Inquiry

When I examined my work from the last two years more closely, I come to this simple conclusion: I do not have a conclusion. What I have are many unanswered questions. I have spent time making design, thinking about design, writing about design and generally being immersed in an unbroken streak of design activity, and what I have clarified during this time is what I have not figured out. I think this is good—I neither want nor need my thesis to save the world, create a cool new product or be a new method of problem solving for others to emulate. What my thesis is ultimately about is my attitude towards design, expressed through process. Within that is also my attitude towards how others engage in the activity of making design, and how I teach design. This thesis is not an argument for how others should work; it is more about me arguing with myself. While this may appear selfish, since my design lives in the world outside of myself, this thesis also affects everyone else.

Instead of a neatly packaged analysis, what I have is something far more interesting and useful—I have more questions. These are questions that I will ask today and in the future, and foreseeably for as long as I am alive and capable of continuing to ask them. I think of this body of work not as the finish of something, but the start of it. These questions I ask here and now will invariably spawn new ideas which will in turn result in new questions in an endless cycle of activity and inquiry. This is as it should be—looking for the answers is much more satisfying than finding them.

I have written about the tools I use to make design, specifically tools of optical visualization, that include the DSLR camera, video, scanners, and analog film cameras. I now understand that these tools are not about how much I like to use a camera, or that I enjoy film, or that video is an interesting medium. These are about the affordances each tool offers—using photography, video and scanning allows me to play with variation and unpredictability. This passage from the Eames Office website discusses how designer Charles Eames approached how he used the camera in a similar way:

“For the Eameses, and particularly for Charles, photography was not merely a way to record things, it was a part of the process of design, part of the process of understanding the furniture. It wasn’t a matter of taking these pictures and examining them later for flaws—no, it was the act of moving around the object, viewing it through the lens, making a series of decisions about taking a picture, and perhaps isolating and assessing the object without distraction or delusion. That process was the critical experience for Charles. But photography was not simply a matter of understanding furniture. It was a critical part of the Eames ethic. Charles often said that photography was a way of having your cake and eating it too.”
www.eamesoffice.com/photography

What else could I be using and working with in my process? I want to find other tools and methodologies that have similar affordances to what I work with now. Skolos & Wedell tend to work with collage—I think this is a medium that offers comparable tendencies to that of the camera. I jumped from primarily using a camera to a scanner for my James Victore Poster. This was a leap that proved fruitful. There are certainly other natural media that I have not yet discovered that are ripe with potential: paints, inks, and other mark-making tools. Also using the computer and programmatic tools like Processing or electro-mechanical devices like the Arduino could provide me with places to embrace my gestural and improvisational way of working.

Having taught a class on music video this past semester, I find that it is not just something I like because it is an interesting medium. I postulate the music video is a nearly identical medium to graphic design, specifically the poster—they use similar languages and concepts in how they are constructed and communicate. I wonder if the relationship between graphic design and music video is even closer than that. Is music video really a different medium than graphic design? Or, it is just one divergent aspect of a larger group of ideas about how we create? Music video is a playground for a graphic designer to explore and experiment with sound and image, narrative and concept, motion and kinetics. I think design and video have a closer relationship than I have had a chance to examine.

I frequently work with only the barest idea of a final deliverable—often with no deliverable in mind at all. Simply discovering through process is enough to get me going. Working from form to content in this way frees me from going down predictable paths that result in predictable work. Does working with form first and content second make for better and more meaningful content, or just more aesthetically interesting form? I would not have gotten to any of my investigations had I known where I was going with them; however, is form to content the best way to work when working with more applied intentions of design? Can I work in the reverse from content to form within a similarly exploratory design process? I know that I do not tend to work the way most designers do. I am curious if my design process is a hindrance or a liberation.

What are ways that I can push the innate abstraction and ambiguity in my work to enhance the meaning of design? I am constantly wondering about the line between clarity and abstraction in what I make. My work tends to be complex and abstract, and often needs to include literal or obvious moments to make the design more accessible, usually in the form of secondary typography. This feels like cheating—the design should be meaningful and effective without having type that feels out of place to make it more understandable.

I believe that there is a tendency among designers working today towards a minimalistic, reductive sense of graphic design that incorporates a lot of subtext and explanation to really understand. My work goes the other way—towards a more complex and layered aesthetic with less pre- and post-rationalization. I tend to suspend thinking when I begin working on a project, and allowing my intuitive, gestural attitude to discover the work through process. I think that too much planning and rationalization can kill the design. Exactly when does pre-rationalization cause this? What is the point where it goes from being planned to being dead before it leaves the gate? The other side of this equation begs examination too. When is post rationalization simply bullshit? When does it justify something that does not need justification?

The future holds my pursuit of the answers to these questions, and the raising of many more. I excitedly look forward to what comes next.