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Every step is an opportunity for an experience, a chance encounter. As we step into public spaces, these opportunities increase exponentially.
At home and in the studio, I take walks with others to work through details of a project. As we walk, we’re at the same time responding to our surroundings. Walking keeps our minds sharp; it improves my ability to think, to problem solve, and to develop ideas as they take shape. But I don’t think of walking as an active process of gathering thoughts, but rather extending a thought. It feels much like solving a maze.
Stanford researchers have proven that walking boosts creativity, suggesting that a person's creative output may increase 60% on average while walking.
Short Walks on Long Tangents
Lately, I’ve been walking two and a half miles to work. The slightest smile from a stranger fills me with joy, hope, and rejuvenation. My return smile is often met with increased acknowledgment—a widened smile revealing teeth, a kind greeting, a quick nod. I am so gratified by these quick exchanges that I’m always looking for more interaction.
Moving through public space can be transformative, and so these spaces have power, they are sacred and in need of mindful consideration.
While on these walks I come across neighbors, friends, and strangers, dogs, birds, squirrels—all things that can provoke me to think and act. I also come across various forms of communication, that fall into the categories of signage and advertising; both help guide me through my day, but they don’t often provoke me.
Provocations Lead to New Associations
Here is where I see an invaluable opportunity. Our public spaces—where our minds are the most active—need more ideas. Diverse ideas, sans agenda, that can provoke new thoughts. Perhaps change our actions and thereby our lives. Perhaps change the world.
Design can and should play a larger role in shaping our cities. Certainly through the first order of how things look and appear, but more profoundly the second order, the cultivation of an increasingly mindful public.
This isn’t exactly a new idea, just one the contemporary American metropolis has forgotten or under-prioritized. Most EU countries have regulations to avoid the unaesthetic effect of poorly-made public communications. This in turn creates increased opportunities and responsibility for more skilled practitioners to build the visual landscape. Case in point: Chicago’s sister city Lucerne, where the public poster is prized as the most relevant way of communicating. This is not due to the shape, but the contents and intention.
This can happen here. It is perhaps a very American approach to public space.
Freedom Within Vision
To quote Woodie Guthrie: “There was a big, high wall there that tried to stop me / Sign was painted, said "private property" / But on the back side it didn't say nothing / This land was made for you and me.”
The most poignant interpretation of this line comes from Chicago artist Lindsey Dorr-Niro: “A moment of freedom within vision, a structure and field filled with potential.”
This is what I see for great ideas in the public space, freedom within vision.
This summer, I took on the role of Lead on the Great Ideas project at the Chicago Design Museum. With permission from John Massey, and collaboration with the Museum's Matthew Terdich & Tanner Woodford we have been charged with renewing one of the nation’s most historic, landmark advertising campaigns.
For 25 years, the Container Corporation of America commissioned the day's avant-garde creative to visually interpret quotes by leading scientists, philosophers, and academics. These works were then circulated through traditional media channels. The general public was seeing the likes of Paul Rand, Herbert Bayer, Saul Bass, and René Magritte conveying the thoughts of Mark Twain, Alfred North Whitehead, and Theodore Roosevelt.
And they called it Great Ideas of Western Man.
Great Ideas of Humanity
Our revival, entitled the Great Ideas of Humanity, acknowledges globalization and celebrates the cross-pollination of ideas, philosophies, societies, and culture. We are connecting contemporary artists with important thinkers to bring continuation to this monumental series in serving the public interest.
The first two panels of our Great Ideas of Humanity campaign can be seen in situ in Chicago, at the intersection of LaSalle and Washington streets at the new Bus Rapid Transit station. Six more Great Ideas posters will be installed over the next two months.
002, Hugh Dubberly on John Dewey 001, Ivan Chermayeff on Oliver Wendell Holmes
The posters will remain up for the entirety of 2016.
In the contemporary culture of graphic design, an identity is commonly understood to mean much more than a logo. An identity is in fact a system, often built in response to a form, generally a logo. Though a logo can be a powerful tool that can immediately convey meaning, it’s only one piece of the kit that makes up an identity. Identities can be established lacking this piece.
Graphic designers may accept this, but many outside of the discipline think of the logo as the whole identity. At the studio, we use this difference in understanding as a teachable moment, an opportunity to illustrate to a potential client how a holistic systems approach to branding through graphic design is key to strengthening an organization’s image.
Curious Perspectives, Unanticipated Discoveries
When and where appropriate, I explore these curious perspectives through what I do best: making things.
Our 7th annual Typeforce exhibition takes place on February 26; creating its identity offered a perfect opportunity to explore the idea of identity as a kit of parts. This wasn’t necessarily at the top of my mind when beginning the project, but I arrived to it in a manner that Cranbrook’s Elliott Earls might classify as post-facto rationalization. This is where the process, specifically the design making, is an act of research and yields unanticipated discoveries.
Lucky Number Seven
The work started in my usual manner: scouring semiotics for significant, dramatic meaning. Where better to look than a number with known recognition: seven. Beyond being the lucky number, it too symbolizes the deadly sins. These capital vices inspire a wealth of imagery and could make for a system with legs—here, toads represent greed, snakes depict envy. Lions portray wrath, snails illustrate sloth, pigs come to stand for gluttony. The goat constitutes lust, and the plumage perfect peacock personifies pride. Meaning, visual play, energy that has been around for nearly 1800 years, and who doesn’t want an opportunity to explore ‘wrath’ in their work?
I’m certain we can make a fantastic exhibition identity based on sin, (I’d love to), though this did not feel right for an event that historically has served as a welcoming and safe place for people’s creative expression.
So, it was back to the books and to sketching. Emerging near the same time in history as the sins, the seven virtues: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. It is said that practicing the virtues protects against temptation from the seven deadly sins. Wow, full circle!? Where else did I go? All over the place. I’ll let you google the significance of the number seven in a tarot deck, because all of this dark, heavy meaning is really starting to be too much for me.
Making as Guilty Pleasure
What about making as exploration, as pure fun. Making not out of requirement, but because we have a mind, hands and tools? Making for the love of design and achieving something pure, something that elicits aesthetic pleasure?
Scrapping everything, pushing around shapes and colors, fun emerged and I had little idea where it was going. It felt guilty. Like how you feel after leaving school, entering the design profession, starting to make kick-ass work for friends and clients, telling your family—this is what I do. It’s a good guilty feeling, one I wanted to share with others, by way of shape play.
The Typeforce 7 identity doesn’t have many deliverables, but perhaps the responsive and interactive nature of the site could allow for this.
Creating a Kit of Parts
This idea began to put the first lines on the paper. With letters returning to their geometric roots; this geometry could shape the composition and then be defined digitally by viewport height, where the horizontal attributes are determined by a responsive expanding and anchoring of angular elements.
This build can translate across all devices, to mobile and just as easily to print. This idea takes the responsive nature and need for all things and puts it in the forefront, but rendering this graphically means there is no final form. It was this act that brought about this idea of our sans-logo identity as kit of parts. By designing variant styles and sizes for the shapes that represent consonants, the identity became something ever-changing, influenced by user interaction.
In this is a hyper post-internet framework for an identity, we built this with straight CSS, no assets (no SVG, JPG, PGN) other than two font files for a black and regular cuts of GT Haptic from Grilli Type, chosen for its mono-linear geometric build. Keeping it internet-ie, I went with light-based bright, bold colors taken directly from Adobe's default RGB palette. Seven colors allow us to show depth via gradient blends and serve an historical nod to Isaac Newton's defined rainbow spectrum.
Internal projects like this one must move quickly. With neither road map nor specific destination in mind, I’m particularly proud that we landed on an identity that has no logo, no final form and a minimal/manageable amount of parts. The kit of parts as they exist today includes:
• set shapes and variants that spell S E V E N • color palette that can mix and blend as desired • noise texture to add slight tactile qualities • GT Haptik for its geometric harmony
With a system like this, I think it's important for each deliverable to change and evolve. So what’s next with these works? I’m excited by the ability to bring physics into the system, be that gravity, increased depth and light. I think we can all see how it may turn towards Maholy-Nagy, Kasten, or El Lissitzky's constructivist compositions. Perhaps it shapes into something entirely different, is it time to look to tangrams again? What can I say, I'm excited by it all.
I believe success of Typeforce is due to the range + quality of work and the different backgrounds of our exhibitors. We're hoping to see your names in this round of Typeforce submissions. And if you spot any rising talents, let them know we want to see their work too.
Important dates: – Submit by Jan 15 – Doors open Feb 26
Important notes: – Group entries & international proposals are welcome – Awardees must be onsite to install the week prior to the opening
All submissions should be in the form of PDFs sent to Typeforce@FirebellyDesign.com