Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Common Myth #25: Old vs. New

What's new is always better than what's old.

What's old is always better than what's new.

These are common misconceptions. In the first group, the desire to be hip and fresh is considered to always denote forward-looking approaches, and innovation. However, just because something is new or never tried before, doesn't mean it's a good idea. For instance, it may be cool to have a round business card, and it may attract a lot of attention. But the tried and true 2x3.5 size is tried and true for a reason. It fits neatly in most business card holders, wallets, and pockets--already existing items. The round card will eventually be tossed faster than the standard size card simply because it is not a standard size, and there are no systems built to handle them on a daily basis.

The second part of the myth of old versus new is the idea that what is old is better than what is new. True, a fine wine is best when it is aged, and good design is based on good principles of design, established many years ago. But some traditions had more meaning in their original context than they do now.

Years ago, color was too expensive for most companies to employ in printing sales materials. So many designers designed based on a one- to two-color parameters. Occasionally, the designer would design for three- to four-color but cost were so prohibitive as to be done very rarely. So companies could successfully compete with each other based on those limitations.

Now, full color is ubiquitous. We have the web, better presses, direct-to-plate technology, high-speed color copiers that rival the quality of offset printing--all at low cost compared with two-color work--and also very decent consumer-level and laser color printers. People have come to expect color on almost anything. So companies can now compete better by utilizing these low-cost solutions. There is now very little advantage in using a design and color scheme that is too limiting, unless it is to differentiate from the glut of color exploding designs. But this is strategic rather than a technical limitation.

What's the truth then. Old is new, and new is often old. New can just be flat wrong. Old may have started out on a wrong basis. There is nothing really new, just discovered or reborn. Our creativity and innovation is always based on a known understanding. Either of a common need or method, or a new solution for an old problem. So it is best to respect the old and embrace the new with an understanding that neither solves the problems alone, nor are neither beyond scrutiny.

1 comment:

  1. So many thoughts...I think of C.S. Lewis' friend Owen Barfield and his idea of "chronological snobbery." I think of Len Sweet (remember seeing him in Nashville?) and his idea that we should learn a lesson from our days on the swingset -- where we reach back and fling ourselves forward at the same time.

    You're always thought-provoking.


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