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21 July 2016

Teddy Talks – Crossbreeding is fine for dogs, but not design.


I am, as if you hadn’t guessed, a pedigree, descended from a long line of noble hounds stretching back into the mists of time. However, let’s not forget that the Havanese is also the national dog of Cuba.  Amoung my canine friends are numerous crossbreeds, from labradoodles to sprockers and cavapoos.

IMG_4118 While it’s easy to mock their funny names, it turns out crosses actually have the last laugh. Their intermingled genes bestow on them the natural gift of heterosis, or hybrid vigour, which makes them (generally) stronger, healthier and longer-lived than we aristocrats.

The problem is, it’s easy to assume the principle is universal – that if you take the best bits of one thing and add them to the best bits of another, the result will be a sure-fire world-beater. Yes, sometimes, hybridisation can work brilliantly. But not always. Just ask Dr Frankenstein.

In design, this pick-and-mix approach almost invariably produces a monster. If anything’s going to get my people riled, it’s when someone says: “For the ad, what if we used the image from the brochure and just dropped in the copy from the webpage?” or “We really like the new colours, but could we carry on using our old font?”

A piece of design isn’t a happy accident, or simply pulling together ideas and elements we happen to like and seeing what happens. A greyhound and a dachshund, for example, look the way they do because they’ve been deliberately bred – designed, if you like – for totally different, highly specific purposes. Since they’re both dogs, you could, technically, try crossing them to produce a new breed capable of going down holes at 40mph. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Or that it would succeed.

As a pedigree dog, I conform to strict breed standards, which have been applied and refined over generations of Havanese. In the same way, there are rules that designers know, understand and abide by, because time and experience have shown that they work. In any project, there are always little improvements to be made, small weaknesses and defects to weed out. But if you’ve correctly identified the purpose, the design will reflect it. And like a pitweiler or a dobersatian, you need to be careful before you mess with it.