Archive for June, 2007

Ethical type

June 29, 2007

faux hebrew

Jessica Helfand on Design Observer calls for a cultural sensitivity and ethic of typography after being disturbed by the plethora of faux hebrew fonts available (there’s even one called circumcision). She sums up:

Granted, unlike people, typefaces have no feelings — so who cares if they’re used without sensitivity and knowledge? But on some level, the line is a murky one: what’s the difference between a celebrity making an unforgivable racist remark and a typographer making a font that clumsily perpetuates a cultural stereotype? As a rule, the study of ethics aren’t taught in our design curricula. But maybe it should be.

Article here.

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Transforming the visuals

June 27, 2007

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Looking for a design muse, I was just flipping through the last Communicaiton Arts Design Annual. Wow – the reversed lamb within the lion’s shape developed for the cover of Transforming the Powers, appears as a featured logo. The Minnesota AIGA also features it in their 2007 Design Show. It came from Brad D. Noor Design based in Minnesota. It’s a beautiful, classic mark.

Transforming the Powers

This was a textbook from last fall that I had to review for class. I am still impressed by Walter Wink’s take on redeeming the powers and even more impresed after seeing a visual interpretation of his thesis spread to the pages of Communication Arts … very cool!

No breather

June 26, 2007

If you’ve been around me at all in the past week, you might have picked up from the trail of kleenex that I’ve been a bit under the weather. But thankfully I’ve been feeling better and decided to hit the pool as an official act of being on the mend.

After 45 minutes, I figured I put in a good show and was about to get out when coach Kenny (I swim with a masters group) called all the swimmers to the wall for what I thought was typical Monday drills. Instead of climbing out just then infront of everyone, I tried to be sneaky and wait till after the drill, but little did I know, I was hardly avoiding attention …

Kenny: “Someone pick a number between 1 and 60”
Other swimmer: “4”
Kenny: “Who’s closest in age to 4? Anyone 20? 22? 24? 25?
I mumble: “I’m 25…”
Swimmer in my lane: “OVER HERE! SHE’S 25”
Kenny: Ah yes! You’re [to me] going to be swimming a no breather for us, one length of the pool. We will be cheering you on. Think you can do that?

I manage to nod as the entire pool looks over at me.

No breather is just that, swimming from one side of the pool to the other with no breaths. I’ve done it several times (though sometimes it can take a few tries), yet I’ve never done it first day back after a week out sick and with 50 other (much faster) swimmers watching me.

Having a little bit of pressure and an audience can do amazing things: it was probably the easiest no breather I’ve ever swam. When I got to the other side and came up for air, I heard the group cheering me on and put my arm in the air in triumph. Gotta love it when community gets an introvert out of her shell.

CIVA Part One: The great stuff

June 24, 2007

CIVA guidance

Last weekend I was lucky enough to get to the Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) conference. Hosted at Messiah College outside Harrisburg Pennsylvania, a few hundred artists of faith gathered together to learn, network and encourage. I’ve tried to write about it in one long post, but to spare you and me both, I’ll break it up into three parts and post them over the next few days.

Jurried gallery

The conference theme, “Transforming Space” addressed four different types of space: (1) the Museum/Gallery space [pictured above: the juried gallery], (2) the Church/Worship space, (3) Cultural/Critical space, and (4) the Built/Designed space. It was the later track that brought me to the conference – anyone talking about design and faith gets my attention these days.

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Each of the four tracks were spearheaded by a scholar/artist in a relative field. Earl Tai [pictured above on the right], professor and Fullbright scholar at the well respected Parsons New School for Design, spoke for the built/designed track. In a short presentation during a plenary session, he quickly sparked unexpected interest by presenting a missional approach to design. He asked how design is currently meeting the needs of the world and dared to advocate that it can take on the biggest questions of our era.

Needless to say, his session quickly packed out. Many attendees changed their seminar choice to hear him elaborate on these ideas, and we weren’t disappointed. He put words to the nagging desire creatives feel to be doing more with design than pay the bills and buy our cool chairs. Yet this is just a gut feeling to serve global community with a severe lack of guidance into action. So, instead we take the our valuable “design capital” and go where the money and patronage is: commerce. But the question still nags and remains unanswered. At best, it’s relegated to pro-bono work which cooks up a mix of guilt for not doing more and angst for not getting paid our worth. Tai gave a wonderful effort to “move forward with resolve” to answer this dilemma.

His theological foundation was as follows:

    1. Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God, and ushers it in with his death and resurrection – in doing so we know God’s redemptive plan.

    2. The kingdom of God is now and here. It’s “already, but not yet.”

    3. The coming of God’s kingdom is not a detached spiritual reality – but fully engaged in this world (this was the standard theological foundation for the conference allowing artists to let God use them and their work for transformation). This leads beyond a “functional” view of art and design into a “redemptive” view of art and design.

    4. Therefore, we can, and are called to play a role in God’s redemptive plan > the goal of which is transformation.

    5. The task of designers and artists is to envision a heavenly ideal and bring it to fruition in this world. He sited N.T. Wright who said, the heart of mission is mandated in the arts as it is in a field such as chemistry.

He lost me a bit on this heavenly ideal using Revelation 21 (the shining new Jerusalem) and Isaiah 11 (the branch from the stump of Jessie). Though I liked the way he tied Philippians 4:8 and common grace into “defamilarizing the mundane to break through and come face to face with an ideal such as beauty, justice, and peace”. He also included the philosophy that supported art/design for the masses for ‘good’ using the Distributive Justice philosophy of John Rawls (Though my professor William Dryness later told me he personally considers this theory faulty…hmm).

Regardless of the philosophical details and my struggles with the heavenly ideal (more below on that), I think Tai is right on to give designers such a theological foundation. Gosh it’s the story of my post-collegiate life. Part of me couldn’t believe what I was hearing, that someone had thought this out. Wahoo!

I wish I thought more on my feet and wasn’t such a processor (though the processing is the main reason I’m turning into a more and more verbose blogger). I’d want to ask him more about his heavenly ideal – is it limited to an elite modernist aesthetic that would cure the worlds ailments?

I hope not. There is something to say about a design based on a contextual aesthetic. Simple can be beautiful. Cost effective can be beautiful. It doesn’t need to show up at the high end dealers. Something at Target – or better yet a freeware style technology available for anyone to reproduce (like the Pot-in-Pot cooling system that keeps produce up to 21 days rather than just 2-3 in rural Africa) can be beautiful. A modest local, natural and sustainable solution can quietly steal the show and paradoxically be a radical transformation.

“Design” is such a wide-range of practices (graphic, product, environmental, architecture, etc) there is still much to flesh out. I hope to engage graphic design down the road, but Tai focused on architecture. He did a wonderful job showcasing projects that used innovation to radically transform lives. I’ll leave you with three examples:

Sergio Palleroni, professor at University of Washington and Austin, takes students into rural Mexico to design and build facilities, such as a communal kitchen, which embody the values of the local community, dignify the people and provide an effective and helpful finished project for the community.

Sam Davis Architecture in Berkeley, California worked to create an open and communal environment for the homeless. The open space offers healing and validation through elements of the design such as windows that create a two way line of vision with the outside world. Davis listened to his clients who told him they who don’t want to be in a closed off and boxed into shelter, but given a space that does not shame or hide them.

Diebedo Kere, the first to study abroad from his village in Burkina Faso, returned as an architect and innovated clay building methods. Previously unstable compared to imported building materials, he was behind the design and construction of the Gando Primary School home to 350 students in Gando, his home village, which has an illiteracy rate of 80%. In support of such innovation, the government now pays the teachers salaries and the school now functions as a community center.

Retaining faith

June 23, 2007

“Teach us, O God not to torture ourselves, not to make martyrs of ourselves through stifling reflection; but rather teach us to breathe deeply in faith, through Jesus, our Lord.” -Soren Kierkegaard

This quote hit me today and helped bring me back to some semblance of center. Studying and thinking about God, faith and culture can leave me dry, agitated and anxious. I have no answers.

Yet I have teachable lungs. I’m swimming up from the depths of books and my thoughts bursting for fresh air. Each day, I’m bursting. My soul suffocates without this faith, this freedom, this love of Jesus.

Summer is upon us!

June 13, 2007

Finals are over! But now my victory lap (err…time on the couch and at the beach ) is over, I’ve hit the ground running again. Summer hardly means slowing down …

Jenn

found type

chair highlights

New Camera!
I ate my lunch today on the balcony outside my apartment waiting for the UPS man. My new Canon 30D was coming, and if I didn’t sign for it, they weren’t going to leave it. My roommate was asking what the chances were he’d actually come while I was standing there. “Pretty good, I think.” My instinct was on and within 5 minutes the UPS man came around the corner. I was doing something between dancing and jumping, which made him smile, “Kristin?” he asked. Oh yes!

I took it out for test shots today, and hoped I haven’t traumatized my friends by trying out the multiple shots-per-second feature on them. More pics are here.

CIVA conference
The impetus for the above purchase, I’ll be flying to Philadelphia and taking the train to Harrisburg, PA on Thursday for the biennial Christians in the Visual Arts conference. The theme this time is “Transformed Spaces” and there’s an architecture/design track that caught my eye. I’m pretty excited to hang out with other artists and designers with a faith perspective. I’ll no doubt be blogging on it and taking tons of pictures. I’ll try to edit for your benefit.

Miners Club
This is the film group I’ve been part of. We’re taking steps to wrap up the post-production and distribution of our shorts. Look for a You Tube link soon!

School
In addition, summer school will start the following Monday; I need to finalize my class load and start thinking about books.

Work
My part time work with Avant Ministries continues on with a range of interesting projects to keep me busy. I’m pretty amazed to think about what I’ve been able to get out over the past year: Urbana display, 32 page magazine, There is No Time book design (cover and inside), and now a complete revision on their print materials. Whew!

Summer vay-cay
I’m taking two weeks off from both school and working the beginning of July to travel California with Ellen, a British friend from my study abroad in Norwich. We’ll be hitting up the LA, the coast, SF, Chico, Sierras, Vegas and the Grand Canyon if all goes well. Apparently road trips make good stories (I just got out of a class comparing Luke and the American Road movie), so hopefully it’ll be a warm hearted comedy with positive personal growth… Later in September, my Dad and I area talking about a backpacking trip, this time on the Lost Coast in Northern California (NorCal!). Backpacking on sand at sea level? What will I do without the 10,000ft+ altitude, steam crossings and sheer rock drop offs I’ve loved to hate these past years on the John Muir Trail in the sierras?

Anyway, sorry for the laundry list – I’m a bit overwhelmed with it all, but very excited about life, and my new camera to capture more of it!

Bola Moyo = Better Life

June 3, 2007

Bola Moyo logo

A good friend I knew from the design program at Chico State, Cara Pattison, shocked me and our classmates by leaving the design field after finishing school. Yet, in a sense, she really hasn’t left design behind. Since graduating, she and her husband Dustin, have since started a non-profit called Bola Moyo (which means ‘better life’) to work with Africans in Balaka, Malawi at the grassroots level. They aim to:

…mobilize and support African communities in response to poverty, suffering, and inequality. Our vision is to see thousands of Africans empowered, living free from the oppression of poverty and disease, and realizing their potential to live productive and purposeful lives.

Cara was in the Pasadena area over the weekend, and we finally got to catch up yesterday after a few years going in our own directions. I heard stories and got to see pictures of the kids and staff they interact with, as well as the House of Many Stories Youth Centre where they have created a welcoming after school program for the kids in the Balaka area. These after-school programs started to provide a nurturing place to play and have expanded to give a needed education supplement in English and Math. Its all run by locals and Cara and Dustin are only there three months out of the year. They have many other plans in the works to continue making strides to help the youth’s chances of succeeding in further education and life in general.

Though she wouldn’t say so, I think Cara is a still very much a designer. Of course she handles their graphics for the organization – see the identity above and their website (which she whipped after simply sitting through a tutorial with dreamweaver), there is more going on. In the larger picture Cara with her husband are drawing from process-based clear thinking and problem solving innate in the practice of design to carry out the very mission of their organization. They are intentional about hearing the needs of their clients (people in the Malawi community) and brainstorming and developing solutions to meet the goal (addressing HIV/AIDS, better education, quality of life) in a holistic way for both the long and short term.

I’m finding designers, whether in a studio job or not, tend to use these innate skills in what they’re engaged with. Bola Moyo get me excited because Cara is using her skills along with those of her husband, her staff and many volunteers to benefit the marginalized who need it most.

Cara and Dustin – keep up the wonderful work. Thanks for sharing your journey!

To find out more and support Bola Moyo, see their website and follow their blog.