Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Notes from New Views

I just sent my feedback to Teal Triggs. As I'm trying to get done all I want to do before packing up for Clifftop (officially: The Appalachian String Band Music Festival, http://www.wvculture.org/stringband/), I'll enter here some of my comments. I'll continue to add and revise as what transpired at the conference begins to sink in and integrate.

1. Please describe and/or visualize, the methods and process by which your Conversation Cluster facilitated your conversation and to develop its findings (If a visualization, please feel free to send this as a separate pdf file).

We began with a lot of questions. I regret I didn’t document this process ---- the questions ---- the way we began to fill out our newsprint posters.

I suggested we might just be asking questions, but even as we agreed we began to make some definitive statements, e.g.: interdisciplinarity is inherent in practice but it is in pedagogy that we feel there can be enhanced intentionality and a richer theoretical and methodological framework.

We asked more questions. We engaged a lot. No one person “had the answer”. We split up into three groups and worked in smaller teams to address questions we found most compelling.

We circulated among the groups.

From my perspective, there was not a single facilitator. Each member took an active roll leading an idea. A very democratic, fluid process.

2. What did you learn from your participation in NV2?
That hierarchy can choke discussion.
To listen better, and to continue to place this as a priority
To trust my instincts
To love the process of group truth-finding
To engage
To work harder to sustain conversation. With the standard format for most conferences, to our solitary presentation, we often arrive (if not slightly nervous or excited) focused on our presentation, our theories, or projects, or presentation. Once we present, there is that sense that “our work is done”. With this format, our work just begins. Or so I felt. I feel a responsibility to continue the discussion and further explore issue raised by my cluster.

3.What challenged you?
I was challenged to listen with an open mind to some participants air frustrations that were what I would have called irrelevant. It challenged me to see how these concerns WERE relevant. I tend to maintain an optimistic view and was challenged to embrace those with pessimistic views or frustrations.

I was challenged by the view that “Graphic Design is in Crisis”. I developed a conviction that graphic design is undergoing an evolution and it is those who operated under previously–accepted assumptions and systems who are in crisis themselves.

4. What did you take away from this event? What was the key benefit or contribution that participating in the conversations provided? How did this add to your engagement with this field of design?

I took away the reminder that graphic design – as controversial a term as it is – is about making things. But just what those things are is up to us. It is the ambiguity of the term graphic that appeals to me and repels others. And this is what creates an exciting tension between discussion, theory and creating.

I am further reminded of how “truth” is built by discussion, and testing, and debate and by the acceptance of debate with out dialectic, or resolution. I think more now about embracing differences and not needing to have consensus or a single. Truth then is a dynamic weaving of truths.

I left with a very rewarding sense of having been part of a rich and intimate dialogue with designers, design educators, and students. The intimacy of the group allowed us to identify issues that are of concern to all of our colleagues and us.

I also believe strongly that this format is a radical new approach to viewing what interdisciplinarity means in design. This non-hierarchical format has paved the way for a huge shift in design conversation. Less about one person’s “wisdom and knowledge” and more about shared wisdom and knowledge. This sort of format seems to be leading in the evolution (not the careening toward crisis) of the profession.

Collaboration with Cuba

After the ICOGRADA conference, Claudio Sotolongo created a project to engage design schools in various corners of the western hemisphere: Columbia, Canada, Cuba, UK, US:

I just completed text to accompany the publication associated with the project:

The concept of “branding” has, over the past decade (if not longer) shoved itself into an extra-wide seat at the designer’s table, along with such design activities as political statements, publications and book-design and other fine print materials, web and interactivity. This is of growing concern to those of us who fear that the current generation of design students —or the current generation, period — may no longer be able to separate the concept of cultural identity from what they buy, and what they think about buying. This project is an effort to chip away at this link. It is an effort to ask students to look at the much deeper, much more human questions. Who are “my people”? Where do I live? How do I engage with them? What do we do/share/teach each other? How do we contribute to a “way” in which something is done/made/conveyed?

My students surprised me. When asked to define a concept for their piece, all of them seemed to be reacting to a perceived glut of messages of consumption and consumerism. As a group they seemed to say that they too were put off by the alarming quantity and ubiquitousness of the messages telling them what to buy and how to think. Maybe we teach them these things when we ask them to be sensitive to their environment: to take their ear plugs off and give the brain time to think about not only how their environment affects them but how they affect their environment.

To varying degrees students are “tapped” in to the media. One student uses this forum to create a piece about his connection to electronic music-making. For him, this project allows him to make a bridge between two passions: digital image-making and digital sound-mixing. He demonstrates a sophisticated desire to be “plugged in” to current aesthetic trends. Another student, also deeply affected by media, points to the disturbing way US media (television, film, video games) presents random violence in almost a pathologically casual way. Another student, also a musician, makes light of the unapologetically aggressive aspect of metal music. He was concerned about offending anyone with this piece, and had alternative text lines, but I encouraged him to submit this one. Graffiti is another theme picked up by a student who calls attention to the way his friends are treated like criminals: to a city that looks at all “tags” as destruction of property even in places where serious artists with highly-evolved styles have found canvases in hidden culverts, and abandoned buildings other wise giving over to urban blight. This ethics of graffiti is hotly debated around here, and this student uses this forum to make a legitimate statement about legitimacy.

Other students take on more personal issues. One student is active in issues that call attention to inequalities in social welfare — a product of capitalism, one might say —, and is trying to come to terms with her sense of injustice and her chosen profession. She sees this project as way to address her concerns, both personal and political. Another student’s concerns are personal: recoiling from the obsessive consumer culture to promote her love of making things herself. An example of when the personal and the political become one act, one intention.

What makes this project so valuable, partly in hindsight is that it allows us to begin to look at how culture and identity are inextricably linked to consumerism in societies driven by capitalism. Graphic Design is indivisible from politics and economics, especially in such fields as branding and advertising, but this project tells us that graphic designers need not be driven my these forces. The most powerful force we, as graphic designers have to counterbalance is the way mass media chips attempts to chip away at our impulses to build community and identity around what we truly desire, experience and want. This is one project that allows us to see that the drive for authenticity is alive and flourishing with students around the world.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I once heard Lou Danziger, one of the "old school" (more on this later) design educators ask his summer students what "design" means. We gave many answers, but the one that I recall most is the one he offered: "to do something with intent. As in, 'to do something by design' ". This was characteristically Danziger whose focus was on clarity - optimal clarity. Throughout the course over the next few weeks, I sensed he was easily irritated by dense ambiguity. It was difficult for me to meet his wave length.

That said, after returning from the UK last week from the New Views conference, I created a list of intentions for my return (afterall I gained 5 hours. I could use them wisely.)

1.) blog more
2.) organize my millions of images ( I shoot a lot with my easily concealed Lumix) and build a current flickr site.

I'll write about the New Views conference later this weekend. It's Saturday. I have some new herbs to plant. My son and I are talked about a trip to the park to play disc golf.

A primary intention: to be outside.