These are barely notes—just a few words and phrases I didn’t want to forget—from tonight’s AIGA/NY talk at Parsons: “The New Future of Design,” featuring James Bridle, Carla Diana and Zach Lieberman, moderated by Liz Danzico.
“Simon is an upper-torso humanoid…”
internet of things
robotics / sensors / object tagging / wireless / broadband
creating small moments (Liz: delight metrics / other ways to measure the success of a project)
“I need to have a library of experiences in my mind and in my heart.”
nuggets of behaviors
“… At times all I need is a brief glimpse, an opening in the midst of an incongruous landscape, a glint of lights in the fog, the dialogue of two passersby meeting in the crowd, and I think that, setting out from there, I will put together, piece by piece, the perfect city, made of fragments mixed with the rest, of instants separated by intervals, of signals one sends out, not knowing who receives them. If I tell you that the city towards which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time, now scattered, now more condensed, you must not believe the search for it can stop. Perhaps while we speak, it is rising, scattered, within the confines of your empire; you can hunt for it, but only in the way I have said.”
Offprint Paris in the glass court at l’Ecole des Beaux Arts
Jonathan Lewis, Wil van Iersel, Andreas Schmidt and Elisabeth Tonnard of ABC.
I’m back from Paris. A week to meet with my artists’ cooperative, present new work at Offprint Paris and remember how much I love this city.
My second art book fair, and I certainly felt anxious. It’s a set-up for vulnerability: bring your work and display it on a table in a grand space for some of the photobook world’s most prominent personalities to take a look. Curators, critics, photographers, artists, editors—as well as my own peers—are there to judge, buy, make deals and get a sense of what’s happening right now. It can be a supportive environment, too—there were encouraging words and beautiful chance encounters (with Richard Kostelanetz, particularly). It’s a humbling experience. I’m not used to this kind of public display. And as a way of measuring success, selling “stuff” makes me tremendously uncomfortable.
I found myself asking the same questions each day, and they linger with me here in NYC. Why am I here? Is this the right audience for my work? Am I any good at this?
Uncertainty and doubt. Unfamiliar territory. I’m playing out many of the ideas that I wrote about in Design Humility, for The Manual.
I love the work that I’ve generated during the last 18 months. I’m more proud of these books than anything I’ve ever produced for a paying client. That audience question is central to my anxiety, though: who appreciates this work? If Weymouths was a performative work and the audience brought it to life—on-site, in real time—then how do I keep the spirit of that project alive now that the performance is over?
With all of the freedom that comes along with self-publishing, there is also the burden (I would say pleasure, too) of building one’s own audience. And I’ve discovered after two events like this one that the art book fair is the wrong venue for a work like Weymouths. Publishers aren’t interested and no one has the patience to do it justice. It simply doesn’t translate.
Rob Giampietro recently wrote about unbuilding (or incompleteness) as a strategy in art and design. In a way, since I began building my own artist’s practice, I feel like I’ve been unlearning my design career. Many things that I used to measure success in design are less valid now, or have shifted into another direction, like the idea of gaining bigger budgets and better clients, which has been replaced by self-publishing’s economy of means and the value of small, meaningful encounters.
All I can come up with now is my own sense that showing up and participating in the culture of the book is a good tactic for moving forward. A year ago at the NY Art Book Fair I carried around my John Cage book, overwhelmed, showing it to anyone who would take a look. I thought—I could belong to this community, and I vowed to myself that I would somehow participate in next year’s fair. I’m very lucky to have found the tremendous support of new friends who’ve enabled that to happen.
I need to do more of this, and learn.
Raw notes from tonight’s talk at the New Museum, Stories from the New Aesthetic.
Aaron Straup Cope
The luxury of association
Elevator songs / whale songs / we assign value without meaning
The objects are recording stories
People are building stories around the things we collect
How we’re teaching things to see in the world and what’s bouncing back — patterns, bursting through
Crazy-talk narratives that can be shaped from those patterns
Automating the pattern matching
The inevitability of self self driving cars
Algorithms are emerging that people don’t know what to do with
Worrying that we’re building a future without narrative
Filters are the difference between flickr and Instagram / the past is just a medium, a screen to help make sense of the present
Massive feedback loop of the mirrored schroedinger’s box
The Internet isn’t a mirror it’s full of lies and stories and fictions
The map weirdness / not errors but what you see through the looking glass
How machines tell stories to us
The act of reflection / people not recognizing themselves in daguerreotypes
Dora Moutot / webcam tears
Tears are the new pornography
Google street view going inside franks LA
Trap streets / streets that don’t exist
Demarerializarion of the book / we had no way to express our fear, so we obsessively focused on the physicality
The real worries are around the ownership and understanding
Amazon warehouse — a space that is augmented by algorithm / co-space / humans & software processing, architecture a function of the software
Nostalgia / a deliberate act of committing the image to memory / engraining photographs with grain, giving them weight, then sharing, sharing is a form of memory, giving if weight, like putting them in a box
The city & the city / unseeing, moments of breach, and yet we choose to layer images all the time
Intense cognitive dissonance apple maps
Trying to find ourselves in the satellite image
Mishka Henner / Dutch landscapes
Data centers are the new civic architecture (post, admin)
Stuartgeiger.com bots on wiki / automated agents
Co-creating the system with us: our machines
Drone project / shadows of real technology that acts from a distance
The velocity of the material / jenniferbrook / book vs app
Opinions are noncontemporary
Tarot cards / incredible machine and storage device for storytelling
The network is like that
William Gibson / notional space, cyberspace
Living inside the machine, inside the network
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to give books away.
I am a designer who sometimes creates book-related artwork. This means that I navigate different content packaging and book-making terrains, trying to make sense of what’s commonly called “publishing.”
For clients, I might advise them on how to bring a publication to market. This could be brand-related work (crafting the right message) or production-based activity (designing a book or magazine or website), or understanding new publishing platforms. I work on behalf of corporate and non-profit clients alike, but in the end it’s always cultural production (making stuff) mounted upon the commercial market (selling stuff). Even as it radically transforms itself, the publishing industry continues to match audience with message via commercial exchange (or some kind of potential for economic gain). Hence, “industry”—the production of goods.
Even when content delivery appears to be non-monetized (e.g., newsletters, blogs), the drive to justify in terms of profitability is strong. We’ve learned to define everything in terms of commodification—even attention, knowledge and personal data (eyeballs, clicks, engagement). As their audiences grow, we expect our favorite blog authors to introduce advertising or sponsorship into the delivery of their content. Writers and artists ask us to fund the creation of their work—in advance. We willingly self-publish on social media platforms that leverage our content for profit. While it can be argued that these are inevitable models of exchange in late-capitalist society, monetizing the creation and delivery of work fundamentally changes the author-audience dynamic, no matter how relevant or elegant the ask.
Our need to commodify content is a consumerist urge, a natural extension of the work of art in the mechanical age of reproduction. As the idea of browsing disappears, along with physical bookstores and all kinds of libraries, the book—as physical object or virtual data—is becoming primarily a purchased experience, a mass-produced (mass-downloadable) work without unique attributes; the purchased book is without aura.
Artist’s books are no exception. Printed Matter, one of the artist book community’s greatest institutions, operates as a retail store. Print-on-demand operations like Blurb or Lulu bring tremendous ease to book production, especially for the artist, but siphon all of our creative output through digital storefronts. Profit potential pervades, but $11,000 books aside, getting rich in self-publishing is extremely rare.
And yet this remains the default position. Screen, paper or otherwise — we sell the stuff we make. Why?
In the last few years I’ve self-published print books that I’ve displayed, exhibited and given away. They’ve never been for sale. That the work exists outside of any commercial art or publishing market isn’t easily reconciled; questions about the work’s economic value (can I buy it? how much is it?) are common. My response that the work isn’t for sale—that is, that my motivation for creating it was completely non-financial—is confusing to some, and even manages, in some contexts, to diminish the work.
It’s more challenging to define value when the work is entirely removed from its economic worth.
What if—in the transfer of book to recipient—we were free to examine other kinds of value exchange? Might it be possible to develop a viable art practice that produces book works outside of financial motivation? Are there alternative positions?
Is it possible to publish outside of publishing?
Recently, I’ve started to think about how my work might function more purely within other kinds of economic systems—mainly, the gift economy.
Last fall I exhibited a limited edition of ten printed books at a gallery at the University of North Carolina. Within a few hours of installing the piece, one of the books had disappeared. I’m not sure if it was willfully stolen or if someone misunderstood the nature of the artwork. Perhaps they thought the books were meant to be taken. My initial reaction was disappointment, of course, but I quickly recovered and began thinking about the missing book’s new life. By introducing indeterminacy into the work, the book’s disappearance subverted whatever market value it had gained while in my possession. The book “escaped.” It was out of my control; if I could release the book, instead of mourning and wishing for its return, the narrative would become richer (i.e., i could imagine that it was taken as an emotional response to the show, or that the new owner wanted to sell it, or simply make trouble, etc.). Its value was opened up, and the new owner became a kind of collaborator in my work of art, helping to extend its meaning outside of my own creative intent.
This was in itself a kind of transaction. The new owner “got” the book from me, and I got a new story, even if imagined. If it had been a cash exchange, the book would have retained its market value, and in my accepting the money, its meaning, for me, would have collapsed into the cash. Instead, the book passed into circulation and I was left with a new, changed artwork—unwillingly so, perhaps—but a new narrative: uncertain, imagined or otherwise.
This was such a revelation for me. So much so that I decided to embrace the taking (or giving) of books for my next project.
In Weymouths, a twelve-volume work commissioned by the b-side Arts Festival and funded by Arts Council England, I created a limited edition of 420 books. None will be sold. Except for a few sets that I will keep for my own records, all of them will be given away in a series of public book encounters designed to encourage a gift-giving transaction, not unlike the kind I discovered in North Carolina. By remaining in circulation, I’m hoping that the book-gifts can take on other, more ephemeral values (emotional, nostalgic, spiritual, souvenir). I won’t know exactly what these values are until the work is “performed.”
I can’t totally deny the work’s entry into a for-profit commercial market (in theory, someone could choose to sell a book that they receive from me), but I can resist this by initially setting the book into motion as a gift.
In Weymouths, the “publishing” of the books is the very act of my giving them away. I would argue that the books themselves are not the finished product; rather, these public book encounters—the event itself—is the work.
My hope, however futile, is to create value by using the books to engage in real-time encounters. At best, I’ll build up a community around the work, and look for a kind of aura released in the artist-audience engagement—something everlasting and unreproducible (Aura—the divine personification of the breeze in Greek and Roman mythology; refreshing, exterior, ephemeral, uncontrolled). At worst, the books will be gone, emptied of meaning, released from my responsibility.
What kind of practice is this? Is it even publishing? If we think of book-giving in terms of these performative gestures, might it be possible to re-imagine publishing more as performance art? I think of Félix Gonzáles-Torres’ endless supplies of posters (ink on paper, printed, “published”), waiting on gallery floors, rolled up by visitors and dispersed.
I yearn for ways to subvert traditional publishing by disrupting all of its assumptions, including its default economic models. I would like to see an art-making practice that encourages the intimacy of in-person, one-on-one exchange, removed from commercial obligation, with all debt carried over in emotional or spiritual terms. I believe in the creation of community wealth via the circulation of the gift.
Someone will say: but who will pay for these books? That there are costs associated with content creation and distribution is undeniable. Sometimes these costs are substantial. Can we look for ways to transfer the financial burden away from the audience? In doing so, can we free up the artist to engage with his audience without framing the work in profit-making terms?
Finding the archive. Or rather, how does one untangle the bits, the fragments scattered about, sometimes just laying at the side of the road. How does one assemble something of interest.
Is this mythology? In the broadest sense, a mythology is a story or collection of stories that originate in tradition. There must be a reason. In its acting out, the myth explains something. Maybe this is it, perhaps I’m poking around these locales looking for undiscovered connections, old tales fermenting with latent meaning, hoping to unlock something significant. More likely, it is my poking around itself that will create these stories, from nothing.
And so I find myself right now completely overwhelmed with this prospect of making twelve books. In a way, these books have no topic, and this is difficult. This is to be a project called Weymouths, about two towns on separate continents, each named Weymouth. But as I discover details, fragments that may or may not lead somewhere — it feels like I’m pulling on the ends of loose threads — each one will become another Weymouth. There will be more than two Weymouths; how many I’m not sure. There will be as many as I can claim and assemble into these books, and many more potentially, for those who find and keep my books.
One thought is that I will simply gather the stories for awhile. I’ll find the Weymouths as they’re revealed to me and index them. Rather than curate the evidence into the books, as a historian or travel guide would do, I’ll apply chance operations to select the stories and determine their importance, in a highly ritualized way. Stumbled-upon evidence yielding a chance-determined mythology of specificity and meaning. This feels right.
Another inspiring talk brought to us by Creative Mornings — my first this year. John Maeda took the stage with Becky Bermont to talk about creative leadership. To help John with his new book (Redesigning Leadership) she’s been culling through thousands of his tweets, and they structured the short talk around six principles that emerged.
Knowing a bit about Maeda’s recent struggles at RISD, one can see that these mantras were written as guiding principles for educators or corporate executives who want to learn from artists and lead more creatively. But this is obviously a valuable and inspiring list for any kind of design professional or anyone engaged with creative growth.
1. Build new foundations.
“Artists have to get their hands dirty, starting with core foundations and basic principles.” He showed images of pages and pages of RISD data taped to his walls at home and spoke about touching and feeling the data, getting dirty in the data. This reminded me of Edward Tufte’s seminar, where he strongly suggests that data should be released from the screen — lay it all out on large surfaces and let the data interact in non-linear ways.
2. Craft the team.
“This is a principle I didn’t know from art or design. I was very ‘un-teamish,’ very lone-wolfish.” He gave the example of 1,200 year old temples in Kyoto. When he asked why they’re able to stand for so long, he was told that all of the wood to build the temple came from one mountain. The north, south, east and west sides of the temple were constructed from trees selected from the north, south, east and west sides of the mountain, respectively. Nature had pre-conditioned the wood for durability and strength, according to specific conditions. Selecting great people for your team is like the artist who finds the highest quality materials for her work.
I think this is a bit of a stretch (wood = team) but the poetry of the example is beautiful nonetheless.
3. Sense actively.
4. Take leaps.
He describes a paradigm shift within corporate structures — organizational trees have turned into organizational networks (with some beautiful diagrams to illustrate this). Trans-organizational networks are a radical departure. A “changing wind.” Artists ask questions and then they take leaps. They know when to leap. Another leadership diagram:
- imagination — completely unstructured
- creativity — rubbing two good ideas together
- problem solving — constrained by reality
- reflex — instinctive
Leaders occupy the lower half (problem solving, reflex response) and artists the upper half (creativity, imagination) — the most strategic space today.
5. Fail productively.
Instead of needing to be perfect, why not just jump in and try? Artists are risk-takers and artists productively fail. Artists have the ability to recover very quickly. Growing from failure means using it to birth another creative moment.
6. Grow from critique.
“Anyone who exhibits art or ships product knows that these are quick ways to get critique. Artists want to do this to change, to find out who they are.”
Maeda didn’t speak much about the controversies surrounding his presidency at RISD, but he did start the talk by saying “I’m in a different place in my life.” Which is a way of saying something, by saying nothing.
He ended the talk with: “It’s been a challenge to be president of RISD in a time of change. RISD has a history of creativity, resistance and pushing back its leaders. I’m the fourth president to get the faculty’s vote of no confidence…how do you stay centered and move forward, and be the artist who can productively fail? How do I be this new person and still be me?”
- Q: Do you regret taking on the role of president at RISD?
- A: “No regrets. I can take a stand for creative people. Art is being removed from education and the U.S. is in danger of becoming a test-taking nation like Singapore. I’m trying to inject art into the America Competes Act and I’m thrilled to be able to take this on.”
- Q: Instead of speeding up, how can we slow down and have longer thoughts?
- A: “Contemplation and areas of reflection have a history of being in higher education. We need to make more free space and create more time to think. This is critical. Make that space and manage your time. Control your time. The first step is making yourself conscious of this.”
A few notes from Matthew Carter‘s “Genuine Imitations” talk at Type@Cooper tonight. What a remarkable man! The legendary Mr. Carter spoke about his approach to typographic revival, using Big Caslon, Snell Roundhand, Miller, Yale, Vincent and others as examples.
- “My attitude to history is purely predatory.”
- “If you want to use history, you need to know more than history.” (Speaking about technology, context, motivation, etc.)
- On using both 18th and 19th C. versions of Caslon to design Big Caslon — “Walking the line between crudeness and blandness. A revival of a revival.”
- “Accuracy is not the truth.” (Quoting Henri Matisse.)
- On interpretation — “Too accurate and you end up with taxidermy.”
- On the type specimen as a musical score — “Everyone who revives Caslon ‘performs’ it differently. Each performance is a critique of the original.”
- On creating Vincent for Newsweek and a special “disaster face” headline version after JFK Jr.’s death —”Typography of the news follows the news.”
- “Newsweek today looks like a magazine that wants to be a website.”
- On typographic revival — “However large our forebears, and however puny your stance, you’re able to see further — at the very least, you have a slight advantage — when standing on the shoulders of giants. I feel a responsibility to use our technological advances to perfect what was possible in the past. The ghosts would approve — to innovate to the degree that’s possible.”
- “Tradition is produced by the innovators who keep it alive.”
- On web fonts — “I pray that there will be good web fonts, to take the heat off of me. Everyone’s bored with Georgia and Verdana. Will be interesting to see what happens to them.”
- On Georgia and Verdana — “To design a typeface for a particular technology is a mistake. The technology eventually changes, and the face is ruined.”
- On Helvetica — “I think often of Helvetica. I love it. I remember when it came, when it arrived. I think it’s great that it’s revived from time to time. I just wish it wouldn’t be used at small sizes.” (Talks about creating small-size use Bell Centennial for the AT&T phonebook.)
- On knowing when a typeface is finished — “A poem is never finished. It’s only abandoned. If you’re persistent you can feel when it doesn’t gel. You change something, it’s not right, you change it again, and then you pick it up and you say, Hello typeface! It really is hard. You have to kiss it goodbye…but there’s a long, patient drudgery until it’s quite right. If you’re honest with yourself.”
- Nick Sherman asks — Have you given much thought to how your own work will be revived in 10, 100 or 1,000 years? MC — “I like the feeling of continuum. I would like to pass it on, but I have no idea what aspects of my work would lend themselves to revival. Life is short and art is long — type designers tend to like the sense that their work will outlive them. I don’t really think about this but the idea of handing things down is a very sweet one!”
The Brand New Conference is underway right now, with a few more minutes left in the lunch break. So far the most inspiring and spirited part of the event was, unsurprisingly, the chat between Armin Vit and the Antony and Cleopatra of design, Pentragram partners Michael Bierut and Paula Scher. Here are my unedited tweets from the conversation — I mostly captured Paula’s comments, but there was a lot of back and forth. It’s not a complete recap by any means, but there are some great ideas in here about clients, partners and doing good work.
- Paula Scher: if you can fake your way through something 3 times, you’re an expert.
- PS: Pentagram is a place for makers. We don’t want to be so big & overwrought that you can’t make. Always pushing this.
- PS: @pentagramdesign is backing. You join to do better work. It’s an org of designers who don’t want to be pigeonholed.
- Michael Bierut: @pentagramdesign doesn’t have a managing partner. No bosses. Everyone has to remain independent. You have to love the mess.
- PS — client relationship: it’s all about structure and who is god. I want to get to them fast. Get to the decider.
- PS: my best work has been when a client calls me directly. You can tell a lot about a client in how they get to you & hire you.
- PS: it’s like dating. If you try to break up with a client, they want you. It’s all about relationships.
- PS: The longer you design, the easier it becomes. The 34 years is real. It’s getting approval that’s the hard part.
- PS: I like being scared. Being “too professional”, being pat – you need to fail a bit, otherwise it’s boring.
- PS: Planning w/ purpose. You enhance the mapping w/ spirit & personality. Bringing something more than the brief to the project.
- PS: strategy is universal but intuition is what brings character to design. This is why we’re good.
- PS: reputation vs repetition. The great reputation doesn’t make it easier. It’s the doing over & over that helps.
- PS: The Met’s in-house team is great but they hired an ad agency & quality went down. What sucks is that’s what everyone sees.
- PS on partners: what’s great is that there are 17 of then & that mitigates what’s disgusting about each of them.
- PS on partners: our only business strategy is that new people change us. It’s the most important thing we do.
This is not a design post, but in a way it is.
I recently had the privilege of attending a launch event for the new book The Power of Pull, by the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation guys: John Seely Brown, John Hagel III and Lang Davison. This wasn’t just another book signing — Seely Brown and Hagel were interviewed by John Heilemann on stage at the Times Center and we had access to an in-depth conversation about how the world is shifting from push to pull — from 20th century strategies of total predictability and stabilization to knowledge flow. Here are my notes from the interview (I haven’t read the book yet).
What is pull? John and John identify three ways to get into the discussion: access, attraction and achievement. Access is about orchestrating the best of the best. They use the obvious (and already dated) example of the iPod — how Steve Jobs created something new by drawing out extraordinary people and resources towards a goal. Access is getting easier everyday, and today the idea of pulling powerful resources on demand is almost expected.
- Spikes So interesting: the paradoxical idea that if the world is flat and everything/one is accessible, why does talent tend to come together in “spikes?” If you’re in a spike, you have more unexpected encounters. Where you place yourself — physically and virtually — is a choice. And if you find yourself in a spike, how do you stand out? Putting out beacons: going to conferences, hanging out in the in-between spaces and encouraging unexpected encounters. Today, attraction is about shaping serendipity.
- Making 20th century institutions are running faster and faster in place, and losing position. The power of pull means turning the performance curve on its head by creating spaces for “making.” They use World of Warcraft as their primary example here. Fascinating — that the “guild” in WoW is the kind of space that encourages productive friction, that yields achievement, problem solving and creativity. That institutional innovation might be about finding (or creating) these spaces, and that this may be more important than technology development (a somewhat radical idea). 20th century technology was all about stabilization — sediments that accumulate over time. But there is no stabilization in today’s innovation: social media and cloud computing are more like shifting overlays, quickly changing spaces for creative engagement at the edge.
- Edge/Flow The old model of “push” innovation was all about total predictability: find and invest in proprietary knowledge (knowledge stocks), hold closely at the core, and then extract. Umair Haque explains this so well. Today, your knowledge stocks are depreciating. To be in the flow means a big shift from the core to the edge — from knowledge stocks to knowledge flows. Flip the ideas of core and edge and you find a new source of economic value (of course, the art world learned the value of the edge long ago). Not just taking from the edge, but creating something new (making). Today, knowledge is sustained and valuable when it’s created (and co-created) and shared — when one edge engages with another. John Seely Brown says: “Be in the flow!”
- Passion John and John identify passion as a key ingredient in pull. How do you measure passion in the workforce? The 20th century model was to leave your passions at home. Don’t bring them into the predictable workplace. This breeds disengagement (just collecting a paycheck) and if you’re faced with an unexpected problem, it’s terrible. Those with passion seek out new ways to engage. You welcome unexpected opportunities and look for them to drive performance to new levels. Cultivate passion in the workforce. John and John call this: “Up with People.”
So where are you in terms of knowledge nodes? Do you have a privileged view? Are you just a participant, or passionately creating and sharing? John and John focus on institutional innovation but I think there’s tremendous value here for the individual, for the small business. Especially designers.
If you made it this far and you want more, you should probably head on over to the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation “Edge-themes” area, where you can download some great PDFs.
Side note Anyone can learn to be a good interviewer (if I can do it, anyone can). But watching someone conduct a talk on-stage as a media performance is really impressive. I’ve never seen anyone do it as well as Paola Antonelli but John Heilemann comes close. He’s got charisma and brought a kind of intense interest and knowledge to the discussion (not only seeming to have read the book but able to converse on the fly with the Johns). I imagine this could be faked, but does it matter? The trick is to appear engaged, to stay on top of the subject, to lead the discussion. This makes for a great performance.