Saturday, January 9, 2010

delightful harmony

For many years, designer Rick Valicenti has observed that graphic design has become commoditized. Valicenti is referring to industry’s perceptions that the main purpose or value of graphic design is to help sell products and that raw materials should be bought and sold at the lowest price possible. The term commodity in this context, obviously, has negative connotations among designers who resist seeing the importance of their work and art devalued or reduced to mundane commercial products.

In contrast, as a Christian graphic designer, I posit the Reformed view—which we think of art and design as an act of transformation and God-glorifying stewardship. This means, among other things, that we begin to view the word commodity differently. The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines commodity as “something (product or service) that people need and value and find useful” and, I would add, ecologically sustainable. Christian graphic design students, just like many other design school graduates, will very likely continue designing marketing materials used to sell products or services.

As they do so, Christian students, more than ever, need the ability to analyze how commodities (products or services) influence and shape graphic design—they need to develop a Christian perspective that sees how design and commodities can honor the compassionate rule of Jesus Christ. One way, to re-think commodity, according to architect Charlie Lazor of Blu Dot, is to value commodity as art and design that creates real human emotional responses such as delight and hospitality. Delight in this perspective could be thought of as delightful “harmony” and a normative design principle. In addition, other normative principles for graphic design include responsible technology and service, openness and communication, stewardship, justice, mutual caring, respect, community spirit, and trust. These principles should be our design brief, criterion, and incentives as Christian graphic designers.

What is the meaning of “harmony”?

“Harmony” is that spark found in a work of art or design, which makes it lively. In this case, harmony is not used in the technical sense, as in music. According to art historian, H.R. Rookmaaker, Dr. Herman Dooyeweerd said that harmony was at the heart of the aesthetic modality. In other words, “‘harmony’ is the very specific idea of the sense of beauty, ‘regulated’ by the aesthetic modality”. Rookmaaker further explains, “Every work of art can be analyzed, but, after everything has been said and seen, there is still left something that defies definition and it’s precisely that that makes it a work of art. It’s that “it” which seems to defy analysis… that “it” is what you may call the harmony”.

Blu Dot Real Good Experiment from Real Good Chair on Vimeo.

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