I get hung up on this word, in general, but also specifically as it applies to my work. It’s not hard to get me started on a rant about the lack of authenticity in modern graphic design. I could be set off by the cursive typeface on a restaurant menu, the carefully and deliberately placed cracking effect on a brand new t-shirt, or the old, yellow paper texture digitally printed on a sheet of new, white paper. All too often in the design world, we see things that are made to look as if they are something they aren’t—something they wish they were. Designers find themselves so restrained by an increasingly limited set of tools, frantically short lead times and myopic training, that much of what they produce is mere facsimile, a cheaper, faster approximation of something more real, more authentic.
No doubt some of you, in the usual course of your internet escapades, have happened upon the thing that made me think of this today as it made the rounds in my agency: Sociality Barbie, a sly Instagram account that cleverly mocks the ways in which people of a certain ilk go about constructing a contrived documentation of what they perceive to be authentic experiences.
After this made me laugh out loud at my desk, it made me think about how we often get caught using technology to attempt to build a reality from our imaginations, to paint ourselves as the kinds of people we wish we actually were, constantly sipping mojitos on the beach, baking perfect gingerbread cookies and checking in at concert venues.
Unfortunately, this effect extends to the design world. When the time and resources aren’t available to execute a project with authenticity and care, we manufacture an android authenticity in the form of distressed effects, cracked and wrinkled textures that are applied after-the-fact, and that almost feel like the real thing. Almost.
But the beauty of a weather-beaten, hand-painted advertisement on the side of an old, brick apartment is not just in its fading color, its cracks and flakes, but in the age and resilience that made them just so. The beauty is in the process. I can’t think that the Grand Canyon would get quite as many visitors or inspire such awe if it had been cut out of the desert with a backhoe and painted red by some millionaire resort developer in a matter of days.
What matters is how it got there. How was it made? Why? If you want a menu written in elegant cursive, use a pen and ink. Don’t know how? Learn. Practice. If you want a soft, crackly imprint on your t-shirt, wash it and wear it a few times. Beat it up. If you want old, yellow paper, use old, yellow paper. Buy it, find it, or make it. Just don’t fake it. Yes, it takes longer. Yes, it’s more expensive. But the results are so much more beautiful for the story they tell of their own creation.