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“Nice” could very well be the most offensive
critical word a designer–or any creative person–will ever hear. “That
project you’ve worked on for three years and devoted body and soul to is
very nice.” I don’t know about you, it makes me want to scream.
While it is nice when peers say you’re nice–as in “that dude is really
nice to children and small animals”–but to characterize someone’s design
with the “n word” is worse than not nice, it is belittling.
Nice is a euphemism for “eh!” or “its just okay” or “it’ll do.” Often
when the word is spoken, it is accompanied by a melancholy glance, a
slight shrug, and a half-hearted smile. Something that is deemed to be
nice is certainly not bad, but it is not extraordinary or exceptional.
Nice is a word used when other superlatives are too charged. Nice is
It is also a synonym for satisfactory, but doesn’t that really mean
mediocre? I’ve heard clients say: “Your solution is very nice, but I was
hoping for something, well, different.” Translation: “This is exactly
what I do not want, but I’m basically too nice to say it too your face.”
To assuage your disappointment the client hides behind the “n word.”
But you have to be in deep denial not to know the genuine meaning.
Sure, there are many more unpleasant words - terrible, ugly, stupid, or
inept, to name a few. I’m sure we would hate being branded with any of
them. But the piddling monosyllabic, soft-c of nice is so void of
passion that it oozes with insignificance. Nice is pure fluff; so give
me a word like brilliant, which the British use to best effect (even
though I’m told it actually means nice).
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity,” wrote George Orwell.
If indeed there was a more insincere word applied to art and design I
haven’t heard it, and I presume the man who coined newspeak might agree
that nice takes the prize. So if you are at a crit or in a presentation
meeting and the teacher or client says “that’s nice” it may not be worth
getting angry, but you’ll probably wonder “what is he really thinking?”
Kenneth Carbone and Leslie Smolan are recognized with 2014 AIGA Medals for demonstrating across decades the power of beautiful and well-reasoned design principles in corporate identity, communication, publishing and strategy to designers, business and the public.
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Design Assign is a collaborative partnership that gives back to the greater Des Moines area community through design. Alongside AIGA Iowa, area creatives will use their talents to provide local non-profit organizations with communications products that
can help raise awareness and funds.
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