This year’s Kyoorius Design Yatra came to a conclusion here in Goa yesterday with some inspiring words about sustainability, and a hint of controversy, Plus, why Erik Kessels is a big fat fibber…
Day 2 of the conference kicked off with a predictably great talk from Pentagram NY’s Paula Scher. “My work has a narrow framework: I don’t have much talent, so I stretch it as far as it will go,” she said with admirable self-effacement. She talked about growing up thinking of Helvetica and the International Style as The Enemy – the manifestation of the establishment which, at the time equated to the Vietnam War. Perhaps that’s what happens when you grow up a designer – typefaces take on geopolitical significance.
Running through her greatest hits – both commercial and personal – Scher explained that she designed her famous Citibank logo (original sketch on napkin, below) “in two hours” but what she was really paid for was “to go to the meetings for a year and a half to get the logo sold”.
Aside from the golden oldies, Commissioner Scher (for she actually holds the post in NY City and advises on planning issues) revealed a new project for Pittsburgh. The city is, apparently, cut in two by a motorway. People on one side of the divide don’t want to visit the downtown area on the other side because it involves going through a series of forbidding underpasses. The city wanted Scher to design them a new logo – as if that would solve anything. Instead, along with her client The Children’s Museum, she has convinced them to install a series of art pieces in the underpasses that will be called The Charm Bracelet. “The concept is to connect destinations — among them, the Children’s Museum, Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Science Center, National Aviary, Mattress Factory, New Hazlett Theater, Allegheny Commons park and sports stadiums — in a way that positions the North Side as the city’s “family district,” just as Downtown’s theaters and galleries are grouped as the Cultural District,” reported the local paper when the idea was presented earlier this year (see story here and image below).
Asked about how she feels about the contrast between working four days a week for commercial clients and major brands like Tiffany and the rest on her paintings, Scher said “I don’t have anything against people going to the bank or buying jewellery. I’m a fan of commerce, I just want conscience attached to it. And there’s nobody more dishonest than my art dealer.”
She showed a series of pieces commissioned for an exhibition that he organised to explain the Haptic Design notion, including…
Hara also showed his work for Muji where he is in charge of art direction and communication. Ads like these
illustrate Muji’s concept of emptiness – “Muji ads are empy vessels to be filled with your thoughts,” said Hara.
One of the recurring themes in the conference – particularly in questions from the audience and discussions in the breaks – was the notion of an “Indian design” aesthetic – what is it? Does such a concept make any sense in a country as diverse as India? The presentations from Scher and Hara suggested, to me at least, a model for Indian designers. Here were two people whose work is utterly rooted in their locality, cultural traditions and personal experiences. Unwittingly or not, Scher’s work speaks of New York – it’s bold and strong, energetic and, at times, strident. Hara’s work is subtle and beautiful, understated and elegant, like so much in Japan. Neither is overtly American or Japanese, but are nevertheless embedded in their respective cultures. Hara talked of 1000 years of Japanese culture informing his work but it is unarguably modern and of the now. Here, it seems could be a model for India, whose cultural traditions are every bit as rich as those of Japan. An aesthetic that allows for the expression of personal, local experience without resorting to the visual language of the airport gift shop.
The final day kicked off with wonderful work from Tirso Francés of Dietwee in Utrecht.
A particular personal favourite was a project for Utrecht to celebrate the upcoming 300th anniversary of the treaty named after the city that ended the wars of Spanish Succession. In a reference to the treaty’s signatories, Dietwee created a simple shield device to be carried across a wide variety of uses, tying myriad activities together.
Next someone – finally – talked about sustainability. Up until that point, the presentations had largely focused on the commercial role of design without discussing its ability to communicate important issues such as climate change and it’s own complicity in the disaster. Harsh Purohit of Cognito Advertising gave a powerful and persuasive presentation on why Indian designers need to confront this issue – both for themselves and on behalf of their clients. “This is an opportunity for the Indian design community in the same way that Y2K was for the Indian IT industry,” he argued. “The East is where living in harmony with the environment is inherent. We possess this knowledge.”
“Imagine, he said, “if everything you produced – all the brochures and packaging – came back to you for you to dispose of.” Such a responsibility might make designers think twice about their choices.
He was followed by another leading Indian designer, Rajesh Dahiya of CoDesign in Delhi. And controversy followed. In the course of a wide-ranging presentation of interative and identity work, Dahiya talked about an interactive installation for Titan watches (below)
At one point, he mildly dissed the watches themselves. Unfortunately, people from Titan were in the audience and weren’t too pleased, complaining not just to Dahiya but also to the organisers. In the end, Dahiya had to stand up and make a public apology – just before my presentation as it happens, which kind of took the mood down a tad. Tough act to follow.
Leaving aside the rows, Dahiya showed some strong work underlining his studio’s position as one of the country’s finest, including
Next up was Erik Kessels of Kessels Kramer whose wonderfully humorous ad work and endlessly intriguing photography publishing projects went down a storm with the audience.
The Hans Brinker work stands up incredibly well but I have to admit here that I’m somewhat miffed with Kessels. We have been the victim of a hoax. He lied to CR, the cad. A few years ago, the Hans Brinker wanted to run ad an in the UK but, because it showed a used condom, no-one would run it. Kessels told us that KK was no longer going to work for the hotel – they’d had a row and the relationship was over. Brinker confirmed this so we ran a story about what a great campaign it had been, what a shame it was ending, blah blah. It was all a lie. A stunt. Just to get some PR for Brinker. The swine.
So I’m not going to show any of his work here. So there.
And then it was my turn to wrap up. What did I learn from the three days? That, as above, the likes of Scher and Hara prove that you can invest your work with some sense of where you come from without descending into kitsch or being overtly about a geographical location. That climate change has become a communications issue – the science is there, but still people don’t believe it. And that designers have, thanks to technology, never had as many options as they do now. It was, I hoped, an exciting time to be a designer, particularly one in India where there are so many opportunities to participate in the growth of a hugely significant and – hopefully – sustainable and equitable new economic power.