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the future is now


In 1969 Charles Eames sketched out a rough visualization of the design process for an exhibition at the Lourve called "what is design?". It consisted of three loose amoeba-like graphical elements floating in the void of his sketchpad, overlapping, intersecting, and connecting to create the most idyllic representation of what design should be. The three layered forms respectively constitute the interests and concerns of the designer, the genuine interest of the client, and concerns of society as a whole. Where the subsets intersect lies the common ground where designers can work with "conviction and enthusiasm". Like much of the Eames' work, the beauty is found in the objects' duality. Floating gorgeously in clarity and in the absence of pretense... churning below are the complexities brought not only by the designer and the client, but society as well. We as designers are given the daunting task of mapping the blurred sovereignty where morals, economics, and personal goals intersect.

We are at the beginning of a new epoch of human viability, where all economies and ecologies are becoming globalized, related and integrated. More than any other discipline, design has placed us, for better of for worse, in this position. More directly, for the last 100 years it has been graphic design acting as the purveyor, instigator, and documentarian of cultural change. Increasingly, however, graphic design has been depreciating its stock as an art form by making itself available primarily as a commercial tool. This, paired with the narrow selection of creative instruments (primarily software), which we allow ourselves to use contributes to the disposable conduit that makes up the majority of design encountered daily. Craft and vocation are left behind, leaving the mass media with unchallenging and comfortable design for the people. We must seek to create work that is both visually and cognitively demanding, but emotionally and intellectually rewarding.

By falsifying our skills as creative artists and knowingly swimming out to the undertow
of an 'autistic economy', where unemployment, inequality, and globalization prevail, finding the area where the "designer can work with determination and enthusiasm" becomes all the more difficult. We designers will not find it alone. Working with colleagues both in and outside of the realm of visual communications cultivates understanding. Collaborating with other fields such as semiotics, social anthropology and linguistics, we educate ourselves in the cultural values that give worth to human life. We must seek to understand, study, and challenge how visual communication determines and reinforces cultural values.

The collective conscious of the design community is beginning to reevaluate its societal role. In his essay published by the American Institute of Graphic Arts, The Citizen Designer, Rick Poyner states, "We must ensure that design, as an interdisciplinary way of thinking, becomes an integral and equal component of significant public initiatives." melding such initiatives with our clients ideals and our morals, we can better all parties involved. Through these means Eames' pluperfect land seems all the more attainable. This is what we must seek.

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Ben, a very thought-provoking assessment!

"Do not commit design in a vacuum!"

We were just talking yesterday about how globalization, at present, has come to be regarded as the globalization of capitalist markets, or at least of laissez-faire trade agreements. This "race to the bottom" is anti-sustainable, anti-individual, and, a huge anticlimax for the thousands of years of rich human cultural heritage that it intends to supplant. Globalization may be, in fact, a movement in exactly the wrong direction when it comes to food and economic issues.

Globalization in the sense of spreading ideas and concepts, however, is a different thing entirely. As the free flow of information goes, so goes the state of oppressed peoples worldwide. We have an enormous opportunity to use internet-based and print-based design abilities to do so much more than sell eachother things. If money is in fact "the root" of all evil, let us do a bit of constructive gardening. Rather than perpetuating the economic system of a bunch of dead white guys, why not use our visually communicative skills to project sharing into the global milieu?

This is not "oversimplifying" things. Consider the Maori of New Zealand. Their economy is based on giving, not taking, and has succeeded for hundreds of generations. Prestige and power is derived from how much of the food grown is given away. Within their social units, trading partnerships are fostered where families feed eachother, going so far as regarding the food that they have grown themselves as "untouchable." Only food derived from the act of giving is edible.

These are the cultural developments that are at risk if we use our skills to promote french fries and blue jeans.

1/5/2004 10:44:28 AM
I like the use of this space for essays and comentary.1/15/2004 3:29:19 PM
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