As I have been correctly stating for years, nobody wants graphic-design criticism, if anyone ever did. Web sites have nullified design magazines’ reason for being. Graphic design is not conceptual art and cannot withstand the weight of academic criticism, a failed venture in any event. What might function adequately, and might survive, are two things: Personal work, which the Web has enabled for all graphic designers for the first time, and short analytical pieces on how design items work rather than what they “mean.”

Nonetheless, the man placed at greatest structural and career peril by Web criticism, Steven Heller (author, coauthor, or editor of 140 books), shepherded into existence an entire graduate program for graphic-design critics, whose services are completely unwanted and for whose work there is no paying market whatsoever. There too I’ve been the only one saying so (again correctly).

Now a member of the design intelligentsia has backed me up, only guess what? If you’re a “design critic,” your fate is much worse than I’d thought. Important design intellectual John Thackara (author, coauthor, or editor of a dozen books) took time out of his busy day to condemn design critics to penury. (Where else can you read his analysis? At Design Observer, of course.)

[S]elling 350-word stories online is not a replacement for fat ad-filled newspapers. The New York Times Web site generates about $15 million or so a month, which translates to about a dollar a unique visitor. But its fixed costs are so high that it can’t make profit on that. Huffington Post, as a comparison, makes about 12¢ a unique visitor per month. And it’s finding it hard to make a profit, too.

Now think of your own position. No huge office building to pay for, no executive suite, no accounts department, no human resources, no private jet, no lobbyists. In fact, if you decided to squat rather than rent or buy a space to live in — if you were aggressively to share, rather than own, the tools and resources you need for daily life — your fixed costs could be as near as dammit to zero. Zero is a good place to start. Try to stay right there. When your costs are zero, how many multiples of 12¢ a month do you actually need to survive? Or, when you get established, how many single dollars do you really need?

Indeed. Really, how much payment for your work do you “need”? Why can’t you live like a monk, or in a Bruce Sterling–style digital favela? (How much payment for his work does John Thackara “need”?)

Of course you knew your left-wing academic discipline wouldn’t pay well, but now you know just how little you deserve to be paid, and that you deserve to be homeless.

Thackara sits only a few increments above that income level, he claims, but the power-law effect ensures he will always have more gigs, more fame, and more money than any pure-digital design critic, all of whom were unlucky enough to be born after the age in which design credentials could be established via the editors of a tiny stable of printed magazines and an elite superstructure of design-book publishers.

Did you know your education bought you nothing but a hand-to-mouth existence as a walking contradiction – the intellectual squatter?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.05.28 11:38. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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