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Does society dictate the way in which we design? Ahad Sheikh 10318

In the following essay I will be exploring the foundations that structure and dictate modern design, exploring new-age graphic designers that use external social influences in their works. Before I delve into criticisms set by social economists and theorists on modern design, I’ll build the foundations of this essay by briefly examining two modern theories on the proposed birthplace of creativity. I will reference these theories throughout the essay, referring back to points raised, giving my own insight into whether or not I believe them to be probable of not. "Equally damaging to the scientific study of creativity, in our view, has been the takeover of the field, in the popular mind, by those who follow what might be referred to as a pragmatic approach. Those taking this approach have been concerned primarily with developing creativity, secondarily with understanding it, but almost not at all with testing the validity of their ideas about it." Sternberg continues, "Perhaps the foremost proponent of this approach is Edward De Bono, whose work on lateral thinking and other aspects of creativity has had what appears to be considerable commercial success." Handbook of Creativity, Robert J. Sternberg The theory above is obviously lapsed, there is no subconscious stimulus that pushes us to create then examine what we have just created, criticisms are well ordered and require more than a single stimulus to prosper. Nor is it about left-brains and right brains: there’s no basis in neuroscience for this idea at all. All cognitive processes of any complexity require both hemispheres to work together in an integrated way and there’s no such thing as a left or right-brained person or thinking. It’s acceptable as a metaphor for balancing logical deduction with intuition. But that is as far as it goes in terms of reliability and implication. I believe that creativity derives from both; the external social reference points that seem untoward to a natural conventional life, what comes next is the process we see, the creative implication of these ideas into a medium that would seem to best express the ideas. In this essay I will look at a set of three artists that use opposing mediums to express their themes. This will allow me to compare the outcomes against the social themes that I derive from analysis. From this I will derive the real affect of society on creativity and how it is expressed within modern graphic design.


To begin my essay I will begin with a graphic designer well in his prime, Mark Weever (his works can be seen above). Mark Weaver is a graphic designer/illustrator currently working in the New York City area. He has recently designed the album art for ‘How To Destroy Angles’ first release, along with promotional art work for the band, so we can derive that his work can be linked with modern day bands quite well, a social aspect of life almost everyone is influenced by. Weaver was born on August 10, 1981, in Boston, Massachusetts, and in 2005 moved to his current location in Atlanta, Georgia. He is best known for his ‘Make Something Cool Every Day’ project, the project images are above. The project received a wide range of attention in the art and design community. His work has been described as “retro-futuristic collages”. In Weevers ‘Make Something Cool Every Day’ project the main focus of his works seem to revolve around nature and the human form, something dictated by society and the various social groups that derive from them. I wanted to make links to meetings, encounters and experiences in the context of social situations. Looking at one of his pieces as a basis for my primary analysis. If you refer to the image placed in the top right hand corner its easy to see the influences for that specific piece. Biology is the key theme he is trying to promote and exemplify in this piece, a science. Regarded and classed among the highest significant subjects in the modern world, curing disease and bettering our way of life. It’s easy to see why and how he’s taken such a delicate approach to this subject. Using a subtle archaic style creamy background textured with light faux markings to give a sense of age


to his works, an aspect in society we regard with knowledge and wisdom. Which is very visible in this work, seemingly making it appear to be conforming to the dictated social conventions of the themes set by society. The significance of the image was initially unknown to me, the connotations of the mood set and the beetle made me give it some initially subconscious relation to biology, assuming the figure was a famous theoretical biologist or cure finder. It was as if the pure aesthetic nature of the piece alone gave me some sort of subconscious insight into the possible themes. I strongly believe that the way in which society has painted and imprinted this science into my mind made me feel as though the image belonged to it in regards to its theme. One of the simplest ways in which humans manage themes and assets in life is through the use of colour, for example blue and red in regards to the economy, green, yellow can be defined to dictate our movements. The colour palate Mark Weaver uses can’t be defined a whole as it varies depending on the topic or idea he’s trying to portray. The image above on the left for example has a very limited colour palate consisting of just two colours. The image is in lemans terms, an elks head upon the body of a man, if the colour palate was to be more complex we would be able to see a clear distinction in colour between the two animals, the colour palate simply negates the affect of this upon our perception of it, the two colours means that addition of an elks head is subtle and somewhat natural looking on the human body. The opacity is altered within the image to let differing amounts of red come through, giving the image depth and tone, raising it away from the strong red background. With the other image I’ve chosen however the colour palates a much more complex, but the opacity of them is quite strong so the colours don’t impose on the viewer. To keep the balance and prominence of the focal colours.

The work makes me feel somewhat nostalgic of past events, the young boy in the 3rd image especially. In my youth, I used to look upon nature as my toy; I was the controller of what I didn’t understand. The image sends me a strong message that power and control isn’t something that we are born with, but something we must understand from society. In the images that follow this one the figures have depth and shading that gives them features, but they seem to have an image above them that has been ‘multiplied’ to gel in with the figures features. The social issue is related to the figure in these cases, my diagnosis is ‘pathetic fallacy’, and the weather within the figures gives us a sense of how they feel. Now that I’ve delved into the affects of society on modern design I wanted to explore the works of a graphic designer that looks at the affects of design on our individual perception of society. I wanted to study an artist that has created pieces similar to some of the ideas I’ve explored in my editorial project, so I thought it would be interesting to look further into the theme of architecture and its social effects on design and vice versa. This next graphic designer works with formats, street layouts etc. Born in 1973 to William and Suzon Davis Tarbell in the high altitude desert city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, he was first introduced to personal computers in 1987. Jared’s interest in computing has grown in direct relation to the processing power of these machines. Jared holds a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from New Mexico State University. He sits on the Board of the Austin Museum of Digital Art. In July 2005, Jared co-founded Etsy, an online marketplace to buy and sell handmade goods. He continues to work there today, building tools and


visualizations for shoppers. When not engaged in programming, Jared leaves his technology and ventures out, exploring the mysterious wilderness areas of New Mexico.

Jared Tarbell’s work seems to contrast with its self in terms of structure, in some of his pieces there is a very distinct controlled almost industrial style of line being used. Whereas in others like the very first piece you see below, the complexity is just as great as the ones above it but the style of line is much less controlled. The fact that these lines have been styles in random formats suggests that he understands the social growth of society and is predicting our future in the form of elaborate city plan drawings and complex mathematical globe drawings. The colour palate Jared Tarbell uses is quite industrial and slightly earthy at the same time. Dark shades of brown and grey are used in all of his pieces that I’ve looked at, the default base colours Jared uses in these pieces make them easier to distinguish as his works. New additions of orange or even greater amounts of white space are used to subtlety bring out new meanings in the work, recently I have been looking at city planning and the possible future of them as they become ever more populated. The images above are not too dissimilar to the theoretical drawings made by the likes of le Corbusier (a great socialist architecture) and Ben Van Berkel (a Swedish architecture/city planner). To get a roughed down effect on his work he uses sand paper and scrapes away the outer coloured areas giving them a false sense of gradient. Jared Tarbell uses diodes to create the spiralling vortex effects visible in the piece you see on the left, the diodes are totally simulated and act on random minor plate movement. He has opened a site where the general public can operate this diodes to create their own vortex globe pieces that reflect their mood. It’s a great way of conducting a social experiment

For my final artist study I wanted to research a graphic designer of the opposite sex to get a wider range of inputs before I conclude whether society dictate the themes in modern graphic design. Michelle Thompson graduated from the royal college of art in 1996, she has worked successfully in publishing, editorial and design. Her various works have been seen worldwide, her most notable work has been the collaborations she had created alongside the famous British designer Vaughan Oliver. She now works as a freelance illustration artist producing work mostly for editorial use. Her clients include The Independent, Penguin Books, The LA times and Harvard Law magazine. Her work is so influential mainly due to the range of modern objects found in her work that reflect current issues.


I’ve chosen Michelle Thompson as my next artist of study as her works are widely used in commercial contexts, her work undoubtedly reaches the widest audience out of all of the graphic designers I’ve looked at so far. Resulting in her working have a greater tendency towards the social groups she’s trying to appeal to. Her audience often dictates the style in which she works. In some of her work the colour palate seems limited, but she uses shading to creating a 3 dimensional focal point that sticks out to the viewer. I also find that way in which she contrasts old black and white images of people with vibrant and mesmerizing focal colors in the background and other areas in the composition quite interesting. Michelle Thompson is a fan of the art of extraction; she uses extraction and integration in her images, using them to contribute to the theme or message the work has been commissioned for. The first image is an example of a good use shape on top of negative space to create another form, it looks like brail or Morse code. Giving connotations of some sort of hidden message within the work, enforcing and promoting a keen interest. My interpretation of this image is that technology has made the world a very fast and assiduous place to live, and the only way to stay avant-garde is to hold onto a piece of technology that links your ear to the rest of the world.

I enjoy the way in which Michelle Thompson uses a range of subject matters and mediums in her work. Printed materials, newspaper prints, labels, paint, CAD, photography, screen printing and many others. She works with found objects that are mainly figurative, to give the viewer something they can hold onto and relate with meaning. She also uses abstract design and typography in her work to express points or for pure aesthetic pleasure.


Michelle Thompson uses lines in very interesting ways, sometimes bisecting the piece but creating a grand sense of balance. In society, we often dictate the actions of people by balancing out two themes; good/evil, just/unjust, needed/un-needed, I feel as though Thompson wanted there to be a balanced mix of two themes in her work to correspond with the human mental process for judging social situations. She uses scale in some of her work to create a focal point for the eye to follow. For example the large silhouette of the warden in the second composition is the immediate focal point for me, leading to the depth of the base. This is also due to the negative spade around him highlighting his figure.

Michelle Thompson’s work is very modern, but also very retro in some compositions. This would be mainly due to the target audience. A wider audience would admire a contemporary current piece more than an outdated one. She does however negate this stereo-type by adding in silhouettes and photographs from the 60’s. She brings out the black and white images with the negative space they create upon the modern ambient coloured backgrounds. Michelle Thompson was influenced by many artists, one being Robert Rauschenberg; who used similar hand crafting methods and also focused in topical events by using a range of topical found images. To conclude my essay, I will rely on one final point of theme that is very notable in all the works I have discussed thus far. The theme of local subjects, each piece above plays in a subject/theme that the audience is well aware of, playing on the social aspect of relevance the designers are dictated by the whims of their social audience. They cannot stray too far from the path of convention as this would be untoward for the recipients. Making their work go un-noticed as it fails to make an impact on the society that dictates it.


How does the psychology of the mind influence modern graphic design