What can fly fishing teach us about art and design? - Blog

What can fly fishing teach us about art and design?

fly_cast1Fly fishing, the most literary sport, holds deep lessons on art and design.

If you’re not familiar with fly fishing, then a simple explanation will be helpful. Fly fishing is fishing with a fly. Any fool can deduce that I suppose, but more importantly, in fly fishing the propulsive weight that sends your offering into the distant water for the fish to eat is contained within the line and not in the fly or lure at the end of the line. This distinction makes it possible to attract fish with weightless offerings and, sometimes for some of us, a more delicate presentation. However, in this day and age with modern bearings and highly engineered spin and bait casting reels, fly fishing is no longer a requirement.

Fly fishing, like carburetors and letterpresses, is an anachronism. But in fly fishing, like carburetors and letterpresses, there is mystical art. In a fly cast, we call the shape the line takes as it passes through the air, the loop. A well formed loop is a thing of beauty. Its two parallel lines fly through the air in metronomic motion.

When properly executed, the fly cast feels as if it ties the caster to the fundamental propagating waveforms of the universe and inserts them into a perfect rhythmic moment. As the weight of the line pulls the rod bends and loads itself with energy. That energy is then passed along to the fly line and disperses itself down the line through the fly and out onto the water.

Watching an accomplished caster properly cast a line, is similar to watching an olympic gymnast or professional ballet dancer; there is every bit as much grace in casting a fly line. Not surprisingly women tend to be better casters right out of the gate. But it’s not something you just walk into a shop and buy.

Like design skill, a tight loop is something formed over decades of practice and is dependent on so many variables we can’t even list them all here. Sometimes it seems as though every variable changes every time you pick up your fly rod. What makes the loop special today is that it isn’t a requirement to fish anymore, yet many of us still are compelled to learn its inner workings and dedicate large portions of our lives to pursuing it’s perfection.

In this way, fly fishing is an elective way to make things more difficult and bring some art to the otherwise pedestrian activity of hooking fish. When we approach the water with a fly rod we elect to take the more difficult, road less traveled, because many of us enjoy the art of the cast and presentation as much, if not more, than we do the actual outcome of landing a fish. It’s a subtle trade off and one that may ultimately limit our take in the field but will produce a more enjoyable moment. Moment after moment, cast after cast, fly fishing captures art again and again.

Design is the same way. Design isn’t a requirement. We don’t NEED to have beautiful logotypes or hand drawn icons. We don’t need perfect kerning. We don’t need the subtle styling of bespoke typefaces or stunning patterns and embellishments. We proved all of this with the brutality of 60s modernist aesthetic. As a response to the ornamentation of prior periods the modernists were out to prove that everything could be stripped of art and distilled down to it’s essence. Black and White. Sans-serif. Cold hard corners, simple geometry. It worked. It proved that we don’t NEED design but in the end I think we as humans WANT it.

The last few years we’ve witnessed an interesting resurgence of the art of design. We’ve seen a renewed interest in all things crafted and hand built. None of which we actually need, but all of which we as humans are drawn to out of a simple desire to surround ourselves with beauty. Design also creates desire. Design creates passion. Design can make good products great. Design separates those who are going through the motions and those who are passionate about feeling something deeper and more provocative, something subtle and more elusive. With good design, simple pedestrian items and products can build passionate fan bases by simply surrounding itself with beauty and passion.

Sometimes in the business world there’s a ledger that says your budget might not allow for the frivolity of design. But be reminded that humans seek beauty, sometimes for irrational reasons. And companies seek humans to buy and use their products. So business should use the lure of beauty and design if for no other reason than to take the road less traveled, challenge itself, live each moment a little more fully, and appeal to people they’d like to reel-in.

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