Saturday, October 16, 2010

DSDN171: Design Ideas in Context, or Design History?

Although I relish an opportunity to learn about history and events that pertain to art and design, I'm not too concerned about synthesising these historic design periods, themes and ideas, and I don't think it was the primary directive of the course (or if it does happen to be the aim of the course, I didn't catch on). Though it is probably important for a course to help people understand how certain styles influenced certain other styles, especially within the context of design, it is unnecessary to have a course aimed at helping people synthesise various concepts and ideas, as they will do so regardless. The much overused (within this course) analogy of the constant pendulum effect, affecting design and society, neatly proves my point. Design changes by society's own volition, evolving as we do.

In short, asking me whether or not this course has helped me to "synthesise various themes and issues relevant to the history/theory/practice of design" is irrelevant. What would have been more appropriate is to inquire as to whether or not the course has been helpful to my understanding of design in general, and how we came to be where we are in the context of design. If that were the question, I would answer that I found the history of design within the past couple of centuries intriguing and enlightening, and that the course provided me with information necessary to understand why styles changed, at the time in history in which they did, how they came to be, and how they met their eventual demise and potential rebirth. DSDN171 has been an effective tool for learning about design, especially so for me, as I found that while you could take the course at face value, you get much more out of it when you re-purpose it to suit your own interests. It was a refreshing touch to the heavily assignment-oriented design programme, and helped to contextualise the other courses, leading to a fuller understanding of course content and directives.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Modern Remix: Irony in Contemporary Design

Contemporary design tends to incorporate elements of past eras and styles with modern design sensibility. Sergio Silva's "Oyule Lamps" serve as an obvious reminder that modern design doesn't always have to incorporate modern technology or materials. A throwback to the 19th century, his design melds old fashioned oil lamp technology with Thomas Edison's patented light bulb.

This contemporary piece of design uses irony to its advantage through the juxtaposition of two similar yet dissimilar objects. By fashioning a lamp - almost a candle - using a light bulb as a base and container for fuel, Sergio has effectively rendered modern technology useless, potentially foreshadowing the inevitable future demise of technology and the return of humans to our humble beginnings. The effectiveness of this design lies in the irony present, since, executed any other way, this piece would simply be an oil lamp. Combine and present two opposing objects, however, and it becomes a bold statement - one with connotations of old and new; the poster child for "remix" design.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Designing Politics; Designing Progress

Current United States President Barack Obama created a unique identity for himself throughout his 2008 presidential campaign. Though his main message was of 'hope', he distinguished himself from his Republican competitor John McCain with the promise of bringing 'progress' to the populace. The meaning behind his use of the term 'progress' was twofold. Firstly, the fact that he, an African-American person, was in the running and showing high support was 'progress' in terms of American political history. Secondly, and likely more important to his campaign, was the promise of 'progress' in the way in which the country is governed. The poster above, designed by Scott Hansen, adequately defines Barack's political vision through its simple and uniting imagery. In the centre of the image, a sun is depicted using the Obama campaign logo, a seemingly unifying force bringing together two separate, potentially opposing sides.

Obviously, Barack Obama won his campaign for presidency. It is clear, though, that design had a leading role in that performance; the statements of hope, progress and change were what the American public wanted to see, and gave them something to strive for. Even though, in the end, it was all just a fa├žade - as are most political campaigns -, the politically-charged designs helped give some definition to that era in American politics. It was a time for change, a time for hope, and certainly a time for progress. Out with the old, in with the new, and let the rising sun that is Obama unite our divided sides.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Design Identity: an Introspective Look at Myself as a Designer

Who am I, as a designer? I haven't given much consideration to that question before now; I suppose it was never an issue of great importance to me. Having said that, though, I do feel there are, and have been, significant influences on me as a designer. As much as I dislike talking about him, I am certain my father's design background played a supporting role in my development as a designer. He had been a graphic designer for several years, and, as such, there was always a certain 'design sensibility' about him that I seem to have absorbed via osmosis. Perhaps that explains the attention to detail/perfectionism I have exhibited throughout my life.

Growing up and living in a big city with a significant arts culture was important as well. I'm not sure about Canada as a whole, but Toronto, where I was raised, has a great appreciation for visual art and design, and has always been supportive of me as a designer. One specific influence is Nuit Blanche, the "all-night contemporary art thing" held annually in Toronto. Having experienced this as a teenager unsure of my future as a designer/artist, it gave me the encouragement I needed to decide where I wanted to go in life, and encouraged me to be more creative, as I learned that being a designer can be a rewarding experience.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Technology & Progress: FYD and the Deutscher Werkbund

The Bauhaus, and Deutscher Werkbund (German Arts and Crafts Society) were proponents of architecture and design reform in Germany during the 1920s through to the 1930s. Bauhaus was especially significant to modernist design and architecture, and continues to be influential in design and architecture education today. Since it is so influential in design education, are there similarities between the methods and philosophy of Bauhaus and modernist design and the first year design (FYD) programme at Victoria University of Wellington?

The answer is: yes; very much so. One of the main aims of the Deutscher Werkbund was to "help form to recover its rights", essentially placing emphasis on good use of form and craft, and using form only when it is appropriate to the function. The FYD programme places a great deal of emphasis on craft, something that can be the difference between a high quality design and one of a low quality. Much emphasis has also been placed, not only on craft, but on the concept of designers as craftsmen. The idea of creating craftsmen is one shared with the Bauhaus, who believed that it was important to break down the barriers between artists and craftsmen, integrating the two. The FYD programme has, effectively, done just that this year, with a hands-on approach to design that emphasises creation, and the idea of 'making'.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reproducible Authenticity in a Digital World

What role does the concept of an "authentic" play in our digital age of design and manufacture? In short, not a significant one. Sure, an "authentic" work of art or design is still considered important, especially when it is something that is crafted by hand. For example, an original Picasso is worth far more than a print, and a classic 1963 Pierre Paulin chair, made by Artifort (pictured above), is of much greater value than a similarly styled IKEA chair. Modern design, however, takes into account the fact that we live in a consumer culture, making pieces with reproducibility and a short life span in mind. Walter Benjamin argued that "...the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative... one can can make any number of prints; to ask for "the authentic" print makes no sense." While he may have argued that well over 50 years ago, it remains true to this day, perhaps even more so due to the advent of digital reproduction, photocopying, and digital cameras. The whole idea of a photograph is to capture a particular moment in time, and be reproduced. If it wasn't meant to be reproduced, there would be no negative. Thus, there is no real original, or "authentic". Everyday objects are the same - most are no longer crafted by hand, but are made by machinery, separated from human contact. These objects, from simple clothing to cars, are also meant to be reproduced, sold to the public for relatively low cost. We live in a consumer culture, and we have to acknowledge that the concept of an "authentic", whether fortunately or unfortunately, is irrelevant.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Craft in a Time of Modernity

Modern, industrialised societies greatly undervalue craft. Artisans, craftsmen and, generally, skilled tradespeople, are part of an ever-shrinking group of people who work with their hands, specifically to make things. The modern, throwaway society that we live in has less appreciation for hand-crafted things than the societies of years past, mainly due to the wide availability, and extremely low cost of mass-manufactured items. That doesn't mean, however, that craft has disappeared from our society altogether. The cultural paradigm is shifting, and in recent years society has become more aware of a need for artisans and craftsmen. The "OneofaKind" Show, held annually in Chicago, New York, and Vancouver, and biannually in Toronto, celebrates the time-honoured tradition of craft, featuring hand-made products from fashion to food, art, and ecologically responsible and sustainable products. The OneofaKind show invites small, independent companies or individuals to exhibit their hand-crafted wares and sell them to the public, creating awareness for local artisans, artists, designers and craftspeople. One such person, Jennifer Jakob (, a glass bead maker from Ottawa, creates her own jewellery using her hand-crafted glass beads. The difference between her jewellery and the jewellery available in retail stores is that hers is made by hand, by one person, and her love for beadmaking is evident in her work. Perhaps society doesn't enjoy the higher cost associated with hand-crafted design, but it certainly appreciates the uniqueness and quality of it.