The writing isn’t perfect – it isn’t really edited. The concept is this; there is a lot of information about me there, too much even, but as mentioned, I felt this desire to not share, overshare, reveal anything. In addition, It is hard to be objective about yourself, culture is almost always only visible from the outside, so what I may think about myself might be incorrect. Getting to know someone is, maybe not hard, but takes a while, and harder still when not in person, if not nearly impossible. All designers work in similar ways but in their own unique way, just like while almost all humans walk, their walks are slightly different. Describing how you work is a bit like discussing your gait while sitting down. However, thinking about your gait, might make you walk in a better way…this analogy is done.
I also included notes and input from this week’s lectures and resources in some parts to bring it full-circle, so to speak. I don’t want you to read in the same I don’t not want you to read it. It is purposely badly set with a column too wide and forced justification not to mention being in a color that is hard to read. It is supposed be difficult, it is not supposed to be inviting, but it is there. The bright magenta text and images serve as short, curt answers to the four questions, all of which are further explained within the text.
Full Text rom the above graphic (edited) – which includes, and is meant to be, reflections on week one’s resources (complete with no paragraph breaks)
I can’t draw. Neither could Walter Gropius – allegedly. I never could, and I was never taught that it could be learned. My name is J Fidler, and I live in Los Angeles, California where I am a designer and educator. I teach all levels of college in graphic, product, and packaging design. As a child I was thrust into a foreign country (Germany,) with a foreign culture, and – most importantly – a foreign language. This made me feel foreign and different, self-conscious and paralyzingly shy. Perhaps this is why I turned to non-verbal communication – and seeing as how I couldn’t draw, I found photography, which then – when I got to college – led me to typography. So really, I came to design by wanting to communicate without talking, without the focus being on me. I found that in typography. But I also found something else, a riddle to be solved, a clear goal and, more importantly, tools to achieve it, something I didn’t feel in photography. That is the somewhat lengthy, and perhaps emtirely incorrect version of how I came to design. As for what makes me, me, and what influences me, as Bjarke Ingels says, ‘the things that define us are the things we take for granted.’ I am certainly influenced by my students and by my surroundings and by my interests; but to what extent e.g. my love of B-movie posters influences my work, I couldn’t say. I once tried to save a manufacturing plant in Los Angeles. I failed, but along the way I learned how to frame, which isn’t hard, but I now frame a lot of things, all of which I enjoy, all of which I believe do, or could, seep into my creative process. Sometimes I like to analyse why I like something; why I find it successful; sometimes I prefer a longer, subconscious marination period. So if I like something, I will often frame it as a form of art or decoration. So, in reality, my walls are a giant pin-up wall of inspirations – with OSPAAAL posters, Shepherd Fairey prints, Mexican B-movie posters, vintage shooting targets, photographs, woodblock prints, Cuban silkscreen posters, old maps, found objects. I enjoy the less designed pieces for longer, the more indigenous, authentic vernacular of a sector or place. I fear the international style’s attempt at designing with an absence of culture and ornamentation. And with more and more agencies and studios becoming ones with a ‘global reach’ I wonder if the International style will finally succeed. The pieces that are unique to an era or culture are more long-lasting in my appreciation. I crave an authenticity of creation, not representation. I love the scale and narrative of vintage movie posters and the collage work of Rauschenberg and Fairey’s layers, but I equally, love the pure magic of standing close to a Rothko painting. I was educated to love Müller-Brockman and Tschihold. ‘Inspiration is for amateurs’ Of course I browse design blogs and see design exhibitions and read design books, but the fuel of design are cultural and contextual influences. To look at designs is to look at someone else’s response to context and culture – and of course, they then serve as influences too. Like Sarah Boris, I try to avoid too much navel-gazing and design incest and be at least equally external facing, a lot of which, it should be noted is design. I would like to think I am influenced and inspired by my subconscious rather than conscious attempts at reacting to something or even mimicking.
Teaching has influenced how I work and with whom in ways, I don’t think I imagined when I started. I teach at a small private art and design school, but also have a role at a large private university in the entrepreneurship department. To those that teach, I don’t have to explain how your role continues beyond the classroom; the corridors, the studio, the campus, all the way to your personal email and phone numbers. It might sound like an easy 3-day/week job, but it worms its way into your personal and professional practice and can haunt you all the way into your bedroom. It is a time-sink like none other I have encountered and Otis acts like water on pavement. Beyond the classes, I am also an Academic Mentor, which makes it even more personal, and then there are the committees, meetings, and assemblies. It is poorly compensated and hugely rewarding. Some professions shouldn’t be driven by just money and income, and teaching is one of those, I believe. I do think it should initially feel altruistic, but if I pause and think about it I get a lot out of it, mentally and emotionally – and at times actual physical things. (I am convinced that I own the most significant single collection of Otis prototypes in the world) Many of my friends are former students who continue to influence me, work with me, inspire, and challenge me. And the current students too, have an influence on me; not just regarding design, but language, slang, foreign cultures and customs, contemporary culture anf fashion, and certainly much more. But perhaps most interesting has been for me how it has changed how I work consciously. I look at my process – in the sense that I look at what I am doing, why I am doing it, how, and for whom – more objectively, more closely, and more honestly. It is hard to learn if you aren’t given the building blocks and it is hard to teach if you can’t start with some more easily digestible parts. If you don’t understand the small details that make up a bigger picture in your work but also those in the work of others it is difficult to deconstruct, critique and learn from them. The Senior Show, or Degree Show, happens every year in early May. A fine example of a behemoth in need of breaking down into smaller manageable chunks. It involves cleaning out the entire studio clean floors and walls, set up booths and have the students present their collected works for two days. The set up begins a week before the opening. Though, the planning starts at the beginning of their final year. It involves a lot of planning in two dimensions, three dimensions, a lot of coaxing, hand-holding, encouraging, discouraging, planning, and a lot of physical manual labour, patching, sanding, painting, drilling, mounting. We lift about four tonnes of panels, mount 50-60 lights, cut 1,500 linear feet of foam core using 100 blades, all against the backdrop of heightened emotional states due to the impending end of their college life, broken projects, lost pieces, or missed deliveries. Somewhere in the distant past a tradition arose that we all eat home-made food together; made in my home. By me. It is in many ways very flattering, and it creates some lovely memories and bonds, but every year when I am mincing five pounds of ginger and cooking at 2 in the morning, I swear it is the last year that I am doing it. When the show opens, or perhaps – when the first night closes – it is an incredibly emotional moment for the students. It is a culmination of four years of late nights, hard work, arguments, frustrations, disappointments, failures and of course successes. Like fireworks at the new year it means little rationally, but a lot emotionally.
El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciuncula. Los Angeles, California, the place where all things loose end up when the world is tipped on its side, its four ecologies, the entertainment capital, the porn capital, earthquakes, mudslides, fires, and riots. The city of Angels. I came here for a year, I still have my return ticket, and I am in my 19th year. Perhaps Frank Lloyd Wright was correct, it is a city at the end of a transcontinental freeway. Maybe the stereotype of youth from around the country and world stepping off a Greyhound bus is not far from reality. You meet surprisingly few true born-and-raised Angelenos. You go to New York to be an actor, you come to LA to be a star. It – no she – gets into your blood. At first, as a newcomer, it was seeing the physical incarnation of televisual icons – which never gets old. However, quickly, you develop your own LA. Your favourite sushi bar, your favourite beach for swimming, your favourite beach for sunsets, the best dive bar, the best cocktail bar, the best roof-top bar, the best udon, ramen, and pho. This is, of course, no different from any other city; the difference is the distances. Everything is 20 minutes away (it isn’t [and it takes 30 minutes to find parking]). However, the once intimidating freeways become concrete arteries where everyone is in my way. I am not the traffic, the traffic is in my way. Rayner Banham said that ‘You have to learn to drive to read Los Angeles in its original.’ And it is not just the stacked freeways; it is the surface streets we take to avoid these congested freeways that lead us through not just different neighbourhoods, but different cultures, lives, and design. Los Angeles is a city that is hard to fall in love with and perhaps impossible to leave once you do. Why would you? She is not perfect; in fact, she could barely be further from perfect. I live in Downtown LA, the most gentrified place in the world perhaps; rents have risen 700% in 10 years, and I am here because thanks to Google, Snapchat and the rest of Silicon Beach, I was gentrified out of my beachside Venice apartment, in which I lived for 13 years. Venice and Downtown are part of the same city and completely different worlds. I live between the modernist and postmodernist glass and steel skyscrapers and the most abject poverty, hopelessness, and savagery of Skid Row, an official district where different laws apply to facilitate sleeping rough. It is a city of rabbit holes. The strip malls, the icon of Generica, may be eyesores to some and annoyingly ubiquitous, but many of them house a gem. The best udon, the best after-hours bar in K-town, the best Thai, Armenian, Iranian, Indian, Mexican, Ethiopian, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, Cambodian, Salvadorian, Guatemalan, Korean food outside of the respective countries will be found in nondescript one-story buildings, frequently in an ugly strip mall. In which way this – and so much more – influences me I don’t know, but I am convinced that it does. Driving in LA is an education, or at the very least an inspiration. The Taiwanese Boba shop signs in San Bernadino, the Vietnamese Banh Mi graphics in Little Saigon, The mid-century architecture of Schindler, Lautner, et al, and everything in-between. The postmodern works of Gehry and his disciples. The MOCA, LACMA, The Getty(s), and Broad. The Grafitti and Taggers, the spray-painted sidewalks, the Gluten-intolerant. The surfers, the skaters, the slashers, the influencers, the AMWs. The dropouts, the hippies, the gutter punks. The Clippers, the Lakers, The Rams and the Kings. The Eddies, the Sigalerts, the ghetto-birds, the car chases. The star maps, the star tours, the stargazers. The artists, the writers, the designers, and the dritics, all trying to make sense of it. But to me, LA will always be the silhouette of palm trees, traffic signs, and electrical masts against an indigo sky.
I can’t quite think of another group or sector of professionals who struggle so consistently with the definition of what they do. There are different types of butchers, surgeons, lawyers, firefighters, etc. who – I imagine – can quickly agree on a definition of what they do, but it is rare for two designers to agree entirely on a definition of what their job or practice entails. Does the fact that we continuously ask designers to define what they do, and that they then frequently use many different words other than design to describe what they do, as well as the plethora of design documentaries trying to describe what they do, not hint at the word design being too vague, too unnuanced to describe what design is? Perhaps design and designing is an inherently human characteristic, condition, or state of being. Adrian Talbot of Intro Design believes that you are born a designer with the capacity to get better but that you cannot learn to be a designer if you are not already one. When it comes to design, however, every axiom has an equal and opposite axiom. Perhaps you can learn to think and communicate like a designer, or maybe you cannot, and it is likely that we will never know. Every designer seems to get to a point where they can sum up what design is in an easily digestible, but not universally applicable soundbite. Sam Winston believes design should not be a noun, but a verb. Stefan Sagmeister thinks that ‘Design is a language’ which you can use for ‘complaining, entertaining, communicating, agitating, organising, money raising, mourning, denouncing, and promoting.’ ‘Design is the process of finding the equilibrium between 1000s of conflicting constraints’ according to Alvar Aalto. To some, it is storytelling, to others problem solving – a definition Kristoffer Sølling doesn’t seem to like. Less is more. Less but better. Yes is more. Form follows function. Form is function. The etymological root of the word is not much help either, but it means to make a mark. So perhaps looking at the output can help to explain it. After all, every year more trees are cut down to create glossy tomes full of this year’s stand-out work, which frequently – except for an introduction – consist of beautiful photographs and short captions. Little is said about the process or the philosophy – though there are of course some exceptions. And then, of course, there is a whole other rack of shelves with books on the history, process, future of any given design discipline. Counterintuitively, it may be easier to agree on a description if we were to forgo the prefixes of the disciplines, the product, industrial, interior, architectural, graphic, web, digital designers perhaps do share some fundamental practice in common, which is – I would say – that they are experience creators, All design is first appreciated by the human limbic system, i.e. emotionally, be it nanoseconds hours, weeks, or a lifetime. Michael Wolff is, of course, correct that the sum of a design is made up of small elements, but the audience of design reads them as a whole, no one eats an acrid, burnt meal but pauses to appreciate the perfectly al-dente pasta. All of this is an answer to the question ‘what is design’ not ‘ why design?’ Besides, when I started out, I was in no way thinking about any of the aforementioned, I just knew that it was what I wanted to do, so maybe Adrian Talbot is right, and I was born to be a designer, or perhaps, it is because I can’t draw.