By Alexandra Lange
When Print asked me to contribute to its upcoming “Power” issue, I had to stop and think. The obvious topic would be a piece on America’s most powerful design critic.
While the number of national architecture critics shrinks, the number of national design critics never grew. There are few outlets for rigorous criticism of the products of design (hello, Print?), and the proliferation of design blogs has created more showcases without more commentary. And perhaps designers prefer it that way—though even the positive blogs are making unacknowledged daily critiques in the projects they reject. As a critic, I sometimes find myself more interested in that process than in the new beauties but often feel I am in a distinct minority.
So I want to ask a different question, inspired by a Design Observer post I wrote about the proposal for the new Apple headquarters. Commenters suggested I had no right to question Apple’s choices, given its success. They suggested that Apple was above criticism.
If Apple is the firmament, who is up there with it? Who else is above criticism? I want to hear from you about design’s icons, sacred cows, gatekeepers, and institutions. People, organizations, blogs, and living legends that shed negativity like Tyvek and apparently never need to respond to critique. For example, how many anguished protests would it take for Apple to take the wood grain off the Newsstand app? I’m going to use your responses to try to write an anatomy of uncriticism.
To get you started, a few nominations. (And just to make it perfectly clear: I’m not saying these people deserve criticism, just that it seems useless.) There are the living legends: Massimo Vignelli, Dieter Rams. Not just above criticism but beyond it, by several decades of excellent work. There are the crowd favorites. The tweets from AIGA Pivot about Chip Kidd’s appearance were like messages from a revival meeting. Popular, talented, famous, Batman: He’s what so many designers want to be. But what about the gatekeepers and tastemakers who know everyone, have excellent taste, and help so many? Why on earth would a critic interfere with their project? Or institutions like the Museum of Modern Art. You can (as I have) pick on a show here or there, but they are impervious. Whatever you say, they always ask you back.
Please post your ideas in comments or tweet to @printmag. May I suggest hashtag #abovecriticism?
Alexandra Lange is a critic, journalist, and architectural historian based in Brooklyn. She is co-author, with Jane Thompson, of Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes (Chronicle, 2010). In March 2012, Princeton Architectural Press will publish her next book, Writing About Architecture.