This week’s topic was titled “Where Are You and Why Design?”, an introspective look at the questions “who, what, where, and why.” Almost a self-indulgent quest to personally define the practice of design.
I noticed almost immediately by the end of each case study that there was a struggle to reconnect the “what” or the “why” when presented with the question “how have you responded to change within your practice?
Adrian Talbot of Intro Design explains that while the digital side of their business has grown far larger than the traditional side, he says, “we still forge a lot of our reputation I think on the traditional graphic design because it’s quite visually seductive.”
Kristoffer Soelling of Regular Practice, a baby studio compared to Intro Design, says, “our practice is really open-ended, so we could be doing furniture there one day and something completely different the next day.”
In the case of Intro Design, I would assume that to maintain their relevancy amongst a younger and younger clientele; the studio would struggle to keep the same identity it started with.
For Regular Practice, would that identity even be established when their work can vary so widely from one project to another?
I bring this up mostly because I struggle with this question of identity myself. In the years that I have practiced, my graphic design work looks like it can be done by just about any designer in this world. It lacks any element which I can genuinely say belongs to me. And while I yearn for that chance to express myself through my work, it feels almost like a vain and empty attempt. So why should I strive for identity in my practice?
A classmate (thank you, Anonymous) in the course noted, “while reading this [Shaughnessy – the Design Studio], I found it really interesting about how culture is now far more geared towards individualism. I’ve always seen design as more of a utilitarian subject, with the needs and happiness of the community outweighing the needs of the individual.”
To touch on their point about the community vs. the individual, I looked for answers in the book “The Theory of Graphic Design.” It is stated that “Early models of graphic design were built on ideals of anonymity, not authorship.” (H. Armstrong, 2009)
They go on to explain how this has evolved over time to favor the authorship of the graphic designer but has since then leveled out into what Dmitri Siegel calls “Prosumerism – simultaneous production and consumption.” (D. Siegel, 2008)
They end the topic of “Collective Authorship” with the statement, “Graphic designers must take note and consciously position themselves within the prosumer culture or run the risk of being creatively sidelined by it.” (H. Armstrong, 2009)
And I’ll end this part of my rambling blog post with a thought, and a quote: what it means to be a designer in this world should extend far beyond one’s individual needs and desires and should strive, especially now, to make a positive difference in this world.
“The withdrawal of the personality of the designer behind the idea, the themes, the enterprise, or the product is what the best minds are all striving to achieve.” (J. Müller-Brockmann, 1968)
When confronted with the questions “who?”, “what?”, “where?” and “why?” in relation to myself and my own practice, an immediate thought is how much time I’ve spent within these four walls, confined in my own home due to covid-19.
I started thinking about the answer to these questions by sorting the self into two categories:  the physical;  the metaphysical.
 it’s my first year in a new country, and my mobility is severely impacted by back-to-back lockdowns.
 since moving here (from Jordan to Austria), I’ve been working exclusively from home as a self-employed/freelance graphic designer.
 I’m fascinated by the digital sphere and how people use it.
 more and more often, I’m finding myself in an internal struggle of what I should be doing and what I should be leaving behind.
 Since I find myself in a foreign land once more, the question of whether I truly identify with my own culture springs up quite often in my thoughts.
To visualize this, I started off by sketching the very apartment I’m confined in to figure out what it is I do there and how it has evolved me.
The kitchen is where you can find all of my precious food items from back home. I’m an Arab living abroad, as I have been most of my life. My culture’s cuisine, and a love for olive oil and za’atar, is a defining point in my identity, as I don’t resonate with the more traditional aspects of my ethnicity.
This office is where I separate my working day from my leisure time. As a self-employed graphic designer operating entirely from my own home, this distinction is vital to my mental health and productivity. The office is a studio, a space littered with graphic tools, despite my work being centered around design for digital mediums. A strong point of my practice is the ability to figure out visual and experiential solutions to digital problems.
The bedroom as a place for dreams is not just a symbolic metaphor. It is where I have trouble sleeping, thinking of an uncertain future. It is where I wake up in a panic, with my mind overflowing with thoughts of that day’s tasks. It’s an anxious space despite being only used for rest and relaxation. But it’s also where I come up with my best ideas.
The living room is where I am faced with the reality of my presence. In this room, I am reminded of where I live through the advertisements littering the media I consume. In this room, the windows overlook the landscapes of the country I am currently residing in. In this room, I’m reminded of the constraints and benefits of my living situation – my financial stability but lack of mobility.
I responded to each question posed with a video of my experiences in each of these rooms.
I named the concept “I am not my apartment” and decided to insert this name typographically into the piece with a literal Arabic translation of it.
I opted for a Kufic Arabic font, which was historically used in Architectural settings. The color palette was derived from the objects and sights in the apartment. And the apartment was sketched out as a rather typical floor plan, without any unnecessary details.
The result is this collage of video, typography, and architectural illustrations:
Thoughts and Conclusions
What was I thinking when I chose that color palette?! Actually, there are quite a few elements I would completely re-do here. Initially, when reading the brief and seeing examples posted to the Ideas Wall, the first idea that popped into my head is the one I ran with. There was also no real planning on conceptualizing that took place because my research to get to this point was quite limited. Essentially, I just rushed into a final outcome without thinking about it too much.
Armstrong, H. (2009). Graphic Design Theory : Readings from the Field. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
Müller-BrockmannJ. (1983). The graphic artist and his design problems. Niederteufen: Niggli.
Siegel, D. (2006). Designing Our Own Graves. [online] Design Observer. Available at: https://designobserver.com/feature/designing-our-own-graves/4307.