editione1.0.2Updated November 3, 2022
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In 2007, Ye (then known as Kanye West) founded and ran the blog called UniverseCity. The blog became well known as a source of inspiration, connecting the worlds of art and architecture with mainstream pop culture. The New York Times called it “a masterpiece blog.”
West ran UniverseCity with the help of a small team, including graphic designer Joe Perez. Perez was responsible for supplying and researching the content, making ideas available to West to curate, comment on, and approve. Even though Perez had formally studied at the Art Center College of Design, he has likened research for the blog to returning to art school—and studying every major simultaneously. “You can say you do research every day, but when something forces you to look at thousands of images on a daily basis, the best of the best, it starts to definitely have an impact on you on a really basic level,” he says. This exposure to a vast quantity of images seems to have remained with West, who would report looking at 800 images a day several years after the blog ended.
Part of what Perez brought to the table was geographic; he had access to the Rhode Island School of Design library, where he discovered inspiration and references in books that weren’t as easily found on the internet. But looking at thousands of images wasn’t the only thing that refined Joe’s taste. There was also the thought process and dialogue that he and West developed to select and curate images for UniverseCity. Managing the blog required that both of them develop and refine opinions on the mountains of images that Perez selected.
Understand that while uninformed opinions are common, informed opinions are rare, interesting, and actually useful. Put in the work to develop and discover your opinions. Through rigorous and consistent studying, you’ll realize what your sensibilities and values are. Know the other possibilities, perhaps even better than the people who support them know it.
It’s these attempts and documentation that will serve you amidst difficult times. Understanding quality is not difficult; it starts as you immerse yourself in a lot of really good work and develop your own opinions on them. You won’t do good work until you define what good means to you.
I’ve developed a definition of quality for all kinds of work I create. When assessing the quality of an article idea, for example, I look at timing, societal impact, counterintuition, action steps, and prior coverage. I discovered these attributes through noticing what ideas were accepted and rejected, through patterns I noticed in what I liked to read, and through papers I read. I refine the meaning of these words often, based on feedback from editors.
Criteria can be fluid; for me, they’re almost like rubrics, where I consider each of these factors, and I write down guiding questions to help me evaluate or test an idea. They also help me formulate the idea and position it.
For example, if I was looking at prior coverage, I would want to figure out how often this idea has been written about before, and in what ways. Do I have anything new to offer? Can I connect the big idea with a different small event, that’s more timely and relevant? Or is there an event that I can connect with a new idea?