Week 12: New Steps
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
This week delved into the ramifications of design and the future that we are shaping for ourselves. It looked at how the steps we take today can help solve potential problems that the world might face in the coming years and decades. Through our actions and experimentation, combined with the fostering of our own curiosity, we can avoid and learn from issues that may present themselves later in life.
The lecture this week was broken into two parts. The first part focused on interviewing our regular handful of designers about their thoughts on where the future of graphic design would lead. The first question they were posed was this:
What are potential future definitions of design practice?
While this is quite a vague question, with equally vague answers, I found myself connecting to what Sam Winston and Tom and Kristoffer of Regular Practice had to say, though I'll touch on the latter further in my lecture reflection. As Sam so aptly put it,
Design is a living inquiry into a problem (Falmouth Flexible 2020).
As a standalone statement, it might seem like an obvious thing to say. Of course, design centers around a problem and draws inspiration from it, it's a problem-solving activity! However, within the context of this week's materials, Sam's comment had me thinking more deeply. While we spend more time on this Earth, we will be faced with a variety of new and pressing issues. This is due, in part, to the timeline we're currently living in. We are aware adults, and as such, we should be concerned with things like systemic racism, global climate change, and basic human rights. As these ideas and events grow and develop, so too, will our solutions for them. The thing that struck me most was that my place as a designer could actually contribute to potential solutions. There's more to design than printing effective signage for protests and creating informational brochures on ways to reduce your carbon footprint. The work we do can have positive, lasting effects on the world around us. Sam Winston summarized things well when he said,
Design will change based on what problems we face in the future (Falmouth Flexible 2020).
It may be a bit presumptuous, but I look forward to changing the world, even if it's in the smallest way possible.
The second part of the interview focused on the question: What are the sectors that might change or need to change?
While many of the designers touched on how the collaborative effort behind designs would likely increase, one idea presented by Tom and Kristoffer piqued my interest. They mentioned crowd-funded design projects, and how "GoFundMe type platforms are pushing the boundaries [of design]" (Falmouth Flexible 2020). It had never occurred to me that designers might be pulling in money from large groups of people to make their projects a reality. I think my naivety to this idea is due, in part, to my separation of the designer and the artist. It makes sense to me that an artist might ask for a collective fund to make their vision a reality, but I'd never imagined a designer doing that. Again, as we move further into this program, I'm realizing that the boundary between designer and artist is almost nonexistent nowadays.
As such, I decided to see if I could find any design projects on GoFundMe that exemplified something I would like to do. In this way, I was able to see if my work could benefit from crowd-funding.
While I didn't find any out of the ordinary design projects trying to get their feet off the ground, I came across a variety of creative projects that were seeking funding through the platform. Some of the projects I came across included starting a magazine, recording a debut album, and self-publishing a book. This is an interesting avenue to explore, as it invites people from around the world to contribute to your artistic endeavors, and I can see how a sense of community could spur collaboration.
Susanna Edwards in conversation with Maziar Raein
The second part of this week's lecture was a conversation between Susanna Edwards and Maziar Raein. During the course of their talk, they covered a variety of topics, all of which were intriguing to think about. However, the thought that most stuck out to me occurred when they said,
Our personal values can transfer to public values (Falmouth Flexible 2020).
I took this to mean that our own personal opinions and ethics can be translated through our designs, and in turn, have the potential to influence public opinions on certain ideas. This was a powerful thing to ponder, and prior to this lecture, I hadn't given it much thought. As an individual, I'm incredibly opinionated on certain issues. Without going off on a complete tangent, I believe all humans are valid, global climate change needs to be taken seriously, healthcare is a human right, and a woman's body should not be governed. To think that my own thoughts on these matters could potentially positively influence those around me through my designs hadn't crossed my mind before. I seem to compartmentalize the various aspects of my personal life and my design life when it need not be so. This course is allowing me to push my own boundaries within design, as well as design boundaries themselves. As such, I will work on allowing more of my personal beliefs to infuse my work, as well as ensure that any client I work with also stands for similar beliefs.
Of the list of resources for this week, the most interesting one proved to be the Forensic Architecture website. They define themselves as a research agency that is "investigating human rights violations including violence committed by states, police forces, militaries, and corporations" (Forensic Architecture 2020). While they have many ongoing projects currently, the one that immediately grabbed my focus was titled, "Police Brutality at the Black Lives Matter Protests." The video describing the project can be seen below.
The project aims to hold police officers accountable for their violent actions against otherwise peaceful groups of people, including medics, protesters, and journalists. I know what you're thinking: Why am I talking about this in my blog for a DESIGN degree?
Outside of the project supporting a cause I care deeply about, the way in which they've used design to more powerfully translate their message is astounding. The user interface is something I've never seen before, and I've actually passed it along to a group of peers, on the off-chance that they need to report something during their own anti-racist endeavors.
The tactful use of information design in their user interface proves to be incredibly effective at portraying certain categories of information to the viewer. When you're exploring their system, you're able to view police brutality events based on location, the category of individual that was attacked, what means of force were utilized, and so much more! In addition, any video or photographic proof can also be viewed from any given instance.
The ramifications of this design are incredibly powerful. People are quick to say that systemic racism is a localized problem, often attributing it to a few "bad apples" here and there. However, when the information is populated into a system such as this, there's a very obvious visual pattern to the attacks that are happening. They are not confined to one area of the country, nor are they the result of a single timeframe of events. Police brutality is happening consistently across my country. In fact, there were logged events in this database that took place in Madison, where I live!
Honesty, I could keep going on and on about the topic and how well Forensic Architecture has developed their UI to visually represent such information, but I digress. It's incredibly inspiring to see that as a designer, I could have a positive impact on the negative events occurring in my own community. Whether it was a team or a single person, someone with UX and UI design experience would have had to create a mockup for this system. An information designer may have even been consulted on such a project! Someone chose the colors they used, the scaling to represent certain information, and decided how they would place things within the screen. Design is so much more than making things look nice. It can have a lasting effect on the world around us.
This week's challenge asked us to look at a realm of graphic design that we're familiar with. There were a few different ideas that crossed my mind during my original brainstorming session. The first thing I considered investigating was virtual reality. I thought it would be interesting to look at VR from a speculative design perspective. Had I pursued this further, I would have looked into museum exhibits. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I've had a reasonable amount of experience analyzing why museums are set up in the fashion that they are through an Honor's undergraduate course that I took. My plan was to combine the technology of virtual reality with the knowledge housed in museum exhibits. This would allow for greater engagement from visitors, better overall experiences, and the possibility for better accessibility options for those that aren't always able to go to museums. I decided to not pursue this idea, simply because I'm not well-versed in virtual technology, and it would have required more research than I had time for.
As I kept thinking about the project, I focused on the piece of the creative brief that discussed "opposing media" and "disrupting" the realm of design that we chose. One of the design areas that crossed my mind during this thought process was the act of self-portraiture, more specifically, "the selfie". Within design, many designers and artists choose to represent themselves online through different interpretations of themselves. These are most often presented in the avatars they use on their social media platforms and websites. These may be hand-drawn, digitally painted, or doctored in Photoshop. I decided that I was going to investigate this realm and find a way to represent it in a new light.
Marcel Duchamp's "Self-Portrait in Profile"
While he is most known for his "Fountain" piece (which was simply a signed urinal), Marcel Duchamp was a popular sculptor and painter that embodied Cubism and Dadaism in his works. For the sake of this project, I investigated his piece titled, "Self-Portrait in Profile." Duchamp made 137 of his self-portraits, all of which were torn from origami paper. By creating a zinc template of his face, the artist was able to place the plate onto the paper, and then rip! As a result, a silhouette of Duchamp's face was created. The piece of paper was then placed on velvet-covered cardboard, and voila! His rendition of a self-portrait, or selfie, was made.
Milton Glaser's "Dylan"
This particular piece does not necessarily fall into the "selfie" category, but I made an exception since it was a piece done in the likeness of someone. After experiencing a horrific motorcycle accident in 1966, Bob Dylan was looking for a way to promote his upcoming album, Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, in a positive light. Despite being bedridden, Dylan commissioned Glaser to design a poster that would be included in his album's packaging. Inspired by the psychedelic drug scene, Glaser created Dylan's face in profile. Bob Dylan's facial features and shoulders appeared black, while his hair took on a multitude of colors and swirls. Ironically enough, it's said that Glaser took inspiration from Duchamp's work above.
The two pieces above are definitely more of an artistic approach to self-portraiture, so for my last piece, I opted for a more stereotypical design rendition of the selfie. For this, I chose Don Allen Stevenson III's profile avatar. Known as @donalleniii on Instagram, Stevenson is a designer who currently works at DreamWorks. He has nearly 48,000 followers and is popular within the AR community because of his work with realistic and futuristic filters. He also does work in the 3D and special effects realms. For his self-portrait, there's an obvious use of Photoshop. He creates layers of color that are shaped similarly to the shape of his face, while outlining his face itself in white. The background is yellow, with a variety of emojis placed sporadically on it. This is definitely more along the lines of the self-portraits that digital designers of today use.
Even non-designers can be seen with avatars such as these! Below is a collection of other "selfies" I found. Can you tell which one is mine?
While these are all great, they all have one thing in common: they're all done digitally. Despite Glaser and Duchamp not pursuing a digital medium, they were still flat renditions of people. It seemed to me that self-portraits, especially those done today, are typically flat in appearance, and done with the help of a computer.
Because I was attempting to disrupt self-portraiture, I began thinking of ways that were more physical in nature and didn't end up in a digital rendering. A selfie is a picture taken where the subject is also the person taking the photo. That's not new information. Photos are inherently flat. That's also not a new thought.
What could I do that represented myself in the same way that a selfie does, but also has a certain level of depth to it?
Plaster. I could play with plaster.
The idea of a bust isn't a new thought either. But the way I planned on using it was definitely not something that most people had seen. With the gears of my brain turning, I drove to my local craft store for supplies.
$20 later and I had plaster wrap, Plaster of Paris, and sandpaper in my possession. I had never worked with plaster, but I figured now was a good a time as any to do so! (Apparently, a good time to experiment with something new is the last week of class when you have a large, intimidating PDF project due). With an idea and a dream, I did what any normal person would do at a time like this. I looked for applicable YouTube videos to help me figure out what the heck I was supposed to do with these materials. Thankfully, I came across the video below by Delia Ahmed.
After watching her process a few times, I felt confident enough to try it out for myself. I cut the plaster wrap into smaller pieces, dampened them in warm water, and began applying them to my face. In an attempt to lessen the mess and risk of pulling out my hair, I wrapped my head in cling wrap and coated my eyebrows with petroleum jelly. This comical ordeal can be seen outlined in the photos below.
With my eyebrows still intact and plaster all over my bathroom, I began the next step in my project. This was where the Plaster of Paris came in. Since I wanted a realistic cast of my face, the plaster wrap helped me create a lifelike mold of my facial features. From there, I placed the mold in a Tupperware and cushioned its edges with a towel. I mixed up the Plaster of Paris and dropped it in the mold.
I ended up doing that last part three times before the mold was filled to my liking. Again, I've outlined this part of the process in a three-panel collage below.
* 2 Hours Later *
My mold was finally set enough to remove it from the cast. I called it a night at this point, with the intention of finishing things up the next day.
As the picture suggests, the mold came out a little rough. That's where the sandpaper comes in! I softened some of the face mold surface with sandpaper, yet again, getting plaster all over my bathroom. The final result wasn't perfect, but it was good enough for what I had planned!
Next, I took a random spattering of photos of my face. I set those up in a document, trying to match things to the scale I would need. Since I don't have a printer at home, I ventured to the neighborhood FedEx and printed my images. When I got home, I cut out a random assortment of my facial features from the images, made a mixture of glue and water, and got to work creating something.....well, kind of horrifying. To ensure my worksurface was ready, I covered my facial mold in Mod Podge.
In my strange Jeffrey-Dahmer-Meets-Design piece, I first covered the plaster face with a selection of plain skin that I had gotten from my printed photos. The leftmost photo above was the outline I had made for myself. These pieces were going to go on last, to ensure that my most prominent features weren't lost in a mixture of paper and glue. My halfway point can be seen below.
When everything was said and done (and dried), I had created a 3D reconfiguration of my face, or to put it simply, a selfie! While the majority of selfies occupy a 2D space, I had created a 3D version! This wasn't simply a bust, since I incorporated my own self-photography into the piece. Everything was realistic and done (to the best of my ability) to scale. It was a selfie in every sense of the word, it just pushed the limits of the stereotypical idea of a selfie. My final (creepy) creation can be seen below. It's almost too hard to tell which one is the real me, right?
This was a good final week. I'm really proud and happy with what I was able to produce. I felt truly inspired while I was putting this monstrous thing together, and was definitely smiling most of the time. If I had more time, I would have done a better job with the cast and mold. The cast I created could have been thicker and more defined. The mold itself ended up having strange edges and indents in it, likely because of my faulty cast. Beyond that, the project might have done better with higher-quality prints of my images, but since they ended up covered in glue, it didn't really matter. Finally, there had to be a better way to sand it than just rubbing it with sheets. I would figure out a better way to smooth things over if I did this again.
Unrelated final thought: do you think my family members would appreciate a mold of my face for Christmas?
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