Thanks, But No Thanks

Thanks, But No Thanks was an exhibition of rejected work by designers and illustrators organised by two Kingston students, Alex Brown and Ben West. All the work was either rejected by a client or internally by the studio or illustrator, for various reasons. The work was exhibited in London during May 2012 and then auctioned to benefit Battersea Dogs’ Home.

A selection of featured work is shown here. The following is a foreword for the exhibition catalogue written by Adrian Shaughnessy.

On rejection — and why it isn’t always a bad thing

When graphic designers have their work rejected they feel – well, rejected. But why is this? Is it because graphic designers are thin-skinned, vain creatures who need to be loved? Partly, yet it has more to do with having entered a profession where everyone has an opinion on the work we produce, and where our efforts are judged by the criterion of taste rather than any kind of system of scientific measurement.

This means that design work is often rejected for no other reason than someone doesn’t like it. What sort of reason is that? No wonder rejection hurts.

Over time, though, most designers learn to deal with this. We develop strategies and techniques for coping with – and avoiding – rejection. We rationalise our work and provide reasons why we think it is good and appropriate. Sometimes these reasons are well thought out. But sometimes they are what the designer Michael Bierut calls bullshit.

In his famous essay On (Design) Bullshit, Bierut writes: “…I am of course aware that bullshit has become a subject of legitimate enquiry these days with the popularity of Harry G Frankfurt’s slender volume, On Bullshit. Frankfurt, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton, is careful to distinguish bullshit from lies, pointing out that bullshit is ‘not designed primarily to give its audience a false belief about whatever state of affairs may be the topic, but that its primary intention is rather to give its audience a false impression concerning what is going on in the mind of the speaker.’ It follows that every design presentation is inevitably, at least in part, an exercise in bullshit.”.*
But there’s a more harmful side to the fear of rejection. Our unwillingness to experience rejection stops us being brave. In the world of commercial graphic design, failure is taboo.

The nature of the professional transaction between client and designer simply doesn’t permit any sort of failure. This means that many clients avoid failure by commissioning timid design, and many designers avoid the risk of rejection by being safe and over-cautious.

It would be a strange designer who didn’t mind having his or her work rejected. But it’s a poor designer who can’t cope with rejection. Rejection is as much a part of design as success. And it needn’t always be bad: sometimes it makes us do better work and (whisper it) sometimes we deserve it.

Adrian Shaughnessy

From Seventy-nine short essays on design, by Michael Beirut, 2007. Princeton Architectural Press.


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