Wrong Theory

Is ruining perfection the key to groundbreaking design?


Scott Dadich, the editor-in-chief of iconic technology magazine Wired, believes that to create something truly interesting you have to ruin it.

He credits his unusual approach to a single painting by Edgar Degas. Entitled Jockeys Before The Race, it’s a seemingly innocuous painting now but was one of the most radical paintings of its time. The artwork depicts three beautifully painted, and perfectly composed, jockeys warming up their horses in a field. But Degas added a jarring element that effectively destroyed the painting’s technical perfection – a straight, grey pole that ran vertically through the scene and right through one of the horses’ heads.

It’s this painting that Scott, a trailblazer in global design, credits with his most disruptive design idea: do the wrong thing. Speaking at this year’s Semi-Permanent conference in Sydney on the WIREDxDESIGN panel, Scott shared why that pole made such a difference.

“Degas wasn’t just “thinking outside of the box,” he said. “He wasn’t trying to overturn convention to find a more perfect solution. He was purposely creating something that wasn’t pleasing; intentionally doing the wrong thing.”

This concept of purposefully ruining something that is technically perfect is, what Scott calls, ‘Wrong Theory’. By using this approach Scott ensures the Wired team push the boundaries of design. The steps are simple; first you experiment with the design, fine tune it until it’s perfect and then you purposely ruin it. Scott says it’s this approach that has led to some of the most engaging and aesthetically interesting pages in the magazine.

One common method used at Wired is to give one designer’s “perfected” work to another with instructions to mess it up. Once, one designer, who had meticulously placed leaves on each and every branch of an illustrated tree, gave her design to a colleague who, much to the first designer’s horror, selected all the leaves and dragged them to the side. Her work was “ruined” in all of two seconds, but the page itself suddenly became intriguing.

Wrong Theory is an idea that can stretch across industries with Scott joined on the WIREDxDESIGN panel by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, who agrees that stepping away from what “makes sense” is what makes design interesting. Bjarke is no stranger to disrupting ideas with his architecture agency Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) known for creating proposals that, at first, seem ridiculous (the agency recently put forward a proposal for a waste-to-energy power plant in Copenhagen, topped with a mountain that people can ski and hike on). Bjarke says that BIG, in a sense,  have adopted a type of “wrong theory” in that their architects often approach projects as if they’re telling a joke.

“You start off setting the scene, laying the groundwork,” explains Bjarke. “Then you hit them with the punch line, which suddenly changes everything but at the same time it all makes perfect sense.”

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