Monday, February 28, 2011

Saturday, February 12, 2011

When It Matters

There is a school of thought that when in a situation of subservience, such as a teacher/student relationship, one should "go along to get along."

How one should go along depends on what the teacher wants or your goal.

If taking the the class to reach a larger goal - like a degree or a certain GPA, going along means studying the teacher, figuring out what that teacher most values and doing it, modifying ( but not compromising) what you most value until they fit.

That is valuable. It teaches you a life skill and lets you learn, both what the teacher has to offer and what you can do to work with others who are not exactly like you. Because no one is exactly like you. Ever. No matter how hard you try, or how much nothing you have done is new -- no one is ever, ever exactly like you.

Sometimes that can be very lonely if you think about it too long, which is why people daydream about having a twin, or a perfect mate, or a magic hat that knows you better than you know yourself.

But sometimes what the teacher wants is thinking and open debate and that of course is where the trouble starts . . . . .

There is a Book - inside the book is a chapter that describes interactivity. I do not disagree with the book, but I strongly disagree with it's tone.

That tone indicates that one should not really pay attention to what non-designers say - they are just BSing because they don't understand what you are saying. It glorifies the fact that everything is NEW and even LANGUAGE is changing. Students and youth will see solutions that experienced designers will never ever see. Because they are "Designosaurs".

No really. The only sop to the poor, old, decrepit, artists and designers who work in traditional media is something where these evangelicals of digital design concede that the usage of the term "conventional designers" is somewhat condescending ( and a term I've never heard used in a professional context "traditional" being the term I've heard used when referrring to non-digital media. )

Understood. Youth, anarchy and open source software tools for creating digital media is where "all" the "credibility" is. But that's not design to me - that's masturbation. The most I will give it is that it is public masturbation.

Here is the thing, design, and please understand that I mean DESIGN not ART is about interaction. A designer is creating something to be used, a form, an application, an object, a theory, and the goal is for PEOPLE to use it. If they don't, or can't, or won't; it might be beautiful, it might even be art, but it fails as design.

Design - what does it mean anyway - let's get long and referencey about it - Design according to the Oxford Dictionary is about planning and the act of planning - it references art but is not art




1 a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is made: he has just unveiled his design for the new museum

[mass noun] the art or action of conceiving of and producing a plan or drawing of something before it is made: good design can help the reader understand complicated information

[mass noun] the arrangement of the features of an artefact, as produced from following a plan or drawing:inside , the design reverts to turn-of-the-century luxe

2 a decorative pattern: pottery with a lovely blue and white design

3 [mass noun] purpose or planning that exists behind an action, fact, or object: the appearance of design in the universe

Nope - no part there where one of the things you should be learning about is how it's OK if "some people just don't get it".

So what about when design is a verb - is that the part where we look for the higher ground of artistic integrity?


[with object]

  1. decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or other object), by making a detailed drawing of it:a number of architectural students were designing a factory

(as adjective, with submodifier designed) specially designed buildings

  2. do or plan (something) with a specific purpose in mind:[with object and infinitive] :the tax changes were designed to stimulate economic growth

Ummn nope - not there either.

So gentle readers, artists, and consumers - because I know that design is the incredibly unsexy thing you have to do to execute art for mass consumption and digital design in particular must be meant to be seen by unexpected audiences you will forgive me for making the mistake of thinking an example given in my textbook of the effects of a piece of interactive art was an example of design having unpredictable as opposed to desirable effects.

There is an artists group called Antenna and they created the Power Flower art installation. It's really really cool. It goes for a certain length of space and as you walk past your movement and energy activate a flower and it glows blue. When they first put it up as the book describes it a small child understood it very quickly and started interacting (playing) with the art right away but this poor old lady never understood the connection between her movement and proximity to the light because she wasn't moving in a speed or manner that connected the sudden glowing blue light with anything at all and was just irritated by what seemed to her to be a sporadic bath of blue light for no apparent reason.

Now the book went out of it's way to point out the ages of the participants in this early version of the installation - and perhaps it wouldn't have seemed so ageist (see old people don't get it!) if it hadn't been glorifying the young every fourth sentence or so. But even with that I thought - Awesome! It's obviously a design issue - if the goal is to "create delight" and there's a problem with getting some group to interact with it then how could you change the design so that it would reach a wider group to create that effect?

Because that's what you should do in a design class right?

Well apparently my fellow students felt that this example was "proof that you can't please everyone all the time".

No. No it wasn't.

And so because we were required to actually engage each other in an online discussion board I engaged - politely and explained that public art shouldn't be cutting out an entire segment of the public on purpose and was getting angrier and angrier that the consensus was that maybe "women over 60" weren't part of the target audience, so there was nothing wrong with the design.

Ladies and Gentlemen - the work was commissioned for the windows of Bloomingdales in New York City, I propose that the target audience is DISPROPORTIONATELY women over 60.

The artists I might point out - changed the design and added a musical tone which creates more of a point of connectivity so the connection of progressive sound becomes another point of entry into the work to create "unexpected delight".

Here is the work:

And I am happy to report that the actual artists have a much better attitude than the "artists" in my design class:

But I wonder - if the young and artistic are continously told there is more value in their point of view than the older and more experienced designer how will they ever manage to reach anyone with empathy if they also hold the idea that either art or design is meant to be exclusionary.

It matters.

It matters enough to speak out in class and run the risk of offending someone's comfort zone and being "that guy".

If the old lady realizes that the flowers interact with her movement and thinks "that's lame" then she doesn't like the art. That's OK - you really can't please everyone. If she never figures out that her actions have anything to do with the flowers or the light then she doesn't have an opinion on the art all - she never experienced it to have one.

It's the designer's job to make sure that she can form an opinion.

Sigh. There really wasn't a choice, but now I am absolutely "that guy". And that was before this week's mangling of the "Hockey Stick" graphic and Climategate to make it seem like graphic designers were accused fo taking bribes because visual design is THAT POWERFUL.

But the gentleman in the discussion insisted that nothing was wrong with the installation if it didn't reach people and even when given the location and the fact that it was public defended the idea of it just being the "fault" of the audience demographic and left off with "we'll just have to respectfully disagree".

No we won't - we can politely disagree.

But the respect is pretty much gone.

The gentleman in question had none for the public and reserved it for the artist, which much eroded mine. I don't know any working artists with that attitude.

But the exchange was polite - and tempered with the fact that he doesn't see it as disrespect and there's nothing in the book to convince him to respect those poor beleaguered people who are not new or anarchistic or devoted to blowing off management.

That was the compromise - the going along to get along - because had he been my friend or co-worker I would have called him out on it - and less politely than I did online.

I'm going to go play the interview with the artists again so I can remember the really important stuff in art and design.