Monday, July 21, 2014

One Design Week 2014: Forum Highlights

Fashion fact of the day: the dress code for this year's One Design Forum was graphic pants and scarves. From years of observation it seems to me that designers and various creative people love scarves, so every year you can see a wide variety of them at the Forum. I think that next year I might do a Fashion @ Design week blog post where I would photograph every person wearing a scarf. It will be like my own little scarf directory.

But let's talk more about the lecturers at the event, not only about the accessories of the audience. I can’t deny that the Forum is my favorite part of Design Week, and every year I look forward to that one or two days of creative ideas. This year, just like some of the previous years, I will write about some of the highlights that I enjoyed and found interesting.

I have always loved tinkering with fonts, for example. Back in high school, I always ended up using some new free font I had found online for my presentations and assignments. I think I was a bit of a design geek back then (and probably still am), and I used every opportunity I got to have fun with fonts. Perhaps this is why I really enjoyed the lecture by TypeTogether, a type foundry by Jose Scaglione from Argentina and Veronika Burian from Prague.

The studio is focused on creating fonts for longer texts, to be used in newspapers, books and magazines, for example, as well as creating fonts that can look good no matter what the quality of the paper or printing is. Some of their well-known fonts are Bree, Adelle, Abril, and Tablet Gothic. For me it was very useful to hear about the challenges that designers face when creating fonts to be printed on bad paper (like newspapers), so that the letters remain legible and with character. It is amazing what a difference of a part of a millimeter in a letter can make when we are talking about fonts and their readability; font creators work on a small scale to create a big impact in terms of how a text is perceived. I have played around with the idea of creating my own font, but I don’t feel competent enough to do it yet. However, this lecture was a step forward. It also pleased the geek in me immensely :)

Another lecture that I found engaging was that by Sven Ehmann from the publishing house Gestalten.  The publisher concentrates on books about cutting-edge visual culture, and as such, its creative director works to set the overall direction of the company’s work, as well as to come up with new topics for books and to decide what projects would go into those books to make them interesting and exciting for the reader. One of Gestalten’s latest books is The Outsiders, which deals with the “refreshing and evolving ethos of today’s smartly successful outdoor and lifestyle entrepreneurs and features interviews with key players from across the outdoor sector.”

The book features a wide variety of points of view on the subject of doing something outside; it is a collection of cool products, interesting outdoor living and apparel companies, new trends in outdoor sports and experiences, beautiful photos and illustrations, acting as an inspiration to those interested in the lifestyle. Head over to Gestalten’s website to browse through their book collection.

I was also fascinated by the lecture on information design by Catalogtree, a Dutch design studio that specializes in infographics. Information design is such a specific branch of design, and it requires a particular way of thinking, as well as a talent to distill complex trends and data sets into clear and exciting visual images. Not everyone can do that and have such talents, but it seemed to me that the Catalogtree team was quite good at it. I enjoyed hearing about their part in visualizing data for a documentary about trading called "Money & Speed: Inside the Black Box." Also, I liked the Unspeak project that they worked on, which explores how language can manipulate our understanding of events, based on a book by Steven Poole. You can see the project at the following link:

Several interesting ideas were presented by design duo Studio Swine, who like to travel, but also to recycle, which ultimately leads to culture-specific ecological projects that have the potential to help anyone create design objects out of trash or waste. An issue that they tried to tackle, for example, was plastic waste in the sea that is bad for the fauna and for the fishermen. They devised a little portable furnace and molds that help fishermen made little stools out of the plastic that they catch in their nets. You can see the video below:

Sea Chair from Studio Swine on Vimeo.

Head over to their website for more projects like this one.

Theodore Ushev showed some great posters from his portfolio, but I really didn’t like how bitter he sounded about everything. Oh, poor graphic designers, selling their work to clients with no taste like hookers sell their bodies, how awful (pretty much what his opinion was). I mean, enough already. It’s a business like any other, and most graphic designers are pretty far from being the misunderstood geniuses that they think they are. It’s a bit of a cliché, the idea of the designer who is so amazing, but who is forced by evil clients to produce ugly projects. Sure, I know from my own experience that you have to make some compromises when working commercially in order to please the client, but I think that if you are such an amazing designer, you will find a way to produce something great even when the client wants something that you don’t agree with. Then again, Mr. Ushev will probably say I am young and naïve :) Although, don’t constraints usually make people look at things in a fresh and new way?

Anyway, Theodore Ushev is now best known for his animated shorts, and you can see some of them here

Finally, despite my initial misgivings, I did enjoy Jessica Walsh’s lecture on advertising design and her personal projects. The Forum booklet description of her started with the fact that she is young and beautiful, so you should excuse my reluctance to take her seriously at first. However, she was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed her presentation, which had to do with work and play, and how these two concepts should go hand in hand when you are a designer and/or you work in advertising (and in at least a couple of other spheres as well, probably). She is quite the gutsy young woman, not afraid to put herself out there (naked or not) and do some crazy stuff or turn her relationship attempt into a web/design/blog project (see 40 Days of Dating). By the way, her 40 Days of Dating project will be made into a movie, which lead me and some designers I was with at the Forum with to have a discussion about how it is very important to be at the right place at the right time. If someone makes a project like that one in Bulgaria, people might notice and talk about it, and some TV shows might invite you to speak, but it will probably end there. If you do the same in the US, however, you get on the Today show and then Hollywood comes knocking, buying the rights to your life story for millions of dollars. Location, location, location!

Anyway, I liked some of the work projects that Jessica showed us, such as logo design for a shop called "Story", which changes its theme and decor every six weeks, the Levi’s "We are all workers" billboard, and their overall work on the Aishti and Aizone brands.

We Are All Workers - Levi's Gears Billboard from Satellite Office on Vimeo.

Aizone, Spring Summer 13, Behind the scenes from Sagmeister & Walsh on Vimeo.

Aizone FW13 Behind the Scenes from Sagmeister & Walsh on Vimeo.

One interesting thing that she said was the fact that they only present one idea to the client when they make a pitch, which is very unusual in advertising. Back when I worked in CAS, we always presented the client with more than one idea, I guess both as insurance that if a client really doesn’t like our first idea, we have backups and as a proof that we have put a lot of effort in working on their brief. However, Jessica explained (and I tend to agree with her when I think about it) that when the client sees a couple of things, they usually end up wanting to take one element from one campaign, another from a second campaign and so on, making the final design look like a Frankenstein of sorts, all patched up together and not quite working.

Jessica Walsh from Like Knows Like on Vimeo.

I’ll end this post on this note: it would be great if all of us could find something to do where work=play. Sometimes that works for me, sometimes I can’t manage to do it. How about you?

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