I was fascinated to read the Cecilia McGee’s article in the June 10, 2009 Styles section of the New York Times entitled “Your Invitation is not in the mail.” The article describes how a young brother and sister have launched a new website called Paperless Post which allows a buyer to design and send a custom email invitation. The Hirschfeld’s have allegedly received $1 million in funding to launch their new website and several distinguished politicians and celebrities seem to be overwhelmed by the simulated beauty of their emailed invitations.
While some of the innovative graphics may seem to be revolutionary to their clients, it is unlikely to create much buzz within the internet community. In fact, as web design graphics evolves it continues to be imitated, absorbed and quickly displaced by new technologies. In fact, success on the internet is based on search engine optimization (SEO) rather than innovative design. More importantly, simulated invitations on the internet are missing two important elements: paper and printing.
Artists and craftspeople in the industry are simply being displaced by graphics designers using Photoshop. Whether this is useful or beneficial to society over the long-run remains to be seen, but I suspect that Paperless Post will not emerge as the Rembrandt of custom online invitations. The internet and inexpensive graphic design programs place sophisticated design capabilities in the hands of most everybody. Unfortunately, since most everyone can do it inexpensively, it creates an environment of only transitory value. If everyone could design a Mona Lisa or the Nightwatchman, these works of art would have little perceived value to society.
The online invitation business is rapidly approaching economic irrelevancy from a design perspective. Efficiency and cost drive the online business – not beauty! If you are interested in an invitation rather than an email, paper is the only real alternative. When the distribution channel become more important than the product itself, the craftsmanship and civility of fine paper will gradually be lost to society. In the New York Times article Pamela Fiori, the editor in chief of Town & Country, is quoted as saying “In a world increasingly uncivilized,” she said, “it’s important that we have some ties to tradition. And I honestly think that what we’re losing with e-mail are our memories.” Ms. Fiori’s comment reminds me of a memorable scene in Blade Runner.
In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, replicant hunter Deckard (Harrison Ford) callously tells Rachael (Sean Young) that her memories have been implanted and that she is simply a robot. Rachael, desperately clinging to a “family” photograph as proof that she is human, breaks into tears and flees Deckard’s apartment. The scene was provocative on two levels: first, it was the first time I had seen a robot cry and, secondly, a simple family photograph seemed to be a more relevant factor in Rachael’s belief in her humanity than all of her systematic programming.
In summary, if simulated email images masquerading as invitations is your cup of tea then by all means imbibe. If texture, relevancy, tradition and tangible works of art continue to entrall you then don’t settle for pixalated pop art.