Icky Sticky Signs of Life

The kids book Icky Little Duckling tells of a very mature rabbit who obsessively orders and collects things he finds in the woods. One day he comes across a beautiful shiny egg, which hatches a little duckling. Of course, the duckling destroys rabbit’s meticulously-organized dwelling, making a mess of everything.

I often feel like that rabbit. As a designer, one of my main jobs is creating order out of disorder. Carefully trimming slogans, editing photos, cleaning up code, all in an effort to create some order in the world. The dream of many a designer is a Helvetica world, where white space abounds and no item is out of place.

Yet, as humans, it seems that while we all – like the rabbit – crave order and organization, we also have an opposing craving for mess and disorganization.

When a photo is too perfect, we sense that something is amiss. We don’t buy it.

When a house is too clean, we get uncomfortable (I know, that’s not a problem most of us encounter too often).

In the story book, the rabbit finally finds the duckling’s real family, and can return his house to its proper state of order. But the book tell that he looks around and feels like something’s missing. He’s lonely!

There’s something about mess, chaos and disorder that signifies life. When something is too clean, too polished, it loses it’s feels dead. A design, or a house, needs a little wobble to give it life (maybe David Carson was onto something…).

In The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, the foreword praises Bill Watterson’s drawing of dressers and household item. It’s funny, because the dressers in Calvin & Hobbes comics are always a complete mess. Drawers are open, socks are sticking out all over. Why, when Watterson could have drawn perfect, clean, symmetrical furnishings, did he opt for disorder and chaos in those little details?

Maybe he was trying to draw a more human, more believable world. (Isn’t that part of what we loved about his comics?)

As you work to create some order in the world, don’t forget to appreciate the messiness as well. Because the mess is a sign of life.