Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Graphic Design, Politics, and Branding

All art is said to either endorse the status quo (and the politics of those in power), or to challenge it. The 1960s saw presidential candidate John F. Kennedy using the new and growing medium of television to drive his presidential bid for office. He was successful. 

2008 saw the first use of direct emails, blogging, Photobucket, and a host of other Internet communication tools delivered to the American voting public by Barack Obama. The campaign made extensive use of well -designed, thematically harmonious tyography and other iconic imagery to deliver a memorable and tasteful impression. During the long campaign, the style was so succesful, it was emulated in popular ads and repurposed. (As if by using the same font (Gotham) and copying colors and layouts one could achieve credibility simply by visual association.) The use of Gotham has diminished since the election, but for about 2 years it was everywhere in print and on the Web. 

The designers behind the branding of Barack Obama have distinguished themselves and achieved a level of success that will fuel their careers for a long time. Obama Design

America loves dark characters, bad boys, and anti-heros like Tony Soprano. Graphically compelling work is sometimes of a subversive or questionable nature. Certain artists intentionally pattern their work around just such a subversive or 'underground' ideal. (Sheppard Fairey) (GPS grid art) (viral) Usually, this is intended to bring about a positive political change, or to draw attention to issues the popular media ignore. (post modernism)

The really phenomenal thing is that when a subversive/underground work reaches a level of notoriety that brings it to the attention of popular media, it is consumed by that media to become a new norm, an acceptable standard now devoid of anything for which it initially stood, it's message of political challenge watered down to hip contemporary fashion. (led zeppelin, grunge type, gangsta, harley davidson, rick james) (cool hunting, cultural appropiation and paul simon)

So that's what I want. To create an image that is fresh and alive and noticed by everyone. At first creating sensation, even outrage, but gradually becoming accepted by popular media and critics alike, forever connecting me to the emergence of that image as it's founding father! A moment of critical mass . . . The last big thing that came along was David Carson and grunge type. What will be next? Maybe it comes from you . . .

Graphic Design vs. Fine Art

Graphic design is primarily a medium of communication, a way to deliver a message. Designers wrap up the message and give it as a gift. If wrapped in a provocative way, the reader is compelled to open the package and look.

Graphic designers are information architects that disseminate information in a way that makes it easier to understand, like a way-finding system. Successful ones have gained an understanding that their creativity has to fit within the limitations of the final output device; that this limitation is actually liberating, eliminating unnecessary effort and allowing a sharper focus on creative problem-solving and a speedier solution.

Graphic design can overlap into other forms of design, finding its way into branding systems for private companies, educational institutions, transportaion, military, and governement; as illustration and typography for 50-state quarters and postage stamps, signage, uniforms, architecture, interior design, packaging, clothing and textiles, vehicles, toys, etc.

If you stop to think about it, everything in our environment that is man-made had to be designed by someone! Ordinary, everyday things we take for granted as having no 'design' or 'style' per se at some beginning point were defined, whether by design or out of necessity, by a living breathing person (or group of persons). Men can only emulate the world from the outside-in (craft). Only God can create the world from the inside-out (growth). 

The difference between graphic design and fine art is one of intent. Fine art is created for art's sake, with an eye to the ethereal, the spiritual, and the aesthetic. Graphic design usurps fine art and places it inside other documents to sell a product or service, to deliver a message, or to convey an awareness. The Mona Lisa and the Leaning Tower of Pisa were not created to sell painting services nor promote tourism, but images of these cultural icons have indeed been co-opted and repurposed for those very reasons. (Copyrights on old art)

Consequently, graphic design is regarded by many fine artists to being something inferior—a commercial business to sell pizzas and motorbikes. Fine artists may feel this way about graphic designers in a derogatory sense, but sometimes graphic designers deliberately think this about themselves (but not in a bad way), discarding the idea of being artists altogether in favor of becoming information archetects and master communicators, deliberately relegating the status of graphic design to that of communication only. (unimark

Graphic design was and is heavily employed as a vehicle of propaganda, extending the idea that its practitioners are not artists. (Constuctivism)

China and Japan view the graphic arts more favorably than the United States and Europe where, historically, the calligraphic arts flourished before the pictorial. Graphic designers are awarded more respect in the Eastern than in the Western world.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Bookmaking for Fun and Profit

The world is set on custom bookmaking. Not the 'betting' kind, the 'reading' kind. In the face of digital everything it just keeps getting easier with services like Blurb and Lulu, and even UPS getting involved in online print. One-up, custom books made to order via a website, either using their text and photo page templates or designed from scratch using your preferred software that you upload as a PDF. 

Surging interest in online print (POD) is dramatically changing the relationship between print buyers and print service providers. According to Barb Pellow, group director at InfoTrends, the leading worldwide market research and strategic consulting firm for the document technology industry, print jobs that moved through the Internet made up 14 percent of the total U.S. printing market last year, and that online printing is projected to grow at an average rate of 24 percent per year from 2008 to 2011.

Traditional offset lithography could never produce a cost-effective, one-up book but with new HP Indigo digital presses it's not only reasonably priced but turn around time from upload to doorstep, even with regular ground shipping, is under 10 days.

Blurb a a whole slew of so called 'book' artists that help folks lay out and assemble books from precious family photos, weddings, anniversaries, vacations—just about anything.

The upload service is already so user friendly it's hard to imagine that a person would pay someone else to do it for them, but I figure its a bit like going down to WalMart and snatching a picture frame off the rack and sticking down the Salvador Dali with a hot glue gun compared to having your print professionally matted and framed by Aaron Brothers or Michael's.

Maybe a person wants more than a template, but lacks the skill to take it to the next level, or just really doesn't have time to do it for him or herself.

As a freelance designer with a couple of traditionally printed books under my belt I am thrilled by the potential of my every whimsy made real by ink and paper so easily and cheaply, whether I try to sell that whimsy through Blurb's online bookstore (with its own promotional software tools); or a client based extension of my own freelance business, hanging my shingle with the others, some of whom, if their stories are true, claim to make enough money designing books for other folks to be able to quit their old jobs.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Skewed Projections

For years computer monitors have been getting larger and thinner. Screens are dramatically wider now than they are tall, giving a person more real estate to navigate. Extra screen width, for an Adobe Creative Suite user, is great for being able to see a whole lot more of your document space uncluttered by panels and tool bars that you now have room to drag off to one side.  

But what about the aspect ratio? What about respecting the height to width proportion of images and text that you see on the wider screen?

It started for me with those new iMacs a couple of years ago. I taught in a classroom where they had just upgraded to slick 24" iMacs; it was shortly after Apple flattened the whole computer into a slab of monitor that at first made me wonder what happened to the rest of the computer.

The business of graphic design makes clear distinctions between squares and rectangles. A square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square. Same with circles and ovals. When I draw a perfect circle, I expect to see an object looking very round on the screen.  

When every square looks like a rectangle and every circle appears oval, it impedes my ability to bring the pictures inside my head to life in the digital world. Digital projectors, as well as wider computer monitors, also suffer from this proportion distorting phenomena.

Monitor display preferences offer all the choices of aspect ratio an artist could want. One can select an older, squarer standard that brings everything back into proportion, but defeats the purpose of having the wider monitor at all, that extra real estate on either side now left unused.

So what's to be done? 

I call for computer companies and digital projector manufacturers to produce monitors in a taller format while still providing ample screen real estate, and to offer a wider range of projection modes that respect proportion, not only for artists, but for anyone who gives a whit about image integrity.

After all, if we can make a choice, should we not make the one that yields the most beauty?

Scaling vs. Skewing

Proportion is paramount to design. 'Scaling' and 'skewing' are as different as looking at yourself in a mirror and looking at yourself in a funhouse mirror. Stretching a picture of your face wide makes you look fat, stretching it tall makes you look skinny.

Same with text. A type designer purposely renders a typeface to be tense or open, flowing or rigid, conservative or novel; a feeling and character emerge that give a font identity, a face. As loathe as I am to distort a picture of your pretty face, so it is with typography.

To idly distort by stretching and pulling the faces of people and text, to lose proportion when imposing a size change, is to break a basic tenet of good design. It also falls short of respect for the sanctity of 'image.'

Constraining proportion is a task that design software does very well when placed in the hands of a competent designer. Holding down the shift key, however easy that may seem, is a act of proportional constraint that many novice designers and students simply fail to do.

Creative license withstanding, disproportionate size changes, unless done in a very deliberate manner by a practiced hand, just look like mistakes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

No Longer About Copyright

Creating and maintaining a blog on any particular subject of interest, the intent being to foster continuing readership, can generate ad revenue based on what the demographic of people who read your blog would like. It no longer becomes a question of copyright—exclusivity—but one of exposure—notoriety—that brings revenue and broader forms of recognition. It's one of the ways Content Management Sites (CMS), like Wordpress, Blogger, and MySpace are changing the way people communicate and businesses advertise via the Internet.

Granted, blogging is different than posting photos and hooking up with friends on Facebook, but the database driven software running behind the scenes is the same, making far flung connections paired up in the wink of an eye—commonality found, email sent!

It's one of those best kept secrets happening right under our noses! We think of them as 'social networking' sites, but that's a misnomer for a cleverly veiled commercial enterprise exploiting popular media. (Viral Marketing)

News agencies for years now have been mining blogs for source material. Broadcast news is witnessing the emergence of 'social media' experts brought on for commentary about what's increasingly become a significant part of the average person's life. Facebook's phenomenal growth threatens market share of other service providers, with perks like instant messaging and email built right in.

Jobs in graphics, marketing and media are being advertised for individuals who can step into a business, establish a presence for that business across a range of social media offerings, and then maintain involvement and exposure through various marketing strategies. Printing Industries of America (PIA) is now teaching seminars to enhance these skills for businesses looking for better exposure and individuals desiring to enhance their job skills.

You might think Classmates.com and Facebook are doing you a favor by ferreting out people you know from the past, but in the information age, it's really all about marketing. Cashing in on the social networking craze as a vehicle of information delivery, reaching the consumer on as many levels as possible. Building demographic profiles which are sold to companies that send personalized junk mail showing you things you really do want—the software does a great job! (Cool Hunting)

So if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! Take advantage of the freedom of Internet publishing—you wouldn't find it very interesting to live off the grid anyway. Generate passive income and share your voice!