29 August 2005

Design couture

Maziar Raein has posted an interested entry on Limited Language, dealing with how most designers are hacks in that they are not innovating in as much as they're replicating. I actually touched on this for a client, quoting Yves Saint Laurent in their marketing material as saying that "fashions fade, style is eternal." He has some brilliant quotes, and I will be definitely exploring this in the future on this site as I collect my notes on mask magic and apply them to haute couture and contemporary fashion.

Yves Saint Laurent is also well known for saying "A designer who is not also a couturier, who hasn't learned the most refined mysteries of physically creating his models, is like a sculptor who gives his drawings to another man, an artisan, to accomplish."

In this regard, graphic design's "models" are communication, semantics, and, if grasped, semiotics. Wikipedia states that:
Graphic design is the applied art of arranging image and text to communicate a message. It may be applied in any media, such as print, digital media, motion pictures, animation, product decoration, packaging, and Information_signs. Graphic design as a practice can be traced back to the origin of the written word, but only in the late 19th century did it become identified as a separate entity.

The fundamental principles of design are alignment, balance, color, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, proportion, proximity, repetition, rhythm, texture, unity, and white space.

Those listed principles are our tools, just as a seamstress utilises her thread and needle, and as a mason makes use of brick and mortar. I've tried touching on this before in entries (too lazy to look for them… wait no, here is one of many) and on Tim Boucher's site, too, I'm sure. Raein has put enough of a spin on this to allow me to look at it from yet a slightly different angle, yet again. My thinking on this was also inspired by watching My Architect, on Louis I. Khan, and how people would claim that he had managed to capture a greatness in his buildings, in his architectural designs. That "God was in the details," as someone said in regards to his work.

We are to work with context. If a designer is not capable of shifting context and learning to use context as just another principle, another tool, then they are not truly of the craft. It's easy to lay something out, but to capture that essence that YVS speaks of, the spirit that Raein may be looking for, this is our craft. We breathe life into the lifeless. And by doing so, we look into the face of the ineffable — of G@D? — in that we are magicians of a different order. By sculpting context, we can entrain users to imbue our design with life. If following at all by quantum mechanics or some fancy-schmancy sounding field like phenomenological existentialism, really any field to do with intersubjective observer-created realities, by the power to imbue the design with the life that others are led to lend it, do we not encroach closer and closer to the field of sorcery and shamanism?

In Raein's post, he speaks of a lecture he went to decades ago where Judith Williamson, of Decoding Advertising (1978) fame, "accuses David Simpson of deception and exploiting this group of people. In [his] notes from the lecture [Raein has] the gist of her point; [his] notes say 'She accuses him of deception. She insinuates that it is better to leave people in a deluded state rather than to expose them to a hoax and test their beliefs.' There [his] notes dwindle out. [He stopped] writing and start spluttering with disbelief at her assertions." (The lecture was a conference on Patterns of Belief in a Scientific Age held by the Institute for Cultural Research in London.)

Raein goes on to say:—
We are constantly attempting to define and distinguish ourselves from ‘those others’. The need to witness a UFO or the fantasy of being a character in a film is analogous to the need to be the hero of that story which is our own life. We recount to ourselves the implausible narratives that fulfil our need for the extraordinary. A storyline that demands all the external trappings of costume, accessories and is accompanied by a sound track kindly provided by a little friendly iPod.

The perpetrator of this illusion is the designer, be they fashion, product or graphic designer. Most designers have given up a genuine curiosity for the world around them and don’t even attempt to respond in a meaningful and poignant way to the issues facing them. Instead, they submissively reach for the latest contribution from the trend machine and adjust their ‘design’ by styling it. There are only a minority of designers who actually design, most of them have become stylists.

To be able to alter the world one has to be able to alter oneself. To be transformed through the touchstone of the wondrous insight is the consequence of a deep spiritual need. When life offers us this challenges we often fail to rise to the occasion and, faced with this miserable shortcoming in our character, we turn to the world for an answer.

He ends his post with "I am full of contradictions. I know I am deluded — especially by style — and even knowing this truth, it has not set me free."

This is a sort of wonderful moment for me in that I know I am not alone in my pursuit here and that there is, indeed, a way to approach the spiritual in design. Or perhaps this is the equivalent of a couturier and a seamstress? (WTF is the masculine version of "seamstress"?) I have long thought and wanted to shout out the difference between a graphic designer and a desktop publisher, but generally bite my tongue. Where do I fit? I dunno, I am still a troublemaker in my mind, but all in time as knowledge + experience = wisdom.


Fell said...

Re-reading this, I don't fully agree with the train of thought that was spewed out here yesterday. Most of it, sure, but when it comes down to analogies of graphic design's "models" I would be wary of agreeing with myself. And I am okay with being paradoxical on this. (Is "paradoxical" a word? I feckin' hate all this sofisication.)

Like I've said plenty of times before, this blog is just a place for me to organise my thoughts (see: mental diarrhea) for later use.

coe said...

Wow. Great post. Damn, damn, damn. As a guy struggling through the murky depths of an ad agency, I find this post to be so smack dead on it almost pains me to read it.

Thanks for steering me to the post by Maziar Raein. The quote about designers as stylists has great resonance with me. There is something to be said about "stealing" ideas, or at least utilizing them as inspiration. But then again, if we could remove ourselves from the ubiquitous influences we see on every corner, I wonder how and what we'd create. It's kind of like being in a design prison with icons and brands all around us.

Either way, the post made me think. That's always a good thing.

Fell said...

Continung on a pessemistic note — for just a moment — I came across this article on the AIGA Forums, entitled Too Many Grads or Too Few Competencies? The Design School Dilemma. I was also just read some fairly harsh commentary from a professional designer on how many educators across North America had very little practical experience. It was a very scathing piece (I forget where it was), but I can both sympathise and (hopefully) doubt it's accuracy.

I would have to hope that teachers in respected centres, shaping the next era of talent, are worthwhile. But I see so many programs by every place that I doubt the quality just due to the numbers of "graphic design programs."

I've heard very decent things about the Department of Art and Design at the University of Alberta (I have respect for any faculty among the Icograda Education Network). Unfortunately (for my debt) I attended the local college, MacEwan's, so-called Audivisual Communications program, where I got to learn reel-to-reel and analogue devices from the 1980s. This is in the late '90s, you know, after digital technology had been invented.

After realising that they were running some sort of lame cost-recovery program (we were like the second-most expensive course there, for a less-than-adequate experience), and knowing that two years later they were to implement their digital design courses, I decided to fuck off. So I went to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), enrolled in their Multimedia Technologies class, an 11-month program which cost students $12,000. In class, a couple students and myself were able to pass an Adobe Certification test that was being putzed about with. The teacher failed. By the end of the program, the class threatened to file suit against NAIT for such a shoddy experience and they refunded part of our tuition.

I am mostly self-taught, and I'll be honest when I say that it's great to have influences like AIGA, the GDC, and others there to maintain a dialogue so I can learn.

I'm not touting any sort of design mastery on my part, I have a long way to go, but I can't help but feel that we're surrounded by very poor design. If not in the design of function and fuction of design, then definitely in many areas of aesthetics.

Fuck is there some ugly work getting paid for out there.

Coe said...

Ahhh, aesthetics. Such a beautiful notion. But alas, often times forgotten in the pursuit of design. As is function come to think of it.

I'm glad you referenced the Subraction site in your most recent post. I love that guy's stuff. His new site in particular seems to say "Fuck off" to design by scaling things back to a simple, clean and essentially beautiful site. It's amazing what you can do with two colors and space.

By the way, I'm participating in the EG class with you that Jordan's hosting. It should be great. I'm fascinated by how design, politics, Gnostic thinking and the esoteric seem to run together so often on the sites I visit. Food for thought.

Fell said...

Yes, just reading over Subtraction in more detail now, I quite like it. I'll be adding it to the "blogroll" (I hate that word). I try to live by the Einstein's motto: As simple as possible, not not any simpler.

Stratford's course should be great! I am very familiar with esoterics, practice and theory, so learning the Catholic symbolism as used in the Apostolic Johannite Church should be exciting. As universal languages are concerned, symbols make up their composition. To learn as many as possible — nay, to master them — from Europe to the Middle East to Asia to aboriginal, this process has been grand in giving me my own vast personal myth to pick and choose from. Sort of like your moniker, "Enormous Fictions," I am a thousand simultaneous stories from which I can pick from.

Wow… that sounded poetic and smart.