Doubt is better than certainty

“Certainty is a closing of the mind. To create the new, requires doubt.” writes Milton Glaser in one of his essays, Ten Things I Have Learned written in 2001 as a part of AIGA Talk in London. Being one of the most influential and celebrated graphic designers in the United States, Glaser is still in doubt and at 81, he is still creating significant design at full capacity. I would like to quote a part of his essay below and strongly recommend you to read the full version from here.

Doubt is Better Than Certainty

by Milton Glaser

Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a class in yoga where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believed that you had achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course we must know the difference between scepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins. And then in a very real way, solving any problem is more important than being right. There is a significant sense of self-righteousness in both the art and design world. Perhaps it begins at school. Art school often begins with the Ayn Rand model of the single personality resisting the ideas of the surrounding culture. The theory of the avant garde is that as an individual you can transform the world, which is true up to a point. One of the signs of a damaged ego is absolute certainty.
Schools encourage the idea of not compromising and defending your work at all costs. Well, the issue at work is usually all about the nature of compromise. You just have to know what to compromise. Blind pursuit of your own ends which excludes the possibility that others may be right does not allow for the fact that in design we are always dealing with a triad – the client, the audience and you.

Ideally, making everyone win through acts of accommodation is desirable. But self-righteousness is often the enemy. Self-righteousness and narcissism generally come out of some sort of childhood trauma, which we do not have to go into. It is a consistently difficult thing in human affairs. Some years ago I read a most remarkable thing about love, that also applies to the nature of co-existing with others. It was a quotation from Iris Murdoch in her obituary. It read ‘ Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.’ Isn’t that fantastic! The best insight on the subject of love that one can imagine…

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One Response to “Doubt is better than certainty”

  1. thank you!…

    I just had to take a moment to praise you for sharing this with us. As a normal citizen I’ve really appreciated the good ideas and content obtained from reading your posts. I hope you can continue to develop a passionate website here as I will be coming back..

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