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Posted on / Apr 1, 2013
Why I (a non-designer) am attending this event. A guest post by Anne Dudley
I help people plan events almost every day. I plan them in groups, I plan them myself, I promote them and sometimes, I even attend them. I’ve learned that if an event is planned well enough, the planner often doesn’t even need to be present. And there are so many events to choose from, skipping out can seem preferable.
But this event is different.
I am attending Design for Good: Empowering a Better Future from Africa to Cleveland because I want to learn about creative problem solving. I want to see how a few people impacted many.
This year, I’ve learned that at the root of great design is an understanding of a problem very well. But it’s not only the problem; it’s everything around the problem, too. It’s the stakeholders, the influencers, the culture, the relevance and maybe even the humor.
A small group of students were given a problem existing across an ocean, in a different language, under a different government and healthcare system. They weren’t given a creative brief, any money or even a Swahili for Dummies book.
And they still made an impact.
People believe things they want to believe, and seek information to support their existing beliefs. If you already know that design can solve a world of problems, you might think you don’t really need to attend this event. I disagree. Attend this event to get out of your own box. Attend it to support the project’s cause itself, Malaria prevention. Attend it to connect or reconnect.
VCD and AIGA Cleveland invite all interested do-gooders, designers and thoughtful professionals to the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative on April 18 at 6:30 for happy hour and three Design for Good presentations from VCD graduate students and Justin Ahrens, of Rule29, who will discuss his work with Life in Abundance. For more information click here.
Posted on / Apr 1, 2013
Being a procurer of history, I can sum the love of my job up in a word: books. Both my design professional and teaching jobs require that I have resources and reference materials, and as such that means keeping a plentiful library. I love this. Books, books, books of all sorts, and not just on the subject of design. I collect books about anything — ANYTHING — that I can legitimately say fosters an idea. You can guess that the stuff on my shelves is all over the place. Books on decoration, books on transportation, books on photography, books on typography, children’s books, cookbooks, books on history, books on trigonometry. Seriously, it’s a great boon, and it’s tax deductible too.*
And because my real life design job lets me design books as well as use them for research, I get access to tomes I might not usually consider a resource for the teaching (and now learning) aspects of my life. For example, I recently finished up the design and production on a book about the Civil War. This was written as a collection of essays from contemporary historians discussing aspects not typically covered by your standard history books. Within there were references to the photos taken by Mathew Brady of various battlefield scenes (some of which were actually staged photos), an early doctoring of Abe Lincoln’s photo portrait (the width of his neck was altered so he wouldn’t look so scrawny), and the mapmaking skills of Louis Prang (who I’d only known before for his founding of the greeting cards industry in America). Can I use this information in my thesis work and teaching? You bet I can!
Sometimes I get to dig around in the past on behalf of a client. I am beginning work now on a book that will cover World War II. The publisher wants the book to have a retro, newspaper-y feel to it, borrowing from the period. I have been allowed to dig through resources to find fonts that were popular at the time. (In case you want to know, some of the top picks were News Gothic, Lydian, Bernhard Gothic, Didone, Bank Script, Bodoni Ultra, Lightline Gothic, Metro, Stymie, Beton, and Electra.)
I also was able to find two marvelous books that reference period fonts. One is called Types Best Remembered/Types Best Forgotten put out by Parsimony Press. It is a collection of fonts that various designers have endorsed or eschewed, with their reasoning beside each given alphabet. The other book is an older one, copyrighted in 1951 and edited by Paul A. Bennett; it is entitled Books and Printing: A Treasury for Typophiles. This one is a real treasure, a series of essays on principles of typography and printing as it existed at that time. It includes several discourses written by W.A. Dwiggins, Eric Gill, and Frederic Goudy to name just a few. What fun! At least for me it is.
And then on top of that, I get to design stuff… and people pay me for it! My life is truly blessed. I love my job!
*legal disclaimer: to the furthest extent allowable by law
Posted on / Jan 27, 2013
I took a recent trip to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, a beautiful new facility that is luscious and appropriately melty-looking, something of which I’m sure old Salvador would approve. What struck me about this trip — beyond the incredible scale of his larger works — was the bit of history I picked up. I always knew Salvador Dali was an egocentric character; what I didn’t know was the level of disdain he created among artists of the Surrealist movement. It seems Mr. Dali was a shameless self-promoter, something that was frowned upon by the group’s founders. Feeling that their goals always should be about man’s betterment, his goodness, and ultimately equality for all, they saw Dali as too busy with his own self-promotion to remember the political views of the movement (the Surrealists were rigorous in their communist ideals). They concluded that they would be better off without him and actually asked Dali to resign from their membership (which he did).
But Dali did not learn from this. He continued in his zealous demonstration of self. Ultimately his over-promotion nearly caused his professional demise. There was a point in his career when he literally signed his name on papers with no images on them, papers that were later sold to cheap reproducers who imprinted process lithographic copies of his early works on those signed pages. These were sold to oblivious patrons as “signed and numbered” Dali prints. Technically this was true – they were prints, and they were signed and numbered by Dali, but clearly they were not artistically sincere. When this was revealed, honest collectors refused to buy or show his work. Dali fell into financial despair as no funds were available to support his lavish lifestyle.
All of this led me to think about artists and designers who have let their success get in the way of their careers and about the larger picture we paint of our own legacies. I think all of us want to get a certain amount of attention for our successes. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t participate in competitions showcasing our best work. There is payoff in this as new styles emerge from these communal show-and-tells. But we have to be careful not to get enamored with the hype. Flash-in-the-pan celebrity designers can emerge in this too, and that is when we need to be wary.
Do I dare name names? I think you can figure it out …think of designers who have gained fame for creating a style that is unique, never before seen, but whose stories, even now, are told in the past tense. When we try to point to anything recent from these people we find nothing. I can easily think of some who have taken advantage of their “fame,” doing speaking circuits and taking in bucks for workshops while delivering disappointment… I even know one who gained a reputation for sleeping with his “groupies.” These folks make the same mistake Dali did, believing their own hype. For many it seems that once they make their great mark they have nothing left. Sadly, they fall back into obscurity, bankrupting their name and leaving a shameful blot on the industry.
But there are those who are innovative and fresh and constantly reinventing themselves too. To them I think fame is humbling and they would rather strive for the zen of their work. I could name names here too, but again, if you think of the folks whose names come up year after year in the steady stream of honored designs, you will know who I mean. These designers embrace or have embraced change, not shying away from new fashions and trends. They are unafraid, and further, when they see people start to adopt their approach they opt to change themselves rather than become complacent to the co-opting. They do not rest on their laurels.
In the end, Dali grew from his mistakes. His later works, combination pieces that incorporated mathematics, religion and surrealism, are perhaps his best. These came when he dropped the ego and returned to painting for the reasons that we all do when we follow our bliss… for the love of it. That’s the lesson here. We need to remember to stay true to the work, not the glory. In that we will find satisfaction. And yes, we should enter competitions and showcase our work, but it should be so we can give a new perspective on problem solving, not to gain fame. Most of us will remain obscure in our fields. We need to be okay with that.