Current 12/2007

The Great Journey

Many individuals travel more than 100.000 miles per year. A new generation in the affluent society is likely to collect millions of traveled miles during their lifetime, leaving just as many pounds as carbon-dioxide residues. A weight many times higher than the weight of the house they will be living in.



Maybe we should try to find excitement in virtual traveling.

Or maybe we should realise more often that we are already collectively part of a gigantically complicated journey traveling at breathtaking speeds. To start, the Earth is rushing around the sun at a rate of approximately 67,000 miles per hour, almost 30 km per second. Our yearly journey circling the sun is about 600 mil miles (950 ml km) or about 24000 times around our own globe. But that is not the only journey we take part in. Our solar system is traveling at 220 km per second within the Milky Way Galaxy, busy doing a tour around our galaxy that takes 250 million years to complete. And all of this is a small part of the huge meandering movements we're in. The Milky Way is only one of the 350 billion galaxies in the increasingly expanding visual universe. And expansion that travels at approximately the speed of light.

Who still needs airmiles?


The (im)practical Dutch

These people have to be a collaborating and a practical lot, hence inclined to pay attention to a well designed environment.

Curiously, the highlights of Dutch design that make it to the design history books tell quite a different story. To give three examples from recent design history: the Rietveld chair is world famous, the Crouwel new alphabet is maybe the most reproduced sample of type design and more recently, the drawers of Tejo Remy got lots of attention. All three designs share being almost the antithesis of functionality. In fact they're practically unusable. It's impossible to sit on the Rietveld chair for longer than 5 minutes (Rietveld defended his design by stating that 'sitting' is a verb), it takes some effort to actually decipher Crouwel's characters, Remy's drawers must be the most complicated and lavish method to put stuff away. Nobody ever commissioned any of these designs or ever employ them for their intended use. These designs are iconic markers in the development of visual style, maybe a more important aspect of design than functionality is. This facet apparently also has the keen attention of the Dutch.


Tejo Remy.jpg


Writing Letters

Without a doubt some individual in a distant past was the first who conceived a letter, but this should not imply any form of protection on this invention into perpetuity. It's reasonable that the distribution of letters comes with some costs to the sender but not the creation of it.

The digital age made this sound principle less obvious. Nobody writes letters anymore, maybe with the exception of people really in love with each other, nervous bankers, wasteful tax collectors or serious lawyers. All the rest of us use already for quite some time 'word processors' (such a horrible word, like making letter meat loaf) and send the result as an electronic message to the addressee. Wordprocessors and internet access have become part of computer operating systems, so we pay for them implicitly each time we buy this essential ingredient that makes our computer a useful equipment. Operating systems will keep on changing so we will never stop paying for what has become the modern equivalent for such a straightforward and simple thing as writing a letter, because wordprocessing will never fall into the public domain as long as it is linked to system software. Every - even the most absurd - wordprocessing upgrade will remain in its entirety under copyright (or patent) protection for as long as we can still inhabit this planet. Obviously, this is a rather bizarre situation.

The - almost - global monopolist of personal computer system software can hardly claim the invention of any of the basic tools we all use now on our computers, like word processing, database and spreadsheets. Others have made these inventions and have stopped receiving revenues from their work a long time ago, but this company succeeded miraculously in twisting 95% of all computer using arms into buying their system software. And now it attempts to make us pay for all activities that have become like breathing in the digital age.

There is another downside to the upgrade terror of software, documents will become inaccessible over time. Nobody can open them anymore, unless you store old computers with their software only for this purpose.

Maybe it's time that the basic software we all use will become a standardised set on all our computers, never mind what type of system software we use. It would make document archives accessible for a longer period of time, enhance compatibility and avoid learning the never ending stream of silly upgrades. Effectively, the availability of 'Open Source' software has already created a while ago a countervailing force against commercial hegemony of distributing of what has become common software. It was an historical step that the world's first computer giant adopted open source software for their products.

So, paying for everyday software will likely disappear. However, something far more complex will take its place. We send our letters these days through a public network in an accessible format for everyone to read who has the right tools. The use of the internet exploded after the development of search software that created industry giants within years. Data-mining is the term used to create software that extracts (commercially) useful data out of the enormous digital stream that runs around the globe in an exponential rate. Some experts believe that companies will find ways to commercially exploit every single digital trace we leave on public networks.

Writing letters has become easier than ever before and delivery takes place at the speed of light. These circumstances changed the use and even the content of our written messages. But our voice had to be transformed into an almost immaterial string of organised molecules that can be transmitted in every possible way, received and read by everyone. Letters became a complex code in a microscopic universe where the difference between original and copy have disappeared, distance is no longer meaningful and multiplication effortless. Our messages are everywhere and nowhere at the same time, distributed by us with a more or less defined purpose in mind but increasingly also used for unintended goals.


Typo Animations

Picture 4.jpg


These days are long gone and moveable type has become a toy for typographic epicureans. The replacement by digital type has happened in a relatively short period of time and the effects of the transition have been no less than dramatic. Yet, the perceived function of type remained in the wide range from the unassuming servant of the content to the brazen actor demanding all attention for the visual performance. Film titles made type dynamic and digital animation software brought this technology to the desktop. Thanks to the web, animated type is now as common as hamburgers are. Almost no design presentation anymore without animated type. Recently, a new brach is added to the typography tree: the typo animations. Type is no longer either to serve or to condescend content, but to be only itself. An animated version of what was once called 'concrete poetry'. Below a few examples of the latest extension of the graphic design cannon.

Graphic design is everywhere

A long animation, go to the Black Gold movie

Keyboard despair

Pulp Fiction



Short Typographic history

Russian Abgvd

Swiss post modernism


The Winner Takes It All

A high income is on average not the incentive to be in an artistic profession. Quite the contrary, general income levels are well below average. Education plays a rather peculiar role in the arts, 70% of the people who finish an art education will never work in the profession and of those who actually do only 40% have had a formal education. These are inconceivable figures for other professions like doctors, lawyers or even building contractors. Yet, art education is popular and if one decides to study at institutions with the best reputation in the US you may look at a total direct investment of between 150.000 to 200.000 US dollars. Considering the prospects realistically after this study it seems like a gigantic waste of money. So no guarantee for a financially pampered future in graphic design or in the arts. The best strategy maybe is to find work in a rich country, and spend there as little as possible. The differences between the GDP per capita in countries represented in AGI for instance is enormous. In Iran and China GDP is around 2.500 US dollars per head per year, and at the other end in Norway it is 30 times more: a staggering 75.000. So don't go West my boy (or girl), go North!



An artistic life maybe lavish in a spiritual sense, materialistically one is forced into a rather frugal and austere lifestyle. This is the reality for most, but not for all. The very few who stand in the public limelight may become extremely wealthy. The lifestyle of some actors and pop stars are news topics and the dream of all of us for a shorter or longer period in our lives; some performers may even live in mansions with a private runway. For designers the few options into exuberant wealth are product design, star-architecture and fashion. Graphic designers have to invent cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. In those cases financial power can become so strong that you can hire fancy lawyers to successfully change copyright law to extend the protection of your interests. Also in the category of the 'Peanuts' or 'Miffy' (created by our Dutch AGI member Dick Bruna) there is a financial carefree life ahead. Basically, the trick is to come up with something that can be successfully 'merchandised', which means producing massively distributed and appealing gadgets that 'brand' a lifestyle. Ultimately, successful branding is the portal to commercial success. That's why type designers are selling t-shirts with their fonts. For the wealthy fine artist the strategy has to be a bit different, their customers are only the very, very few. Luckily, there are worldwide a lot of them around these days. The fine arts industry global annual turnover is now estimated at 30 billion US, about the same as the national GDP of a tiny country like Luxembourg. Damien Hirst bought recently a self portrait from his deceased British colleague Francis Bacon for USD 33.1 million. This amount equals what 30 average Dutch fine artists may hope to earn combined during their lifetimes. Or put on a more global scale, with this amount one could employ 1500 construction workers for ten years in Dubai.

Also in the arts, the very few winners take it all.


Portrait Of An Era

One of his latest works had no other purpose than offering the market the most expensive piece of art of any living artist in history. His attempt did not succeed completely. He needed the help of some (very rich) friends who purchased the work. Not surprisingly his art finds inspiration in the countries were the most new billionaires live: China and India. Abundant decoration has always been used to express wealth and status. Well, decorating is back, big time. No young skin without a tattoo anymore.

Yet, our era is not solely about adoration for material abundance. Our conscience is pestering us. Most of us know we're busy stripping our planet into a dead ball, so there are a lot of nostalgic feelings around, longing for simpler times. Artists and designers are looking back for inspiration. The dreamy sixties and seventies seem to fit. Damien Hirst also succeeds in making this style a highly and commercially effective enterprise. His 'polka dot' paintings are selling for 1.2 million US each and he has sold more than a thousand so far. Prints can be purchased for 2.5 thousand pounds each. Like a few of his successful colleagues, he runs a large art manufacturing plant supplying to what has become a true global industry.

No wonder designers are contemplating becoming artists.


Damien Hirst3.jpg


From top to bottom: the traditional decorative signs of wealth used by the powers of tomorrow: China and India. Damiens Hirst's butterflies on canvas (2006) and his 50 million Pounds diamond skull (2007). His more modest polka dot paintings take us back to the Mary Quant era.



Thomas Couderc work updates

Thomas Couderc has updated their work, see it here.

Clément Vauchez work updates

Clément Vauchez has updated their work, see it here.

Alexandre Dimos work updates

Alexandre Dimos has updated their work, see it here.

Yu Guang work updates

Yu Guang has updated their work, see it here.

Alan Chan work updates

Alan Chan has updated their work, see it here.

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