Current 06/2008

We do not know much about the man, not even when he lived, but he seem to have been the inventor of the notion of good (truth)and bad (lie). And the purpose of humankind was to pursuit the first. Our conscious mind could lead us the right way. Since then the mind was separated from the rest of us. It became a different thing, immaterial and eternal. The body has a longer or shorter shelf-life but the mind would live on forever.

The highly popular technique of brain imaging seems to have ended the life of the mind, or maybe better phrased by saying that all activities of our conscious mind can be made visible as biological activities in the brain. Hence the brain and the mind are one, not two distinct facilities of the homo sapiens. Is this notion important ? Well it does make a difference to be able to locate the individual sense of right and wrong to activities in precise locations of the brain that may also be related to so called primitive 'reward' centres. It may shift complex legal, moral and religious debates towards studying fundamental biological functioning. That is an important and maybe a very welcome shift. Humans tend to get rather agressive defending their sense of right and wrong. Most of the sad part of human history can be set against this background, any illuminating insight in this process must be beneficial to us.

 

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One of the research results of the brain imaging technique relates very much to graphic design. It shows once again the amazing power of visual representation. Previous research already revealed how easily we mix quality of content with the quality of looks. (The handsome professor tells the truth according to the audience, never mind the level of nonsense lectured). Again, when scientific research was illustrated with the latest brain imaginary, the appreciation of the research results exploded even when judged by the best informed scholars.

Another interesting aspect of brain imaging is the so called 'bio-feedback'. Previous imaging techniques already showed that when certain (brain) activities can be made visible or audible, we can manipulate them ourselves. The alpha waves in our brain (related to sleep), for instance, can be induced only by making their presence clear to us. Brain imaging has the potential of doing this on a far more refined level. Creative thinking is related to specific brain activities. So soon we may expect to sit behind our computers with a real time brain scan in one corner of our screen to stimulate the level of creativity of our designs. And maybe if just the right areas will light up in a fake scan, the placebo effect will set in. Why not ? Bio-feedback also seem to be a very welcome alternative to fight all kind of mental illnesses now treated with invasive chemical bombardments producing quite some collateral damage. However, one can also think of applications where imaging techniques will be given unreasonable power, in lie detectors for instance.

The merger of brain and mind is an inevitable step in our cultural evolution. It will inform us how closely we are still related to our evolutionary ancestors and how little we really know about our complex selves.

 

Intelligent Design

People having problems with this theory believe that the baffling complexity of life is only conceivable if a higher authority oversaw the construction of it with an intelligent plan. Chance is considered to be too haphazard or too dumb to be solely responsible for the magnificence of all being. Designers and artists have used randomness as a sole method of creation. The German artist Gerhard Richter said that 'Chance is more clever than I am'. One of the founding members of the Dada movement, Hans Arp tried to have as little as possible personal influence on the result of his work by almost mechanically sanding his sculptures. A lot of (artistic) creation is based on constantly redirecting the course. Too much planning ahead is often seen as blocking the way to get to the best and most innovative results. Serendipity is at the base of much of human progress. For whatever reason, nature can provoke a profound emotion in us comparable with looking at art or even deeper than that. Naturally created objects are often considered visually attractive. The shoreline sends most on a treasure hunt. It looks as if the charm of chance and the beauty of nature are having a revival as sources of inspiration. 

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The shaping power of sand and seawater are the only forces responsible for the design of the pebbles and the reshaping of the broken tile parts.

 

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The shaping power of sand and seawater are the only forces responsible for the design of the pebbles and the reshaping of the broken tile parts.

 

 

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Sabina Oberholzer rearranged striped pebbles to make a word.

 

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Marian Bantjes used flower leaves for her lettering.
 

Typographic Bling-Bling I

Analysing the real needs of users seems to be of nobody's concern. (The big American software developers do not research seriously how their products are actually used by their costumers). Typography used to be an art with a solid number of basic constraints. The type designer and the typographer had each their own prerogatives. The type designer was fully in control of most fundamental aspects of any kind of application of his/her font. That situation is almost entirely history. These days, graphic designers can change practically any aspect of a font they use with just a mouse-click. And DTP software developers and some type designers seem to take pleasure in offering ever growing Godzilla-size font families in combination with application software that allows for ever growing ways of customising fonts as well as determining the aspects of typography in almost any conceivable minute detail and often far beyond the capacity of visual detection of the human eye. Selection of specification options are getting clearly out of hand here and there. The new DTP software for instance allows for the selection (among many, many others) of 20 different style variations, called OpenType features, in one font selection.

The new OpenType font technology has been developed for the single reason that it will allow the few near monopolistic (American) companies to streamline their products to sell it on a global scale. Not only the relatively simple Latin script had to be services for that purpose but all other world scripts as well, so a font format and an application technology had to be developed that could incorporate large numbers of different characters and complicated ways of character arrangements. This is on itself a logical development and potentially in anybody's interest. But the same technology can be used for senseless indulgence by designers and technicians. One of the first Latin fonts to showcase the abundance of the new options in the OpenType format was the Zapfino designed by Herman Zapf. This font borderlines typography, it is in fact designed to produce a sort of keyboard calligraphy with a very limited range of potential application. Herman Zapf has let himself go in designing all kind of different Arabesques that individual letters or letter combinations could possibly take. It is very questionable who could sensibly work with this truckload of visual tutti-frutti. Its a bit like offerring a piano in the expectation that users would play spontaneously symphonies on it. Graphic designers are confronted with an increasing amount of typographic bling-bling on offer. They'd better not get hypnotised by all this pointless glitter.

 

Skip Intro

Or it may even be short lived, like a newspaper -forgotten the next day- but when given sufficient care, print can be preserved for a very long time. It is static in that sense of the word and that seems to be an appealing quality to most graphic designers. In general, they still love print. However, today's reality is different, we look at and consume graphic products more and more from some type of screen. And most screens 'refresh' the image a number of times per second. So, 'still images' may just as well be replaced by 'time based' or dynamic images. This option is often used but regrettably not designed by the most talented graphic designers. Dynamic graphics are likely to be irritating rather than pleasing or useful. It's interesting to notice how slow fundamentally new design options are integrated in professional methodologies. Maybe the professional hesitation is caused by the fact that a fundamentally different type of talent is required. Graphic designers are not educated to be performers, like actors or movie makers - although occasionally some are naturally gifted. Graphic designers are mostly involved in projects that seek to establish a lasting impression. An image that will help to hold the attention for a long time, one that will be remembered. But times have changed. Today basically, two perceptional aspects are often demanded in graphic design commissions: first, to grab the initial attention with the design but at the same time in second place to establish a lasting look and feel. Not an easy task to combine the two, which is in some ways even a contradicting one. Dynamic images (preferably with sound) cannot be beaten by anything else to draw our attention, but we also love to keep static, tangible, printed pictures of our beloved ones for instance. To capture and 'freeze' time. We are enchanted by the elusive, the firework that will last only seconds, be taken on a dynamic trip into the unknown, to feel the flow of time. But we also need 'anchors' in order to survive. Our homes, our family, our friends. These two aspects are not easy to combine in one design. That is why we see so many 'skip intro' buttons on websites. Maybe not the most elegant solution for the problem. Interactive images seem to provide the best of both worlds. You do not have to 'skip' anything, the image will be dynamic and exciting only if the user decides to explore this option. Interactive logos for instance seem to be a nice way to deal with both the need to burn a steady image on our retinas as well as serving the need to get visually aroused when we feel like it. Underneath a few examples of this still often neglected option. (Move - and/or click -your arrow-pointer over the image to make them dynamic)

Samples

 

Updates

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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