Monday, December 21, 2009

“Shaping Things” by Bruce Sterling

This is a diminutive book size with a big title about the design of created objects and the environment by author and journalist, Bruce Sterling. Sterling’s science fiction works have received critical acclaim. The book is certainly worth a read. Shaping Things was published by MIT Press in 2005 and designed by Lorraine Wild and Stuart Smith of Green Dragon Office, Los Angeles.

Bill Moggridge, cofounder of IDEO, supplies a quote for the back cover by saying the book is, “a manifesto for the future of design, impeccably crafted by Bruce Sterling and enhanced by the delicately emphatic graphic design intelligence of Lorraine Wild… Shaping Things hovers between science fiction and design fact, pushing forward into the future and showing how design happens.”

In chapter four, “The Personal is Historical,” Sterling discusses the correlation of science fiction and design “reality”:
By no accident, American design and American science fiction both date to the 1920s. In the visionary work of say, Norman Bel Geddes, with his gargantuan transatlantic airliners and inhibited Hoover dams, it’s easy to spot a science-fictional sensibility that hasn’t yet been caged and tamed. In their youth, both design and science fiction centered unashamedly on wonder, speed, and spectacle.

Their deepest and more lasting commonality is their fierce love of gadgetry. Design loves the glamorized object; while science fiction loves rayguns, robots, time machines, and rocketships—imaginary objects whose one great unity is that you, the reader, are never going to own one. There is no danger of science fiction’s pet gadgets becoming obsolete and disenchanting you. The tide of wonder never ceases for technologies that remain fantasies.

Suppose, however, that you become genuinely interested in gadgets—not as symbols of wonder to be deployed as sci-fi stage props, but as actual, corporeal physical presences. It may dawn on you that you are surrounded by a manufactured environment. You may further come to understand that you are not living in a centrally planned society, where class distinctions and rationing declare who has access to the hardware. Instead, you are living in a gaudy, market-driven society whose material culture is highly unstable and radically contingent. You’re surrounded by gadgets. Who can tell you how to think about gadgets, what to say about them—what they mean, how that feels?

Science can’t do that. There’s no such scientific discipline as “Gadgetology”. If you want to write effectively about gadgets, you must come to terms with design. And it pays to make that effort of comprehension, because, in science fiction, as in any kind of fiction, it improves the work remarkably to have a coherent idea of what you’re talking about.” (pgs. 28, 29).
This passage from Sterling made me think about the nature of things (realities) connected with a philosophy of art. One of the original faculty members of Dordt College, Professor Nick Van Til, once offered this definition of understanding art when he said:
Susanne K. Langer, a philosopher with a special interest in aesthetics, defines art as “the creation of forms symbolic of feeling.”1 Calvin Seerveld, while maintaining the emphasis on symbol, modifies and expands the definition to read, “Art is the symbolic objectification of certain meaning aspects of a thing, according to the law of coherence.”2 I would further modify the definition by substituting the word “reality” for a “thing.” That would eliminate the possible impression that the symbolization has to be limited to a tangible or ponderable entity. Art is more a symbolization of mood, feeling, and idea, though “thing” in it broadest sense, as opposed to “nothing” might be appropriate.
In response, or reaction, to this definition I prefer the word “thing” because I believe it’s a word that alludes to both tangibility and feeling expressed in an artifact.

The art historian James Elkins suggests in his book, Why Art Cannot Be Taught: a handbook for art students (2001) that an area of common ground for both fine art students and design students is to study, together, the nature of objects and things.3

I think so too, but, how about you?

1. Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form, Charles Scribner, NY, 1953, p. 40.
2. Calvin Seerveld, A Christian Critique of Art, The Association for Reformed Scientific Studies, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, 1964, p. 39.
3. James Elkins, Why Art Cannot Be Taught…, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2001, p. 83.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

marian bantjes

THE PURSUIT OF DESIGN: MARIAN BANTJES Editor’s note: We thought you might find this video clip interesting, but, perhaps you have seen it. Anyway here it is.

A portrait of world-renowned designer, illustrator and typographer Marian Bantjes during her appearance at the recent Design Matters Live event presented by Adobe and the AIGA. Marian shares her love for the design community and the importance of staying connected, even while working from her idyllic rural home studio. She speaks about her transition from a more traditional design career path to a much more personally fulfilling mix of work. Marian has an obvious love for what she does, sharing some of the inspiration for her recent projects as diverse as hand-drawn valentines to the type treatment for the “Want It!” campaign at Saks Fifth Avenue. Marian’s insights in this portrait are important for anyone who cares passionately about design and respects the craft of the artist.

Credits: Producer: Rachel Talbot Associate Producer/Sound Engineer: Matthew Hendershot Editor: Lance Edmands Assistant Editor: Hei-Man Yu Camera: Michael Coleman Additional Camera: Michael Tucker, Rachel Talbot Design Matters Live poster: Marion Bantjes Animation: Colin Yu Music: Music Box Design Matters Theme: RJD2

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dordt Alumni in Design: Jamin Ver Velde

An example of Jamin Ver Velde's forté for Dordt College’s graphic identity and sports promotion.

We recently invited Jamin Ver Velde to be our monthly featured alumni and we appreciate that he took time to send this piece to us. In addition to being the graphic designer on staff at Dordt, Jamin has helped advise students working on Signet, which is Dordt's yearbook. In addition, in 2008, he along with Jamey Schiebout were symposium presenters at Dordt — in an event affiliated with an alumni graphic design exhibition — Editor.

After graduating from Dordt in 1999, I eventually followed Jamey Schiebout (see September alumni post in DC AIGA) in the newspaper business, unknowingly filling his exact position after he moved on. For me, also, it proved to a very appropriate place to get a good start in the graphic design world. Within the weekly routine there was enough variety, creativity, and standard to keep me hungry for more. I was given a lot of latitude in the creative process because of the nature of the industry. Working for the media necessitated the ability to work under non-flexible deadlines and, therefore, minimal approval process. More often than not, the time crunch proved to be more of a stimulus for creativity rather than a hurdle. I was fortunate to work for a rare breed of small town newspaper that valued creative design.

After two and half years in the newspaper industry, I moved into my current full time position at Dordt College working for the Advancement Office in the public relations and marketing sector. After being told that I needed to come on board as soon as possible, I caught up on the work within three days. This was certainly a new (and confusing) situation for me. I sought out more ways to use my interests for the benefit of the college. I saw a need for a much better photo archive and prompted the office to purchase a couple of cameras to enhance the graphic materials while also serving to document the college’s history. I made a very conscious effort to unify the brand identity of all the Dordt materials. I’ve always been a big believer that repetition breed’s familiarity which breed’s trust, so priority number one was to standardize the representation of the Dordt logo.

Within a year and a half at Dordt I had a full plate, so my focus turned from looking for more ways to help out to looking for which ways to help out. I concentrated more on adapting my position and skill-set to evolve as the needs evolved or thought it should evolve. I dabbled in web-related applications such as Flash and Dreamweaver, but realized my passion remained in logos, brand identity, and overall creative direction. My passion for this — inspired me to join forces with the webmaster at Dordt in a new part-time venture where we complemented each other extremely well. Moonlighting as Brand New Graphics, we started to take on side website jobs. I continued to also do print and logo design as well, but the demand for websites quickly took center stage for our business. Today, Brand New Graphics averages about three websites designed and developed every two months. Defining what our business is in one sentence I would say, “We are a creative branding agency built around website development for small to medium businesses.”

Here are two examples of websites designed by Brand New Graphics and indicate the range of clients they have served. Above is the “Timothy” website for Calvin Seminary and a website for the Ridge Golf Club, a public course.

As my career continues to evolve, I’ve been increasingly appreciative of a liberal arts education that recognizes the overlapping spheres of academia and knowledge. As a graphic designer and small (okay, very small) business co-owner I regularly draw upon business and marketing principles, psychological considerations, social situations, English and creative writing, public relations, and others. The older I get, the more I know I really don’t know. I truly cherish learning more every day, and still look forward to going to work every single day.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Desirable Ornamentation

Frank Lloyd Wright with two of his key associates: Wesley Peters and Eugene Masselink. A set-up shot, but, I enjoy how Wright is holding his pencil as a pointer. Photograph published in House Beautiful, November 1955 (page 242).

Recently, I found these pictures and text in vintage issues of House Beautiful magazine and thought about the balance between twentieth century modernist design, which advocates the elimination of superfluous decoration and how Frank Lloyd Wright considered ornament desirable. Perhaps we can gain insight through this pictorial case history. Featured designers in this piece are Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright and Mr. Eugene Masselink, who after Wright’s death, was affiliated with Taliesin Associated Architects.

Wright’s skill with ornament shows best when he had the chance to elaborate the minor and less significant details of a house into a rich brocade of design. [The rug shown above] is a fine example. Wright designed this rug for one of his houses, which was based on the house’s circular floor plan. As result the rug design motif emphasizes the circle and portions of circles—not only vertically and horizontally but also in the third dimension. So the rug simply makes the structural pattern visibly apparent in yet another way.

Notice how, even though design is complex, it still “lies flat.” There is no circle lying on top of another—as solids—which would make you feel you might trip or stumble. They intersect, but do not overlap. Notice how circles finally curl around concrete.

A utilitarian feature, a folding screen (designed and painted by Masselink), is lifted above mere satisfaction of a need by its pattern of color and gold leaf. Note how the design is agreeably related to the rectangular character of the structure and to the scale of the brickwork and to the rug beyond it…. Rug and screen are ornamental features, which strengthen the quality and character of the house.

The ever-changing play of light and color in this mural executed for a house planned by Charles Montooth, architect with Taliesin Associates, and is a constant source of delight. It derives from the forms and colors of bougainvillea and also from the circular floor plan of the house. Even the horizontal joints of the concrete blocks are controlling guides. Mr. Masselink has, with clear and colored glass and gold leaf, accomplished a work, which echoes the materials and the curved structure of the house. At the same time it is also in harmony with the natural forms of the foliage with which it is seen in relationship. The mural points up and compliments the happy merger between nature and architecture…. Notice how the mural extending through the glass wall and into the court.
Copy taken from House Beautiful, “Wright Considered Ornament Desirable”, October 1959 by Elizabeth Gordon (pages 246-249).

The quality of change in the mural (designed and painted by Masselink) results from the warm nature of its basic material; the background is cypress wood. To this have been applied areas of gold leaf, spattered gold, brushed and sprayed-on colors. The theme is based on the flora and fauna of the building's site in Florida.

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