Where I’m Designing From

High on the list of things I want for Christmas is the recent biography Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life. Carver is considered by many to be the finest short story writer of the 20th century, an assessment I would not dispute. Known for his terse, stripped down realism, Carver wrote of people barely hanging on, to relationships, sobriety or sanity. It's unflinching work from a man who did a fair amount of abuse to himself and others, whose life was cut short by cigarettes ten years after he was able to quit drinking.

What is most intriguing is the minimalist style for which Carver is known came largely at the behest of his editor, Gordon Lish. Lish was instrumental in pushing Carver toward a reductive style, taking a hatchet to manuscripts when a razor would have sufficed. Curious readers can pick up the recent Collected Stories volume, which presents both versions of an early story. The relationship between writer and editor was often contentious but ultimately Carver realized Lish controlled access to publication and was thus willing to make the necessary compromises to his work.

The Carver/Lish dynamic made me think of the nature of the designer/client relationship. The best clients are collaborative, engaged in the process and willing to listen, as well as offer up strategic input. Our strongest work is always a product of these types of interactions, where client feedback works to the betterment of the final design. An engaged and informed client can elevate work from good to stellar. A bad client can kill it entirely, reducing the work to something completely different from the original vision of the designer.

As astonishing as Carver's body of writing is, one is left to wonder what might have been had his editor given him the trust we appreciate and expect from our clients.