Design Indaba Blog: Day One

A real human presence: two of Rick Valicenti’s Notes to Self
Although not driven by any explicit theme, today’s opening series of lectures at the 12th Design Indaba in Cape Town proved to have a common thread in invoking the human being at the centre of the creative process. In his closing address earlier this evening, Bruce Mau extended this pervasive thought with an impassioned talk on how our core senses of “love and ambition” will be critical in helping inspire change through design: change that, Mau believes, is encouragingly already beginning to take root…


A real human presence: two of Rick Valicenti’s Notes to Self

Although not driven by any explicit theme, today’s opening series of lectures at the 12th Design Indaba in Cape Town proved to have a common thread in invoking the human being at the centre of the creative process. In his closing address earlier this evening, Bruce Mau extended this pervasive thought with an impassioned talk on how our core senses of “love and ambition” will be critical in helping inspire change through design: change that, Mau believes, is encouragingly already beginning to take root…

But more on Mau’s mission later. (The guy warrants a post all to himself).

In the first pair of talks today, Sean Adams and design partner Noreen Morioka discussed the importance of recognising both “fun” and “fear” in their AdamsMorioka studio, while Rick Valicenti went through a selection of his firm Thirst‘s work, completed in his tireless search for conveying “real human presence”.


Poster for the Sundance film festival by AdamsMorioka

By way of an introduction, Adams – who is also the current national president of AIGA – hinted that the AdamsMorioka lecture would not, as design talks often do, focus so much on the finished product.

Instead, theirs would reveal the “driving home crying aspect of the job… the bits we’re not supposed to talk about” – the fear, essentially, of criticism, of suffering ideas-block, of ignoring your instincts and not trusting your gut; one of the most valuable bodily assets a designer can possess.

Indeed, Adams recalled a meeting with Robert Redford to discuss the promotional material for his Sundance film festival.

After numerous unsatisfactory attempts at concepts for posters (Redford knows a thing or two about graphic design, apparently) Adams went with his very first sketch of an idea.

Fear in itself can be a good thing though, Adams concluded – designers need to stop and ask themselves, ‘just what is that I’m trying to protect myself from?’


Work for Nickelodeon

Morioka picked up the second half of the talk by turning the attention onto how the AM studio maintains a sense of fun within their working practice.

Throughout their work – for clients as diverse as GAP and Disney, UCLA and CalArts, bright colours, bold type and an LA exuberance abounds. But it’s via witty, often satirical, self-initiated projects that they really push the fun boat out.


Work for Mohawk fine papers

The pair’s well-honed skills as story-tellers suggests that the NM studio must be a pretty fun place to work as it is. Adams’ talk had already been peppered with aphorisms from the lyrical work of Rogers and Hammerstein, no less.

But there is a very serious studio at work here. Morioka sagely commented on how it was “important to be creative, but more important to be an advocate of creativity.”

And the Indaba would no doubt agree…

Rick Valicenti‘s methodology is to establish one-to-one connections with people via his design and typographic work. “Through creation, we pass on the good spirit,” he says rather appealingly.

What follows is a great foray into how design can crop up in places where even the designer doesn’t expect it. Valicenti’s typefaces can find themselves on unintended platforms: his sci-fi font, Infinity, was originally designed for US Robotics, but wound up showcased in a fictional art catalogue (designed by Thirst) and ultimately on CBS’ somewhat garish website.

Valicenti’s late-nineties adventures in the digital realm were ahead of their time. A beautiful motion graphics piece he designed in 1999 for a Herman Miller showroom, for example, was created using computer software and motion capture.

While it’s overtly a digital piece – tracking the movement of a ballet dancer – it boasts more humanity than much of today’s most complex CGI.


An installation for Herman Miller featured motion capture animation

For Valicenti, the human being is at the core of all his work or, at least, the quest for the human presence is.

Take the fantastic digital piece he made in collaboration with the artist Arik Levy, a 15-minute visual simulation of a recording of a phone conversation he had with Levy about his forthcoming exhibition (a video of the work is here).

As Levy gets more animated and excited, the mass of lines and nodes gets more intense.


Stills from Valicenti’s collaboration with artist Arik Levy which visualised Levy’s voice

Valicenti ended reiterating the importance of personal expression in working life.

His Note to Self project is essentially a series of visual journal entries he made over a year, using Sumi ink applied with a syringe or foam brush on Rives paper. Here are four of them:

“Part mood-swing, part fact, part fiction and fantasy,” apparently. Brilliant.

As head of the Design Interactions department at the RCA, Anthony Dunne is no doubt surrounded by an array fascinating student projects. Along with his RCA colleague, Fiona Raby, the pair also design as Dunne & Raby and so, for their presentation, they showed a mixture of work from students and practitioners working within nano and bio-tech design and their own investigations into technological advances.


Meat is not necessarily murder (when there’s no victim)

They opened with some arresting images from a project called Victimless Meat, developed by Oron Catts, Ionat Zurr and Guy Ben Ary, a meat product that can be grown in a laboratory from cells obtained from animals.

And as consumers, it’s in our relationship to these kinds of scientific developments that various design-related questions inevitably arise. What shape should this victimless meat be if it was produced? How would it be marketed? If no animals were killed in its formation, then could vegetarians eat it too?

Or could you take cells from humans – from popstars or politicians? – consuming their meat as an act of love, or hate, even.

This act of “putting these ideas into a consumer consciousness”, explained Dunne, “doesn’t belittle them, but activates a different part of our thinking.”

Design is essentially functioning as a language with which to open up discussions of how these technologies might open up our lives.

Another interesting project they discussed was their own Evidence Dolls commission for the Pompidou Center in Paris which, again, was a way of investigating how biotechnologies might impact on society.

A quick look at their site offers some detailed explanation: “We focussed on young single women and their love lives as this provided a number of interesting perspectives on genetics: designer babies, desirable genes, mating logic, DNA theft. It is not intended to be scientific, but more a way of unlocking their imaginations and generating stories that once made public, trigger thoughts and discussions in other people.”

“One hundred special dolls were produced to contain material from a male lover from which DNA could be extracted at a later date. The dolls were made from white plastic (which could be annotated) and came in three penis sizes, S, M, and L.”

As Dunne outlined, their investigations are more about asking questions than providing answers. They certainly posed some very intruiging ones today. (Check out their work and ideas at dunneandraby.co.uk).

A moving presentation from Luyanda Mpahlwa of Cape Town’s MMA architects followed in the afternoon, which I’ll post more on once we’ve been to see the work of the 10×10 architectural project in action.

Plus there was some more inspiring work from product designer Stephen Burks (who was lucky enough to receive a giant birthday cake on stage) and the charming and highly-talented Paris-based collective, 5.5.

And Bruce Mau’s emerging plans to establish a series of Centers (plural) for Massive Change will be looked at in more detail in another post.

The bar’s been set pretty high for tomorrow.

More from CR

Step into my cardboard office…

Nothing is a new commercial creative agency formed by Michael Jansen and Bas Korsten that has just opened its doors in Amsterdam. While the city houses the KesselsKramer agency in a fairly unconventional building – a nineteenth-century church – the Nothing office is an unusual construction too, in that it is built almost entirely out of cardboard. They sent us some great pictures of the space, which was created by designers Joost van Bleiswijk and Alrik Koudenburg…

A Private View

FUEL keep a sketchbook. They put funny things like this in it
A new book reveals the scribbles and sketches contained in the most personal of a designer’s possessions: their notebook…

Design Indaba Blog: Nobumichi Tosa

By way of a summation of the array of ideas at his disposal, Adam and Joe’s BBC3 profile of artist Nobumichi Tosa and his Meiwa Denki organisation is well worth a look here. Tosa just performed at the Design Indaba and, via a series of videos, went through many of his Nonsense Machines that have delighted audiences all over the world. While his singing robots (who have working vocal cords made of rubber) were actually quite moving, one of my favourite pieces would have to be his “machine for moving a dead fish”. Yep, that’s really all it does. But then, it does do it very well indeed.

Duffy Stars in Diet Coke Ad

Night Rider for Diet Coke, agency: Mother
This new ad campaign for Diet Coke, starring Duffy, airs tonight on ITV. The ad, out of Mother London, sees the soft drink shed its associations with scantily clad workmen and instead aims to celebrate a girl’s “right to say no to the pressures of modern day living”.

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Graphic Designer

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
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Integrated Designer

Centaur Media