Posts Tagged ‘Design’

Intraview 4: Sam Byford, Oliver Richenstein

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SB: In our increasingly digital world, how do you see the disciplines of graphic design and product / industrial design merging?

SB: The quick wins have more or less come together now. Interfaces communicate better thanks to the knowledge transfer from graphic design – typography, the grid etc. But I still think there is much further to go before the broader theoretical progress made throughout graphic design’s history really comes to meet digital product design in a meaningful way.

Graphic design made enormous leaps in our understanding of visual communication and perception, style, utility, political and social impacts etc. Many of these ideas are extremely relevant to digital product design but to really parse them out and apply them to see what that relevance is, is a slow undertaking that few are well placed to do. For instance, how might we see the ideas embedded in the printed designs of the arts and crafts movement of the 19th century applied to today’s production cycle? Beyond the aesthetics of this period which is easily applied to a digital surface to ‘theme’ an object, can the central thesis (of a return to hand production, and the inherent human value in the pleasure and beauty of workmanship) be applied to today’s context? Surely there is scope for exploration of this in the world of the Operating System.

Graphic design was uniquely advantaged to make these ideological statements and shifts as it was possible and in many cases necessary to understand the end-to-end process and see the aesthetic connectivity between phases of production. Today’s trend is towards specialised individuals, owning a single part of the design and development process, making these analogies hard to apply and new discoveries hard to explore. Who can approach today’s design process from a critical perspective?

The lifecycle of discovery is shortening, the movement has become the trend, leaving deep ideas unexplored and minimal gains made with each iteration of design’s best practice. The fields will merge, if they haven’t already, but I think we could be missing out on many of the best ideas in the process.

Question co-opted from Sam Byford interview with Oliver Reichenstein on The Verge 2012.


Balance 1 (Cynic)

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The universe, I imagine, is a large pail of liquid, balancing on a tall bamboo rod in a light wind. Just enough disturbance is created to produce ripples on the surface, but never enough to topple the pail, despite the tragic fragility.

Here on earth we exist as a molecule somewhere around the middle (a bit to the left) of the pale. We think we sense the surface tension but will never actually perceive it. We humans have evolved a mental quirk called self consciousness as an animal defence mechanism and are doomed to look within, as if the ‘Answer’ lies somewhere even less significant than our place in the pail.

We float abstractly and pointlessly as the momentum generated within the universe pulls us this way and that. Again, we presume that this is our creation and believe that our community can harness some power and influence ebb and flow of the universe as a whole towards our favour.

Our greatest and most pitiful tool to manage the natural balance of the universe is a pursuit known as Design.

It’s worthwhile to marvel at the Universe – its happily absent purpose. Design is a process of playing the hand we’re dealt with incrementally greater sophistication, in the hope of tipping the balance in our favour as we hurtle towards nothingness.

David Reinfurt @ Walker Art Center

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One sentence summary:

David Reinfurt discusses his practice, by way of highlighting a number of recurring “signals” that appear throughout the many incarnations of Reinfurt-Bailey-others and how interpretation of these signals is distorted by interferences or noise for the receiver.

My (not particularly helpful) summary in opened tabs:

‘Readon’ & General Assembly’s User Experience Design Course.

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I recently took part in General Assembly’s ‘User Experience Design’ Course. I found the whole experience extremely rewarding. The skills I learn’t have had a considerable effect on my approach to web design (and perhaps design in general).

The field of user experience design, or more specifically user-centered design is a very pure design practice. Despite there being some big ego’s in the UX community, I think creating a design that is ‘user-centered’ ultimately removes the designers ego from the equation more than any other field I’ve been involved in, which felt healthy and refreshing. A design methodology focused on listening, rather than telling.

The major component of the course was a major UX design project of your own choosing. I chose to explore an idea I had for a mobile app which takes articles from the web and allows the user to switch from reading them to listening to them. Essentially 2 modes. The problems I focused on solving were the interruption of the reading experience and losing your place in long articles when reading over a number of days/weeks.

You can download the slides from my presentation in the last class here. Naturally, I’m interested to hear your feedback!

Hopeless Integrity

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As a designer you are constantly defending your INTEGRITY. Client expectations and requests, studio superiors, the reality of running/being part of a business – all challenge the preservation of your integrity.

How can a designer succeed in the eyes of a client and remain true to themselves without going crazy?

You need to be utterly convinced of your purpose and vision, as well as charismatic, articulate and authoritative. You must be a creative visionary, portray an enduring spirit of excellence and inspire clients with dazzling presentations and measurable career successes. You must be an expert designer (whatever your field), an educator, strategist, producer, historian, theorist, philosopher, psychologist and most importantly, a businessman.

The moment you lack confidence in your reasoning no matter how sure you are intuitively, your opinion will be cast aside and your integrity bruised. Every slug to your integrity will hurt more than the last. Your role will be reduced to following instructions and if/when it goes bad, they’ll blame you. When your integrity has suffered too much, you will loose hope and give in. You will ride the latest bandwagons of trend producing mindless, derivative, decorations sold on regurgitated, comfortable ideas and smart catch phrases.

Nobody said it would be easy. And again, the confused client/designer relationship is the core of the problem.

Each job that comes along will require you to begin by extracting requirements and outlining processes. From then on you will be educating and managing expectations. If your going to create something special the client and designer must be prepared to challenge and be challenged, with mutual respect and a common goal.

Art in and of Design

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I’ve been thinking about the distinction between the artistic and commercial aspects of what we do as designers. I haven’t come to any conclusions but here is what has been running through my mind.

There is occasionally the feeling, particularly in young designers (me) that more “commercial” work offers less freedom of expression. I suppose in some ways this is true. Corporate brand guidelines are generally more restricting, the tone more conservative and the outcomes often quickly absorbed into the everyday monotony of business and capitalism and our lives. But then, freedom is not a necessity for the creation art. Working within boundaries is a reality of anyone working creatively, no matter how FAR OUT you are. Art exists in provocation, an emotional shift caused by the composition of elements within boundaries of experience. These rules might include the constraints of medium, colour, social class, budget, human perception, etc. and designers are communicating within these boundaries every day.

Design’s link to commerce is our artistic advantage.

Maybe it’s the fact that our work is directed by an outsider (a client) with their own set of goals and expectations as a customer that limits our artistic ownership. But most art is for sale and its value is determined within a commercial market of its own with the big players mostly linked to big corporations. Successful Art communicates truthfully whether someone pays for it or not. The value of design work is based on time and labour, but also creative or aesthetic expertise, which basically amounts to artistic skill.

I suppose you could think, “So what, being a designer is more than being artistic. There is marketing strategy, awareness of business, quoting etc” and you might be right. What frustrates me is that with clients, designers struggle to interact comfortably (at least in the majority of circumstances) as an artist. An artistic vocabulary can almost sound embarrassing, but it is these exact qualities – emotional, cryptic, abstract – that they are most importantly engaging graphic design services. It’s as though art is what we do alone, secretly in our studios – whereas graphic design is like a wall of financial assurity and sensible creative pragmatism.

I am of course speaking from the perspective of a designer working in Sydney, and maybe it is different elsewhere.

Designers secretly being artists

Occasionally one feels that they are being artistic when they’re within the creative process, alone, by the light of a computer monitor crafting a grid structure considering the historical or emotional impact of ones own work, but then in the presence of a client be reduced to pseudo marketing BS that sounds like ‘value added’ as opposed to ‘starving lefty artist’ – particularly relevant to students and recent graduates who are looking for a ‘cool’ job.

Perhaps commercial artist or graphic artist fits us better (though I am strongly for a single name industry term that business can ‘get’ and Graphic designer is the best for this purpose).

Clients and their designers. Designers and their clients.

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For designers it can feel as though marketing teams or business committees are a well-intentioned pair of solid concrete boots. Designers have all conceded a share of defeats at the hands of ingnorant lower/middle/upper management who try to tell us how to do our job. They would argue, of course, that they’re only doing their job. For a real solution to this conflict and to create more progressive, positive outcomes for design/business/world, we need to learn to speak each other’s language, in particular business needs to learn exactly what to expect from a graphic designer.

Clients and designers need a more reciprocal understanding of roles to form a mutually advantageous partnership. It should be two-way, but from my perspective it is the designer’s role that is more often sublimated. To get a job done well you often need to spend huge amounts of time educating, convincing, charming and sometimes arguing with clients about things that are ultimately for their benefit and that should be considered the designers role to know and advise. A client will make demands which the designer knows is to the detriment of the project and not command sufficient respect to be listened to seriously.

The design industry as a whole has an identity crisis. We are strategy consultants, advertisers, artists, activists, innovation hikers etc… amongst which ‘graphic designer’ sounds a bit dry. Whilst the role(s) of a graphic designer may be broad, we need a coherent description of services that we share and that business can understand. I’d say that even exclusively digital designers should describe themselves as graphic designers to maintain this sense of consistency for the sake of the industry.

These transformations would take place slowly and require a consensus on the common goal within the industry. As well as improving the quality of the work, I think this would have other positive effects such as enabling designers to quote/charge with some consistency, find clients more easily and once a job has been secured allow for it to run more smoothly. Articulation is key and we can start with the questions…

What should business expect and respect of graphic designers?

To begin with, I propose:

  • Dedication to, and expertise in aesthetics.
  • Whilst our first responsibility is to the client’s brief, we have our individual ideologies, ethics, and sense of purpose towards the improvement of society beyond this.

What should designers expect and respect of business (clients)?

I’d say this ball should be thrown in to the court of a businessperson, but designers should expect a set of definable goals or motivations and for their responses to be challenged and held accountable. If we demand the respect we need to take responsibility.

The Aboriginal voice in Australian design

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An area of huge significance and potential for exploration in Australian design is our understanding of indigenous Australian culture. A huge difficulty that has faced Aboriginal people is in communication. There is a disconnection in the language between white and black Australia both spoken (heard) and unspoken (seen). This is the result of a violent and guilty past which is tolerated by most white people with embarrassed forgetfulness and by Aboriginal people with anger and sorrow.

Designers have long asserted the influence of their craft on a social and political level. It can be demonstrated – from Jazz, to Nazism – where a visual aesthetic has offered more than a colour scheme throughout the course of history and where the tone of communication has galvanised a message. In this new era, we as experts of visual communication in Australia should be asking what can designers offer to the betterment of this country? And, where have we gone wrong in the past?

Anglo designers and artists working in Australia have, in the past, drawn from Aboriginal motifs in proclamation of our independence and individuality from Britain. On stamps, air hostess uniforms and most blatantly the Sydney Olympic logo. It plays well for our global identity. However, the presentation of Aboriginal culture in this way is perhaps just as damaging, given the ongoing national struggle to fully accept and respect the original owners of our country. The plagiarism and simplification of indigenous motifs and symbols in this way is disrespectful.

Designers today should in all cases aim to present the true sense of what being Australian means, in the everyday visual media that they effectively craft. This should have alive within it an understanding of Aboriginal culture and language. Australian design, fashion, hospitality, entertainment and indeed big business should all be open to the recognition of this cultural asset as part of the make up of their/our visual identity. There will be a time of uncertainty, mistakes will be made to the offence of both sides but this is necessary to strengthen the debate and our understanding and connection to Australia as a country.

As to how this can be achieved in a day to day sense, I need to think a bit longer… but I would say, as usual, education is key.