Michele picked up an issue of Lucky Peach, an alternative quarterly journal of food writing, art, and recipes – as it bills itself – a couple of weeks, or so, ago. We were first introduced to Lucky Peach by Richard Taylor who gave Michele an issue, on Chinese shopping center restaurants, probably more than a year ago. Both Michele and I like Chinese food and cooking, so it was a welcome gift. But it was almost impossible to read. In an effort to stand out in a very crowded food and cooking magazine universe, to break out of that cooking mag box, Lucky Peach had gone overboard. It reminds me of the first year or so of Wired doing the same thing for the digital/Silicon Valley world. The first couple of issues – with about ten type sizes and faces per page – were way more unreadable than Lucky Peach (even Wired‘s table of contents was hard to read).
It seems to me what these two have in common is that they made a radical departures from what everybody knows works in magazines. Thinking outside the box is a conscious effort to not follow the rules. As an aside, I remember reading that, when Charlie Parker – the great American jazz saxophonist, who revolutionized jazz with bebop – was trying to break away from the Big Band Jazz-sound, he turned the score upside down to get in a different musical space. End aside. Without any rules to rely on, the change usually doesn’t work at first.
It doesn’t work, I think, for a couple of reasons. First, we are all still habituated to the in-the-box rules making the new stuff look weird. Even if an out of boxer decides to think out of the box, it doesn’t mean that we, the user, is agreeing to that (even if we think we are). We are still following the old rules, at least until the out-of-the-boxer convince us to change. Using the old rules, it is very difficult to make judgements on the new stuff and we often just resort to Well, that’s weird, and move on.
Sometimes it is actually weird more than good. The new stuff , by setting out to be outside the box, is, in some ways, just random and, in other ways, is just Do it NOT like they did it. Sometimes, it takes time to invent new rules and refine them. However, I suspect that this happens less than we think.
Often, when I look back at some radical design or piece of art that I thought was terrible 50 years ago, it looks great now.