Sunday, 30 April 2017

The digital disconnect

A lot of people spend all their life not knowing what they like to do and I guess I got it a little easier as from age 14 I knew I wanted to get into Design—but I was so disconnected from centuries of past design it's a wonder how I knew what I wanted to do at all.

For roughly 90% of it's existance design has been exclusively a subject of print, but for the boy that got hooked on making pixels colourful—it was strange plunge into the depth of pantones, inks and card. It could be argued that Graphic Design has existed since painting on cave walls or soap packaging in the roman era but in my eye, I reckon it started with typography, with the Gutenberg Bible. Though, if you are of greater faith than myself, it could also be argued that the part printed, part handwritten early Quran's beat Gutenberg to it.

Either way, I believe design started with moveable type, with desire and sales through an items design alone—ain't no caveman selling his wall. The Gutenberg Bible was created in 1455 and revolutionised design, so if you weigh those years up, I only became interested in design in 2008. I had 553 years of design behind me, most of which was print. I'd never indulged in anything particularly tangible and thus left with me with a horrible disconnect.

My teenage shelf held perhaps two books, three CDs and little ephemera because I was self-educated in pirating the early internet. I had no money and no desire for a CD because I could get it instantly, freely without any consequences—so that horrid plastic square can stay at the shop. I did think then as I do now, that computers are just about the best thing in the world, so I learnt how to do everything I could through a computer; this too included design, even if it was rubbish and bordering on misogynistic.

Just to clarify, I used to create signatures for in game money and a web-based RPG called Gangsters Paradise and almost everyone on there wanted to display how tough their internet gangster identity was by having rectangles displaying various guns, part-naked women and cars. It was terribly shite work that they requested, but I got recognition, in game money and most importantly creative freedom—as long as it included a bikini sporting lady.

for reference: this is the bikini island nuclear test (I think)
My disconnect didn't really change until university where ironically outside of university I was introduced record collecting. There was something more tactile and desirable about these card envelopes that slowly connected me back the main pipeline of design history—especially when out of any good budget I started to collect almost exclusively early jazz records dating for the late 40's onwards.

I recollect being about 2 months into my current habit, surfing the my local hometown market, picking up what is otherwise a fairly common James Brown record and asking the stall attendant "Is this THE James Brown?". It's not something to be ashamed of as I knew no better, but as someone that would have claimed themselves a Hip-Hop head—you'd have thought that I recognise the world's most sampled man. As I walked home with a couple of records that I now realise were horribly over-priced it struck me how little I knew of design past, the people being designed for or the designers themselves. I knew structure and I knew trends and I avidly read Computer Arts magazine but if it had any date on it that didn't start with 2, I didn't have a flipping clue.

Records were my gateway to reconnect, to pull the plug on my digital cranium and throw it head first and the stinky, half damp sleeves of drug addicts that can play brass instruments really way—jazz artists that is. After I had bought out all the local stock of Mingus and Parker I had to find a new way to engulf the foreign experience of pre-computer design whilst avoiding the ever recurring James Last and 90s Dance promos. The answer was magazines, my favourites, but I wanted the oldest ones I could find. Design magazine from the 60's held the burning torch of post-war modernism that I was hungry for. Even now a year after I've graduated from university, I miss two things; the communal studio that we worked in and the library that hosted said magazines. They are rather delicious.

Finding these two interests of mine threw my design forward thousands of leagues, because I wasn't just referencing what I had seen last week—I was looking at periods of design that spend hours producing simple shapes and layouts, so they had to be of quality.

I find that the current issue with design is that it's being gripped with constant plagiarism and steered by a badly placed confidence in blindly following trends; like a seeing eye mule. The majority of the current designers bursting out of the colleges and universities likely have the problem that I had—everything was served to them, quickly, easily and just like the previous. There isn't any reason to look further because you can be satisfied with that exists on the screen alone if you never need look past it. 

The digital disconnect is exactly what drives everyone to create a faux rustic logo with crossed arrows, or make everything have a heavy drop shadow with a 'flat' vector face. There is an experiment where a script uploads and image to instagram, saves it and uploads it again; over and over until the quality has been reduced to the point where it's completely unrecognisable. This is exactly what's happening with the machine, churning out endless carbon copies of lackluster design called modern design—driven by irrelevant hashtags and valued on likes. It's a facade that's slowly repeating itself until it reaches the centre of the maze and realises it knew not where it started. 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Spicy Memes

If you are in the age group of people that have no chance to buy property in central London, you'll likely have seen a spicy meme or two. It's pronounce meem by the way, not me-me or mem-ey.

For those of you unaware, a meme is little more than an internet joke; usually pictorial. They have no specific owner, no specific creator and mostly an unknown origin, but if you were to try and follow the meme stream it'd like go like this—4chan, Imgur, Reddit, Twitter & Facebook, World Domination.

Due to their lack of direct ownership, there is a clear lack of copyright in any particular meme; which is a very exploitable concoction. The copyright free Emojis of their time. This has been both exploited for commercial effect, societal degradation and heavy, heavy racism. At this point we reference the strange case of our lord and savior Pepe, that slightly sad looking frog that has now reached the realms of 'normies', twisted into a racist emblem and a rare reaction along the way.

Pepe was originally a character in Matt Furie's comic Boys Club; made famous by a panel in which Pepe pisses in the toilet with his pants full removed and testifies that it "Feels good man", quickly picked up by 4chan and other image forums as a response image. Though as it's frequency grew, people began to create their own and hide them away, making 'rare pepes' and adapting them to every situation, sadness, anger, happiness and blind xenophobia—a crudely drawn frog became the unified face of the outer reaches of anti-social web interaction.

Because of the popularity of a Pepe reaction, it was being adopted by almost every user of the outlandish, free-speak forums of 4chan; which unfortunately lead to a simple comic character being drowned in imagery of compromising viewpoints; being that a large section of 4chan's user group toe-the-line between socially unacceptable and bear-faced hate. Like a sad green frog being trapped in a snowball at the top of Mont Blanc, it quickly rolled down the mountain of popular culture to develop into a horrendously large boulder, to which its original existence could no longer be observed and this is when it was proudly adopted as a searing JPEG based flag for the far-right.

soz pep
Where as things created innocently can adopt meme status and spiral out of control worse than 2007 Britney Spears, some brands are recognising the social grip that memes have on popular culture and embracing them with all their copyright free goodness. Step into the ring, Gucci—a very high fashion brand, gripping and repulsing the youth market with their memes and expensive handbags.

Though I think it's a bloody brilliant design stratergy to develop what is otherwise seen a snobbishly posh designer brand into relatable internet jokes, it's a bloody cheeky move if ever I've seen one—riding the wave of pre-created internet in-jokes without paying a penny of royalties. Though they didn't use Pepe, they still wouldn't have to have paid Mr. Furie a penny either as the standard internet 'pepe le frog' is different enough to be out of his copyright; the poor bugger.

See above the 'starter pack' meme where people collect a range of stereotypes for various trends, groups and genres as a poke at their community. Often created by people who are passionate about said topic, laughing at the people who are new to said topic and are likely failing to expected stereotypes. Those arrogant, funny bastards.

There is no obvious name for this one, but it's adapted from a meme where people display their frustration with a screen cap from children's TV show Arthur; in an episode that tackles anger and violence and shows him clenching his fist from a profile stance. Of all of them, this is the one that is least changed, but the one I like the most, as it feels very high fashion with a little hint to internet humour, rather than a blatant reference—it's cleverly different enough from the original Arthur scene to be out of copyright too; those sneaky high fashion harlots.

As far as I can read on the internet, people of the internet are cringing very hard at this campaign; but as I'm not very attached to any particular meme, I think it was a bold step for a brand that arguably trades exclusively on it's image and reputation to embraces what are otherwise spews of collected internet humour.

All in all, as an avid user of the internet and the generation to grew up with it, seeing it turn from Geosites to Wordpress and MetaCafe to Youtube. I wouldn't have ever expected internet humour to have such a poignant space in society, never mind and recognised style and set name. It seems the Meme culture is certainly a digital representation of the youth, displaying it's problems with xenophobia, a thirst for freedom of speech and the sharing of a continual in-joke.

A lot of meme hang heavily on current events or nostalgia, enforcing an – if slightly twisted – view on the modern world and the things happening around it, whether hilarious or tragic, they can all fall into a dark hole and become a meme. In my mind, they aren't as poisonous as we may think, which thousands of people dealing with serious situations by applying a sense of humor; or even using them as a gateway to freedom of speech, even if that is hate speech, it's still the freedom for them to say and express that. Long live the meme.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

I don't get it

If you've ever been to a gallery, you've turned to the person next to you, or they turned to you and exclaimed the ever prevalent words "I don't get it" your figures over-shadowing a large red, mounted square.

The phrase itself is synonymous within any form of exhibition, design to performance; but it more often raises it's head when prompted by a lobster based telephone or a shark hovering in a solid embalmment. I've said it myself, and I've heard it many times also—the problem is that it's almost completely redundant. It's not wrong to be confused, but often we're looking for something that needn't be looked for, expecting something that doesn't exist.

We should be attending galleries not looking to understand everything, not looking to please just our eyes but instead something to please our soul, put fire in our bellies and sour our tongue. Often the fact an artwork isn't simply understood is part of it's existance, we shouldn't scan modern art the same way we have learned to deconstruct European Oil Paintings—with a term as broad as art we should understand that each piece is individual and can be understood in a totally different way.

We may often say that we don't understand as we aren't really trying to, we're looking at a crude constructed sculpture and trying to read it everything we currently know, looking for emotion in the finesse rather than just absorbing it's aesthetic wonder. Often we've been instructed to not understand the piece before us, in the case of minimalism or Dadaism, it doesn't need to be understood–l'art pour l'art.

To not understand is a human condition, and where art stands high and mighty in the spotless prestige of the gallery we exclaim our confusion in which to rebel against the pieces before us. "I don't get it" is a rebellion against the higher society we find ourselves standing against, to almost dismiss that it shouldn't be given such prestige if it cannot be understood by ourselves. Often it needs to be fought against but just accepted for what it stands to be—but as I also said, we're often looking to sour our tongue with pieces we search for disgust in, like a jewel encrusted skull or 120 bricks upon the floor.

I don't get it is a prominent and poignant term when assessing art but when applied to design, it's no longer a fair term of the common man (or woman) but instead terribly problematic. To not understand art can be part of it's aura but to not understand design is to heat up the branding iron and sizzle it into the upper thigh of it's creator, owner and distributor.

Like art, design is created in an aesthetic space but unlike anything hung on a gallery wall, it needs to be understood to be effective—it needs to be clear for it purpose; as without said purpose, it stops being design, or at least not design in it's purest sense. I believe it should be a strong and divisive metering of your work to see whether what has been designed can be understood by the people who would consume it's imagery, it's message and it's existance.

For an example, the most publically obvious aspect of design is a logo. Good or bad, every company has one and should you poll every citizen of Milton Keynes I'm sure you'll find that the average human would relate design to exactly that. The Nike logo is the most recognisable logo I can think of, so we'll work with that one.

It's origin isn't directly obvious but the radical nature of it's 'swoosh' suggests something exciting; though you may have never seen it before, it's very clearly it's not the logo for your local washing machine repair shop is it? 

Now the logo may feel sporty to us because it's so ingrained into our lives as the ultimate symbol for sport, health and fashion but a hard as you try, it's hard not to understand that it's a shape driving a fast, slick motion from one point to another. Ask yourself, have you ever picked up a Nike product, looked at the embezzled Swoosh and turned to the shop attendant to say "I don't get it".

The difference here is that design cannot carry the ambiguity that art does, it has to be read for the message it's owners need rather than the message to viewer of any given artwork could attach to a Rothko. Though clearly, design can be made to be misunderstood or enigmatic and this works well for the radical brands that adopt them, but even now these confusing logos still reflect the message they are selling—Supreme, Palace, Soylent etc.

Next time you want to explain that you don't understand Tracey Emin, or Damien Hirst give it a second and try to not understand and just take it for what it is—eventually you'll realise what stands before is likely shite, but it's art so there isn't much more to understand about it other than that.
But if you want to say the same about design, speak with it's curator and if it still doesn't make sense, buy some beers, a pack of tissues and let them know; they may cry, they may get angry but if they are clever, they'll listen and eventually you'll create better design for the masses. You bloody champ.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Thank god for emojis

It's not particularly cutting edge to refer to Emoji's as the modern youth's Hieroglyphics—but clich├ęs aside, they are rather good fun. Even if I do admit it myself.

(GIF unrelated)
What started as developed smiley faces, has now developed to cryptic sexual consumables and emoticons suitable for threatening life itself with. I used to rather detest sending or receiving a little yellow face, sparkle or spontaneous vehicle but now I've caught the bug – a few years late, might I add – and now I can't help myself; forever attaching them to everything. You only need to check my instagram to see a cornucopia of unrelated sparkles, hand gestures and faces in the caption of nearly every post.

Now as they grow in popularity, they clearly needed to adapt to their wider market; introducing various skin-tones and genders to hundreds of different icons, though as hard as they try, the 'eggplant' icon will never truly represent the vegetable it aesthetically refers to.
Now, third parties jumping on this popularity bandwagon, creating their own replicas of the official set to be hosted upon their own platfroms, which in the case of Twitter has created an open-source library of infinitly scalable icons—just in case you want to express your desire for butts on a letterhead or a billboard. Which isn't all that bad is it?

While the rest of the world makes more icons, to be misused as subtle references to penises and beyond, the brave old soles at Grindr (gay dating app) blew the modesty out of water, with a hardcore library of very, very clear, yet still slightly enigmatic emojis.

Little explanation needed here
Though they are ugly as sin – design wise – they are a great development to a third party emoji library, rather than just mildly copying what already exists, through making them slightly less iconic. They've taken the subtle, ripped it apart and opened their own market for pictorially asking for 'Dick Picks' and defining the Top or Bottom preferences of any and all of it's users.

It's a refreshing dive into the depth of popular culture to see such an iconic modern trend be adapted to suit it users rather than just reinforce the 'hip and trendy' nature of any particular silicon valley company. I'll be sick if I have to see another ugly interpretation of the Turtle icon, but a skin coloured aubergine—hell yeah! 

Thank god for Emojis, how else would we explain we have penis on the mind, pretend to be a monkey releasing a secret or threaten ex-lovers—all encased in a 10x10 icon. If aliens should want to communicate with us, lets hope they've got some kick ass icons themselves; because mathematics just aint going to cut it for me.

Copyright © Vincent Walden Sucks