The Grampians 22-27 June 2007
What an awesome place. Handful of labsome and Phd students visited the Grampians last weekend for a mapping project. Co-ordinated by Milesy, he wanted us to place constraints on the way we ‘mapped’ the particular area we were exploring.
My recent experience in taking pottery classes has awakened to ’see’ through touch. Its a new experience where I’m forced to mold clay on a wheel without looking at what I’m doing, opposite to my usual practice of being visually led and relying on sight to do design. Molding the clay through sight can be detrimental because the hands responds to what it sees and tries to over-correct the errors. But when I mold through touch, I can ’see’ how thick or thin the walls are, how to smooth out the bumps and how to centre an off-balanced clay. Its a completely different relationship, one that is felt through the body via the fingertips rather than perceived through the mind via sight.
The visit to the Grampians seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore this idea more and use ‘touch’ as one of the constraints. Rather than my usual practice of taking photographs and being visually led, I decided to make ‘impressions’ of things that seemed interesting on the walk. I took along small balls of clay which I flattened into a disc.
Here are some of the results. I’ll upload all of them onto the flickr shared site.
and also here are impressions of other plants and then taken a photo on a rock surface.
The process of creating these small ‘impressions’ was transforming how I saw the landscape. I was struck by the scale of detail – from the delicate whispy-ness of plants I was trying to capture to the eternal existence of the rock surfaces we were surrounded by. There was so much to be felt through touch. I would often loose a sense of scale when looking between the texture of bark and the rocks behind. Both weathered from and resilient to their environments. I imagined what kind of ‘impressions’ could be made from those rocks if there was clay big enough to be able to do so. What could be felt if you could run your fingers over the caves and cliffs of Mount Zero. I also noticed that I captured different aspects of a plant’s life cycle, from its fleshy leaves to how it became withered and brittle; a flower in bloom to the seed pods they created. Through the impressions created, I also noticed details that were invisible to the eye previously – a pattern of bumps on the underside of fern leaves or star shapes created by gum nuts – a delightful surprise revealed through clay.
Others have captured different aspects of the trip. You can view them here (or go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/affectiveatlashallsgap/)
Open Manifesto #3
I am one of the many supporters of Open Manifesto. I believe it has good intensions and I have enjoyed the articles in the past issues. However, I am disappointed with the level of discussion in the latest 3rd issue. Perhaps my disappointment in this current issue stem from wishing that the quality will become stronger with each edition.
The opening title ‘What is graphic design?’ sounded alarm bells the moment I read it, and reminded me of the level of questioning discussed amongst 1st year graphic design undergraduates.
My main critique of ‘What is graphic design?’ is essentially that it’s a cliché. The problem with clichés is that they lead to responses that are often too broad or general. The answers from the general public or some of the contributing authors to this issue provided a peppering of diverse perspectives that covered old ground without pushing the discourse forward, with depth, or creating interesting and critical new threads.
Could it be insecurity that drives the need for graphic designers to ask ‘what is graphic design’ time and time again? On this topic of a greater public understanding of graphic design, Vince Frost stated in an interview in issue 1 that designers should ‘get their personality across’ in their work so ‘it’s not somebody else as the hero’. I could not help but feel sorry for his insecurity of wanting more attention. Indeed, graphic designers should consider the public as key stakeholders as they are partners in the communication exchange. How people read and interpret messages creates meaning for individuals. But what is achieved through asking the public what graphic design is? Should it matter what they know what this discipline is about? Isn’t it enough that they are experts in their own way in knowing what it does through their own interaction and understanding of the various outcomes of design, and they are living and actively participating in this visual culture?
This leads me to the discussion of ‘ego’ put forward by ZB. Rather than getting to grips with what ego is and its role in a creative practice, the article concludes by associating ego with ’self-preservation’. Contrary to the claim made by this article that designers are ‘hesitant to explain it, in case the mystery is unravelled’, I think that designers don’t know how to make explicit what it is that they do to others. Donald Schön1 discuss how a creative practice is complex, uncertain, instable and unique. In this context, hunches and informed guesses of negotiating the design process become ‘tacit knowledge’2 . Articulating tacit knowledge is a paradox. Polanyi states, ‘owing to the ultimately tacit character of all our knowledge, we remain ever unable to say all that we know, so also, in view of the tacit character of meaning, we can never quite know what is implied in what we say.’3 It requires the designer to focus and dedicate a considerable about of time and effort to critically reflect upon and document their activities alongside their day-to-day practice to make their design knowledge explicit to others. Many practicing designers may not be able to afford this ‘time’ outside of their work practices. Design as a verb is therefore much more difficult to describe than the adjective. No wonder most description of a graphic designer’s activity become task and output oriented. There is a clear distinction between a designer’s difficulty in making the tacit knowledge in design explicit to making sure that they ‘hold all the aces’ and I do not believe the two should be confused.
As such, design research contributes a great deal to understanding and making explicit designerly knowledge embedded in design practice. I believe the next AGDA journal’s theme is on postgraduate study in design. With more designers entering postgraduate study, the future holds promise – where graphic/communication design as a discipline can be more defined in its practice and knowledge.
AB introduces us to the idea of a ‘produser’ as ‘people who can generate and broadcast their own visual and textual messages through printed or electronic means.’ Is the profession of graphic design threatened by this or appalled by the quality of the outcomes? Could this be due to graphic designer’s obsession with the term ‘graphic’? As AB suggests, Communication Design can be a way to begin thinking about graphic design differently. ‘Communication’ in communication design implies a two-way process where those involved in the communication of the message are actively involved in the exchange. The previous focus on the ‘graphic’ visual product shifts to emphasise the process of how communication can occur amongst people. This can liberate the usual frustration of designers from merely being producers and decorators of end outcomes to integral stakeholders to generate and propose ideas and solutions of exchange between people. As I mentioned earlier, the definition of communication design positions the audience (or the ‘Public’ discussed in CB’s article) as equal partners of this exchange of meaning-making. I agree with CB’s call for designers to consider the ‘Public’ differently. Designers may seek to retain ‘control’ of the means of production, but they cannot control the way messages are read, understood or interpreted by people. I think there is a great deal of potential in exploring how messages can be co-authored or co-created between designers and the ‘Public’. Rather than perceiving the ‘produsers’ as a threat to the profession, I believe that graphic/communication designers could begin exploring what it means for designers and the public to co-create work together.
If Open Manifesto is to be seen as a serious journal of design criticism on a national and international scale, I think ‘filling’ its pages with images of alphabets drawn blindfolded by graphic designers is doing the exact opposite. Furthermore, Open Manifesto needs to consider what role it intends to play in the design community, who is their audience and what is their objective? Lastly, I would like to suggest other themes for discussion for future issues, such as the role of audiences in communication design; what is design research; the challenges in design education; or invite design practitioners to reflect and critique their recent projects. I hope the critique offered in this letter is considered as a positive gesture for Open Manifesto to continue improving the quality of its content.
1 Schön, D 1983, The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action, Basic Books, New York.
2 Polanyi, M 1962, Personal knowledge: towards a post-critical philosophy, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.
3 Ibid. p. 95
There’s been a re-surgence on the design authorship discourse in the AGDA journal and I wanted to see how the designer’s agency is framed in this context. According to Steven McCarthy’s article, Curating as meta design-authorship, he states that the design-authorship includes an ‘expanded and more meaningful role for graphic designers through:
- creating self-initiated projects
- engaging in innovative collaborations
- integrating writing, editing, designing and publishing
- acknowledging subjective methodologies
- recognition of sub-cultural audiences
- developing entrepreneurial ventures.’
Agency in the design-authorship discourse seem to still revolve around the designer-individual autonomy of the designed outcome, whether through text, images or objects. In the list given, collaborative practices are also stated but it is not made clear what it means. Similarly, the audiences are merely ‘recognised’, rather than to acknowledge their agency as equal partners and co-creators of the communication message. McCarthy’s article fails to question how designers work with others and what takes place during the design processes. Thus, agency in this discussion still does not position the designer amongst a variety of stakeholders, nor does the discussion illuminate how the designer have agency in the first place. Rather he focuses on how curatorial exhibition work can also be authorial and presents a handful of examples that demonstrates such practice.
In Katherine Moline’s article in the same issue, she begins to discuss ‘Relational Aesthetics‘, put forward by Nicolas Bourriaud. Relational Aesthetics in this article is explained as how the created work can create a relationship with others in a ’shared world’ (by Gerard in Moline). Gerard proposes that relational aesthetics is thus significant to design because ‘it redefines the status of work from that of autonomous object and authorial statement expressing and embodying the artist’s truth, to that of an open platform onto which artists and public negotiate possibilities of meaning and being. However, this proposition by Gerard is not discussed further to question how it may apply to designer’s agency and the traditional paradigm of designer’s autonomy.
It is interesting to note though that both design authorship discourse and my research impetus is a result of a dissatisfaction with the role given to designers as ’service providers’. In the design-authorship debate, designer-as-author and designer as service provider has become polemic. In this dualist discourse I believe it has failed to examine the grey areas in-between that most design practitioners are residing. Thus, on the pole-end of the designer-as-author, only a handful of privileged designers can claim authorial work of the designed outcome and furthermore, this positioning is promoted and celebrated through the examples showcased in design annuals.
Moline similarly critiques the polemical debate and discusses the third term ‘experimental design’ in her article. Using the example in Re-magazine by Van Bennekom that points to the ‘contraditions in desiring freedom and the futility if not impossibility of achieving independence from context’, Moline suggests that the third term ‘experimental design’ can move away from the polemical debate by creating work that can critique design itself. Thus, the work created is not self-referrential but contributes to the discourses of graphic design.
In contrast to Moline, I put forward the third term as human-centred design. The agency I explored in my research is neither designer’s autonomy, nor is it about designers providing services to others. I believe it is about how they have agency amongst other stakeholders, including the audiences. This positioning perceives the designer working alongside a variety of people and the unexpected outcomes that may arise from this process. It positions design as a process created from the collective activity of many and places designer as a key stakeholder in this process that can enable and facilitate a variety of activities and outcomes.