milton Glaser did not need any of these visual thinking models and neither did he. I had no argument with that and I wished him well on his Milton path through the forest. If that is the future he chooses for himself so be it. The good news is that there are a growing number of paths through the forest to choose from today. Not all of them will be familiar paths. Not all of us are up for difficult journeys.
GK VanPatter

What is "the kind of future that design deserves" exactly? It still just sounds to me like you're talking about fighting for scraps (money/power) at the corporate table. Your rhetoric is grand and buzzy, and I certainly wouldn't accuse NextD of being humble. Zealous and/or evangelical perhaps? What I can't get my head around is what you're frightened of exactly? What's this "big squeeze"? These evil "forces" that are not acting in our favour? You say that "some aspects of our community will be gone"... who, where, why? I visited your website looking for answers but all I found was a lot more grandiose but ultimately unexplained rhetoric.

I get the feeling we're talking about different things? I like being a graphic designer. But when you talk about 'Design' it's in a very similar way to how those neo-creationists use it... it's huge, vague, and it's everything... but everything (whenever I'm around it anyway) always seems to evaporate into nothing. Anyway I was talking about 'graphic design', which I thought was appropriate because Peter Saville was cited and the post was written by a graphic designer. Graphic design isn't necessarily about problem solving. Was Peter solving a problem when he did the cover of Unknown Pleasures?

Design Wolf

If I had to put a name to the single "big squeeze" or "force" that is not acting in the favor of designers its Peak Oil.

In case people haven't been paying attention the worlds oil resources are starting to show their age and the day when demand outpaces supply is coming up very fast, especially as China and India get more industries up and running. Cheap oil drives everything about our modern global economy and when the price per barrel jumps from $60 to $160, you are going to see consumer spending take a nose dive along with a good portion of the remaining manufacturers and the design firms they support. When the economy takes a hit design isn't a neccesity to most, its a luxury - and probably one that can't be afforded.

Read any credible news source out there and it's all right in front of you. Why else are so many countries scrambling to get nuclear power?

Design, especially on the product development end, is in for a serious downturn if people aren't prepared to implement some real innovation. The opportunities are going to be there for new products and emerging markets but you need to be getting ready for it now, and not in ten years.


On the Beck's Futures website the word "innovative" crops up several times. Terms such as innovative, original, ground-breaking and cutting-edge make me suspicious. These are not words an artist would ever use about himself or his work. They are PR terms, they are words used to engage a news agenda, to appeal to a desire akin to the male sexual appetite, a lust for fresh meat. The economist and social philosopher Ludwig von Mises said: "Innovation is the whim of an elite before it becomes the need of the public."
Grayson Perry in 'It's original, but is it any good?'. The Times, February 22, 2006.
Design Wolf

Was Peter solving a problem when he did the cover of Unknown Pleasures?

most certainly he was. He was solving one of the foundational problems of design: representation. A blank album cover does nothing in helping selling the album or representing the music inside and the label releasing it. Saville's work certianly said something about that album and the era in which it was released, as well as creating an enticing image for consumers. It may not be quantifiable like information design or business strategy, but it had a direct effect on the music and album design afterward.


Exotic menial is an interesting phrase. It seems like it could only work in context. As a student in an independent-minded department linked to a major university, the "exotic menial" is very obvious. In my design classes and the building were they take place (with art, architecture and other design majors), most designers certainly do not seem exotic. But when I enter business classes or communication classes, I feel the effect immediately. I can see where Karim or Saville might seem unique to some businesses, but as the design movement increases and businesses themselves begin to be run by creatives, this exoticism will certainly decrease. Perhaps exotic menialism is nothing more than having to succumb to the fact that our desire to make design important is working, and it is making us look more and more normal as more and more accept it.
Derrick Schultz

I think it depends on how you want to look at/conceive of what you do as a graphic designer, and I don't think designing a record cover for a band nobody has ever heard of is much of a problem. I don't think Peter Saville ever considered it to be 'a problem' from what I've read. And I don't certainly don't go to work in the morning thinking that "I'm going to solve some problems today". Personally I think that kind of dominant reductivist/essentialist mind-set is really damaging 'graphic' design discourse. It denies the poetic and tangential nature of imagination and creativity, and it promotes a linear design process. Fine for some I guess... I know some designers aren't interested in 'creativity' or they think it plays a subservient role to 'solving the problem at hand'. But then they start waxing lyrical about 'innovation'? If doing a poster for my friend's band is 'problem solving' then going to the supermarket with my girlfriend is also 'problem solving'... and it becomes a pretty meaningless (or at least not very helpful) way of describing what you do.

While it 'problem solving' seems in some ways appropriate to architectural and industrial design (not practices I engage with in any way)... I'd like to speculate that graphic design is different to these disciplines to some degree, and I'd like to be involved in discussions that are able to recognise that? Why don't musicians talk about problem solving, why are they allowed to have magic? How is writing a song any different to designing a record cover?
Design Wolf

It is no longer simply about looking on a design services menu and deciding what is cool and what we might like to be. Some aspects of our present community will be gone in ten years, some likely sooner.

I really want to know who's up for the chop!? Those evil purveyors of "cool"? Being that any understanding of such a loose term has so much to do with your point-of-view, your perspective, how can anyone be sure that they're not one of them? And if cool has anything to do with popularity then the NextD rhetoric/project is really 'hip' right now isn't it?
Design Wolf

A blank album cover does nothing in helping selling the album or representing the music inside and the label releasing it.

The Beatles' "White Album."
Kenneth FitzGerald


The white album (it is officially considered self-titled) is not blank, in either design or context. It of course has the subtle embossing (and was gray printing in some pressings). It was designed to be directly in contrast with their previously psychadelic covers—it is its white space that is, in effect, its design. I consider it to be blank, but not "blank"—there is still a concept behind it.

Derrick Schultz

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