Sense of audience
I've never been a fan of the "know your audience" doctrine in making presentations. Too often, this approach
leads to underestimating the audience and sometimes to pandering. Better, presenters should know their
content and respect their audience. That's what good teachers do, I believe.
At high levels of creative work that is going to last and have long-run consequences, probably the view of some
creators is that the audience can take it or leave it, that if you're not doing something different you're not doing
anything at all, that you should do the best you can and put it out to the world and hope for the best. One of Richard
Feynman's books is entitled "What do you care what other people think?", a remark made by his mother.
Where the audience comes in, for me, is that I try to reduce impediments to seeing and understanding my work:
I try to write clearly, to design books so as to eliminate glitches in getting to my material, to create an elegant
argument and visual experience, to remain reasonably civil or at least politely blunt, to avoid the first-person
singular, to make it easy for
people to see my work, to have vivid summaries, to teach a lot of one-day courses about my work, and to make
subtle jokes (often, alas, so subtle that only I recognize them and think them funny). Easing the impediments to
access for my audiences has no negative consequences for the quality of the intellectual content.
In reading drafts of my writing, I sometimes try to read through the eyes of selected friends: "What would Fred
Mosteller (a Harvard statistician) think about this?" "What would Bob Merton (Columbia sociologist) think about this?"
Years ago, they read various manuscripts of mine and made helpful comments. They were also scholar's scholars.
Most of the time my user-testing research involves a sample size of one, myself. I set something aside for a while and
try to look at it with fresh eyes, a technique that has revealed murky logic, and over-reliance on brilliant examples
or smark-alec quotes (from others) that turn out to be, upon reflection, not quite apt. As noted elsewhere on this
board, I'm not a fan of focus groups and human factors approaches to high-level design (raises the floor by
heading off disaster, but doesn't help much to raise the ceiling above mediocrity).
In making art, I have never thought or cared much about an audience, the art market, or what other people (outside of my extended
family) think. In locating the sculpture at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, I walk around a lot, try to detect
impediments to viewing, and seek to increase the number of friendly and diverse paths through the pieces and
around the sculpture garden. But again, an N = 1. In making or installing a sculpture, sometimes I'll ask a nearby
colleague what they think, just to have something to play off against in my seeing. In the welding shop, I have a long
running story-telling joke that we're making this piece for our client Ms. Nefertiti and that we need to create the
illusion that it is really difficult and time-consuming for us to make art (which it is not at all) and that the piece
required 200 hours of computing with Frank Gehry's super-duper 3D computer modelling program blah blah blah.
She's the only client I've ever thought about.
On the other hand, the threat of having a public sculpture show that started, no matter what, on such-and-such a
date, has proved enormously stimulating to my sculptural work. Never been more productive in more diverse ways
than in the last 18 months since I was offered the Aldrich show. But the effect is on rapidity of making new pieces
not on the kinds of sculpture constructed.
Finally I have largely avoided making editions or near-duplicates of my sculptures, since that puts me in the
business repeating myself rather than doing new work.
None of the above is meant as advice to anyone else; it is merely description of what I do, an N = 1.
-- Edward Tufte