A month long thread for Transmag, November 2000
Entries from Erik Adigard:
First, I'd like to mention once and for all why we do what we do: as designers we are both dreamers and builders. As digital designers we are one step closer to flying, cloning, mood control and other impossible dream. Mostly we hope to be closer to better understanding between people and people, and people and systems—but only one step.
So far, digital practices exist with little theory if any, and most of it is generated by marketers or engineers rather than creative designers.
Architects’ fascination with digital technology fascinates me and it inspires me. Architects have brought elements of theory where none existed, their relevancy remains to be tested overtime but the speculations remain exciting.//
Black Sabbath and gothic cathedrals all in one posting! It is in the summer of 1996, that I first saw an opportunity to explore a correlation between desktop design and architecture/urbanism by trying to reconcile passion plays and stainglass windows with the dullness of the desktop. I had recently discovered the now defunct Pointcast . It led me to hope that graphic designers, who had long existed in the shadow of architecture and then in the blinding one of television could inherit a medium that, like pop music and TV, would be at once vibrant, wide spread and continuous and that-like architecture, it could be immersive and interactive. All of a sudden, the computer was no longer a pixel/text editing design tool and the screen was no longer a mere surface. The computer had become a cheap and easy authoring instrument and the screen and the net were free and wide-open spaces just waiting for events to happen. The screen became a new sort of stained glass illuminated by an infinite stream of “content”—which echoed the texture of pop music which by being played on radio stations all over the world, veils the planet with a shared expression. We saw our digital creations both as events and documents that could also be seen as visual enhancers of the architectures in which the monitors existed. We conceived a masher that could continually publish text and images. All of a sudden it seemed that the desktop had gained the intensity that a Time Square brings to a city. The experience lasted two years and it is, in my practice of graphic design, the closest that I have felt to architecture and urbanism. And this certainly because the expression attempted to be as vivid, multimediatic and immersive, as a “media cathedral.”
With time, I have come to see that the “architecture” of digital spaces and documents as seen on a desktop has nothing to do with the attributes that we associate with physical spaces. In my opinion, computer desktops and their typical interfaces are better defined as work or interactive spaces rather than as immersive ones. They are spaces of communication and spaces for processing, organizing and retrieving data.
The integration of rich media into architecture should be considered as mixed media: static projections, temporary digital prints, film, LCD and other digital media. A truly immersive environment is also perhaps a “penetrating” one: it plays off our personal devices and connects us to a network that may include the “outside” world, so that we can see the city as a mediapolis, which it is.
Technology is the byproduct of a Faustian contract. We have a dream, often expressed through art or science fiction and it materializes in the form of an invention, or a technology that can quickly become dystopian. Our life and culture are reshaped even before we've had time to adapt technology to our original dreams. Often, technology is not the solution, it is the problem and the role of designers is to reframe and redirect these inventions so we can live with them.
Graphic design has changed: we’ve had to learn to design more for machines than for humans. Through the wide availability of graphic tools, we have gained more control over pictorial media and yet we have moved away from creative expression toward other areas of representation. We now design for users and visitors instead of seers and readers, with considerations to traffic, pixel real estate, engineering, connectivity, etc. And we now design for automation, scalability, multiplication and mutation. Digital interfaces seamlessly bring together graphic design, architecture and industrial design. Among design problems that made me think of this convergence are search engines and databases.
New technologies always change the way we interface with life. They leave one reality behind and impose a new perspective of the world (today, read "worlds".) I don't think the notions of adaptability or adoptability have much to do with the reality or virtuality of things. Even the notions of substantiality or believability no longer relate to physicality. The spaces we use most are the ones we inhabit or read best and I think these new spaces are best described as fluid, which is a challenging notion for graphic designers to comprehend and design from, since this fluidity includes a time factor. As if we had to learn to design while walking, as the world around is changing as quickly as we can implement our designs. Modern graphic design is a continuous exercise of synthesis and networking.
We can map the impact of new technologies on the economy or on the practice of design. But the impact on the human body and on society is harder to evaluate because there will be an actual impact and a perceived (or mediated) impact. Information flows will continue to grow and intensify proportionately to our appetite for it. But this is a schizophrenic appetite, one that demands a constant filtering and packaging. We want three things:
1-to see the general patterns of information
2-to view crisis or enlightenment in real time
3-to slow down
All else should be self-maintainable (especially our body).
Crisis and enlightenment: these are what make computer mediation such a fundamental challenge: We move between cities made of stone and cities made of information. The Dow Jones, CNN and mail order catalogs comprise today's fortified walls. We rely on libraries and digital databases, newspapers and web portals, roads and networks, bars and chat rooms, etc. If you go more granular you find yourself with entire systems (or economies) embedded in your cell phone. The cell phone becomes the main interface between you and the world, and very quickly it will become the main interface between you and your body when it gives you permanent monitoring of your physical condition. In many ways, the data streams and their interpretations are what make the "substance" of life; how designers translate and interpret crisis and enlightenment is what determines whether we evolve toward dystopian or utopian models—with the understanding that these models are not destinations, they are only perspectives, in a way similar to the course of the narrative in movies, or the progression of city sprawl. The main point is to remain in motion.
This point is also a response to Hani’s question: Both physical and abstract spaces exist in motion as a continuum. We awkwardly define new spaces with old notions and in turn reshape our old spaces from these new definitions. This is not a revolution but simply an acceleration of how quickly we adopt and adapt to new means. One of our challenges is to constantly monitor the position and definition of these spaces in relationship to each other. The desktop as we know it will have had a short shelf life and we can already see that new solutions will be found on other surfaces.
While focusing on emerging technologies, artificial environments and new languages, we also continue to explore traditional means to implement solutions inspired by digital technologies. I wouldn’t think of any media as “old” as long as they are responsive to present conditions. The discourse of Architecture Must Burn is enhanced by the medium as well as it enhances the medium: a book is also interactive, mobile, transferable, concrete, fluid and mutable. Furthermore, in Architecture Must Burn’s context, the book came to us as an “open space” where our iconographic saturation could have more meaning if it appeared as “text” on paper rather than if it appeared on screen. Similarly information streams have more resonance when they appear on “concrete” walls than on newspapers of computer displays.
We constantly walk back and forth between 3D and 2D spaces and carry processes from one to the other. In doing so, we ill-define unfamiliar spaces by trying to model them onto unrelated structures. Similarly when we find comfort in new environments we quickly try to impose newly discovered patterns on our original space of activity.
We have gone from image saturation to image blur and from clickable icons to clickable objects. The book and the screen exist on different tracks, as do cities and theme parks and malls and portals.
Speed of things: on the equator we are spinning at 1,000mile/hr while flying through space at 65,000miles/hr. And we move around the Earth and we live within screens that have a very short shelf life. Art and religion will continue to fill up new void spaces and these will be colonized to reappear on new horizons and in new forms. In the meantime, both our environments and our bodies will be charted, controlled and tracked. But shall we want to know? Shall we care?
Graphic design is a silent medium and when you practice it you even feel" silenced". and yet it is highly communicative.
If you have a computer you don't need to own an eraser—creation and erasure are one and the same process therefore we do too much of each. In the best of all worlds we'd only design what needs to be designed. nothing more.///