For the purpose of justifying this thought, the following post is largely referred to with Régis Debray’s Vie et mort de l’image (Life and death of Image, 1995) in mind.
Images have always had an intrinsic, underlying and unconscious input on the way people perceive them. Thereby, an invisible presence is established apart from the human perception process which attributes a deliberate meaning to images in the outer world (Carolyn M. Bloomer, Principles of visual perception). Consequently, every image does not only embody an evident message but also an effect on people which varies along the human history and the representational techniques.
Since the prehistoric naturalism, the effect of this invisible presence has been decreasing gradually. Its power decline is inversely proportional to its use. In other words, the excessive use has deteriorated dramatically the image power by system forms such as theocracy, monocracy, mediacracy and technocracy. It can be argued that the cause of this decline is the human progress but it contrarily shows that images have saturated the human eye. Evidence for this is provided by Art.
During the Palaeolithic Age, primitive hunters struggled to earn an appropriate livelihood as they inhabited in an unproductive and parasitic community where an economic system and a religious belief did not exist. As a consequence, they drew themselves hunting and chasing their preys because food was their main objective day to day. Nevertheless, most of the drawings were depicted and superimposed on unseen walls in the caves repeatedly. In that case, the primitive hunters did not have any artistic or pleasant purposes, in fact, they used images as a magical technique to achieve their aim. Hence, images took part in the process of hunting as one more stage instead as a representation. To put it simpler, this technique was a real trap because the portrayed prey was the dead animal itself. In conclusion, they truly believed in alive images rather than a representation of the outer world. (Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, Vol. 1).
During 1861, William Morris, Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, Charles Faulkner, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, P. P. Marshall, and Philip Webb funded an enterprise called Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. These craftsmen aimed to design aesthetically quality objects and get closely involved in the process of making things and manufacturing, in the similar way to Henry Cole by reacting against the vulgar and incongruous design of that time. One of their most remarkable principles was written and advised by John Ruskin:
“You must remember always that your business as manufacturers is to form the market, as much as to supply it. If, in short-sightedness and reckless eagerness for wealth, you catch at every humour of the populace… you may, by accident snatch the market; or, by energy, command it… But whatever happens to you… the whole of your life will have been spent corrupting public taste and encouraging public extravagance”
John Ruskin’s philosophy inspired designers to reject the ruthless industrial and economic system and embrace art and work in a social service in the community. Thus, aestheticism enhances life standards in society.
Charles Harvey and Jon Press wrote in their book called “William Morris: design and enterprise in Victorian Britain” that William Morris and his partners acted conscientiously under this premise. As a result, they set an example of a successful, substantial and enduring medium-level enterprise which highly values the significant individual as a customer and the ethical nature of demand.
On the other hand, the previous post showed how Embodied Interaction (EI) looks back at the body through the use of technology and it attempts to re-link the creative intelligence to the bodily execution. Hence, technologies like Tangible Computing (TC) are rapidly getting an increasing prominence in our society currently because the world is moving with the physical rather than virtual technological trends. For instance, interactive media such as Arduino, OpenFrameworks, Processing, Kinect and MaxMSP work with sensors and actuators in order to perceive the outer world (humans and environments). Likewise, humans interact with the designed media through their senses so as to understand the message directly not indirectly.
Russell M. Davies has recently presented a conference (Four Thought, RSA London) about what the next technological revolution will be after the Internet and social media. He emphasises the process of making things through TC. For example, Arduino encourages empirical methods of learning by doing and it allows its users to become makers instead of viewers. Thus, makers are able to deconstruct, rebuild, repair and dismantle things with their hands to understand how electronic objects work. Davies cites a Clay Shinky’s quote in order to explain the GeoCities popularity among common people in the Nineties:
“Creating something personal, even of moderate quality, has a different kind of appeal than consuming something made by others, even of high quality”
This implies two indications. Firstly, EI and TC focus on inventors, makers, craftsmen or designers because it empowers their creative methods and capitalises their bodily expressions. As a consequence, designers have acquired a new powerful tool with which to communicate and design. Similarly, they have regained the capacity to form the market responsibly as Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co endeavoured to do in the past. Lastly, technology is becoming incredibly accessible, widely diverse, thoughtlessly disposable and utterly cheap. We can see this when we count the large number of programming languages in every platform that have emerged in the last couple of years and the low cost of a small computers on a single chip such as Arduino. It can be argued that the TC is technically not powerful enough for certain projects but it is refining itself progressively.
Thereby, makers and designers have finally recovered the perfect conditions to design thoughtfully meaningful communication which can change behaviours and solve social problems effectively. In this way, design could enhance the life standards in our society. A good illustration for this is an initiative of Volkswagen called The Fun Theory. This consists of solving everyday problems by changing people’s behaviour through fun. For instance, it encourages people to take stairs instead the escalator by transforming the stairs into a piano key board or it motivates people to throw rubbish in the bin by simulating a deep hole sound. Most of these initiatives are implemented through EI and TC. Consequently, problems are solved more effectively and they remain in the people’s mind for longer.
However, savage consumerism can unconsciously or consciously take these technologies and use them riskily for consumerist and selling purposes; particularly in advertising. Thus, the social and economical designer responsibility, the significant individual as a customers and the ethical nature of demand could be excluded from the economic system once more. In fact, designers could end up working for this consumerist purposes and customers could be bombarded by sensory adverts uncontrollably.
Jesse Schell indicates this implication at DICE 2010. Schell emphasises the consequences of permitting consumerism to design sensory adverts if designers do not assume a truthful and ethical responsibility to conceive thoughtful games or economic and social dynamics. He says that sensors and actuators are going to be everywhere detecting so many things. For example, a tiny CPU could be inserted in all kinds of products and packages. Subsequently, the CPU can be connected to the Internet, light sensors, tilt switches, PIR sensors, piezo elements or ultrasonic range finders. As a result, every human interaction with products could send outputs to their companies in order to promote their interests.
Surprising and significant results could arise from the use of EI and TC in education and civility whereas the only expected result arisen from the use of EI and TC in the consumerism is more consumerism.
“Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.” Chinese proverbs
Three hundred years ago, technology created a deeply entrenched division between artists and artisans* in order to systematise the industrial production massively. Nowadays, technology draws artists and artisans back in order to portray their ideas effectively, have more control of their creative processes and achieve meaningful results. Graphic designers take part in this change. As a result, not only do they have to think visually, they also have to think through all their senses.
Tim Ingold asserts that artists and artisans were seen as equal by the people in the seventeenth century and their working methods were considered “technical”. Subsequently, the industry treated these working methods systematically so as to increase the production during the Industrial Revolution. This treatment was called: “Technology” and it came from the Greek word “tekhnē” which means human skill or craftsmanship. Under these circumstances, artists were tasked to think conceptually and artisans were tasked to perform routine technical operations. In other words, creative intelligence and bodily techniques were separated into different fields. In the same way, it allowed the industry to replace the bodily procedures for the mechanical performance because the machines could execute faster operations and more effectively. As a consequence, the artisans were bound by the mechanical implementation with regard to the objective and impersonal system of productive forces (Tim Ingold, Lines: A brief history).
Conversely, an interaction looks back at the body through the use of technology and it attempts to re-link the creative intelligence to the bodily execution these days. To be more precise, this interaction takes the body as the main medium to perceive and interact with the creative, artistic and physical work instead, serving the objective and impersonal system of productive forces. The interaction is called “Embodied Interaction” (EI). A good example to explain it is tangible and social computing.
In his book “Where the action is: The foundation of Embodied Interaction” Paul Dourish has affirmed that tangible computing attempts to achieve a more meaningful and richer interaction between users, medium (device) and the daily experience of the physical work. It covers different approaches. Firstly, it aims to reconfigure the media themselves to the environment in which they work, particularly in responding to certain stimulus such as location, proximity and position. Secondly, it augments their interaction with their everyday world by reacting to any external change, mainly by the user manipulation. Thirdly, it manages the interaction between the user and the medium differently from the traditional graphical interfaces, especially in interacting directly through physical actions and artifacts. On the other hand, social computing attempts to establish dialogues between users and computers by the similar or dissimilar way that human beings interact with each other. It collaborates with creating social action models and organising communal activities.
Paul Dourish has signalled that tangible and social computing come from the same sphere of investigation, after studying the characteristics of both. Thus, Dourish has ascertained that tangible and social computing gain advantages from our familiarity with the everyday world. Essentially, this means that we need to use our body every day to interact with our environment powerfully. Without our body we can do almost nothing. Similarly, we socialise with people and experience our world with and through others.
Dourish established that tangible and social computing are derived from the same idea. To describe this, he coined the word “embodiment”. Embodiment gives us the capability to meet our world directly rather than abstractly because we and our actions are embodied to the everyday world at the same time. Dourish defines embodiment in this sentence; “embodied phenomena are those that by their very nature occur in real time and real space”.
EI does not only make artists and artisans work together but also make their creative intelligence and physical techniques return to their original states where tools serve mind and body. In fact, EI is the evidence that the boundaries among all the art and design disciplines are fading out. A good illustration of this is how physicality moves into digital technologies (DT) to facilitate the creative work. This can be looked at different projects like Evan Roth’s Graffiti Analysis, Racer and Ballet Font Project.
These projects have led graphic designers to push their visual boundaries so as to empower their other senses and include them in their creative process. Therefore, the starting point can arise visually and be resulted in audible, haptic, olfactory, movable, spatial means or the other way around. For instance, Graffiti analysis makes the unseen gestures become seen ones. The drawn lines sometimes intersect each other on the two-dimensional medium so it creates a visual effect called “addition” whereas the sculpture on the three-dimensional medium is different because the lines do not intersect with one other. As a result, there are not super-positioned visual effects. The line, which was super-positioned before, has different points of view. By this, designers have a powerful capability and using peripheral vision they are able to take more information and capture the structure of information in a real space.
Likewise, DT permits the graffiti to move from one dimension to another. This demands a good understanding of the space by designers because they have to grasp the advantages or disadvantages of this kind of movement. For example, this project comes from a physical action, moves into the digital tools, and it then comes back to the physical world. Moreover, it is perceived by the sight sense at the beginning and it can be also perceived by the touch sense at the end.
*What this statement means by artisans is the skilled people who are involved in solving a certain problem and get a specific result, such as industrial, interactive, game, interior, fashion and graphic designers.
Graphic design (GD) should not allow technology to change its practice but it does. Consequently, Graphic designers must assume an open-minded posture towards technology without losing their main strength: their artistic expression.
The artistic expression consists of a relationship between the human mind, a physical action and the materiality. A good example with which to illustrate this is working with a graphite pencil on a paper as a representation of artistic expression, compared to working with a digital pen tablet on a computer as a representation of a technology. In the case of the graphite pencil, this has been designed to be held comfortably and fit naturally in the designer’s hand. Evidently, the designer uses the graphite pencil directly and freely wherever they want. The pencil uses lead made of a finely ground graphite and clay for smooth and consistent drawing. It allows the designer to produce pictures or sketches by making lines and marks on any flat surface and the paper has varied types, thickness and weight of material which allow the graphite to spread in different ways. Designers can feel the sensation of scratch, friction, roll and they can even hear the sound when the pen deposits the graphite on the paper.
However, there is something even more special in this interaction; the lines and marks portray an expressive and potential gesture, it may be passive, timeless, proud, strong, dynamic, changing, unwelcoming, severe, warm, gentle, rational, conservative, savage, deadly, weak and unstable. One of the reasons for this is the freehand movement and the ability to depict the mark that the designer has in mind and wants to express. If the line reflects the designer’s thoughts, it may communicate the message but above all it can be unique and authentic.
In contrast, the representation of the pen tablet on the computer is a simulation of the physical action; it uses the pen and paper metaphor to behave like the familiarity of the everyday world (Moggridge, Bill. 2006. Designing Interactions.). While it can be said that it has digital advantages such as using different types of pens in only one tool or editing and undoing unwanted drawings, it does not have the same intensity and forcefulness of expression as the graphite pencil. It can be argued that technological devices are becoming more successful in reaching the intended simulation but if the artistic expression is initialised by a software procedure rather than a physical gesture, it is very difficult to replace the latter. Nevertheless, the use of some digitalised process to facilitate the modification of these physical gestures is very common, particularly when the designers want to achieve certain goal. For instance, Wacom Inkling might be a great help to capture, modify and store the designers’ sketches.
Imre Reiner's work
On the other hand, technology has progressively had an important role in the history of communication. Therefore, GD has been changed irrevocably by technology. A good illustration of this is the digital revolution. During the 1980s, computers started being utilised by graphic designers and the use of digital-computer hardware and software completely changed the GD work flow. In terms of printing, this dramatic change optimised time, made the process easier and saved money. For instance, the industrial revolution split the process into specialised steps and roles; page layout creation by graphic designers, typesetting equipment operation by typesetters, elements location into boards by production artists, photographic negatives by camera operators, negative assemblage by strippers, printing plates preparation by plate-makers, and printing press operation by press operators. In contrast, the digital revolution allowed a single person to perform all these operations (Philip B. Meggs 1998).
Therefore, designers have not only experienced unexpected changes through technological improvements, but they have also had to adapt their skills and work processes very quickly. While this is very useful for the technical process, it is also complex. For instance, the digital revolution added more complexity to the medium, forcing designers to learn subjects with which they were not used to working. Even though they adapted to change very quickly, they had less control of the media and their field itself because of the interdisciplinary work, the way the audience divided into micro-audiences and the market itself acted globally and quickly (Wild, Lorraine. 1998. The Macrame of Resistance. Emigre Magazine Issue #47).
As a result, the design field became easy, fast, and cheap to produce. Furthermore, some people wrongly believed in themselves as designers because of the fact that they mastered a design software platform. The famous graphic designer Milton Glaser wrote in an article called “The war is over” for AIGA journal and in it he concluded that technology was one of the main culprits in making designs easier to produce so that it was easier to put fees under pressure and take authorship for granted.
For this reason, it is necessary to rethink the relationship between GD and technology rather than continuing to thoughtlessly work for the market. While there is nothing wrong with serving the market, it should not be served blindly without any awareness of where the field is going. Lorraine Wild (1998) claimed that the field cannot keep living on the concept of visual novelty; it is high time to go into meaningful communication in depth and nurture authentic individual voices. Hence, she points out that GD should look back to Craft in order to retrieve its most prominent strength. Working through Craft allows designers to express their own voices rather than the voice that the industry secretly addresses.
Imre Reiner's work
A good illustration of this is the Imre Reiner’s work. Lorraine Wild describes his work as follows:
“In the end, the aspect of Reiner’s work that is impossible to mimic is his hand; his calligraphic work, pursued for its own sake, as well as the gestural form underlying his letterforms and font design, demonstrates a profound level of craft, a considerable depth of knowledge and artistic instinct.”
In conclusion, there is an alternative option that allows GD to capitalise on technology to empower its characteristics because it uses technology as a medium not as a message (Marshall McLuhan).