Here’s hoping. Reflections to follow, once the dust has settled.
Interesting post about the visual identity of the Westborough Baptists, using primary design research, by Emmet Byrne on The Gradient — Walker Art Center.
Thought 1: Shaping Design Education at LEAP Symposium may have been very good. A few too many post-it notes, a few too many kooky documentary illustrations, but that aside, it may have been a well considered, far-thinking event. I’ve read the article, looked at the pictures, and of course broadly agree with the summary, it being so general that it would be difficult to disagree with. ‘Humility’ and ‘optimism’ are advocated as key qualities, (but of course, who wouldn’t agree with humility and optimism in their broadest senses?) and as anyone who knows me will testify, I have at least one of these things in spades. But there’s something not quite right, something that is *annoying* me.
Thought 2: I think perhaps this conference just crossed my path at the wrong time. Its possible I’m really frustrated by something else, and maybe it’s this; In Higher Education this type of thing seems to increasingly happen. Didactic initiatives keep cropping up to makes students be more sustainable, more employable, more ‘responsible’. Its undeniable that the academy now has a far stronger view, (and often goes to much greater lengths to realise that view) of what it’s graduating students should ‘be like’.
In the same way that conferences about ‘creativity’ seem to miss the point, a scheduled agenda about any of these big issues seem doomed to do them a disservice. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in relation to some events I’m working on next year, loosely political in nature. But we can’t make people be ‘political’ or act ‘politically’. For that to have any value, it needs to come from the person, at the right time in the right place – to genuinely ‘respond’. The most we could/should do is create a platform for that to happen, which is in itself a political act enough. And it should be the same in education. Creating spaces – encouraging, supporting, challenging spaces – designed from the person or cohort outwards, not from a socio-economic political endpoint backwards.
Capital likes to know what it’s dealing with. Projects of the ‘what’s to be done about’ variety, while probably well intended, try to offer people too many handles on things, and at the same time set up too many fences around things, and (if you’ll indulge me in this triple-metaphor-a-thon), easy ‘pidgeon-holing’. Discussions about education, creativity, sustainability etc should come about as a by-product of doing other things, and be constantly open to revision, making things, abject failure, making things, delighting in specifics, making things, letting things not be named, and contrarian views.
Thought 3: This reminded me of another post I have never got around to writing. Celebrating ‘system bending’ – people and groups who can navigate, but more importantly ignore, subvert and generally distract from the prevailing meta-narrative of quantifying, modularising, commodifying, systematising (and yes, even understanding) contemporary creative life. Let’s try and learn more, understand less.
(And maybe watch this).
“Even as our government prepares for a multi-million pound rebranding of the First World War next year, ideas are being spun at the Ministry of Defence to mitigate opposition to current and future conflicts, a 2012 report has revealed.
Far from an institution which is divorced from politics, the report paints a picture of a military which is desperate to shape public opinion. Although the report’s suggestions have not yet been enacted as policy, the fact that these questions are being asked at all tells us something of interest.”
Interesting article, and as an aside; in the ‘privatisation of public services’ debate, why not privatise the whole military. See how that goes. If it works out well, then, (and only then), apply to Health and Social Services etc.
“…Nowadays, putting skeuomorphism on objects which, thanks to progress, no longer need to be decorated, means a waste of labour and an abuse of material. If all objects would last as long in aesthetic terms as they last physically, the consumer would be able to pay price for them that would allow the worker to earn more money and work shorter hours. For an object from which I am convinced I will get full use until it is superseded by an updated handset, I am quite happy to pay four times the price of another I could buy, and would gladly queue up from 3am in the morning to do so. I am happy to pay forty crowns for my iPod touch, even though there are mp3 players for ten in another shop. But in those trades that languish under the yoke of the skeuomorphic artist, no value is put on good or bad workmanship. Work suffers because no one is willing to pay for it at its true value…
…A modern person, who regards skeuomorphism as a symptom of the artistic superfluity of previous ages and for that reason holds it sacred, will immediately recognize the unhealthy, the forced–painfully forced–nature of modern skeuomorphism. Skeuomorphism can no longer be produced by someone living on the cultural level of today. It is different for individuals and people who have not yet reached that level.
The ideal I preach is the technologist. What I mean by that is the person at the peak of humanity, who yet has a profound understanding of the problems and aspirations of those at the bottom. One who well understands the way the African inputs data into his Blackberry according to a certain rhythm; likewise the Persian coding his GPS device, the Slovak peasant woman making her Android user interface, the old woman making marvelous algorhythms from lines of secondhand code. The technologist lets them carry on in their work accustomed way, he knows the time they spend on their work is sacred to them. The revolutionary would go and tell them it was all pointless, just as he would drag an old woman away from the wayside shrine, telling her there is no God. But the atheist among the technologists still raises his hat when he passes a church.
My shoes are covered with skeuomorphisms formed by sawtooth patterns and holes. Work done by the shoemaker, work he has not been paid for. Imagine I go to the shoemaker and say, ‘You charge thirty crowns for a pair of shoes. I will pay you forty-eight.’ It will raise the man to such a transport of delight he will thank me through his workmanship and the material used, making them of a quality that will far outweigh my extra payment. He is happy, and happiness is a rare commodity in his house. He has found someone who understands him, who respects his work, and does not doubt his honesty. He can already see the finished shoes in his mind’s eye. He knows where the best leather is to be found at the moment, he knows which of his workers he will entrust with the task, and the shoes will have all the sawtooth patterns and holes an elegant pair of shoes can take. And then I say, ‘But there is one condition. The shoes must be completely plain.’ I will drag him down from the heights of bliss to the depths of hell. He will have less work, and I have taken away all his pleasure in it.
The ideal I preach is the technologist. I can accept skeuomorphism on my own person if it brings pleasure to my fellow men. It brings pleasure to me, too. I can accept the African’s skeuomorphism, the Persian’s, the Slovak peasant woman’s, my shoemaker’s, for it provides the high point of their existence, which they have no other means of achieving. We have the art that has superseded skeuomorphism. After all the toil and tribulations of the day, we can go to hear Throbbing Gristle or Florian Hecker. My shoemaker cannot. I must not take his religion from him, for I have nothing to put in its place. But anyone who goes to Instal and then sits down to design a wallpaper pattern is either a fraud or a degenerate.
The disappearance of skeuomorphism has brought about an undreamed-of blossoming in the other arts. The Gristle’s symphonies would never have been written by a man who had to dress in silk, velvet, and lace. Those who go around in velvet jackets today are not artists, but clowns or house painters. We have become more refined, more subtle. When men followed the herd they had to differentiate themselves through colour, modern man uses his dress as a disguise. His sense of his own individuality is so immensely strong it can no longer be expressed in dress. In iOS7, flatness, and a lack of ornamentation, is a sign of intellectual strength. Modern man uses the skeuomorphs of earlier or foreign cultures as he likes and as he sees fit. He concentrates his own inventive power on other things.”
All the talk on the ‘blogs’ of late has been about the new identity of the Whitney by Experimental Jetset. I’m currently reading their account of it, while listening to a new arrival – This is how we walk on the Moon, by Johanna Billing (with design by Åbäke). This bit of grotesquely bourgeoise name-dropping isn’t entirely without reason, as it made me think about the critieria against which design has to ‘work’, and against which it is increasingly ‘judged’, in a very public way, by an audience on twitter and at the reductive idiots convention that is Brand New (and similar).
While the new Whitney identity undoubtedly ‘succeeds’ against its own criteria, it’s been interesting seeing how many people have been enjoying reading the ‘great’ ‘concept’ and ‘rationale’ and explanation of ‘process’ on the Experimental Jetset website. Being written, as it is, by the designers, this will always be framed to explain how an end product makes sense in relation to the brief they were given by the client. I agree it is well written, and makes interesting reading, and the outcome undoubtedly presents a highly consistent, corporate, and business-like image of the Whitney as a contemporary art institution. But isn’t it more interesting to ask if that’s what an art institution (in the times in which we live) could and should be. Their own text doesn’t question (or reflect on) this, and in the identity, I don’t feel that anything is being challenged here. (I know it’s daft to make comparisons, but…) in contrast to the art-design work of Abäke (with its intriguing and sometimes confusing idiosyncrasies), I feel I want it to be more open to ambiguity, assimilation, augmentation and out and out assault (which may of course happen over time). The only concession to this comes in their sign off; “In the same way, we hope that future designers, working with the graphic identity we developed for them, will be able to use this identity as a platform for their own authorship – and to leave their own signature, their own fingerprint, within it. After all, a graphic identity could (and should) never be a machine, in which one simply ‘inputs’ an image and a title, and out rolls an invitation. It will always be a human process, in which the aesthetic and conceptual decisions made by the graphic designer play an essential role – a role that can never be skipped, or erased.” — But without completely abandoning at least part of the lengthy rationale that precedes it, I’m a bit unclear as to how this can happen.
This is not a negative reflection on the designers, all of whom are excellent and working in specific contexts and responding to specific demands, or the work which I like in some ways, but on the forces that come to shape design work. And a request that if we’re going to reflect on design identity work, lets do that, not just concur that they made a good job of writing up their own rationale about it.
And it also reminds me that I still haven’t written that Stedelijk post yet.
J’ai toujours aimé réaliser des œuvres qui nécessitaient un minimum d’interventions, j’ai dû hériter ça de Duchamp. Dans les années 1960, j’ai réalisé un petit collage autour du logo de “Braun”, que j’avais simplement transformé en “Brown”, une traduction phonétique de Braun en anglais. C’était une intervention minimale. » Richard Hamilton