Loose Ends of 2008: Cows and computer operators.

The off-brand (as-per-usual slightly late) New Year post will proceed as follows:

Looking Back

“It is important to use your hands, this is what distinguishes you from a cow or a computer operator” Paul Rand

It’s been deeply heartening to see a range of activities this year which point towards an increasing value of the individual in design (both as maker and receiver). While conscious of making broad generalisations or sweeping statements in search of a neat arguement, it’s nevertheless entertaining to try to line up a few things with an off-brand flavour and see what connections can be made.

This conceited train of thought begins with a conversation initiated by students at the start of this academic year – a conversation about the importance of visual communication being ‘real’. The piece of work in question was a stop frame graffiti animation by BLU. (see below).

While it would of course be possible to computer generate a similar effect (see the recent rather pathetic rip-off by BBC 6 Music below), the fact that this was done ‘for real’ with no motivation other than the end result and the entertainment it would provide, seemed critically important to this new generation of designers.

While it may be possible to summarise this as a slightly luddite anti-technology position, I think it’d be wrong to diagnose it as such. This isn’t, as Steve Hare suggests in Eye, an example of “older technology bridging a gap that new technology creates…” The computer is a tool like any other, (a contested point which we can argue another day) and in the same way that it would have been ridiculous to ‘deny’ the printing press or any other paradigm shifting event in the history of visual communication, so it would be nieve to think that information technology has nothing of real value to offer in and of itself.

I believe that this position is actually one looking for the meaning in things. Mindless computer wizardry can be viewed as empty spectacle, whereas the very hand-made approach to technology embodied in the work of some interaction and service designers is explicitly purposed to a more human-centric end. Flo Heiss, Director of Dare Digital thinks we need to use technology to ‘do it for real’ – one of seven approaches to ‘making digital your best friend’ – (the other six are “be useful, be engaging, be entertaining, make it unfinished, be honest and give up control”).

The conversation takes a slight detour at this point, as we’re also conscious of a really buoyant artisan, maker/do-er, illustrative, self-publishing, indie-publishing scene at the moment, enabled in part, by a streamlined print-on-demand style approach to making and distributing – The handmade enabled through the platforms that networked technology provides.

So from this starting point, we can develop an arguement that even design considered ‘non-handmade’ can be purposed towards handmade activites. It’s also possible to extrapolate a position where design with a non-handmade aesthetic, if critically engaged as Paul Rand suggested earlier, can have the ‘hand’ in it somewhere. The only time we start to lose the contact of the hand is when design approaches become systematised and ‘un-thinking’ – a key characteristic, I would argue (but then I would wouldn’t I) of much brand-led design.

The other interesting sub-plot to this story is the story itself. A desire to know and a desire to tell the story of where things have come from and how they are made. From the online conversations that will instantly identify BLU’s work as having integrity and the BBC’s having non, to a world of advertising where the big-budget adverts are merely a by-product of the how-the-ads-are-made virals, to a possible future world of Spimes where every object carries with it data encapsulating it’s entire history, we’re as interested in how things are made, as what they actually are. The language of things is rapidly expanding beyond their physical form into their whole meta-history. As David Greene notes in his L.A.W.U.N. projects, the primary raw material we’re all using nowadays, whether we’re graphic designer, product designer, architect or artist, is data. 1’s and 0’s. And how we get the hand and the human into that is an interesting question for the coming year.

Looking Forward: Ill-conceived predictions for 2009

This wouldn’t be the new year post if it didn’t include some speculative crystal ball gazing, so here goes;

The Scottish Events Awards, in what can only be described as a conceptually audacious coup de grâce, will win itself, for its excellent Awards Event. This will result in a portal opening up over the Carnyx Group Headquarters, sucking all its award schemes into another dimension.

Sunderland will win the Barclays Premiership – A triumph of mindless optimism over mathematical possibility.

Homecoming Scotland will be a big load of shite, if the adverts are anything to go by.

I will stop being unconstructively negative about things (the last point being an exception).

And in Art School life, I will use the word ‘interesting’ less in reviews (but it is interesting isn’t it?) and get out into the studio more, because that’s where the interesting things are happening.

Happy New 2009!

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