I don’t know any designer, graphic, product, architectural who doesn’t work on personal, self-initiated projects. Sometimes they lead directly to actual jobs or projects, sometimes they are meant as explorations of the designer’s interests or craft. Though there is a difference, there are self-initiated projects that never really see the light of day, never go public, and then there are the other extremes, the self-publicising stunts. But I still think they are all design, graphic or otherwise.
Craig ‘it-t’int-fookin’-design-unless-there’s-a-fookin’ client’ Oldham is of course entitled to his opinion, he certainly has the résumé to be credible, and it is one shared by many other designers, but his logic means you aren’t playing football if you don’t have an opponent or shin pads – but you are, you just are. I get the argument, it just seems unnecessarily hair-splitting.
And can’t your audience be a client, or can a client not be someone or thing beyond money exchange. It makes designers seem like – well, whores. In this particular era – or maybe it was always the case – but with so many platforms to expose one’s work, it is almost essential that designers do work on projects that have meaning to them, or that they want to do, or foolish if one doesn’t. Me, I am a fool.
I might, might, even go further and declare that real designers don’t wait for a client. But this might all be semantics. And I am already coming from a place of wanting graphic design to be more expressive, closer to art, believing that for-profit, the service-based graphic design will shrink due to automation, AI, or algorithms. Then again, I think photography can frequently be graphic design.
Projected Project Possibilities
Ultimately, all of the below proposals are meant at exploring ways to push design into a collision with art, and equally ultimately, the goal would be a collection (book?) of multiple attempts and examples demonstrating ways of doing that, which would be open to dialogue and discussion. The problem I have is that all of the blow are experiments at best, it is not design – not in the dogmatic grumpy Craig Oldham way – but because, while I know what I want to achieve, I am just guessing at possible outcomes. A designer should never really have an outcome in mind, but with two weeks left, one might argue (hope) that consciously or subconsciously a lot of design work has been done in the previous ten weeks
The beauty of Los Angeles is its sprawl, the uniqueness of this city is based on the design for the automobile; the graphics and typography don’t speak to humans but instead shout at cars. From Googie architecture to oversized graphics, Los Angeles’s graphics can assault, and can – like an old real estate advertising – become famous landmarks
1. Alphabet based inspired by Los Angeles’s signage
Not a font, just an alphabet based on, inspired by the various old, hand-made, classic, culturally-diverse, and cult signs that are dotted around the LA neighbourhoods.
2. Strip-mall signage in different neighbourhoods
Maligned as Generica, and yet quintessentially LA, strip-malls are where gems are located and while their signage or signs can be difficult to read and appear to feature identical chain-store names, to me there is a beauty in the almost non-design of these and the (slight) variations based on neighbourhood. I would want to photograph them, and then print out in a single colour. A flat, 2d, single colour collection of Strip mall typography and signage.
3. Liquor Store signs
Same as the above two, but liquor stores (as well as petrol – gas in the local vernacular – stations) are the Angler fish of LA’s deep nights. liquor stores, however, feature a broader array of signage and forms to their glowing signs drawing in potential customers.
For all of the above, I am concerned about scope. Even if I narrowed it down to an area, or a type of business or signage, to do it properly would take a lot of research time before I could even get to the design phase. However, it could be seen as an experiment, a prototype, a test of a hypothesis to be revisited at a later date.
There is something about the process of creation that I find interesting. I want to reveal, highlight, even celebrate how something was created, and/or allow the process itself to have an uncontrolled effect on the final outcome. In this instance, I am not interested in perfect prints on perfectly smooth, white, ink-loving paper. I want to see the human touch and uniqueness within multiples or a reincarnation of former design pieces.
Finding old letterpress blocks, printing these, then scanning, then magnifying them as much as possible and then reprinting them, possibly screenprinting for extra process. I want these to old, found, former, design pieces that have seen many a roller and I want to see the unevenness, chips, dents, etc. and highlight these by the magnification. My theory or hypothesis being that on their own they are in design, a change of context and scale will push them out of design into or closer to art. This could be the printing of a complete 12pt font, then blown up to a massive scale, or the use of old newspaper advertising logo or images, highlighting half-tones etc. It could also be that they are just bigger versions of what they are, in which case, I would seek to push them out of their design realm through other means.
Could simple stamps (not postage), which are quite readily available be used to do more than just say ‘Confidential’, Cancelled’, Paid’, or a logo or date, be used in a way to create something bigger than the stamp’s meaning itself? Can a single fixed piece of graphic be manipulated into producing more interesting and meaningful pieces?
6. Human Algorithm
A set of rules or inputs from either arbitrary individuals or specifically chosen ones that precisely define a sequence attributes. One person chooses the type of substrate, someone chooses the text or content, then the typeface/font, it could be specific, or more general. It could have different paths, ‘if X > Y then go to step 2, place in…’ It is – once again – a riff on the Exquisite Corpse
7. Patent pending
There is something about patents I find fascinating. They are – or can be – incredibly important, legally, or in terms of the impact, the invention depicted and described had. They can be incredibly arcane or useless, but either way, the actual patent is almost never seen. Somehow digging up interesting ones for whatever reason and displaying them in some form seems interesting. However, I feel this also sounds like dumbed-down bachelor-pad, man-cave decoration, so just printing and framing them would not be enough.
Scraping the Barrel Political and Misc.
8. Travel warnings
Uruguay and Venezuela have issued travel warnings to its citizens regarding the United States due to ongoing, racial violence. Frankly, The United States might want to issue travel warnings to its own citizens travelling to e.g. Florida. This is a bit like this, but maybe less sinister in its intent.
9. Process and Location
Using found examples of lettering and typography to construct a story, or meaning that goes beyond the look of a ransom note
10. Book of examples
Ultimately, I would want a book of all and more of the above