September 1, 2022

En-rote to nowhere

Excuse the poor-quality dad-pun, and it’s not a typo. Learning something ‘by rote’ is to tackle it by mechanical or habitual repetition.

Sometimes it’s a really good way to drum things in. The reason I can still type that 8 times 8 is 64 without a second thought is that times-tables were taught me in a sing-song fashion, Relentlessly. With hindsight I can appreciate it.

Outside of needing a mental short-cut to arithmetic however, mostly doing stuff by rote gets you to all kinds of the same thing, said or showed, over and over.

Same bored (or worse, meaning-free) clichés (not that I mind a cliché every now and again. They’re another quite useful shortcut sometimes toward common ground. And sometimes they throw up all kinds of interesting things. This article’s image? It’s from {the now defunct} Punch Magazine – “Extract from a cartoon by Priestman Atkinson, from the Punch Almanack for 1885, mocking clichéd expressions in the popular literature at the time”), same layouts, same patterns. Less and less different.

Copying someone else’s signature style is poor form of flattery. Cutting and pasting the same keywords, scripts, colour palettes might always make for fast, but it’s a poor form of forgery. Well, maybe that’s a bit strong. And I’m hardly in a position to judge, given I’ve hardly had an original idea ever.

When I see commentators complaining that the trend for turning even the smallest (mostly online) activity into a Trend is making everything more and more meaningless, ‘trapping us out’ because we can’t keep up, I’m not so sure. The super-charged collision of stuff-place-person into compact handles can bring all kinds of reward, not least that the barrage can lead to usefully derailing (distracting) us from our usual norms (looking at you #cluttercore)

Maybe before fast-following someone’s approach to a problem – visual, verbal, structural, strategic, whichever – do have a careful think about how much more you could get out of a project if you veered off-rote for a bit.

Throw a few things together of your own.

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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

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