Basel: reduction vs. complexity

July 21, 2009

Tags: designers

I just had the pleasure of sitting in on a lecture about identity design by Michael Renner, currently Head of the Visual Communication Institute at The Basel School of Design. His review of the creation of marks and systems was very well thought-out and inspiring, but of particular interest to me was the student work he showed at the end of his lecture-- work that explores the signs and symbols people choose to communicate their individuality--their identity. This work is quite unlike anything I had ever seen come out of Basel. The idea of exploring the meanings expressed in complexity is certainly not an idea I naturally associate with Swiss design education, the long-time champion of boiled-down-to-the-essence, ever-simplified reduction. Neither the individual nor the individuality of subjects and objects was high on the list of values in former Basel eras. This exploration of identity and complexity in the layering of meaning represents a sea-change in the way design education is being examined and redefined at Basel. I tip my hat to Michael Renner for balancing reduction and complexity in the current equation.

The track widens and thoughts on Facebook

June 4, 2009

Tags: designers, design criticism, Facebook

So Sources Close to the Hill tell me he is indeed gone from Microsoft and these same sources have provided blogspot info and facebook page addresses, which I had been hoping to avoid. The blogspot thing has no way to contact him, and gives the impression that the man is currently wandering around Russia wearing a kilt. It surprises me that his blog is reverse-reading type, which I thought the Starch Readership Reports reported was hard for people to read way back in something like 1962. Ironic.

But the Facebook page. Now see, that is a problem. Because there is something about Facebook that just makes my skin crawl and I hate to have to join it just to track down Bill Hill. I dislike LinkedIn too, which I got snagged into years ago, but haven't had the time to figure out how to make my darn page there just go away.

Facebook is one of those things I could easily take a stand against and then end up using out of sheer peer pressure, so I am watching my words here. I see its appeal for people in college. For people older than thirty, it just seems sad to me.

Perhaps I've been involved in computer security discussions too many times for my own good, but if a total stranger came up to you on a city street corner and asked you your birthdate and the names of closest friends and what you were currently reading and what you were currently listening to, wouldn't you be slightly repressed about answering? And yet we can't wait to put all that stuff on Facebook, where it becomes part of a huge database owned by a corporation with no moral agenda.

My real problem with Facebook is that, unliked Linked-In, which is basically a resume service and has no pretence to warmth, Facebook gives us the illusion that we have real, working relationships. It allows us to "keep up" with people without actually doing the hard work of interacting with them. With Facebook, we can avoid the back and forth of real conversation--posts are not conversation-- and thereby reduce the friction with which real communication burnishes friendship after the age of fifteen or so.

Facebook also reduces "friends" to a numbers game. Real friends? if you're lucky, you'll have three in your lifetime. To devalue the concept of friendship, to commodify it-- that's a depressing outcome of social networking. When all friends are equally important, none is important.

Facebook is attractive because it is a large, clean grid into which we can enter, a grid that makes life less complex, provides a sense of boundary, of safety, of organization, of comfort. With the population so much larger than it was even ten years ago, an organizing system for people is useful. And so much more fun than having a small number tattooed on one's forearm.

I've signed up and look! I have so many friends. I must be of value. I can sit here and create and promote a better me. I can clean up my existence and create a false-fronted representation of my life. Hey. Let's all contribute and create a huge network of false-fronted lives, lives that make us all feel of value, of importance, to ourselves if to no one else.

I can play Facebook all day long, and avoid the real work of my life, the work of becoming "single, separate, vertical and individual," as Wallace Stegner once said.
I can always avoid the work of my life in other ways, but this particular procrastination device is more attractive than my previous procrastination devices-- it's designed to change and refresh and update constantly before my eyes. It keeps me busy and happy in my chair. Facebook keeps me busy like a baby with a mobile over the crib.

Really, why spend too much time in real life where things get hard, where people make so little sense, where sadness erupts, where life can be messy and confusing? Why not just sit here and write little things and look at the pictures of all my friends and post to people from my past whom I never bothered to contact before contacting them became as easy as typing in a search? But we're in touch now, and isn't that nice? Something of a relief, feeling like we're in touch again.

Maybe I'll just sit here, honing the constructed image of my life until there's no time left for me to create a real one. It will be easier on the world. Fewer people thinking thoughts. Fewer people questioning. Fewer people rocking the boat.

But what am I saying. I'll probably end up joining.

All Points Bulletin for Bill Hill

June 3, 2009

Tags: designers

So I am supposed to interview Bill Hill, Microsoft's readibility guru. He's a charming, brilliant guy and all that. All kinds of big deal inventions for readability on the Web. The interview is for Communication Arts, not a cheesy publication.

I've been tracking him for a month. This is funny, because he loves tracking. Big on following animal tracks behind his house. Thinks tracking is related to reading.

Wouldn't you love to know more about this mind? Yet I cannot interview a man whose office phone is disconnected, though he is very much at Microsoft, who does not respond to email, and who is probably off following cougar spoor somewhere in the mountains behind Redmond. I know guruhood is hell, but really, Bill.

It is a sad day when, after many tries at different communicatory strategies, the Microsoft receptionist says,
"You might try writing him a letter."
I said, "A letter on paper?"
And she said, "Yes. A letter. We'll try to get it to him."

Total breakdown of current web and telephonic communication viability as far as I am concerned. So much for readibility.
Bill, I know it's leafy and sunlit and everything in those mountains, but don't make me come in there.
You know I will chase you down till you drop. I do not want to have to bring you out of the bush tied to a rail borne by bearers. It's so inconvenient, and looks odd on the expense reports.

Debbie Millman: goddess

February 21, 2009

Tags: designers

In my years of doing radio interviews-- and the machine of book publishing requires that a writer do a ton--I have never in my life met a host as gracious, well-prepared, incisive and just downright bright as Debbie Millman.

Mostly, when you go on someone's show, they've just gotten a brief bullet-point memo from a staff member about the three things that will make you interesting to people driving home from work. They ask you questions that are just off the mark, and you find yourself treating the host like a small child, explaining things, and making dumb questions seem interesting. This is not the case with Debbie Millman.

After her opening, during which she read from my book-- what writer could withstand that kind of blandishment?-- she dove in with a question about mathematics and whether we humans had invented or discovered it. Well, that strained the old grey cells. All I remember after that is fielding acute question after acute question. It was a heck of an experience, talking to someone I had never met before who had really read my work. Even the man who called in was clear, intelligent and thoughtful. It was Radio Nirvana.

I had listened to her show before, when people I knew were on. But now I'm a convert. Every Friday 12-1 PST , 3 EST, you know where I'll be.

The Graphis Poster Annual coming out

February 4, 2009

Tags: graphic design, designers

Good to see that work by Joseph Coates will be published in the 2010 Graphis Poster Annual. I'll put the link up on my "her books+" page when it's available, so you can pre-order.

- ISBN: 1932026479
- ISBN-13: 9781932026474
- Format: Hardcover
- Publisher: Graphis, Inc.
- Pub. Date: January 2009

Satisfying the Gerrit Noordzij

January 22, 2009

Tags: graphic design, design criticism, designers

Abi and I decided that we'd use a quote about Tobias from my book,
Chasing the Perfect. Proving that some designers are born, not made:

"When Tobias was nine years old, his family flew to England to spend
some time with his grandmother in Kent. In the morning, his mother came
downstairs to find the small Tobias sitting at the kitchen table, staring
at a tin of biscuits. The rest of the children were outside yelling and
climbing trees, and there sat Tobias, staring at a tin. (more…)

All this and the Gerrit Noordzij

January 13, 2009

Tags: graphic design, designers, island life

So the dishwasher broke in the morning and that meant the whole time I was working I knew I would come home to the pile-up. I spent much of the day in a long meeting, convincing a client that, in order to create a marketing plan, it might good to first create a brand story--you know-- something to market. After that my red blood cell count was down to nil. (more…)

Drunk Love Two-tone

January 10, 2009

Tags: designed buyables, designers, island life

Here on our island in the Puget Sound, winter skies stay pearl-grey from October to May. In order to fight "Rock fever," we work in bright light, and at home we knit, we sew, we quilt, we cook, we stare into light boxes and remember those good days in Antigua. To combat the grey-scale world, I often walk down to Esther's and poke around. Esther's is our small-- yet fabulous--fabric store, nothing like the big mall ones. It has real people working, and they're all smart and funny and have lived real lives. The current owner is part punk and part Holly Hobby. She went to FIT and then worked as a clothing designer in NY, but came back to the island after the Trade Center blew up. Now she owns the store.
Anyway I went down yesterday and ran smack into Denyse Schmidt's book, Denyse Schmidt Quilts, which shows you how to make thirty brightly-colored quilt and patchwork projects like the "Eye Will Revive" eye pillow and my favorite quilt, the "Drunk Love Two-tone," which reminds me of my misspent youth. (more…)

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