Crazy Bananas

How to design something wild

August 2, 2018

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After I pooh-poohed some wild visual designs as being just more-of-the-same, Bree Tanner (of Studio Us) asked me what I considered to be “Crazy Bananas” design.

I don’t get much of a frisson from any work that applies the same fundamental approach as everyday design, simply turned up to eleven. If the basic assumptions are the same, a high-octane design succeeds and suffers in the same ways as a subtle design would. The only assumption that most wild design choices challenge is “the work should be easily legible” — which is challenging an assumption, but only one, and one that’s been challenged again and again.

Here are some questions you might ask about your design practice:

  • What tools?
  • What aims?
  • What recompense?
  • What motivation?
  • What audience?
  • What process?
  • What authorship?
  • What is success?
  • What is finished?
  • What is revealed?
  • What is concealed?
  • What is amplified?
  • What is minimized?
  • What sources are drawn on?
  • What is discarded?
  • How long does it take?
  • How long is it experienced?
  • How long does it last?
  • What is sacrificed?
  • How does it change?
  • Who changes it?
  • What work is included?
  • What work is excluded?
  • What are the rules?
  • What are the constraints?
  • What are “the basics”?
  • Who leads?
  • Who teaches?

… and so on.

Most Everyday designers would answer many of these questions in relatively similar ways, if they thought to ask them at all (I admit they might argue about word choice – they’re designers, after all – but little about substance.) Crazy Bananas design is design that chooses new, strange, or even incorrect answers to more than one of these questions. If you violate the assumptions of Everyday design in every single one of these aspects, I suspect you’re no longer doing design at all; but I also suspect you can challenge half of them before finding yourself in another field entirely.

Of course, most of these questions apply to almost any field of work; there are Crazy Bananas approaches to things other than design. Gonzo journalism is a Crazy Bananas brand of journalism. Feminist Art Theory was, when it first emerged, Crazy Bananas. Gaudi was Crazy Bananas.

In the end, a Crazy Bananas œuvre can have only one of two destinies: its answers can become accepted by the mainstream, and so it becomes Everyday; or else its answers are rejected, and it becomes a curious cul-de-sac in history. Feminist criticism experienced the former, and Gaudi the latter.

None of this speaks to whether Crazy Bananas is effective or worthwhile (and probably it cannot, because “How is effectiveness measured?” and “What’s worthwhile?” could easily be added to that list) but at least it gives a framework for stepping outside the Everyday.

My books are open! I am currently taking contracts for the second half of 2023. Drop me a note.