Bob Gill on noise and ideas

“Still fresh out of school, I realized that I didn’t want to just make good design. I wanted to make statements, which you could also call ideas. Obviously I want to make it as interesting and nice looking as possible, but never at the expense of the idea. If the statement isn’t interesting, the visualization isn’t going to be interesting either. But if the statement is genuinely interesting, you can’t miss – it designs itself…

I went to see the director of the Ulm School of Design school who was a South American architect. He looked at my portfolio, which I had because I was visiting a client, and he said, ‘Ugh, this is awful!’ I said, ‘What!? Isn’t this exciting? No one ever told me I was terrible!’

First he said, ‘You have drawings in here. Drawings are old fashioned – they’re not twentieth century.’ Then he said, ‘Also, there are three ways of doing a poster. The first is called Image.’ We all know what that means. If it’s a poster about the life of Winston Churchill, the image is Winston Churchill and it communicates perfectly.

Then he says, ‘The second way is Icon.’ And what’s an icon? It’s a symbol. Well, what’s a symbol for Winston Churchill? A cigar or a Union Jack.

Then he says, ‘The third is Noise.’ I said, ‘What’s noise?’ and he pulled out a portfolio of posters by Otl Aicher – who did a monthly poster for a kiosk in town about what was going on at the university – and shows me one that was about evolution or something. It was a blue background with pink dots and the director says, ‘This is noise.’ And I said, ‘How do you evaluate it?’ He said, ‘If it makes people look at the poster, why not?’

So when I went back to London, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to make ‘Noise.” So the next job came in and I said, ‘Ah! I’m going to use a green triangle with red lines going through it.’ Which of course had nothing to do with the subject of the poster. And then I said to myself, ‘Should it be a green triangle, or a purple triangle, or a yellow triangle?’ I didn’t have the confidence that Aicher had for choosing a green or yellow triangle. I tried a bunch of colors and triangles but in the end I couldn’t make up my mind and I couldn’t do ‘Noise.’ But it’s a perfectly valid solution.

So not only am I not condemning designers for not having an idea but I’m not even condemning them for making purposeless blue triangles. It all makes the world more interesting but for me – I’m not capable of making ‘Noise.'”

— Bob Gill (via Please Make This Look Nice)