Monday, 11 April 2011

The Value of Design, MDS. 23/3/2011

Forgive me, once again I am incredibly behind on my blog entries!

There was a lot of buzz about the Manchester Design Symposium on various social networking sites and forums, which got me really excited to find out more about the event. Unfortunately though, I wasn't able to purchase a ticket, so when I discovered that my university course would be holding a "lucky dip" competition to win one, I leapt at the chance and was very pleased when I discovered I had won one.

Organised by Design Initiative, in partnership with Independent Northern Creatives, Manchester City Council and Manchester Metropolitan University, the symposium focussed on a central theme throughout the day – ‘The Value of Design’. Many speakers were to participate in the symposium, Si Scott (Si Scott Studio), John Walters (Eye Magazine), Bruno Maag (Dalton Maag), Jonathan Barnbrook (Barnbrook) and Tom Dorresteijn (Studio Dunbar). With such an exciting mix of speakers, I couldn't wait for the day to begin.

"Bee" part of Si Scott's "Airborn" illustration series.

Professor David Crow (Dean of MMU and designer/writer) opened the symposium, and introduced Si Scott, a UK based artist / designer who primarily works with hand-drawn typography and illustration. I felt a little bit sorry for Si, as he seemed a little overwhelmed by the size of the audience (most likely down the fact he was on strong pain-killers for a back injury) but he gave us a great insight into the work that he does. He has such a laid back attitude about what he does, and spent a lot of his session talking down about the work he creates (which is a shame seeing as it is all so beautiful) but he was interesting and his talk was thoroughly enjoyable.  Si gave us insight into the value of originality and his annoyance towards those who try to imitate his very distinctive style - "the whole idea of my work, is that it is my work" he explained. He also described how he dislikes using computers to produce his work. "I'm rubbish at it," computers are too fast for him, and he finds that they have the ability to dilute design too much. Si prefers to be spontaneous, and doesn't like to plan ahead with his ideas - which often causes problems with clients who like to see the development of ideas. Si has even walked out on prospective clients because they wanted to restrict his personal style. A really interesting talk.

Second to talk was John Walters from Eye magazine. A writer, editor and publisher, John isn't necessarily a designer but has always been involved with it. John explained how we should value design in 5 ways: editorially, culturally, functionally, financially and educationally. "There's more to design than just following a brief" - as a graphic design student, I couldn't agree more with this response! John talked us through some of his favourite covers, articles and interviews from eye magazine, which was fascinating.

Current issue (79) of Eye magazine

Next up was Bruno Maag of Dalton Maag, who specialise in type and identity design. For Bruno (and many) type is the fundamental element of design, and fonts are some of the most valuable assets a designer can make use of. I found his talk so interesting, as I am currently developing my own typeface and it is a process that is somewhat overwhelming. "All you need is some black and white gouache," explain Maag, "technology is not a necessity". This was a useful tip - when working on my own designs after the symposium, I closed my laptop and just used a paintbrush and ink. It allowed me to create more interesting free-hand characters than I would have been able to produce using computer software. Bruno talked through Dalton Maag's "Ubuntu project", an open source system that offers free applications and software to the community. Dalton Naag developed a 13 style typeface in order to speak to all of Ubuntu's customers, an example of how fonts can give value to the community.

Example of Dalton Maag's Ubuntu typeface

Jonathan Barnbrook gave a fascinating, and often hilarious, talk about the value of fonts. His talk was structured under various different topics, all of which he linked back to the work that he and Barnbrook and Virus fonts creates. The topics were as follows:

1. A better society through more rational typeforms (in which he talked about his first font, Utopia and one of his more controversial typefaces, Prozac).
2. Appropriate forms for new technology (his font Bastard was created as a response to "legible" commercial letterforms, Barnbrook wanted to created the most illegible, legible font)
3. Appropriate forms from new technology (Shock and Awe was created based on the type found on the side of tomahawk bombs, and Stealth was created from Stealth bomber letterforms)
4. Appropriate forms for new language (Nixon was a typeface to tell lies with, Drone is for text without content)
5. Appropriate forms for showing the parameters of language (Tourette - based on swearing but not aggressive in aesthetics. Expletive, also based on swearing but has the charm of someone who wouldn't)
6. Subverting existing forms to tell a new truth (Olypukes; olympic pictograms changed to represent the more negative side of the event)
7. Creating and utlising beauty to understand the past (Exocet and Infidel, both based upon historical scriptures and lettering).

Again, discovering more about the type designs Barnbrook creates was really helpful for me and my own typeface explorations. Barnbrook's talk really aided me in my research, especially as he is quite experimental and controversial in his approach. A really great talk.

Section of Barbrook's "Expletive" typeface.

Last but not least was Tom Dorresteijn, from Studio Dumbar based in Holland. Tom's views of the value of design, or the "design of value" often linked back to the ability of turning people on; how design should touch the emotional channel of people. As well as taking though some of Studio Dumbar's work, his talk was filled with a lot of very thought provoking statements and pieces of advice, for instance he explained how we "shouldn't try to become someone else, but become who we are. Try to enrich what you do with the broader horizons of design. If you don't you will limit yourself". It was a really insightful talk, especially for those of us in the audience who were students about to embark on careers in the industry.

Dutch Chamber Choir from Studio Dumbar on Vimeo.

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