Is design suffering sameness?

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People search

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Woman search

The latest AGDA 2010 awards book came in the post today, with thanks to the crew that put it together. The 2010 awards publication has lots of work, and give or take one’s taste, in terms of design and aesthetic, the work is of a high standard. However, the question to ask above all is – is there work, within its 300+ pages, that has a newness about about it?

Harry Williamson from Sydney was celebrated in the same publication as one of two 2010 AGDA Hall of Fame recipients. As I took in Harry’s pictures and words, the Summit Restaurant logo too longingly, I wondered if Harry’s work had a newness about it when it first hit the streets, that made one think – wow this is an approach, a process I hadn’t seen before? I projected myself back to the late 70s and 80s, and imagined how this process and work may have prompted me – will I rip it off, or will it make me think more deeply about my output, or is a bit of both? One thing for sure, I know I would have been muttering to myself – bloody Harry, he’s an annoyingly-good-bloody-go-back-home-ya-pom-designer!

Summit restaurant brand, Sydney circa 1976

Then I thought about the work propositioned in 2010 to be the best of now, and I was struck with idea that the new work didn’t really stand out at all, and sadly that this collected body of work was suffering from not being new, and therefore just feeling the same. The same because the work was published on the internet months ago, the same because the work was made popular on sites like FFFound, the same because many of the ideas and outcomes seem to share image making, colour, type treatment, language, yet different only by a twist, a client, or subject. The same because what we end up with is a diversity of work, being crossed influenced by each other.

Consider an example, of say an influential image concept developed for a railway client displayed in an annual report in 1999 by a studio in Melbourne. This image concept becomes a hybrid image concept for a car manufacturer by another designer the work is published online. Then at the same time a financial services business is being sold another design hybrid of same concept by another unrelated design team. Then consider this process happening across thousands of creative projects, across all of the creative sectors, everyday, around the world.

A few months ago on an Australia talent programme a young pianist called – Chooka stole the news for a while. In his modest way Chooka highlighted the idea and merits of discovery, making, and creating in a personal and isolated space to a public space. Chooka dazzled judges, audiences, and the media and unlike many contestants was not formally trained. Chooka was raised on a farm without television, a computer, CD player. He was home schooled, and came to music it seems by the uncomplicated curiosity, play and the will to keep at it. He waited to be inspired by Mozart for two years, which in turn shifted his curiosity to teaching himself to play, read music. This process compelled him to only play original works and performance. His vision of music then ended up in front of 1000s of people and all that is left is to wonder. Wonder at the potential in an individual creative process, wonder how this process will evolve with the outside world, wonder if his work can be captured before it is influenced by the rest of the world.

If you can suffer the ugliness of show business in full hoo-haa-dumbed-down swing, this clip captures a little of his story…

Meanwhile, in the preparation for talks one has made in recent years for China, Hong Kong and the US. There was an opportunity to be in a space where the process is about not making something new or making money, it is about review, summation, contemplation, it is about discovery of process, of reason. In the process of reviewing the cities I was visiting –  I regularly jumped on the computer, logged into google image search and entered in a city, then another city, then I entered woman, man, a country… and a sameness presented itself again. The cities all seemed to have blue skies, bright clear water and city corridors with shiny glass towers. Enter a search for a country the symbols, colours, animals, flags and icons are bright, clear and in focus. After a while the searches blend in, the images are fused with a sameness, highly curated, fashioned, with an odd flash of perfect. This style of image selection makes the dull sit back and the brighter, the cleaner, the sharper and the more colourful, more desirable stand out. One also wonders if these image choices are statistics, or sinister commercial drivers at play…

As our world fills with more and more commercial creative, of highly finished, highly resolved, highly tested outcomes – some with the adbusters filter, others with flashes of slick corporate, raw / grungy, some with old fashioned girly, chicky babe, lady boy, blokey, or with all of the above. One finds some inspiration from people like Chooka and their way of discovering and actioning something original. Opportunity to de-igadget; rejoin the local library; use the convenience of internet search engines less; consider the internet as one of many sources – employing a generous dose of technology disrupters may give our work the chance to be more about the customers, clients, the designer, the play, the reading, the accidents, the discovery, and the place where the work was made dreamed up, manufactured and inspired.

Getting back to the 2010 AGDA Awards book, at 2010 Awards the Alt Group, from Auckland, New Zealand was by far the most awarded design firm with over 30 awards – including two Pinnacles and Judges Choice, in 2009 the ALT Group won over 57 majors awards. With all this success, Alt Group still has an uncomplicated contact page as a website, like Chooka, Alt is an unknown thing, and apart from doing work, entering numerous awards, winning awards, the only other information about this highly regarded studio is left to our imaginations and rumour. There is a range of evolving models (of making working and talking about it) out there, just ask Fabio, Pidgeon and 3 Deep, also big winners and somewhat mysterious studios who also entered the 2010 AGDA awards.