21 December 2009
The US, by far the biggest polluter per capita on the globe (only a few Arab Gulf oil states were capable of beating the Americans), never ratified the treaty and President George W Bush withdrew his country entirely from Kyoto declaring that the American way of life could never be changed never mind the effect on others. The countries stubbornly committing themselves to the CO2 reductions required under the Kyoto protocol had hoped that they would lead the world by example. Well, that does not appear to be the way the world is heading. The biggest polluters carried on business as usual. The developing countries (including China) were initially not required to implement any CO2 reduction at all under the protocol because their contribution per capita was so little in comparison. Thus 'Kyoto' had little effect on a global scale.
The stakes of individual countries in the effects of climate change are incomparable on three levels: their risk (some are at the risk of disappearing completely), their (military) power, and their contribution to global pollution. However, the most difficult part is to formulate a leading principle to deal with the matter that would be accepted by all. Nobody owns the earth's atmosphere. Societies have so far treated our basic life support as if it was for free. Everybody could use and pollute our atmosphere without limitation because it though to be indefinitely available. We have discovered that it is in fact a scarce commodity and maintaining a clear atmosphere comes at a price. What should each user pay or contribute to keep it clean?
If we compare the natural resources of our globe to one big dinner table and its inhabitants to 100 hundred seats of guests around it, each seat representing one percentage point of the total population, then the US occupies 5 seats but takes a quarter of the goodies on the table. China takes 20 seats and recently passed the US as the world's biggest polluter, which means that it is still per capita on 25% of the level in the US. European countries and Japan are roughly on one half of the US level while their wealth level is about the same. India takes 17 seats on the table but pollutes so far per capita only about 10% of the US level. If China and India would show just as much interest as the US has done so far in polluting the atmosphere and both countries would reach the wealth level of the US than our globe would most likely be quite a different place.
The climate dance leaders were obviously the US and the fast growing economies, China in its first place. Well, their first 'pas de deux' on the global stage was not impressive but interestingly frightening. During my lifetime, the US has had it mostly their way in all international treaties. Much on this globe is shaped according to US values, because they were the only world superpower, often rather arrogantly claiming a special important mission on our planet. Originally, these claims could be supported by evidence but gradually the US lost a convincing status as a role model, at least in the eyes of many. The pretensions and the propaganda are still there but the match with reality has diminished over time. Now, their position as the only super power has ended. China - thanks to the US spending thrift - can now look the US right in the eye. China's size and superior economic growth will make the difference in power only bigger.
Maybe the world needs treaties to better secure its existence. It is very likely that the American way of consumption if followed by the rest would lead to climate disaster, but we know more or less what to expect from the US. About China we know nothing and what we know about it is not particularly reassuring. The world is desperately anxious to know more about its new dance master and its ways. As a starter, maybe China should consider hiring an American PR firm, but hopefully it wouldn't leave it to that.
17 December 2009
Our hairstyle is a prominent part of our identity, probably more important than the way we dress. The exuberant style of the imperial court of the French emperor Louis XIV is best visualised with his long curly locks. Even today, judges and barristers in the British courts of law put on their wigs to express sublime authority. Hair styles are used to convey life styles. The hippie movement expressed itself with growing extremely long hair or even having pony tails for men. A popular musical in the sixties was called 'Hair'. The counter movement were the skinheads who razored their heads bold and later added all kinds of tattoos on their skin.
Female emancipation also used hairstyle to express the drive. Women cut their hair short like men. Especially in France this style became popular. Cultural periods can often be translated to favorite hair styles. Religious groups also use hair style as a way to signal their group identity. The Hassidic Jews and the Amish males have a strong hairdo identity. These groups are far from the only ones using hairstyles as a branding tool. If we include headgear as a part of a hairstyle than the amount of groups using these identity instruments become much larger. Islam has been for some years now the most stirring belief in the public opinion and many Muslim groups have strong restrictions to the way women hair is exposed and the way men shave or cut their hair. It seems that when religion becomes more important in one's life it will also show in the haircut and the way one is dressed. Monks are no hair affectionados. Extreme religious dedication is often militant, and the militia has always had a strict (hair)code. The military short haircut for men is about the same for the Western world, but the native American Indians and the Indian Sikhs warriors fought with long hair and/or beards.
Individuals also use their hairstyle as personality markers. Many famous people can be recognised by their hairstyle, like Einstein, Hitler, Andy Warhol, Jane Mansfield, Lady Thatcher, Juliette Greco or Marilyn Monroe. Our hairstyle is a cherished part of our looks. Some will spend fortunes to have it the way they wish. Old age will affect inevitably our hair. It will be thinner, it may lose their natural curls, it will get grey or white and many men will become partially bold. Strategies to avoid these signs of aging are limitless, some follow quite remarkable strategies, just look at the hairdo of Donald Trump.
Cultural dominance is also expressed in hairstyles. Western supremacy is visible in prevailing hairstyles typical for the Caucasian race. Many artificial hair straightening or lush long curling is done to a rather poor effect, apparently only in an attempt to imitate.
If hairstyles portray an era, then ours is an interesting hotchpotch. On the one hand all possible hairstyles are around since individual expression is the catchword of our times. Moreover, all affluent societies have become multi racial and racially mixed societies, which adds to the already large variety. Maybe the new thing is that the naked body has become an object of fashion, pubic hair is coiffured today and tattooing became a mainstream cosmetic activity. On the other hand, visual trends are more internationally followed than ever before. The return to the sixties is a global wave widely imitated in all sorts of visual expression. There is a rather remarkable trend towards conformity. Just look at the hair and fashion style of teens and twenties. All young women seem to prefer long hair. Young people are exceedingly concerned with their looks. Even a hairstyle that tries to imitate a 'just out of bed' look is meticulously held in place during the day.
Photographs in magazines seem to be obsessively imitated up to a level that French lawmakers are considering legislation for the proper use of Photoshop. Image, money and looks are hugely overvalued.
There is a massive bourgeois generation in the making.
15 December 2009
Everything started with the ‘digital revolution', a ‘democratisation of technology' that gave type designers the tools to create typefaces which would have required heavy machinery just a decade earlier. And just another decade later, the Internet forever transformed the way we access and work with information. The nearly 100 million commercial sites on the World Wide Web sell everything imaginable, opening new possibilities for authors publishing their own books, bands selling their own music, and programmers distributing their own software.
Transformed from a physical product into a collection of ones and zeros, typefaces are also ideally suited for distribution via the web, email or removable media. Access to both digital design tools and digital distribution channels has produced a new model for dissemination of digital goods, partially liberating artists from distributors: just as writers and musicians can get their work directly to their audiences, font designers can get their work directly to end users. While direct contact between the creator and user seems so obvious that it is hard to imagine any other system, it is quite different from the classic distribution model
This model, often taught at universities as the only viable economic model, has remained essentially unchanged since 1602, when the Dutch East India Company became the prototype of the multinational corporation, buying spices in Indonesia for next to nothing and selling them to rich people a world away for a small fortune. The spices changed hands several time between their production and their use, everybody (with the exception of the producer and consumer) making a handsome profit in the process. And although the final price was several times the production cost, it was not the final retailer who benefited from the difference, but the whole chain of intermediaries along the way.
Obviously there is a great difference between physical products like spices and intellectual products like digital typefaces, but a similar model prevails in font distribution today. FontShop, the well-established German distributor, is an example: its house label FontFont licenses products directly from the designers, then sells them via its international network. Although FontFont pays higher royalties than some other established type foundries, they still amount to only 20% of the retail price. The remaining 80% is consumed by the distribution process, international marketing and advertising being generally the largest line item.
Ways of Distribution
It would be misleading, however, to think that designers who publish their own fonts earn more money for their products. The trade-off is clear: working through a large distributor means access to a wider audience, though at the cost of a smaller share of the retail price. Having direct contact with consumers guarantees a full share of the profit, but not a broad client base.
Furthermore, not every designer is ready to set up the necessary retail infrastructure, deal with customers and invest into marketing. Xavier Dupré, one of today's most prolific type designers, decided to publish his types with not one, but three existing type foundries, FontFont, Emigre and FontBureau. This freed him from having to manage distribution concerns, but at the cost that he would have no control over how sales were conducted, or how prices would be set. He also doesn't know who is using his fonts.
Other designers have made the opposite choice. Jean-François Porchez initially declined to use a distributor ‘For several reasons: To able to offer real service to users directly from the designer, to provide good type specimens, feedback, adaptations to the real needs of customers, etc. All the advantages of being in direct connection. It was also to limit piracy; as a designer I don't like to have a bunch of my fonts offered for free by others.' Recently, however, he has changed his approach in order to get the best of both worlds. While full OpenType versions of his fonts are available exclusively from his own foundry, versions with reduced character sets are sold via other distribution channels.
The choice of distribution method is an important strategic tool in determining a font's exclusivity, where it should and should not be available. To the extent that distribution contributes to the font's usability, it requires the same energy and creativity that was invested into creating the product in the first place. Thus for self-publishing designers, the division between the creative work of designing and the creative work of distribution begins to blur as what they offer and how they offer it become two parts of the same creative process.
André Baldinger, a Swiss designer based in Paris, sells his fonts directly through his website, though he admits that his other projects leave him with very little time to handle distribution. He adds that he is ‘personally clearly much more interested in the type design process than in the marketing, although this is an important part'.
Though most designers share Baldinger's preference for the ‘art' aspect over the ‘business' aspect, there is also a minority that experiments with distribution methods. The Dutch foundry Underware, for example, bundles its fonts with €15 books that are set using the fonts and thus serve as type specimens. This enables the user to get the fonts directly from the designers and install them on his computer immediately. Underware hopes that this first-hand experience will convince people to pay for the fonts when they use them for commercial purposes, obtaining a user licence for software that they already physically possess. Judging by the company's success, this innovative idea is working, although analysis is somewhat complicated by the fact that Underware's fonts are also distributed through other, more conventional channels which require payment in the usual way.
While the digital revolution and Internet have given designers a wide range of innovative distribution methods to choose from, they also present new challenges in the form of intellectual property theft. Most people would probably agree that content creators such as musicians, writers and designers should be paid for their work, and most people would probably never steal a CD from a shop, and yet these same people don't hesitate to upload and download music, movies or fonts over the Internet. One user in an online discussion about copyright infringement commented: ‘Copyright is dead. people just aren't used to it yet. It is about the simple reality that copying information is free, be it a font or an MP3. Copying is not theft. It is replication. You can't stop digital replication.'
Thus new distribution channels are constantly emerging, channels which are controlled neither by content creators nor by publishers, but solely by the interests of the users: content flows from creator to user without the corresponding flow of remuneration in the opposite direction. Many designers find their fonts available for free download on file-sharing sites just days after their release. French type designer Christoph Badani complained, ‘I don't think that this climate is very positive and favourable, with new opportunities for designers.' Worse still, ambiguities in the interpretation of copyright law make it hard to crack down on unauthorised distribution of digital files.
Today, file sharing is estimated to account for over one-third of all Internet traffic, an alarming number. Some artists, however, are trying to exploit this trend rather than fight it. When the music file-sharing site Napster was credited with driving Radiohead's album Kid A to the top of the Billboard charts, the band released the album In Rainbows on a pay-what-you-like basis via their website. In an interview in Wired magazine, the band commented that while many fans chose to pay nothing, ‘In terms of digital income, we've made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever - in terms of anything on the Net.' Radiohead's Thom Yorke said ‘We have a moral justification in what we did in the sense that the majors and the big infrastructure of the music business have not addressed the way artists communicate directly with their fans. In fact, they seem to basically get in the way. Not only do they get in the way, but they take all the cash.' But only after the album was released on CD and vinyl did it go straight to the top of the UK charts, indicating that fans really wanted a tangible product.
Although the pay-what-you-like model is superficially similar to the shareware distribution of software, it is not really applicable to font distribution. In addition to making money from merchandising, recording artists receive royalty payments every time their music is played on radio, on TV or in public places. And just as the shareware model declined rapidly at the end of the 1990s, so Radiohead also decided against using the pay-what-you-like method with their future albums. Thom Yorke concluded: ‘I don't think it would have the same significance now anyway, if we chose to give something away again,' he said, describing it as a ‘one-off response to a particular situation'.
Curiously, although the Internet is delivering more and more fonts to more and more customers all over the world, the overwhelming majority of them are not used on the Web itself. Even in this time of ever-faster technological innovation, web designers are forced to rely on a few dozen fonts preselected by Microsoft and Apple. The World Wide Web Consortium's attempt to make the other 99.99% of fonts available to browsers would treat fonts like any other online content, storing them on servers and leaving them vulnerable to being extracted from webpages. Font foundries have, of course, protested vehemently and added new license conditions to prohibit unprotected online use. Other type designers are lobbying for the creation of a new font format which would support protected online use, but if and when such a format is implemented, it will take years to achieve wide support by browsers, developers and designers.
Thus, although more type designers than ever before make their living thanks to the web, they are reluctant to support online use of their fonts on the very medium that supports their industry. The issue of how to create a distribution model for fonts used over the Internet needs to be addressed now, before other technological advances take place. Because as we know, constant change is the only guarantee that we have.
12 December 2009
Interview Marian Bantjes
Grand Prize for Stephan Sagmeister in 2009 Taiwan International Poster Awards
Holger Matthies on poster exhibition
30 Posters on Migration
07 December 2009
05 December 2009
Maarten Bas came to fame with his final student project in 2002. Things may go fast these days. He burned existing furniture with a paint burner until it turned completely black and had partially collapsed. He covered the result with a thick layer of epoxy raisin so the product wouldn't leave black traces on everyone touching it. This design method made his fame, so many furniture design classics from the past 100 years were treated this way by him and sold under the 'Smoke' label. Since then, Maarten Bas has managed to invent a few other design methods that kept the design critics hot. He made a series of 'Clay' furniture and he drew recently the attention with a number of 'Video Clocks'. Maarten combines all the ingredients for contemporary success: an 'artsy' approach to design, 'sampling' of design icons, branding his own design series and having the guts to think big.
Bringing the recent developments in a very brief retrospective, one can say that for the longest time customised production was the way we made and sold the furniture we used. No one produced 'for stock', but there was a strong aesthetic/functional tradition, so pieces of furniture were produced on order according to a limited number a prototypes that slowly changed. A bit like the way men's costumes are still produced. The following phase of industrial production introduced for the first time a separation of design and production in a more formal way. Marketing became a very important factor in trying to forecast what type of products were commercially the best to produce in stock and to advertise these products afterwards to stimulate sales. Product design was for a large part determined by specific production restraints. Today, globalisation has influenced design and production heavily, continuous progression in production methods and material technology has made production constraints far less important design considerations. Global distribution and marketing power have created a market for gigantic mass production. The scale became truly immense on one hand but at the same time very small on the other. Design and production of small series or one offs is now a feasible commercial option thanks to progressing digital production methods and internet induced marketing. In an economy of plenty, emotional qualities of products become effectively the only relevant quality for most products. Products are bought because they can help to express an image or a desired lifestyle not primarily for their functional aspects. Functional aspects of some type of products also became so complex that most buyers are not really aware any longer of what it is they're buying and using. 'Sustainability' of products could become a new true functional aspect of future design. Maybe, but we already had this wave in design after the first energy crisis in the seventies. It soon withered away and resulted twenty years down the line in the most polluting and exuberant lifestyle ever. The distinction between art (whose function is limited to stimulate the emotion and/or the intellect) and design has disappeared. Typical design objects like a chair, for instance, are now intentionally produced as art objects. Some chairs are designed and produced for art collectors or museum curators, not to sit on. The famous Israeli designer Ron Arad, owns an extensive production facility to produce prototypes for the art collectors market, which is his major source of income. Individual 'design' objects are now sold within the same high end price ranges as pieces of art. A 'chair' may become literally a sculpture or something to hang on the wall.
The way we are informed about new developments in design and art has become breathtaking in both quantity and speed of delivery. The situation was different not too long ago, the famous 'Red and Blue Chair' of Rietveld became an internationally famous item, only after the author had died while he designed this chair when he was thirty years old. Rietveld (1888 - 1964) had a very modest career as a furniture designer and architect. He ran his own workshop to produce his now world famous furniture, his architectural commissions were very limited is size and quantity and were given to him by local clients. The Amsterdam Rietveld Academie art school is by far the biggest building he ever designed at the end of his career. During his career, only a few of his furniture designs were produced in limited quantities for an Amsterdam shop. Rietveld participated in the CIAM, a discussion group of leading European architects and artists under French patronage. The group promoted the Modernist ideals, like functionalism, standardisation and rationalisation of design and production. These ideals had a strong political and social motivation. More than half a century later, the world is a total different place. Western countries have become much, much wealthier, and a place where design is an established profession. The careers of the contemporary (Dutch) designers have become entirely incomparable to the careers of their colleagues living at the first half of the previous century. Today, burning your compatriot's designs doesn't necessarily expose you to the scorn of your colleagues, it has even become a way to design fame. Edo Smitshuijzen Video clock 1 Maarten Baas Video clock 2 Maarten Baas Video clock 3 Maarten Baas
03 December 2009
I remember the often told story about the first exhibition of the later famous 'Cobra' group in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam where the participating artists spent the night before the vernissage sleeping under their canvasses because they feared that their colleagues would take their spot on the wall at the very last moment.
Clubs of graphic designers maintain a friendly, open atmosphere. Teasing and poking fun at each other do not lead to perpetual fall-outs of colleagues but are seen as useful instruments to create a relaxed collegial mood and to keep bloating self-importance in check. Graphic designers are an agreeable lot, thank heavens. Local differences in general behaviour may occur, but the coherence in attitude is rather stable.
However, when individuals develop exceptional qualities within their field they start to have certain personality traits in common. Talent is an important ingredient to excel but will power, physical strength and stamina are much more important qualities. High-level professionals dedicate their lives to their profession. They often develop a compulsive obsessive behaviour. I wouldn't go as far as to say they become suitable cases for treatment, but some do come pretty close. Not only their behaviour becomes relatively extreme, also their perspective changes. It shrinks and becomes very narrowly focussed. Graphic design is not a profession where the outcome of the work is based on structured analyses in a commonly accepted manner. Not that such an activity is entirely irrelevant, but it is much more important to make fast and steady decisions based on intuition or experience. There is not a limited array of correct solutions for the brief in a commission. The amount of 'correct' solutions are literally countless. Each will have its own unique quality. One needs to develop a strong sense of direction to find one's way in what is often unchartered territory. The indispensable strong opinion about professional matters is the only way to work effectively, while this vision is mostly valuable for the one carrying it.
I'm away from the pressured daily practice of designing for many years now, so when I listen to still very active colleagues expressing exceedingly strong professional opinions about stylistic matters or the reach of graphic design in general, I often feel like saying: ‘Huh? You can't be serious'. Well, they very much are, and I remember being just like them when I was in their position. It's the only way to survive professionally.
The AGI club is a special club since it exclusively brings together the 'cream of the crop,' so all its members have the above listed or comparable traits. That is not all, the club's statutes require that a small selection of the same group of people must also act as jury to select new members to the club. Well, the standard selection criteria for any member of a jury is that a jury member must be unbiased to do the work properly, so each current member should be disqualified on solid grounds. Moreover, AGI is an international club so some form of national bias is unavoidable. Also, the professional judgement can be blurred. Some jury members may be enchanted by designs made in a language or a mysterious unfamiliar script they can't read. It will be impossible for them to put these designs in a proper context.
There are even more handicaps, the candidate member is supposed to be judged on a longstanding reputation and design career, but highly active colleagues are not capable of sensibly using these criteria. Designers are a type of animals very sensitive to the latest visual style fat. All are truly dedicated followers of fashion. A major part of their design brain is occupied and inspired by the latest 'new' thing, directly followed by making their 'own' thing within this context. International travel, trade and the internet have made 'new' a widespread phenomena. So visual style is today a global pandemic. The still persistant Helvetica flu is one of the latest examples, which can be somewhat perplexing for aged designers that experience this 'new' flu for the second time around. This fact means that any graphic designer, never mind how gifted, only has a relatively small window during a design career in which he/she has a reasonable chance to pass the jury. Their work has to be outstanding within a visual style that is still en vogue. Too bad, when an outstanding designer is invited to AGI too late in their career and have been rejected by AGI. Their ‘selection window' had passed. Just bad luck.
All our jury members are totally unfit because each is biased as hell and severely handicapped in their judgement by definition. But it gets even worse. Every AGI jurying has a standard procedure. First, the work of all candidates is shown without comments. After this first quick round, a few candidates are dismissed because their work didn't stir anybodies blood and a few are spontaneously taken in because it lifted everybody's upper lip a bit or alternatively it blew them out of their socks. The difference in response depends on where a jury member grew up. It would be very time efficient and good mood preserving if the jury concluded their work at this stage. It does not, so the second phase of the jurying is an endless nerve and mood wrecking period of verbal haggling and occasional arm twisting. The quintessential first impression no longer counts; the quality of verbal explanations about design superiority are the only criteria left. The whole process becomes 'lawyerised', so to speak. In this phase the process starts to be unfair, since our language in court is English and no professional interpreters are present. Jury members living and working in verbal fight club cities like New York or London speaking their mother tongue have an unjustifiable advantage over all others. That makes the selection process not particularly cricket.
Any meaningful assessment of individual design quality is entirely illusionary during the important second phase of the jurying where most of the AGI membership is selected. Flipping a coin would produce the same results while being much faster, fairer and less embarrassing. No rejected canditate should feel upset. Like no one playing the lottery would have those feelings about the result. The only sensible strategy is to play again to enhance your chances to get lucky. It really works. What also works is paying meticulous attention to the presentation of the candidate's work. A sloppy presentation of work is always fatal.
There are no real remedies to alter the current situation dramatically for the better, that is why the AGI jurying process is a bit like sausage fabrication. An outsider should never watch the process of the manufacturing too closely in order not to lose appetite for enjoying the result. The best way of dealing with the matter of jurying is a 'don't ask, don't tell' attitude. We all should remain silent and embrace full heartedly our newly selected AGI members each year and praise the courage of our members willing to participate in this unavoidable but quite cruel process of jurying new members.
By the way, although the new member selection process remains seriously flawed; there is much room to make it 'as good as it gets' by standardising new member proposals, jury selection and selection procedures and - quite importantly - by the way we welcome our new members. AGI should be very grateful to Carin Goldberg not only for chairing this impossible collective duty of AGI for the past three years, but also for implementing huge improvements in the whole process during her 'reign'. Please give Carin an extra big kiss the next time you meet her. She really deserves it.
Thomas Couderc work updates
07 June 2016
- New Work
Clément Vauchez work updates
15 April 2015
- New Work
Alexandre Dimos work updates
19 May 2016
- New Work
Yu Guang work updates
15 April 2015
- New Work
Alan Chan work updates
14 April 2015
- New Work