Artemy Lebedev

§ 19. A visionary pill for visual ills

January 4, 1999

Why oh why design sucks in Russia? Why can’t you dig a couple thousand talented designers (let alone geniuses) out of the country’s 150 million population? Technology is in place, conditions are best, customers abound: there is everything one may possibly need to work and create things to perform on equal footing with the world’s outstanding specimens.

What does lack is training—not school training, of course, but rather a cultural stance. The environment out of which people grow permeates and shapes their brains more thoroughly than any school. Why is Russian design intrinsically inferior to its average Western peer in terms of the look and quality?

That’s as plain as the nose on your face: from early childhood a supple brain is exposed to the environment. A whole world built by those preceding a person’s birth spreads before his or her eyes. The vast majority of observers, with a thin curtain pulled down in front of their eyes, take this world for granted, and only few dare assume that things may be different or made different by anyone. One’s will to do so is all it takes.

In the beginning was the Pill. One needs to take it to stave off the all-too-obvious world. Avert your stare from the obtrusive sight. Turn a blind eye to trite trappings and a heedful eye on things that have passed your personal quality control. If you are dealing with botchery, don’t try to persuade yourself that it’s good. Make it a universal rule.

One must be able to find beauty even in places beyond the reach of omnipresent advertising. Thou shalt not be deceived. Walk out into the street and go to the nearest corner store. Look up at the shop sign.

An eye candy, isn’t it. No matter how long you scrutinize it, it won’t get any better, even if you use binoculars.

Embellishments of today’s Russian cities leave one with an acute feeling of distress. If you spit the pill out, you may even miss the fact that it’s all as bad as that. 98% of stores and outdoor advertising surfaces were adorned by Dabblers with a capital “D.” Customers’ and manufacturers’ square notions keep them rooted in the barren soil of hidebound resistance to novelty. They keep strolling nearby streets, take in store signs and shop fronts, and compound their woes. Illiteracy, lack of qualification and amateurism reproduce each other in an ongoing cycle.

Take the Pill, and thou shalt be saved.

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