Category Archives: Observational

Personal observation or commentry

New lies

One of my peeves in the industry is that the term ‘new’ is commonly perceived as something that has never done before; seemingly plucked out the sky from the dexterous digits of a proficient genius.

My belief is ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ In fact the definition of the words ‘new’ and ‘fad’ are interchangeable and relative spins on the same notion. In fact anything new whether it be invented or designed is actually formulated from at least two former things. Even as human beings we are recycled objects. Aside from the obvious genetic construct from two individual sets of DNA, the very atoms we are composed of are borrowed. Both you and I are compositions of atoms that were once part of a plant, animal, soil, dinosaur… even excrement (and yes, some people more than others!) A well established maxim in physics is that ‘Energy is never created merely transferred’. Considering the earth itself was created from cosmic matter, there is truth in the Moby song ‘we are all made of stars.’

Creation occurs through an act Arthur Koestler coined ‘bisociation’ – the intersection of two individual planes of logic at an exact point where both concur. It is the same model for the moment of discovery and for the revelation at the punchline of a joke. This is why anything created HAS to be part-recycled. Anything invented is just the combination of something pre-existing with another plane of logic applied to it in [perhaps] a previously in-conceivable fashion. The more of a jump to reach this idea the more original the credit due. This act of creation is universal; its the same for graphic designers, artists, musicians and engineers.

It’s noteworthy that even the golden section originates from recurring measurements observed in nature. These underlying proportions have been taken and applied to aesthetics in multiple fields of study. A prominent example of this usage is by French architect Le Corbusier.

In the context of design, this construct from two things often occurs in the scenario where the designer has something already but needs an exciting ‘twist’ on it. When it comes down to the sourcing of the additional ‘second plane’ of logic, the phrase ‘Talent borrows, genius steals’ applies unashamedly widespread throughout the creative industry.

“Nothing is original, steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from–it’s where you take them to.” –– Jim Jarmusch

In his most famous book of essays, celebrated graphic designer Paul Rand stated why a designer collects other stimulus: “The artist is a collector of things imaginary or real. He accumulates things with the same enthusiasm that a little boy stuffs his pockets. The scrap heap and museum are embraced with equal curiosity. He takes snap shots, makes notes, records impressions on tablecloths or newspapers, on backs of envelopes or matchbooks. Why one thing and not another is part of the mystery, but he is omnivorous.”

“Wildly heterogeneous as his inspirational treasures appear, curiosity is the common denominator and the pleasure of discovery an important by-product. The artist takes note of that which jolts him into visual awareness. Without the harvest of visual experience he would be unable to cope with the plethora problems,  mundane or otherwise, that confronts him in his daily work.” — Paul Rand, A Designers Art

Therefore the only originality in the design industry is originality in where you steal from.


Formula one season 2010

After all the build up, the much anticipated Bahrain Grand Prix was a bland affair. The cars can no longer refuel in the pits so carry a full tank from the race start. In turn pitting strategy is less of a factor and positions change less frequently. The cars are slower due to the increased weight and the gap between the cars is bigger, as a result overtaking has suffered. Typically the drama builds much later on, but the current formula seems inert.

The only significantly interesting detail was the new broadcast onscreen graphics. The panels now slant to the same angle as the F1 logo (tut), they also stack at an angle which — although refreshing is an aesthetic modification instead of a functional change. I’ve always believed ‘form follows function’ and not the other way around. The panels feature web 2.0 style gradients which works well apart from the yellow lap time gradient doesn’t work due to the lower colour being far too dirty making the digits less legible. The transition animation is pretty good, although I prefer the old throttle diagram and animation; the new one is uninspiring. A quick look at some viewers comments on various bbc sites with regard to specific statistics now being omitted indicates that this years aesthetic changes have come at the cost of function. That’s not what information design is about.

Substance over substance

I finally got to see Avatar in 3D recently: it really is amazing. It’s been a long time since I’ve become fascinated with a film after viewing.
The human based 3D character animation was incredibly accurate; the animators managed to record and recreate facial micro-gestures. From the close-ups and body animation ‘mannerisms’ I knew it would have to be based on real actor footage, and a further browse through youtube shows exactly how they achieved this. These clips also highlight the professionalism of the actors through difficult circumstances: conveying believable emotion dressed in special suits and rigs, and with an absence of environment.

What made the movie outstanding for me personally was this was the first movie I had seen in 3D glasses! I cannot over emphasise how much the effect enriches the typical cinema viewing to all new sensory levels.

I totally forgive the tried and tested plot line (Dances with wolves, Fern Gully (apparently) etc). I can also [at a push] forgive the lazy font choice.

James Cameron has such a fantastic concept of the future military. I think the reason Aliens was so widely accepted as a successful sequel was he didn’t try and out-play Ridley Scott at his own game; he instead set out to do something else – an action movie based with a strong theme of the military of the future. I also think its ok to be a pacifist yet still be fascinated by the grandeur of military and its mass structuring, repetition, order and graphical markings. Dialogue-wise some lines such as ‘fighting terror with terror’ and the labelling of nations who sit on a resource as an enemy I found to be close to home.

The film seems to nod to surrealist illustrator Roger Dean for inspiration, but also draws reference to Camerons earlier work with the ‘Amp’ mech vs the Alien (but with the audience rooting for the other side this time.) Giovanni Ribisi plays a carbon-copy character of ‘Carter Burke’ in Aliens (essentially a metaphor for corporate mentality or the darkside of the human heart), and the Chief military character was just a cliche idiot – a pantomime villain for the kids. It also has to be said that the final act battle scene had hints of the battle of Endor.

I think the essential ingredient to creating a science fiction masterpeice is addressing a fundamental philosophical concept. The film does contain a philosophical idea such as transfering the human mind and soul to a new host, which in turn opens the door to a huge amount of interesting debate. However I would be hesitant to label the film a masterpeice because of the unoriginal plot; I think the term ‘benchmark’ sits better.

…There is so much more to write about this film, but to summarise this is one of those rare moments where plot can successfully take a backseat to method of story telling (in this case technology) and yet due to the sheer intensity of visual stimulus and richness of experience, not leave you feeling short changed. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope they don’t make a sequel.

Common sense and social networking

Is it really any surprise that the youth don’t actively use Twitter? Realistically future technologies will only be sustained if they fit in with the socio-economical model of their intended target audience. Throughout history money has always dictated what gets developed, and whether it gets used; Twitter is sustained by the working professional market, and especially the man-child iPhone user paying a premium for a pseudo benefit; did anyone actually believe that teenagers would have the inclination and money to send progressive SMS updates of their miserable oppressed lives? Besides, was it going to be worth reading anyway? i.e. ‘Just stabbed Keith. LOLz.’

To me it seems that today’s emerging technology has defined and created its own market sector; a post-teenager class of skilled working people using new media as a tool for social networking. I say post-teenager, as all technology is used and abused to personal effect. Look at Myspace for instance, each page is the equivalent of an exercise book or a bedroom that you decorate with stickers, posters, photos, and enforce your own music on other people. Facebook is a halfway house — an organised chaos, facilitated by applications that on the whole evaluate to little more than pointless widgets.

I believe Twitter is the offspring of Facebook, ripping off the main ‘live’ elements that are of interest: the current photo and the ‘what are you doing now’ textfield. A limit on user generated content was always going to be a win over a blog entry as essentially its less crud to sift through. We are faced with so much ‘information’ these days we either naturally filter it out, or bypass it completely. On that note I’ll leave it.

Twentysomething in the Noughties

As the noughties draws to its impending end its important to look back and reflect on what exactly has happened; lest we forget exactly what what we’ve done with a decade of our lives, and in order to correctly pigeon whole the era for future nostalgic reference.

Dotcom crash • Concord Crash • Nu Metal / Hip Hop reaches peak • Big Brother • Eminem / Coldplay / Britney / Madonna • Playstation 2 • Tiger Woods wins US open • George W Bush – president • Mobile Phones now ubiquitous • MP3/digial audio gains prominence • Digital Cameras become popular • The Matrix • The Office • Google gains prominence • Grand Theft Auto 3 / Halo • Chavs / Burberry • Xbox • Fuel Strike • Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center / Osama Bin Laden • 24 first season • War in Afganistan • The Strokes • Dirty Denim • Soham murders • return of ‘The’ in indie band names • SARS • Hans Blix • The Hutton Inquiry • Emo’s • Social Networking Kicks off: MSN messenger > Friends reunited > Skype • Starwars II: Attack of the Clones • Enron • War in Iraq • Kill Bill • Kanye West • Stripes come back in fashion • Lord of the rings • Mullet (returns) • Floral Design • Shuttle Columbia Incident • Wireless Networking • Roger Federer / Williams sisters start wimbledon domination • Lost / The Wire • Internet & web communication now commonplace / Broadband • Asian tsunami disaster • Half-Life 2 • Madrid Bombing • HD / Blu-Ray • Playstation 3 / Nintendo Wii / Xbox 360 • 80’s revival • Hurricane Katrina / New Orleans • Daniel Craig is new James Bond • Yasser Arafat dies • Web 2.0 • Military Jackets • Nu Rave • Millenium Dome renamed to O2 Arena • London Underground Bombing • Climate Change • Social Networking matures: Blogging > Myspace > Facebook > Last FM > Twitter • Saddam Hussein executed • Disappearance of Madeleine McCann • iPhone • Housing Market Slump • Tony Blair Out / Gordon Brown In • Bird Flu • Global recession • The Dark Knight • Large Hadron Collider is turned on • Lewis Hamilton wins F1 • Barrack Obama President • Spotify / steaming content • Swine Flu Pandemic • MPs Expenses Scandal • Michael Jackson dies

Future Retail Media Models

I was sorting out my VHS and DVD collection a while back, all the while trying to come to grips with an irritating notion: I seem to be in a perpetual process of replacing old formats with new. Films I loved and bought years ago on VHS I have later bought on DVD; it dawned on me that the process of attempting to build a collection will always be fruitless, as I will only end up replacing the old format when the latest contemporary format is released. The process is inefficient, expensive and wasteful; it is widely supported as a means for consumers to ‘own’ a recording of a film, but taking a step back it can only benefit the publishers. It also leads to me to further questions.

Do we really ever ‘own’ any media? When we buy a music CD or a movie, what exactly are we buying? To my knowledge, when you buy a media product, you are actually buying that individual copy — in that particular format. I cannot see a problem with the logic of obtaining media this way based on the mentality of the 20th century consumer; however in the context of today’s accelerated technological progressive society it seems like throwing money down the drain.

Something has got to give. The music and film industry have been exploiting this restriction of transferable rights for far too long through obscene overpricing; now they are suffering the backlash at the hands of a more technical savvy generation. It doesn’t matter what barriers are invented — electrical data can be effortlessly duplicated, so the modern consensus is why should we willingly let ourselves be duped? With analogue media the physical format itself stood in the way; today there is no physical barrier, only the background noise of the law. Either the prices of duplicate media will have to come down (already happening, yet an unattractive route for the industry), a new method of copy protection (a technological step backwards) or enforcement (piratebay lawsuit / virgin media monitoring) will be implemented, or the business model will change from owning the product to owning a licence, regardless of format.

Wouldn’t it be better if instead of owning an overpriced duplicate, we could instead purchase a licence to download/stream a movie, in whatever format we like, for a custom duration? Then when a new format comes along, if we still retain the licence we can reap the benefits of the new technology without shelling out again on essentially the same product, wasting packaging and materials etc. So long as pricing reflects the ease of electronic duplication whilst acknowledging artist and production costs, this model would support the contemporary consumer.

An alternative solution already exists in the form of streamed content spliced with advertising and the option to have this annoyance removed at a price (i.e. Spotify). This way the financially challenged aren’t punished, and the well-off retain the option of lording their wealth over us. Eventually the middleman will inevitably worm his way into the market, either as an alternative higher priced/more readily available source, or a channel with more adverts at a slightly cheaper price. The middleman always raises prices to support his own business and as a result contributes additional weight to the piracy incentive. This is capitalisms unique way of building its own obstacles for someone else to jump over at a later date.

2009 recession from the designers perspective

The looming economic crises that is currently being hammered into our brains day in,day out is without question an ominous sign of things to come. However to this designer, the way this recession is being ‘sold’ to the masses is just the beginning of the annoyance.

Ok, so it might just be me, but does anyone else think the latest news coverage of economic downturn represents the nadir of an adoption of outdated marketing techniques of the hard-sell past by our mainstream newsrooms. Has society become so used to consumer conditioning that even the news must be sold to us in the form of a double punch generation-Jones advertising tag?

CREDIT-CRUNCH. Cliché, tacky, kitsch. It smells of the 1960s, and it would sound more at home bellowed from the mouth of Roy Walker whilst an animated Mr chips chomps through a credit card behind. Its no longer a term; its a brand. Anything related to a recession based turn of events is sold back to us under that brand. Does the average Joe find news labelled such a way easier to compute than relatively big words like economic downturn, or recession? Or perhaps they have become gradually more acquatinted with this method of delivery through life in general. I just hope its not the case that broadcasters are without fault, and instead it’s another sign of the nation dumbing down.

This is not the major annoyance; no its just a mere niggle. The worst part about being a designer in times like these is the impact on the design industry. One of my favourite designers from my salad days, Tanaka Ikko, described design as vitamins to a society; it’s not deemed essential, and during economic decline is a prime candidate for culling. It makes sense; on the whole businesses would rather slash advertising budgets than kick people to the kerb. Its the moral thing to do, but from a business sense it merely stretches the downward curve out, and in some cases a more painful death.

I seem to remember a case study Wally Olins once made about Nike: during the financial hardships of the 1970’s, sportswear manufacturers slashed advertising and promotions, all except Nike shoes who carried on spending as normal. Its important to note at this point in time Nike were an infant company – Adidas were the dominating leaders. Nike wanted to be present in the consumers minds on the upswing, and not on the back foot like its competitors. Nike pumped regular feed into advertising through the tough times, and when things started to look rosy, they literally hit the ground running (retro pun-age intended… you layman.)

Im not an economist, but my guess from the types of companies going down the tubes at the moment is that its the companies selling a lower quality product that are struggling. When high quality products drop in value to meet the demand, there’s room to manoeuvre on price; however cheaper alternatives have nowhere to go. Advertising is a key tool in raising perceived value and awareness — its not a replacement for quality, but it increases exposure. So in times like these you need people who know what they are doing at the reins. Its not a case of spending more, its a case of making what you spend work harder.