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The architect and I talked in the hall while the real party buzzed away in the kitchen. Drinks in hand, we traded war stories as artisans among philistines. "You wouldn't believe the changes they wanted," he said. "Hideous, just hideous. I showed them how awful it would look, but they couldn't tell the difference. I'm the one who's trained in this stuff, but do they trust my professional opinion? I'm ashamed to have my name on it."

Same old story. Tortured souls squeezing out pearls for swine. Soon our commiseration turned into a game of one-downmanship, a race to the bottom of I Have It Worse Than You Do Gulch.

"Be thankful you don't have to get your designs approved by hack political appointees on the zoning board."

"Be thankful you don't have three creative directors over you, none of whom agree on anything."

"Well, your disasters are only out there for a few months, whereas my ugly stepchildren stand mocking me for generations."

"Oh yeah? Well at least you can prevent some really awful crap by telling your clients, 'If we do that the building will fall down. It's not up to code.' "

The architect took a sip of his scotch and smirked. "Yeah, I've used that one a few times, even when it wasn't true."

And that's when the heavens parted and the Great Hand of Hidden Wisdom dope-slapped me into enlightenment.

We need a code. Art directors, designers, creative people everywhere need an inviolable set of aesthetic standards allowing us to tell obstinate patrons that making the logo any bigger is a violation of code and that the inspectors will just make us tear it out and do it over the right way.

Think of the power! It would no longer be your humble opinion against the almighty weight of their cliental veto. Instead of trying to lead them through the nuances of your artistic thought process, just shrug and blame it on the code.

But here's the true beauty of it. The code needn't actually exist. We only need to claim it exists, and to quote from it liberally. Anyone who has ever remodeled a home knows how this works. The pros invoke code, we acquiesce. We don't demand to see the relevant section and subparagraph prohibiting the placement of a vent pipe there. For all we know, construction codes are a sham, a conspiracy.

How would our clients react to such a code? Perhaps much the same way they react when their legal departments disembowel perfectly wonderful concepts: "Oh, OK." Clients are used to coping with all sorts of regulatory bodies -- SEC, FTC, FDA, EPA, FCC -- so what's one more set of rules to them? They could even be wondering why our profession seems to have none. "How can you call yourself a business without any goddamn regulations?" That's how their world operates. Hard and fast rules. None of this wishy-washy-artsy-fartsy rationalization bullshit.

"Why did you use this goofy purple color, Weemis?"

"That's what the code calls for, sir. PMS271. With spot gloss varnish."

"Hmmm. Very well then, Weemis, proceed."

Code means never having to say you just think it looks better that way. You no longer have to stand upon your credentials alone. Now you can have the same sort of crutches drudges in other professions lean on every day. Policy, guidelines, bylaws, standards -- whatever you call them, they exist to make the job easier.

So I propose we spread a story that the International Convention on Aesthetic Standards convened in San Francisco last year to amass The Unified Graphic Code. That it was later ratified at the annual winter meeting in Milan, with the complete 12,473-page text accessible through the ICAS Web site: And that henceforth we, as professional practitioners of the commercial arts, are bound by its standards.

Then the next time some cretin wants to plaster a hot pink Sale-A-Bration!!! starburst across your sensitive design, just smile and say, "Gee, I'd love to, my friend, but it's against code."

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