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ANTI means yes to traditional ANTI means yes to design out of love ANTI means yes to order ANTI means yes to sense ANTI means yes to context ANTI means yes to the new ANTI means yes to communication ANTI means yes to the standard ANTI means yes to originality ANTI means yes to productive ANTI means yes to the familiar ANTI means yes to the expected with a twist ANTI means yes to recognizable ANTI means yes to compromise ANTI means yes to reconciliation ANTI means yes to violation ANTI means yes to freedom ANTI means yes to expectations ANTI means yes to flouting and flaunting ANTI means yes to breaking the rules ANTI means yes to the rules ANTI means yes to the vernacular ANTI means yes to cliche ANTI means yes to tweaking convention ANTI means yes to groundbreaking ANTI means yes to meaning ANTI means yes to form and ANTI means yes to function ANTI means yes to beauty ANTI means yes to creativity ANTI means yes to constraints ANTI means yes to acknowledging boredom and incompetence ANTI means yes to accepting limitations ANTI means yes to opposition ANTI means yes to fun ANTI means yes to the box and beyond ANTI means yes to aunderstandable design thesis by Betsy Medvedovsky ANTI means yes to the rules of the game ANTI means yes to reframing ANTI means yes to ambiguity, unambiguously ANTI means yes to contradiction ANTI means yes to working with and against ANTI means yes to tension, yes to conflict and yes juxtaposition ANTI means yes to engagement ANTI means yes to using your weakness as your strength ANTI means no to absolute narratives ANTI means yes to possibility ANTI means yes to cynical optimism and optimistic cynicism ANTI means yes to creating freedom ANTI means yes to the world as is


TABLE OF CONTENTS


ANTI means yes to traditional // 1 ANTI means yes to design out of love ANTI means yes to order // 3 ANTI means yes to sense ANTI means yes to context // 12 ANTI means yes to the new ANTI means yes to communication ANTI means yes to the standard ANTI means yes to originality ANTI means yes to productive ANTI means yes to the familiar ANTI means yes to the expected with a twist ANTI means yes to recognizable // 20 ANTI means yes to compromise ANTI means yes to reconciliation ANTI means yes to violation ANTI means yes to freedom ANTI means yes to expectations ANTI means yes to flouting and flaunting ANTI means yes to breaking the rules ANTI means yes to the rules ANTI means yes to the vernacular ANTI means yes to cliche ANTI means yes to tweaking convention ANTI means yes to groundbreaking ANTI means yes to meaning ANTI means yes to form and ANTI means yes to function ANTI means yes to beauty // 32 ANTI means yes to creativity ANTI means yes to constraints ANTI means yes to acknowledging boredom and incompetence ANTI means yes to accepting limitations ANTI means yes to opposition ANTI means yes to fun ANTI means yes to the box and beyond // 44 ANTI means yes to understandable ANTI means yes to the rules of the game ANTI means yes to reframing ANTI means yes to ambiguity, unambiguously // 50 ANTI means yes to contradiction ANTI means yes to working with and against ANTI means yes to tension, yes to conflict and yes juxtaposition ANTI means yes to engagement ANTI means yes to using your weakness as your strength // 57 ANTI means no to absolute narratives ANTI means yes to possibility ANTI means yes to cynical optimism and optimistic cynicism ANTI means yes to creating freedom ANTI means yes to the world as is


Mea Culpa


I have made too many beautiful things that no one got. I have made too many clever things that made no sense. I have made too many interesting points that were convoluted and thus lost.


I. ANTI means yes to context


Since I started doing design, I’ve always felt compelled to break form, push it to the limit, see what would happen, do it like it hadn’t been done before, to think up something weirder and crazier than everyone else had. It’s a dirty compulsion, an impulse I can’t control. It leads to beautiful graphic experiments, fun visual work. But too often, I’ve broken the form too well, exploded past the limits too far: the work becomes incomprehensible, too personal, a formal exploration that can no longer hold content. As much as I’m interested in form, I am a graphic designer. That is: I want to communicate with people visually. Yet I am addicted to exploration. At heart this thesis is about trying to reconcile these two needs: a need for simple communication and a need for the new. A need for the standard and a need for originality.

introduction

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Personal justifications It’s an amazing gift to visualize ideas as a job. How then can I not have a fundamental respect for the client—and his opinion—whose money allows me to make images, mess with type and think as part of my everyday? The rare client may want the esoteric, the difficult, design that keeps everyone out except for a chosen few. But most clients want maximal communication—clear, loud messages that resonate. Clear, loud messages means what is recognizable and familiar. So maximal design wants to follow into tropes, boring solutions that have been tried a million times before. How does the designer who loves his client keep his sanity? How to communicate maximally while not going mad from cliché, from retooling what has been done before? How to communicate while giving room for the designer to breathe? How to communicate while allowing some experimentation, some voice, a point of view? How to reconcile communication with exploration? ANTI becomes a sound approach for this reconciliation. Familiar forms and themes allow the viewer in; a small violation allows the designer freedom. Crucially, though, these small violations are not just indulgent moments—rather, they’re used in a structured way for effect. When expectations exist, they can be flouted. Actually, these expectations become currency for the designer: respecting them gains him credence with the viewer until—at just the right moment—one is broken. Quickly, ANTI has been transformed from a personal coping mechanism to a design strategy for creating effect.

justifications


ANTI means yes to compromise

breaking the rules as a way to push forward What I talk about above—experimentation, exploration, violation, breaking expectations, breaking form—is at heart the same thing: breaking the rules. That breaking the rules can be productive is old news. But breaking the rules for its own sake, without a concrete objective, seems unnecessary, self-indulgent. In Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud defends rule-breaking in art. He posits that there are six facets to any work of art: surface, craft, structure, idiom, form, and idea. McCloud sets up a dichotomy of artists who are primarily interested in the idea/purpose vs. artists primarily interested in form. (Luckily they can switch back and forth.) By choosing form, he’d be setting up to become an explorer. His goal, to discover all that the art form is capable of.... his art would just become his purpose and the ideas would arrive in time to give it substance. Creators who take this path are often pioneers and revolutionaries— artist who want to shake things up, change the way people think, question the fundamental laws that govern their chosen art. (McCloud, 179) McCloud thus explicitly see questioning the fundamental laws (and presumably ignoring some of them) as a way of changing the way people think. In a satisfying twist, successful rule breakers end up inventing new rules. Walter Benjamin wrote: “All great works of literature either dissolve a genre or they invent one.” (quoted by David Shields on “Start the Week”, 2/14/11) Indeed, Benjamin points to something: every time a genre/concept/format is productively dissolved, a new genre (with its own rules, of course) is invented. Breaking convention pushes the stateof-the-art forward.

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Delimitations: THIS THESIS IS NOT This thesis is not anti-design. This thesis is not against rules. Rules are the world and rules are design. This thesis is about using rules, desired and not, to one’s advantage. This thesis is not academic. Above all this thesis tries to stay vernacular and be understandable in a general context. This thesis does not engage with any number of philosophical movements (i.e. post-modernism) on a minute level. This thesis doesn’t deal with jargon or overly complex formulations; what is important about great ideas is how they are commonly understood. This thesis is not new, revolutionary, unique. Rather, this thesis explores one strategy to look at the world and tries to uncover the possibilities systematically.


THIS THESIS IS:


AntiThe definition of anti- according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary is: ● 1 a : of the same kind but situated opposite, exerting energy in the opposite direction, or pursuing an opposite policy <anticlinal> ● b : one that is opposite in kind to <anticlimax> ● 2 a : opposing or hostile to in opinion, sympathy, or practice <anti-Semite> ● b : opposing in effect or activity <antacid> ● 3 : serving to prevent, cure, or alleviate <antianxiety> ● 4 : combating or defending against <antiaircraft> <antimissile> The key definition here is the first one: “of the same kind but situated opposite.” Once found, adopting anti- becomes an easy choice. Consider the words which illustrate this usage: anti-novel, anti-hero, anti-climax. These are words that are both quickly understandable and yet have room for freedom built in. An anti-novel is some sort of novel, yes, but what’s interesting is how it’s not a novel. What’s especially strong about anti- is it’s a productive prefix (like un-, non-, de- , etc.) which can be used by any English speaker to generate a new temporary word that functions within a given context. Temporary anti- words pop up and die in conversations all the time, but for some more popular usages that have persisted, google something like anti-Oscar, anti-drug or anti-villain. As such it’s perfect: both popularly understood with no art or design baggage as well as extremely productive within temporary contexts.

Genre/format For the sake of succinctness, I want to introduce the term genre/format. A genre/format is anything that is defined and framed by conventions, and thus, can be anti’d: where common understandings exist of what something must be, they can be violated. When words like everyone does X, typical, archetype, standard, commonly accepted, usual, conventional, cliché, stereotype, are used, it’s a good sign we’re hot on the tracks of a genre/format.

genre/format


ANTI • Take a given genre/format (“X”) with the set of conventions that both frame and define it. • Acknowledging and working with the conventions, violate one or more of them. • The resulting anti-X can be the desired end goal, or it can be a direction to work towards.


ANTI means yes to beauty

A note on Dutch design It’s not for this thesis to write about Dutch design is or isn’t. But the underlying assumption throughout is that there is a strong correlation between Dutch design and ANTI. It may be implicit in the “irony, selfdeprecation and thinly veiled egoism” that characterizes Dutch design for Michael Rock (Rock, “Mad Dutch Disease”). It may be in the “restructuring” that is constantly said to be at the heart of Dutch design. It may be in the “dry twist” that is attributed to many a Dutch studio. (Betsky and Euwens, 129) Two remarks may shed light on if and why this overlapping exists. False Flat, a survey and exploration of what Dutch design is, notes that after a rebellion in the 60s against restrictive design rules, the studio Hard Werken “brought back the sense that graphic design should

break the rules not to be weird and wild but to communicate more effectively.” (Betsky and Euwens, 170) Michael Rock meanwhile talks about “the bifurcated relationship – dividing the desire to express and the drive for reason” that Dutch designers have to their work. (Rock, “Mad Dutch Disease”) Both of these descriptions align quite closely with how I came to ANTI in the introduction: a need to experiment married to a need for communicate. The first section of the Antecedents and Precedents must necessarily then be devoted to Dutch Design: the examples I came across in the very beginning that fit quite naturally into the ANTI conversation.


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Not enough resources to deal with the rules/ outsider status Conventions often require more resources than are available. Accepting a limitation on resources and flaunting it can become a powerful way to compete. Periods of Activity, the auto-biography in the form of a folder with unbound sheets mentioned above was originally to be printed as a traditional, bound book. The size of the pages (9” x 15”), however, made signatures too costly. Perfect binding was inappropriate. The book thus quickly became a folder from reasons of necessity—but the unbound sheets now became a major focal point of the project.

The rules do not allow for enough ambiguity One of Venturi and Scott Brown’s original justifications for Mannerism. Ambiguity gets a section of its own later on, but it’s interesting to see ambiguity and conflict in terms of constraints. Periods of Activity is again an excellent example. Looking back at my own life, I began to be confused about the order of events—did I really begin to be interested in creative work before I started dating A., the designer? Did I really quit an education in advertising because my grandmother died—or was it a coincidence? The book form forced events too neatly into a linear narrative of my life which would gloss over the periods of uncertainty, indecision and vague flailing. Unbound sheets allowed rearrangement and hinter at the act of self-construction that writing an auto-biography actually is. A dossier aesthetic naturally fit the content, the emphasis on events and packaged the pages. Periods of Activity is again an excellent example. Looking back at my own life, I began to be confused about the order of events—did I really begin to be interested in creative work before I started dating A., the designer? Did I really quit an education in advertising because my grandmother died—or was it a coincidence? The book form forced events too neatly into a linear narrative of my life which would gloss over the periods of uncertainty, indecision and vague flailing. Unbound sheets allowed rearrangement and hinter at the act of self-construction that writing an auto-biography actually is. A dossier aesthetic naturally fit the content, the emphasis on events and packaged the pages.

dissatisfaction with restrictions


first theme: anti as a way to deal with constraints

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Against content Sometimes the content of the genre/format you’re working in is what you are opposing. Kenya Hara, the art director of MUJI, writes that if “If most brands are after, MUJI should be after its opposite.” He thus explicitly seeks for MUJI to become a sort of anti-brand. If other brands are about creating consumerist lust, MUJI must become “not appetite, but acceptance.” (Hara, 238) The MUJI graphic identity is famously quiet and neutral, as much an anti-branding as possible. Hara also introduces the concept of “exformation” which could perhaps be situated as the anti-information. (Hara, 371) He proposes design that, rather than telling you what to know (informing), exforms you: reminds how “little we know.” (Hara, 376) This concept of exformation, as well as Hara explicitly imagining what an anti-guidebook for New York might look like inspired the Brooklyn Notebook: a guidebook that reminded you how little you know of New York and how much there is to discover, rather than tell you where to go. The Comic Sans Studies are an example of work which reveals a dubious relationship to the content. On the other hand, I respect and admire the classic designs—and the tradition they symbolize—that are the subject of the studies. On the other hand, I find problematic how this tradition views vernacular design (here embodied as the consistently ridiculed Comic Sans.) The Comic Sans Studies both acknowledge one narrative of design while ANTIing, and thus poking fun at it.

first theme: anti as a way to deal with constraints


ANTI means yes to opposition

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I suspect that it’s in the simple statement, “The poster is dead! Long live the poster!” printed itself on a poster. It is in the strength of this declaration, its inherent contradiction. These ambiguities and contradictions are at the heart of the piece. This is where ANTI enters. At its core, ANTI is about contradicting one’s own self, exposing one own’s ambiguity. ANTI as an operation requires a genre/ format to act on, but ANTI here acts only on the internal idea. ANTI here acts intangibly and gently, like a gesture, the trace of a stronger move. There are no more external expectations to subvert or to violate— only the internal ones of the artist.


third theme: anti as ambiguity

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ANTI means yes to using your weakness as your strength.


From constraints to ambiguity ANTI began as a reaction for me: a reaction to constraints; a reaction to the very constraint of communication. Along the way I began to see ANTI quite clearly as a creativity tool as well. Thinking outside the box is given its own section in this thesis: itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s important to offer up ANTI in this light, especially when it marries such differing designers as Bob Gill and Mevis & van Deursen. But in some sense, ANTI as a creativity tool is still within the realm of the constraints theme: constrained by circumstances, how does one stay creative? Only later did the theme of ambiguity emerge, as I realized that some of my work no longer fit into the constraints pile. Or, more accurately, it still fit into the constraints pile, but actually resonated much more on a different level. Periods of Activity is nominally an anti-book (in the pages are not bound) or even an anti-autobiography, but it is above all a depersonalized autobiography. Though it can be seen as a reaction to some constraints, Periods of Activity most exemplifies an inner tension/ ambiguity.

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ANTI means yes

Thesis Book Sample  

A sample of my thesis book in progress.