the baby and the bathwater

Rubbish Design: The explanations No2
February 19, 2009, 2:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It costs too much

Our culture around us recognises that you need to attract people’s attention to earn the right to share your product. It also knows that the way you attract people’s attention is also key – because in doing so you share as much about your values as you do about the product you are sharing.

Alpha is a great organisation – and they have understood this. Unless I have missed something, they are the leaders in this for the worldwide church. They have sensed the wind of the Spirit, and have put all their energy and expertise and creative knowledge around it. I imagine that at various times there were people who looked at the cost of their design and marketing and said ‘It costs too much’, especially when the TV ads started. But if there were such voices around at the time, they are pretty quite at the moment! Richard Dawkins also produced some great design and branding recently. It may have looked like a bit of text on a side of a bus to some people – but actually it was very clever – at least from a design point of view.

However, there have been some failures – in my mind most recently in the 2012 London Olympics branding. A lot of money. But a bad design because it doesn’t really present the Olympics in a great way: it seems to present the games as something that is clumsy and slightly comical, rather than something that is unifying and inspiring.

You see in my mind, good design isn’t primarily about cost – it is primarily about a value – of wanting to present the message we have, and also in my case the person we worship, in the best possible way to a world that needs to share it, accept it, believe it. (my friend Nae Lippett has posted about this recently). Yes, at some point the embracing of that value will have a cost implication. It’s like sung worship. Once you understand it’s importance you are then able to understand how to spend money making it happen. But essentially, if we don’t share the value, any cost associated with it will seem like it’s too much.

This phrase ‘it costs too much’ was used against Mary when she poured the perfume over Jesus feet. Jesus said in that moment that her act would be retold in memory of her throughout generations.

And it has.

But why did she pour so much expensive perfume over the feet of Jesus? I mean if the aim was to wash Jesus’ feet, then surely some water and a bit of 1st century soap would have done the trick. If it was to make Jesus’ feet smell nice, then a surely few drops of a much cheaper fragrance would have worked better and cost less.

Of course the point of this event was not that Mary wanted to perform a function. She wanted to express a value. She was expressing an intention of her heart to do something worthy of the King. I doubt that any amount of cost-benefit analysis would have changed her mind.

I don’t think I will ever be able to justify the cost of any piece of good design I do. But it won’t stop me doing it.

In fact, more often than not when people say ‘can we afford to do this?’ my first reaction is ‘can we afford not to?’


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I have heard your cry my son…I have compassion and understanding. You may buy a new Mac Pro with 30″ cinema screen, 8 GB RAM, 4 Terabye RAID hard drives and a pen tablet.


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