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Review - The Power of Design Part IV

One more take on AIGA’s Vancouver conference. By renown writer and art director DK Holland:

Power of Design - the Vancouver AIGA Conference - related our work to the needs of the real world. Hey, the world really really needs thoughtful, relevant design! How terrific is that? Getting across real information in a way that it can be digested and transformed by the reader is what we do. And what I heard at Power of Design was that this can help solve big important problems: in Iraq, in the environment, in healing the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I love design for its own sake. And nothing thrills me like seeing a good portfolio (which filled many previous AIGA conferences) when they are truly inspired. But that’s why I have avoided most of design conferences since attending the Miami AIGA Conference (after which I wrote a review called Nero Fiddles While Rome Burns in CA magazine I — you get the gist — than I was just a little critical of the AIGA for not being relevant to the times).

And when I saw Woody Pirtle’s work flashed on the screen at Power of Design, hundreds of images, (many of which I already knew, of course) but none shown in any context, I could only feel dismay. We were honoring him with our highest award that evening. His own presentation of his own work trivialized his work: Could we not have rested our eyes and minds for just even 30 seconds on a few of the images to understand the importance of Woody Pirtle?

What do you think? Were you at Power of Design? Is putting terrific type with pretty pictures just dandy with you or do you see greater possibilities on the horizon — for our profession and for yourself?

DK Holland

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PUBLISHED ON Nov.14.2003 BY Armin
Jacque’s comment is:

I too was at the AIGA conference. I felt a little depressed after most of the sessions. But that depression was not over what AIGA was presenting, it was over the fact that we live in too much consumerism and waste.

I love the fact that you can go the the AIGA conference and see so many different types of presenters. I remember the conference in Seattle and the female professor at Harvard talking about taking classes throughout your career - not just design etc. but history, languages and so on. We are better designers the more experience and education we have on a variety of topics and I think the AIGA well understands that.

On Nov.14.2003 at 05:04 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Yup. Had a similar question -- what's wrong with concentrating a bit on graphic design while at the same time, discussing global doom? Do we all have to become "Solutionists" to find more relevance in what we do? I actually thought the conference marginalized the role of "graphic design" by blending it in with everything from genetic engineering to urban planning. There is value to examining the larger picture, but it should stem from a common base, relevant to what we all do -- graphic design.

I felt empowered, but as a citizen, not a graphic designer.

On Nov.14.2003 at 05:15 PM
Heather’s comment is:

(this site was just introduced to me today and I am fascinated by what I have seen, thanks Daniel)

I was not able to attend the Vancouver AIGA Conference, however after reading this review, I wished I had been. Apparently, these thoughts of needing more thoughtful and relevant design are more widespread than I had previously thought.

Inspired design can make changes, not only within our industry, but within socitey. I had recently mentioned to a friend that design has the ability to speak to people who aren't willing to listen with their ears. As designers, I feel we have a responsibility, even if only to ourselves, to continually try to enlighten people on current issues, to help them get past the blinders that the media, political leaders, ect. impose.

Looking at design with a more humanist approach I feel is the answer to many questions. It's not about pretty pictures and funky type and breaking the rules anymore. It needs to be about education, going back to the basic of ethics, morals and logic. These key elements of human interaction are becoming more and more distance. It's our job to bring them back.

On Nov.14.2003 at 05:16 PM
daniel’s comment is:

Our taker culture as described by Daniel Quinn in ISHMAEL is headed for destruction. "Mother Culture" is buzzing in our ears directing everyone’s attention away from important issues i.e. over population; instead, our attention is focused on trivial pursuits such as symbolic self-completion. We are all undoubtedly affected by this.

We, graphic designers, are the visual voice of Mother Culture. We support the message by promoting it visually. These messages and their promotion have obviously proven to be successful; can anyone deny this? What if the messages contained more virtue?

Acting on these convictions in academia can result in failure. In the industry, following through with these ideas could result in the loss of a big contract. I believe that in order to progress, we must find the value in this.

As students we are taught to create logos, layouts etc. so that when we get “out there”, we will contribute. We do well with logos. What if somewhere along the line we were taught to find virtue in what we do?

In a recent brief provided by a leading creative/communications company to the students of my course, I found these descriptions: Project Name: VIRAL MARKETING Media: VIRAL. How can this be good?

It isn’t in me to give up, but if it were, I would put my trust in the idea that a shift towards a more meaningful return is impending.

I believe greater possibilities (in our profession) lie in unifying the community on unprecedented levels. There is a need to shut up Mother Culture. The problem is we don’t want to give up our i-Pods in the process.

On Nov.15.2003 at 08:02 AM
Paul’s comment is:

I love the sound of all that, Daniel, but there seems to me to be such a gap between the rhetoric and the reality as to be unbridgeable. Everyone wants to talk about belling the cat, but who among us will do it?

I don't mean to be dismissive, because it really does ring appeallingly true that designers can contribute to a more just and sustainable future. That a more meaningful return that cash might be acheived for the work we do. But how do you propose to do it tomorrow for yourself? What concrete steps are you planning to take? I'm not calling bullshit, just saying that unless you are proposing an independantly funded Graphic Design Corps then ultimately we must all make money one way or another. If I want to make mine by selling my services as a designer, I must serve my clients. I can and do try to encourage what I view as morally correct choices in my clients when I have the opportunity, but if I began to dictate to them how I feel they should be doing business I am quite confident they would find someone more cooperative to meet their design needs. Perhaps people like Sherr, Mau, Carson, Sagmeister, etc. can choose thier clients and impose agendas upon them (although I doubt they would choose to), but how could I do this and support me youngins?

Perhaps we need a dedicated cardre of young, childless designers from wealthy families who can work tirelessly and for no financial gain on a broad cultural initiative. Instead of paying AIGA dues we can all send money into a fund that this group would use to cover printing costs and the like as they create wave after wave of progessive propaganda. Once they have accomplished the initial cultural beachhead, a large invasionary force of designers would be deployed to shore up the positions and complete the occupation. Then we could rule the culture as a benevolent meritocracy, imposing order from chaos and living out our days in some (Pantone specified) happily ever after.

OK, there's my modest proposal. Anyone else have any ideas?

On Nov.15.2003 at 09:56 AM
Bradley’s comment is:

Ahhhhh.....it's always good to have a puritanical voice dictating the morals and standards and aspirations of the day, especially one that proposes nothing concrete despite the skyscraper-sized rambling.

First thing to keep in mind: Don't tell people what's good and bad, and don't tell them what they should and shouldn't pursue. Some might find "self-completion" vapid, but that's not the case for everyone and no one has absolute authority to enforce what they think on anyone else. After awhile it looks like a scurry for the foxhole of moral security, defended with blame set up on anyone who isn't in there with you.

And blame is the last refuge of a coward. One common thread throughout all the pseudo-FTF Manifesto garble out there is this bizarre and highly generalized finger-pointing at abstract, indeterminite notions such as "consumerism," "culture," "society," and "stupid people." Each of these implies some sort of collection, something that pretty much everyone is a part of whehter or not they intend to be. There is nothing wrong with that. However, there's something pathetically aimless about targeting them, and it becomes even more pathetic when the dialogue is insular and circular, focused not on action but on the nifty combinations of words that we can concoct.

Are we to believe that the natural desires and aspirations of individual human beings have somehow become artificial and manufactured? I don't think so. While there are numerous disturbing and potentially destructive things going on in This Modern World, to simplify any one of them to the point of criticizing others because of their desire to buy stuff is just...well, simple-minded. No one sets out to make the world an uglier or worse place; I find the H2 repugnant and unnecessary, but its not my place to pontificate to the people who buy them. I simply don't buy one. Either accept that along with the freedom to make personal choices comes possibly serious consequences, or sacrifice that freedom in exchange for "greater longevity" or something similarly abstract.

The fact is, when a sacrifice is made, someone is collecting sacrificial offerings. I find that far too many people who argue the FTF aspect don't realize this, or don't even realize that they're asking for a sacrifice. Someone is always taking. That's capitalism. That's how freedom operates, it's not always clean and the back-room operations are pretty ugly. So it goes.

Designers make things. If what you design is primarily some form of communication, your messages can only get people to think ABOUT an idea. It can't force them to agree with it or subscribe to a specific belief. Thank God for that.

There's something tacitly yet profoundly fascist about much of the FTF Manifesto mentality. It's amazing what people will give up to see their agendas consummated.

On Nov.15.2003 at 10:40 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

One more thing--

Posters, books, logos, ads, movies, TV commercials, PSAs, presentations, brochures and nifty boxes won't change the world.

The combination of people and ideas will.

On Nov.15.2003 at 10:55 PM
surts’s comment is:

brad. what are you doing

On Nov.16.2003 at 01:45 AM
daniel’s comment is:

My comment was only intended as a sort of proposal; I can see how I fell short of that. My reaction was to present already exhausted facts with what I have and continue to experience as a current design student.

I agree with the argument that a proposal with an already determined solution is ideal, however, in the same way that freedom is not always pure, proposals don’t always come with solutions included. I don’t believe I need answers to say something.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t want to end up in an institution somewhere professing a proposal for the rest of my life. Again, in order to act on our convictions, we must first have them.

Paul, thank you for your constructive view.

On Nov.16.2003 at 11:42 AM
Bradley’s comment is:

Again, in order to act on our convictions, we must first have them.

Yes, good point.

On Nov.16.2003 at 01:55 PM
rebecca’s comment is:

I can and do try to encourage what I view as morally correct choices in my clients when I have the opportunity, but if I began to dictate to them how I feel they should be doing business I am quite confident they would find someone more cooperative to meet their design needs.

Paul, I share your skepticism that clients would respond very well to evangelism on the part of their design firm. It might be more productive to seek work from clients who already employ business practices that you want to support, and maybe extend a sliding scale to the ones who can't afford what you normally charge.

(Thanks to DK Holland for participating here!)

On Nov.17.2003 at 11:21 AM
Steven’s comment is:

I was at the Power of Design conference and thought it was really a remarkable event. I do see opportunities beyond putting hip type with pretty pictures.

I agree with previous comments that the FTF Manifesto is too didactic, but yet still agree with the overall gist of what it is trying to say.

What troubles me most is the belief that we need to undertake dramatic, revolutionary, anti-capitalist actions in order to affect positive change. Anything short of this is "selling out."

This short-sighted mindset is ridiculous and over-reactive. As others have pointed out, both in this thread and in the AIGA post-conference discussions, being overly self-righteous and moralistic, for the most part, is not going to be well received.

What most seem to overlook is how making small adjustments in how we practice design, and how we live our lives outside the office, can have a tremendous impact when taken in the aggregate. Promoting recycled paper stocks and less toxic inks (in the context of conceptual/brand relevance and design aesthetics and not self-righteous morality); down-sizing elaborate, wasteful designs to simpler solutions; suggesting smaller print runs, and other methods: All of these help to bring constructive change in small, subtle ways. Collectively, they will have big impact.

In other words, find ways to work within the system, rather than rejecting it outright. Think about little, easily accommodated shifts in process and thinking, rather than trying to change the planet in one fell swoop. If big changes can be made, great! But if big efforts fail, it's too easy to get frustrated and give up. It's better to try small things that you build upon, IMHO.

With regard to the Pirtle presentation, this is really endemic to the whole TV remote mentality we have created for ourselves: the search for meaning and truisms within tidy, convenient units. Impact over content. This is a symptom of our current society which forces humanity into technological and mechanistic systems, rather than the other way around. But there are other ways of seeing the world.

I do see greater possibilities and opportunities for design, within our profession and many others. But, I feel that we need to re-examine the very nature of what it means to "design" and how this relates to human development. To this extent, I have been developing a design theory called Organic Multiplicity. For me, this evolving theory has enabled me to understand design in new ways, which is slowly creating change in how I practice design. I consider this site as my small effort in trying to create bigger change.

On Nov.18.2003 at 04:57 PM