Making a Murderer's unexpected design impact. (NO SPOILERS)


Like a lot of folk over the Christmas break I got hooked on Making a Murderer. The addictive true crime documentary series filmed over 10 years is about Steven Avery. A man imprisoned for sexual assault & attempted murder, then exonerated, but subsequently convicted of another murder a few years later.

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So what's that got to do with design?

Heroes and wee glimmers of inspiration appear in weird places. Turns out my most recent is a criminal justice lawyer in Wisconsin. You can't predict these things. Dean Strang, the unlikely heartthrob of Netflix fans, stole the show in my opinion. Calm, witty, intelligent, totally rational. Dean Strang & Jerry Buting both made their lawyer chat very understandable and watchable. They seemed genuinely attached to the case, not just for their fee but for the good of the game.  


The case was extraordinary. But one thing Dean Strang came back to, regularly, was that the US judicial system was flawed. The way I perceived it was, there's this thing, the American Justice System, which is moral and righteous. However there is a flaw in that an accused person can win their liberty back, but not their reputation. The system of justice can serve ruin not protect. Why? Because it's human built. In a recent interview that you can watch here (warning, spoilers!) he was asked, "Is our (USA) criminal justice system broken?" He answered;

In the way that all human undertakings are broken, yes. It’s broken. You know, is it more broken than anything else we humans set about to do collectively? I don’t know.”
— Dean Strang

Huh!? I thought. We humans try to design clothes collectively, and fail quite badly given the quality of life of many manufacturers. We try and design web sites, plenty of which exclude various people with disabilities, or (perhaps like this blog post) simply bore the arse off of people. 

As a designer, you can sometimes put your work on a bit of a pedestal. I harbour ambitions of flawless work. But it can be arresting to the development of ideas. "Ah it might be a bit crap, start again!' Is something I do too often.

Ambitions of flawlessness hold back my design.

Strang tells me something as trustworthy as the American justice system is flawed, not because of something clearly fixable, but because it was man made. That gives me a huge sense of relief. A relief that, well if something that honourable can go wrong, what hope have I got of creating something that will be all things to all men?! None, I concluded.

Source - Kate Briquelet

Source - Kate Briquelet

It made me consider my weaknesses. It helped me prioritise ideas. And most importantly, it takes pressure of my work. When I talk to someone new about my work, I don't need to justify it as perfect, or something they can't live without. I can say 'I made this, but you know, I'm only human so if you don't love it, I actually don't mind.' That takes a good bit of pressure off me and the feedback I might get. And it's as close to a New Year's Resolution as I will get.

Some other designers would ague that a good service designer could fix the judicial system. I've taken an more personal perspective. So here's the design philosophy I learned from Making a Murderer and Dean Strang;

I'm human and fallible and some of my work won't be brilliant, but I'll learn from that and make the next one better. 

Follow me on Instagram @andysr_eu where I'll be posting new textile designs throughout 2016. And if you don't love them, that's OK, you're only human ;).