Design as evidence
Most design offices educate their clients about the value of design. They usually do this by showing
an example of non-design. The first image that serves to illustrate
their point shows a homemade wooden sign that is put in front of a farmhouse. The handpainted text on the sign shows a message: Fresh eggs for sale! In the next slide we see the same sign in front of the farmhouse, but now the text on the sign has changed into: Jewellery shop. The difference is obvious. What is true in one context is false in another. Design serves to make things clear by creating a difference.
The value of design is centered around making the right impressions. To make huge promise and deliver impressions that go deeper the designer creates identity. From concept to content and implementation, identity constitutes meaning. Meaning serves as a multi-layered platform. Meaning is language which is independant from media, but is delivered through media. Meaning and media can be read in different ways from various points of view or discipline. Nevertheless, for the targeted audience, identity serves as a proof of excellence. Design thus contributes to the perception of values and communicates a sense of what is real. Design is always used as evidence.
The nature of graphic design
The first question an audience always asks itself, when receiving a message or impression is: 'What's in it for me?' If this question is not met by an answer, there will be no second chance. In order to get a second chance, the audience has to be enchanted and inspired, or in one word: seduced. To reach this objective the designer uses an ever changing set of tools to make 'nice things' for the public. Such 'nice things' are objects of fascination. These objects of fascination are projected into the public domain as packaging, advertising, corporate identity, interior design, interactive media, industrial design and architecture. The basic toolbox of the graphic designer includes colour, form, style, typography, illustration, photography, layout, whitespace, text, headlines, media, consistency and coherence. Every design discipline has its own set of tools, materials and media to be able to meet specific needs and demands.
To establish value, identity and evidence is the task of every designer. This task
goes beyond discussions about form and function. In practice form and function prove to be two sides of the same coin. A coin that stands for creating a sense of realness in the artefacts of communication. Such realness in design cannot be described in terms of good or bad design. It can only be measured by being correct or incorrect in terms of context, goals and audience. Correctness is significance. It is not fashions and trends that make the
Creating good vibrations
As the nature of graphic design is about directing perceptions we have to discriminate between theory and practice. Design does not belong to the politically correct. It belongs to everybody, which means nobody. Design can be glorious, glamorous and artistic, it can be a collectors item, it can be state of the art and old fashioned, it can give rise to celebrity and fame. In the end it's
always just a tool. The strength of design lies in it's ability to
convince by being a challenge to emotions.
To convince by design is something else than virtuosity. In order to be convincing one has to use a certain type of honesty. Honesty is not about being true or false. It is about using the right strengths and weaknesses in the right context. To be honest is to be correct at the right time and place.
The objectives of clients and designers go beyond making impressions. Making an impression is only a starter. An impression can only have value if it creates meaning. To create meaning for real audiences the message and the impression have to go one step further: they need to touch.
To touch is the ultimate form of making impressions. It is ultimate because touch creates a bond, an intimacy with the audience that says: this is not for the masses, this is just between you and me. The effect of this intimacy is called enchantment.
When design becomes enchanting it is transformed into a form of fascination that behaves as a personal form of conversation. It is the art of creating good vibrations. Creating good vibrations is the art of establishing long lasting relationships with the audience at hand. Creating this relationship has to be done with understanding and integrity. Any contradiction that might break the spell of enchantment can ruin the relationship to such a degree that years of effort and investment are wasted. If this is the case even an experienced public relation
officer will have a hard time to heal the wounds, if possible at all.
Design under attack
As developments unfold the design community has to face the fact that it has become the object of interest and observation of a society that has become transparant. In western type democracies the public opinion is triggered to formulate a personal view on every subject by an ever growing flow of information. Audiences have been growing up and behave independantly. The audience is well informed. Journalists, critics, opposition parties, activists and designers themselves place quotation marks at every step the industry makes and ask indecent questions.
The community of designers is provoked by this critical audience to reflect on their role and responsibility in a system of wealth, property and power. The practice of design itself has been accused of indifference towards the real needs of people and of being the advocate of greed and desire. An urgent call for ethics and integrity is heard. Design is under attack and compared with the profession of the hooker or the hitman.
The dichotomy of design gives birth to an awareness that design, its tools and purposes can be good and bad at the same time. The subject of responsibility puts every designer in front of a set of considerations and implications that can only be met by giving personal answers. Design is for most designers about practice and not about theory. Critics have to understand that evoking a feeling of guilt is not enough to solve this dilemma. To avoid being accused in return of arrogance, the theorist should understand that criticism alone cannot bridge the gap between theory and practice. A bridge is not solely about raising questions, it is also about a mutual search for answers, answers that need time and courage to be brought to the surface.
In order to live graciously designers and their critics have to learn to live with each other and with the fact that design as a practice has many sides. In order to understand and live with this awareness we have to start with understanding and accepting the state of things, which does not mean that we have to embrace the status quo.
As design is evidence, its role in society is now being used against itself. From Naomi Klein's No-Logo, to Adbusters and many other activists, new strategies stimulate a feeling of remorse in the
conscience of designers in general. One thing is for sure: the needle sticks and it hurts.
To provoke conscience by design is to make use of the subversive. Subversion uses a palette that is constituted by tools like parody, falsification, and irony, to name a few. Subversion is used in art and propaganda, sometimes in advertising and communication by the use of guerilla tactics. The problem with subversion is that it is a stick with two ends. If subversion is used to parody and attack a well known brand, the brand is always strengthened. If you see the message 'Enjoy Cocaine' or 'Intel Outside' it is obvious which brand the subversion refers to. The joke might be a good laugh, but the status quo remains intact as it is untouchable by its omnipotence.
Another problem with subversion is the fact that design, by its very nature, is an act of subversion. Branding, identity, value and evidence is made up of elements that create perceptions, which does not mean that these perceptions are true or the whole truth. Truth is never a question, as it depends on the point of view it is seen from. It's the perception that counts.
One of the most interesting examples of the use of subvertion can be seen in the work of the late Tibor Kalman. It is there that we see a personal answer and an intelligent use of the art of subversion. Tibor Kalman was very much aware of the hazards of
design, but admitted: The only limits are our own imaginations... Every answer is a matter of directing energy and is brought up by investigating one's own conscience. To go into a desired direction you need to invest energy, time, life, fortune and effort in the things you really believe in. Not into the ones you are against. To be against something is useless, as energy is a supportive quality. Energy makes things grow, so to be against something is to support it. Energy has no considerations of good and bad. Energy is immoral.
What remains is the understanding that to take a stand we have to make a difference. Such difference is made
for instance by investing in causes, projects and objectives
that aim at higher goals than profit alone. Such practice supports the liberation of the public and the practitioner. It makes us reconcile the reality of our lives with the reality of our practice, without becoming
naive or irresponsible.
Bruinsma | Beatthief
| Clio |
of Perception | DPF
| Fluff | Guerilla
| If | Irony
| Tibor Kalman | Naomi Klein
| Migrations | MixingMessages
| Waag | WSP
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