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illumination Mariann Nikman Freij Dissertation ma Design Futures 2010

Copyright © Mariann Nikman Freij, 2010 Set in 13 Mrs Eaves XL Serif Narrow & 14/26/70 Mr Eaves Sans Cover art; “Various Species of hummingbirds” by Ernst Heackel (from Art Forms In Nature) Source: Printed in London for MA Design Futures, Goldsmiths College, University of London

full title Organic Illumination: How can “nature� be promoted and communicated visually in an attractive, inclusional and engaging way in order to help the growth of sustainable systems and lifestyles? written by Mariann Nikman Freij programme ma design futures 2010

dissertation printed 10.09.2010 author myself as an Organic Illuminator external reader A sustainable Communication Agency internal reader thomas.matthews predicament The need for effective ethical visual communication in the age of climate change and greenwashing

Index preface

......... 7

personal memoirs ......... 7

Where the wild things are ......... 8

designing futures ......... 9

Embarking on a dissertation ......... 9 Developing ideas ......... 9 A meta-question ......... 9

methodology ......... 10

MindMAde workshop ......... 10 Feedback from the event ......... 10

introduction ......... 15 tetrahedron ......... 15 Context ......... 15

Author and readers ......... 15 Proposition ......... 16

fragmentation & alienation ......... 17

specifications ......... 17

dividing the world ......... 17 Taxonomy ......... 17 Fragmenting a whole ......... 17 A world in the world ......... 18 Unfortunate division ......... 18 The big picture ......... 18 alienation ......... 19 Cutting space ......... 19 Black and white ......... 20 Gradients ......... 20 Utopia? ......... 20

perception & nature ......... 21 visual perception ......... 21 The human scale ......... 21 Microtravels ......... 22 Nests ......... 22 The language of images ......... 23

beauty & understanding ......... 23 Chaos ......... 23 Beauty in chaos ......... 24 Aesthetics & intuition ......... 25 what is nature? ......... 25 Autopoietic ......... 25

organic illumination ......... 27

social responsibility ......... 27 Enlightening people ......... 27 illuminating nature ......... 27

Use in traditional graphic design ......... 28 Triggering intuitive mechanisms ......... 28 Appealing to the unconscious ......... 28

less is less? ......... 28

Illuminating through Datology ......... 30 Naturalistic Illustration ......... 32

visualising climate change ......... 32 Abstraction and modification ......... 32 Different times ......... 32 A new language ......... 33 interview: anna garforth ......... 33

greenwashing ......... 34

Conscious consumers ......... 34 Why is it dangerous? ......... 35 The colour green ......... 35

green branding ......... 36 Green or “green�? ......... 36 Signs of greenwashing ......... 36 Authenticity wins ......... 36 Goodness ......... 36 biomimrical design ......... 37

Biomimricry in graphic design ......... 36

thoughts for the future ......... 37

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010


Preface personal memoirs Illustration has always attracted me. For as long as I can remember I have been drawing and enjoying it immensely, and I believe it was the illustration part of graphic design that made me choose such paths of education in the first place. When looking back there is one moment that sticks out as decisive: the day I discovered Ernst Haeckel.

ning through the shelves before I pulled out a large, thin paperback version of “Art Forms In Nature”. I opened it… and was sold. Three minutes later the book was as well and it is probably the best 30 dk (£3) I have ever spent.

I am not sure what it is about Haeckel’s illustrations that I found, and still find, so mesmerizing. They are without a doubt beautiful in their supreme detailedness, but it is more than Vintage Treasure It was spring 2004 and I was stud- that. They remind me a bit of ying in Copenhagen. I was living old botanical illustrations I have on Amager, south in the city, and seen in my parent’s old school books, which I also love. It is on my way towards Christianshavn one day I passed a vintage nature organised, randomness “prototyped”. In a way it is also book store on Amagerbrogade. I parked my bicycle, walked in and about discovering beauty in what are rather weird and somewhat spent a couple of minutes scan-

scary beings. Octopuses, jellyfish, amphibians, spiders and algae are alien looking and dark things, but in his drawings they were beautiful and fascinating. And the religious details and the time he must have spent on them show such love and care and interest. It is infectious somehow. It was also at this time I first developed an interest for design, and in the spring of 2004 I signed up for a weekend course in graphic design. The course barely scratched the surface of the world of visual communication, but it gave me an idea of the elements involved. The following year I moved back to Norway and enrolled in a foundation year in “Communication” at the Uni-

versity of Agder. It consisted of subjects like “Interpersonal Communication”, “Text and Image”, “Text and Interpretation”, “Mass Communication”, “Digital Presentation”, “Genre and Aesthetics”. After this year I felt confident that graphic design was the way I wanted to go and in 2005 I enrolled in the ba in Media Design at Gjøvik University College. Still, the love for nature and animals stayed with me. I had previously considered Biology and Zoology as a career path and even though I had chosen differently, I still felt drawn to it. I wanted to be able to bridge the gap between graphic design and nature, but was not sure how.


dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

Where the wild things are I have grown up with cats. Me, my mother and our cats, that was always my family situation. One or two cats were always residing in the house, and being an only child, at least until the age of 13, I had a very close relationship to these cats. They were my siblings, and one of them more than the

left Various species of Semaeostomeae, illustrated by Ernst Haeckel. Source: images/screen/7f93768c0396e93 51a463ee4389ff406_Art_Forms_ in_Nature_by_Ernst_Haeckel.jpg

middle Haeckel himself. Source: right Artforms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel. Source: P/0486229874.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg

others. Her name was Malla, and she was, in a way, my sister. When I say “in a way”, it is not because she was less worth to me than any human sister would have been, but because she was different from me. She looked different, behaved different, sounded different, smelled different. Quite frankly, she was better than me.

I would dress her up sometimes in my doll’s clothes. And she would sit there; patient, quietly suffering in a pink tutu, looking at me with these sad, green eyes as if to say “I love you, but you’re an idiot”, or as if repeating to herself “it’s only a phase she’s going through, it’s only a phase…”. I would throw her toys and teach her to bring them back to me. She would do all these things, pointless things, and I honestly believe she did it out of love. Maybe because I wanted to believe, because God knows I loved her. I used to watch her sometimes, moving around in the garden, our insane jungle of a garden, my mother’s hobby and pride. She was free of me out there.

She would stroke by my leg, then quickly disappear into a Hortensia bush with only her black tail exposing her. I envied her that world so much: the world within the bushes, the flowers, the smells, between green stalks and weird beetles. I would try to follow her in my mind and sometimes I would succeed, but as I grew older that world disappeared for me. To me there has always been something slightly magical about animals. The way they are so different from us, but yet so alike. They too can feel love, joy, fear, pain, pleasure. And we can communicate. I look at my mother’s cat sometimes, and I think: what an amazing creature. And it is living with us, here in our house! It is looking at me, talking to me, regarding me as family. How privileged I am.

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010


designing futures

2 The ma Design Futures is a written

After graduating in Norway and moving onto the working life, this gap between design and the natural world became bigger and bothered me even more. I looked at the world around me and saw great unbalance, and found that I needed to do more than what traditional graphic design work would ask of me. I had to explore other fields of opportunities, and applied for an ma in Design Futures.

based design programme, conducting no practical projects.

Embarking on a dissertation When doing an ma in a design programme such as Design Futures, which introduces “deep ethical and ecological perspectives into the design agenda” 1 and encourages the student to “challenge the existing boundaries and purposes of design”, you become disturbingly aware of the global (and local) challenges awaiting and the responsibility evolve the designer’s role in society. The need to create and push forward great, innovative ideas that will trigger change and “save the world” is very much present. It is a bit overwhelming and one can easily acquire a little fear of failure. I definitely did. I was under the impression that if I was not able to come up with a practical design project that would change both my life and others, then I really did not need to bother at

all. However, time passed, ideas were processed and subsequently rejected, summer arrived and the dissertation deadline approached with increasing pace. The somewhat magic and amazing practival project I had in mind to design as a case study for my thesis neglected to reveal itself, and I realised this would be a theoretical thesis after all. 2 On the other hand, there is not much time in a 12 month ma to conduct both practical work and the supporting theory for it. In the end I find that writing this dissertation has been a highly creative process on more than one level, and that it has helped me grow as a designer. I also see the method I have developed and the body of work in itself as a piece of design, one that I am proud of presenting to you. I realised that in order to develop great ideas, a great amount of thinking needs to take place, and that takes time. A great idea might appear as if out of nowhere, in a sudden, unsuspected moment, but for such a flower to shoot, the ground must be fertile, and the soil must be nourished and cared for over time. With this allegory in mind, this work you are holding here can be seen as the nourished soil I have cared for over the last couple of months, in hope - and belief - that it will give life to many flowers over time.

Developing ideas The following dissertation is about how organic materials (or the display of such) can be used in visual communication to find new ways of communicating nature or a connection to nature – regardless of the message. It initially started out with an idea I developed in an essay written previous in my ma. In this essay I explored what I then described as “organic illustration” in urban spaces as a tool to counteract alienation from nature. The idea was that the average urban citizen is being exposed to a lot of commercial consumer propaganda and far too little “nature”, increasing the alienated state we are in against the natural processes of our world. I wanted to incorporate “nature” in information design in the urban environment, through for example wayshowing. But because urban intervention and design in urban spaces is not my expertise (however interesting I may find it), and because most of my previous background is in 2-dimensional typography and information design, I decided to concentrate on a field I already knew and to incorporate the organic and wild in graphics instead. At the same time I wanted keeping the possibility open for the ideas to be able to exist and operate on other, 3-dimensional platforms.


A meta-question Because fragmentation and system thinking has been such an important part of my research for this topic, a “meta-question” to my thesis also appeared: How is it possible to combine the wild and chaotic side of nature with our need for systems, symmetry and logic, in order to create understandable, beautiful, truthful and holistic visual communication?


dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

methodology I am basing most of this dissertation on literature, but I have also conducted research from workshops, talks and an interview. MindMade workshop Every year the ma Design Futures arranges an event where the students each invite a couple of guests that are relevant for their dissertation topic. This year the event was called MindMade and took place on the 28th of May. I had invited designer Richard Knowles and Dr. in Biology, Alan Rayner, as my potential “readers”. Half way through the event it was time for workshops where previous Design Futures graduate Ivan Nascimento also joined the table. For the workshop I had prepared tool cards to be used for ideation. The cards were divided into seven categories – “Platform”, ”Tools”, “Styles”, “Addressing”, “Focus”, “Public Services”, “Challenges” – and were meant to trigger serendipitous ideas when combining one card from each category. For example, one constellation could be;

*Illuminate: to light up, to make bright; to enlighten spiritually or intellectually; to help explain; to decorate with lights as a sign (The Oxford Reference Dictionary (1986) Clarendon Press, Oxford)

• Focus: Food • Style: Photography • Tool: Infotainment • Public Service: Recycling • Addressing: Students/Young • Platform: Mobile Phones • Challenge: Rules & Regulations The question would then be:

What kind of ideas could the crossing between these aspects create? Unfortunately I did not have the time to test the cards out and failed to facilitate a proper interaction with them. They did however show a range of aspects that was potentially relevant to my topic, and also a certain depth to my thesis in terms of the quanta (60 cards). But this last point might also have been a weakness as it became somewhat confusing and overwhelming for the small amount of time that we had to our disposal. ­ Richard, as the impulsive and executing designer he is, plunged into the cards immediately and saw the serendipitous potential in them as he wanted to pick cards blindfolded and see what would come of it. This was a great and positive turn in the workshop, but because of the quanta of the cards it all appeared a bit too random, and the incidental constellation we ended up with during the workshop did not really trigger any immediate ideas. I think if there had been fewer cards, perhaps 30 or 40, with issues chosen more thoroughly or strategically, it could have been a good and fun tool to trigger ideas and conversations. However, it is hard to predict how successful the process would have been considering the mix of my group. My guest Alan Rayner

is a very interesting, opinionated character with a completely different background than the two other participants. He is not a designer, and seeks philosophical discourse rather than practical, hands-on creation. His strength as a professor is to lecture and be absorbed by others, not to be part of a collaborative, creative process. He was more interested in defining and developing my research question than to ideate practical ideas for my dissertation. His philosophical and ecological contribution through out the event as a whole was highly appreciated and valuable to me, but the main goal for the workshop was to generate specific ideas for practical, tangible case studies I could base my dissertation on. Than being said, it was my role as a fascilitator to lead the energy in the group, and for this I fell short in this time. Ivan brought a nice balance to the group as he is both a practicing designer but also understands Alan’s philosophical and abstract language and way of thinking – which I think, unfortunately, clashed a bit with Richard’s spontaneous “make-do”-energy. However, the challenge of merging a young designer with a mature, academic biologist, was one that I was well aware of when I carried out my invitations. I expected the workshop to be tricky, but the differences in knowledge and view-

points to be valuable and diverse. In retrospect I see that had I been better prepared with both the tool cards and the workshop as a whole, the outcomes of it would probably have been a lot better. Feedback from the event The most valuable and useful feedback I had from the workshop, was that “illustration” might not be the right word to follow “organic”, as it might be too limited for the what I had in mind for it. “Visualisation” was suggested but later on Professor John Wood suggested “Organic Illumination”. At first I was sceptical to it, thinking it might give off the wrong connotations. After giving it some thought however I found that “illumination” covered the layered meanings of my idea elegantly, and that it had a nice ring to it. Alan also spoke of the idea of “permeability” which I found interesting to incorporate into my own thesis. (you can read more about it on page 19) Ivan and Richard also gave me some tips on designers, artists and projects to look into. From my presentation at the event I got feedback from Clive Dilnot on how I should perhaps focus on Information Design and use the “wild” and “organic” to display information. Ivan backed this idea up by suggesting I use the skills and knowledge I already

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

possess within the field of Information Design as a starting point, and build on that with the “organic illustration�. I also had a conversation afterwards with one of the other student’s guest, Peter Bentley, discussing fragmentation and alienation, during which he made a reflection about how the modern world has created a feeling of homelessness, both from our environment and our own body. I found this reflection interesting and have kept it in mind while working on this dissertation.

images MindMade workshop. Photographer: Seng Jariangroj


How can “nature� be promoted and communicated visually in an attractive, inclusional and engaging way in order to help the growth of sustainable systems and lifestyles?

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010


author Myself as a Organic Illuminator proposition How can “nature” be promoted and communicated visually in an attractive, inclusional and engaging way in order to help the growth of sustainable systems and lifestyles?

introduction 3 4



other. The four angles consist This dissertation is an exploration of “Author”, “Reader”, “Proposiin figuring out ways in which I as tion”, and “Context”, and the idea a graphic designer can do more is that by defining each of these than what traditional graphic “angles” and visualising them in design work would ask of me, and a 3-dimensional model, it will where I can position myself in help the writing process and the “green” design movement. In make the finished text clear and doing so I have explored the role understandable. My final model of the communicator and human is displayed above. perception. I have had to look back to understand the context in Context which I am operating, I have ana- The context or reason for this dislysed design today and ongoing sertation is the “need for effective trends, and I have tried to look ethical visual communication ahead to see potential futures. in the age of climate change and The ma Design Futures writgreen washing”. It is based on the ing model, which I have used, pressing concerns that climate is based on a Tetrahedron; a change might lead to, and my pyramid shaped, dynamic struc- own interests and aspirations as a ture with four angles that operconscious designer, both now and ate interdependently with each in the future.

readers External: A sustainable Communication Agency Internal: thomas.matthews context The need for effective ethical visual communication in the age of climate change and greenwashing

Author and Readers My role in this is as an “Organic Illuminator” and therefore I am addressing sustainable communication agencies. As an internal reader I have chosen a design company that is specifically that type of agency, and whom I will be joining for an internship after completing this Master’s degree. thomas.matthews 3 is a London based sustainable communications agency. They have 12 years of working experience and sustainability has always been the foundation of their practice. They are one of the best in their field, and their clients include governments, global corporations, architects and planners, museums, and ngo’s. They realised long ago that “Unsustainable is not a word

of the future” 4 and are driven by the conviction that good design is both sustainable, beautiful and economic, and that it opens up worlds of creativity and brand differentiation. Like any sustainable communications agency they are affected by the presence of greenwashing that is flourishing in the graphic design business and are aware of how often good intentions gets lost in design that fails to fulfil the vision behind it. They strive to differentiate sustainable businesses with the integrity that could help inspire change from their consumers and clients. Greenwashing is an ongoing challenge that they deal with on a regular basis, but like many [aktører/actors?] within the realm


dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

Proposition I have tried to materialise the future of “green” design, as this is where I intend to be working. What is going on in green design “…design and communication need now? Where is it heading? Where to reduce negative environmental imshould it be heading? And how pacts and enhance the positives within can we help take it there? society.“ The proposition which I have explored is “How can “true nature” Their list of clients includes for example Shell, which however in- be promoted and communicated volved in reducing emissions and visually in an attractive, incluinnovation regarding new forms sional and engaging way in order to help the growth of sustainable of energy, is a company in the systems and lifestyles?”, and is grey area of what can be called about how organic materials (or “sustainable”. That being said, the display of such) can be used it is hard to find clients which in visual communication to find business is as ethically optimal as a sustainable communications new ways of communicating nature or a connection to nature – agency would prefer; and the line between good and bad might regardless of the message. In doing so I have looked at have to be stretched on occasion to be able to make it financially as alienation from nature and what design company. However, this piece of theoretical thinking you have before you is a look up and ahead, exploring ideas that are not hindered by financial limitation. I have used that freedom to question current mindsets and tendencies. I believe idea of embracing “reduction” as green design is a limitation that is holding good design back from distinguishing itself from unethical greenwashing, and that it is time to take good visual communication a step further. of “sustainability” they are still focusing on the idea of “reduction”;

image SHE_1_550x650px.jpg

image assets.thomasmatthews. com/portfolio/Cabe_gg_cover.png

leads to it, and how this gap can be bridged through visual communication. I have studied human perceptions of nature and intuition, and looked at current trends of green design and future prospects.

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010


fragmentation � alienation 5

urban_resilience 6 The Complete Works of Aristotle

(1984/1995) Princeton University Press, Chichester, West Sussex, p.3

“No man is an island” john donne


dividing the world

Taxonomy I would like to specify that when Homo Sapiens possess the ability Tracing back as far as Aristotle’s I refer to “us”, “we” or even to plan, resonate and use tools. “Categories” 6, everything acces“humans” I will be referring to These are abilities that distinguish sible to us has been systematically humans living in urban, industr- us from other animals. But the named, numbered and categoialised areas in the western part human brain can only process a rised. Through taxonomy great of the world. Today over half of limited amount of things at a time. thinkers like Carl Linnaeus and 5 the worlds population  are living In order to process things we Ernst Haeckel have systemised in cities, but because of cultural have had to divide things up, and the natural world to the smallest differences between these peoin order to pass on knowledge entities possible. ple, cultures I know little of, I am about them and communicate specifically addressing the western with each other we have given Fragmenting a whole part of the world. these separated entities names Our world and everything in it, is and numbers. This process has constantly changing, so how can been going on and evolving we divide it up into separate bits (probably) since the human brain and still make sense of it all? became human – and even furFor example, there is really no ther back. And these created sys- such thing as a “now” because tems have only gotten more and what we call “time” can never more fragmented and detailed as be divided up into entities small humans have evolved and exenough to be static. Time can plored the world. never be static because it is hap-

pening in a constant flow. It is like Heraclitus said: you cannot step in the same river twice. The world is in constant flux and the river is changing even when your foot is entering the water surface, which technically means that you cannot even step into the same river once. Still, this kind of truth is too abstract for us to deal with in practical life. We have designed made sequences in time around which we organise our lives and rely on every second, minute, hour, day, month, year. Then again, “time” is a human idea/creation, a name for the cycles and flows we perceive in the world, day to night, summer to fall, life to death.


dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

7 Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, Horace

C. P. McGregor (trans.), (1927) Penguin, London, p.184-5 8 Bohm, David (1982) Wholeness and the

Implicate order, Routledge, London p.1-2 9


image jpg

A world in the world “we seek with our human hands to create a second nature in the natural world” 7 Our language and way of thought is not attuned to the fundamental presence of change, but is instead supporting a created “reality”, a world in the world. Why is this so? In order to be able to process and understand information, the human brain needs to divide things up. To a certain extent all animals do this and it is vital to separate dangers from opportunities or edible berries from poisonous ones. We categorise to understand and communicate, but also to control what appears as dangers and chaos. Unfortunate divisions To divide things up in order to understand and relate to things, and then remember and share them, is not really a problem in itself. Most of the time we do not even think about it. It is our reality and has been for as long as we can remember. Even to imagine relating to the world in any other way is completely impossible to us. We know nothing else. Still, it is causing us great harm. Now, you might think that I am being overly dramatic and that for us to think of trees as trees

and bushes as bushes, surely could have no negative consequences on anyone or any thing. And in one way you may be right – or let me put it this way; for a long time in human history our way of dividing things up did not have any major negative or destructive impact on neither us nor our environment. Still there are links between fragmentation and the biggest horrors in our world: war, poverty, pollution and the potentially lethal climate change we are facing. “The notion that all these fragments are separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless conflict and confusion. Indeed, the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has lead to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today. Thus, as is now well known (published in 1980, red.), this way of life has brought about pollution, destruction of the balance of nature, over-population, world-wide economic and political disorder, and the creation of an overall environment that is neither physically nor mentally healthy for most of the people that have to live in it.” 8

How could this be? The act of fragmenting is not the real problem here, but as Bohm points out, the belief that the fragments are really separate. It boils down to

beach somewhere. Or spraying the world’s crop fields with pesticide and later being puzzled by why all the honeybees are disappearing. 9 The illusion that the fragments – water, waste, bees, The big picture Consequently, the act of believing crops, pesticide etcetera – do not and living as if everything in our interact and effect one another, is preventing us from realising physical world was really sepathe consequences of our actions, rated, can be quite problematic. It is like dumping toxic waste into or maybe more importantly, the scale of it. a river and thinking that it will not affect the cows drinking from We have trouble seeing the “big picture” of things, the picture it down the stream. Or dumpbeing of course the planet we live ing litter in the ocean and being on. And the consequences of not surprised when it shows up on a the fundamental question, “what is reality?” – a question humans have been asking them selves for a very long time.

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

10 Benyus, Janine M. (1997) Biomimicry:

innovation inspired by nature, William Morrow and Company Inc, New York, p.3 11 Maturana, H. R. and Varela, F. J.

(1987) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding, Shambala Publication, Boston, p.18 12 MindMade event 13


image Illustration by Alan Rayner from the MindMade workshop, 28th of May 2010. Source: private image “Loving Error” (Oil painting on board, by Alan Rayner, 1998), illustrating the dynamic interplay between differentiation and integration. Source:

seeing how everything is connected, became very dangerous when the scale of interference with the natural world, exploiting and manipulating, quickly started increasing with the industrialisation. This is when fragmentation started to materialise into “horror” – when we reached a point in our technological development where we were able to destroy our entire specie, taking millions of other species with us, just because we are not able to see the world and life on it holistically. Janine M. Benyus, author behind “Biomimicry”, tells of her story from studying applied science with a special in forestry and three growth;

“As I remember, cooperative relationships, self-regulating feedback cycles, and dense interconnectedness were not something we needed to know for the exam. In reductionist fashion, we studied each piece of the forest separately, rarely considering that a spruce-fir might add up to something more than the sum of its parts, or that wisdom might reside in the whole.” 10

alienation “We tend to live in a world of certainty, of undoubted, rock-ribbed perceptions: our convictions prove that things are the way we see them and there is no alternative to what we hold as true. This is our daily situation, our cultural condition, our common way of being human.” 11


at Bath University and also my guest at the MindMade event earlier this year, refers to the lines we draw in our physical environment as “cutting up space”. 12 He writes;

“…imaginary hard line is at the root of conflict between all kinds of intolerant fundamentalist ideologies as well as a source of great difficulty in preCutting space If you look for differences, you will dicting and relating to environmental find them. In a world of chaos, change.” 13 they are everywhere, and we tend to draw lines between them. In He also speaks of how our supsome places they are vague, or position of fragments is so deeply decisive but not invisible to us. imbedded in human thinking Other places they are drawn in that we base our lives on the idea hard, black ink, like the Berlin that matter can be divided from wall or borders around the Gaza space, disregarding the presence strip or the hard line that divides the island of Ireland. “Differences” of continuity – flow – between things. In my workshop at the and “discrimination” are closely MindMade event, he illustrated related. Alan Rayner, professor of Biology this with a simple “animation” of


dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

14 Gladwell, Malcolm (2000) The Tip-

ping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference, Abacus London, p.160 15 p.160 16 Bohm, David (1982) Wholeness and

the Implicate order, Routledge, London p.7

the human body (see image). He explained the human body – or a body of mass – as an “energetic configuration of space in flow form”, which is illustrated with a dotted line that allows for that energy to flow, in and out, like our bodies do with breathing, sweating, eating and constantly changing. Then he draws a figure to explain how we perceive space and energy: with a solid, black outline, which cuts out the body from its environment, leaving it alienated. His point being, of course, that you cannot cut space. It is a physical impossibility, yet we base our whole perceived reality on it. This contradiction that we live by every day is not unlikely to have a troubling effect on us, as we move our bodies through artificial environments and linguistics, denying our own flow and natural processes. Black and White We seek clarity, opposites, contrast. Black or white, dead or alive, left or right, yes or no, up or down. In fact, we like stereotypes so much that we are even categorising our friends and family. Psychologists call this tendency the “Fundamental Attribution Error” (FAE) 14, and it is explained by Malcolm Gladwell as a human tendency to be “overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underesti-

mating the importance of the situation and context”. Because, as Gladwell puts it, it “makes the world a much simpler and more understandable place.” 15 Gradients Of course, humans are not completely blind to flux and connections and gradients. It is not that black and white and as an author I should be careful myself not to draw harmful lines between the words I am writing. Our idea of “time” is in a way an interpretation of flow and we know that when we die, when everything dies, it rots and gives life to new forms. On an instinctive level I think we are all aware of the connectedness of everything on this planet, and that we have a shared feeling of being a part of its constant flow. This instinct however is buried deep in us, and perhaps deeper in some than in others. It is also being constantly repressed by our fragmented presuppositions in language and perceptions of “reality”. And mostly this is to blame for not recognising all the flows that are happening around us. Some happen to fast for us, or too slow. Some happen too far away or too close, and some are too big or too small for us to be optically perceived. (go on to Gibson and visual perception )

Utopia? Some may say: ‘Fragmentation of cities, religions, political systems, conflict in the form of wars, general violence, fratricide, etc., are the reality. Wholeness is only an ideal, towards we should perhaps strive.’ 16 Is the idea of a holistic world view, an utopian dream? It has, along with other idealisms, a stigma of hippiedom by it, and some may say that holism is the illusion. I, however, agree with Bohm, that “wholeness is what is real, and that fragmentation is the response of this whole to man’s action...” (ibid) What I would like to shed light on is how this “reality” is more harmful than beneficial, both for the human race and the planet as a whole, and that it might also be the source for feelings of discomfort and homelessness – feelings we might sense but not be aware of – that are most commonly referred to as alienation. John Donne said “No man is an island”, and in a way no island is an island either, because under the water it is connected to the rest, and constantly changed by water, air, birds and people.

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010


“all of his friends were transformed into flowers, all flowers metamorphosed into birds, all birds into mountains, all mountains into stars, every star became a house, every house a city” max ernst

perception & nature 17 Maturana, H. R. and Varela, F. J.

(1987) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding, Shambala Publication, Boston p.242 18 Gibson, James J. (1986) The ecological

approach to visual perception, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.,, New Jersey, p.258 19 p.10

visual perception “We do not see what we do not see, and what we do not see does not exist.” 17

Like Maturana and Varela suggests in the quote above, what we see is our reality. Or as Gibson puts it, “Knowing is an extension of perceiving.”. 18 In “The ecological approach to visual perception“, Gibson writes about how a decisive part of how we humans perceive our environment is in “the temporal scale of the process and events we choose to consider” 19, meaning space and time affects how and what we perceive. And this is not really something we control or a conscious “choice” on our part. We have no problems perceiving the life and death of our next of kin, or the growth

and decay of a plant, or the rising and setting of the sun. The creation and collapse of a planet or a solar system on the other hand, is something we have no capacity or opportunity to perceive except in (scientific) theory. It is too massive and too far away, both in space and time. The same applies for changes happening on a microscopic level, in cells and in atoms. These processes are too small, too close, and too quick to be perceived with the naked eye. The human scale But even though our reality is somewhat limited, fragmented and perhaps different from what our intuition* tells us, we are still aware of these changes because

of science, and extensive studies and experiments through history. Other wise I would not have been able to write about them here. Still, we do not always take them into account in our daily actions or when planning ahead. Generally one could say that our practical understanding of time is too small to consider the universe, and too big to consider molecules, simply because it is beyond practical comparison with our human scale. In other words, if we only consider real what we see, there is a lot we miss out on. We are missing out on valuable information that could give us a richer understanding of our environment and our place in it and thus make us

*“Instinct” and “intuition” are words that often get mixed up with one another, and their meaning do overlap: Instinct: “an innate propensity, especially in lower animals, to seemingly rational acts; an innate impulse or behaviour; intuition” Intuition: “immediate apprehension by the mind without reasoning; immediate apprehension by a sense”. However, as “instinct” often is used when speaking of behaviour, I will use “intuition” in this dissertation to refer to knowledge, but still a knowledge that is related to bodily instincts. (The Oxford Reference Dictionary (1986) Clarendon Press, Oxford)


dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

20 SDE research rapport (2008)

received from Susana Branco via e-mail, 24.04.2010

image Right: Fractals in nature are nice examples of systems and scale. Top: Middle: uploads/2010/01/fractals-in-nature-a-shoreline.jpg Bottom: 1.bp. ms9vxAlOs/s400/leaf+veins4.jpg image Left: An interactive visualisation of cell size and scale developed by the university of Utah. Source: content/begin/cells/scale/

more conscious about our actions and less alienated. Microtravels Visual display of information could help make “invisible” life forms and processes more available to us. In an essay written for my ma earlier this year, I wrote about the idea of “Microtravels” and how it could be used to unravel “hidden” natural life in the city. “Mictrotravels” was initially developed in 2008 by a group of designers working for Samsung Design Europe (SDE), and was a conceptual tool for escapism. It was meant as a virtual, high-tech “introspective voyage” 20 by using optical technology like contact lenses and camera capsules to be integrated into consumer products, to offer quick, stress-relieving entertainment. The concept of a commercialised “introspective voyage” did have some mental health issues and questionable ethical intentions, but at the same time it offered an innovative, alternative approach to travel experiences for the metropolitan citizen and knowledge about his or hers environment. I wanted to take this concept down a different path, and to facilitate Microtravels not just introspectively into people’s bodies, but outwards into their immediate environmental surroundings. That way it could this be used as a

tool to make the urban landscape more transparent to the wildlife in the city, natural processes happening right in front of people’s noses but invisible to us either for optical or cultural reasons. Nests Perhaps our minds prefer to see nature as components in a grid, but there are other ways of understanding its structure. One could look at it as never ending “neighbourhoods”, or as Gibson explains it, as a system of nests. He describes how all things can be seen as smaller units embedded in larger units;

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

21 Gibson, James J. (1986) The ecological

approach to visual perception, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.,, New Jersey, p.9 22 Philosophies of art and beauty: Selected

Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger (1964/1976) edited by Albert Hofstadter and Richard Kuhns, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p.96 23 The Oxford Reference Dictionary

(1986) Clarendon Press, Oxford

image Chaos or system? Source: Water_drops_on_spider_web.jpg

cause of this it is very hard to understand any other, non-fragmented reality, when in a way there is no language to express it with or thoughts to think it with. But images are a different language, a meta-language in a way. The language of images Both visual and linguistic images Images has layers of meaning beyond that of language that can (allegories, metaphors) are able to help bridge those gaps that sepabridge ideas of separations, and “see” things ordinarily hidden for rate humans from nature, and to us. For example, even though we counteract alienation, and graphdo not see our own waste does not ic designers can use this language consciously to do so. mean that it does not exist, but But our love for systems, conexpression of “throwing away” trasts, and symmetry applies for something suggests otherwise. We perceive through our senses, images as well, as images are a product of human perceptions we acquire knowledge with our and a form of communication. mind, we then communicate it, and perceive it all over again. Through language the fragments are supported, because language is built of these fragments. Be“For example, canyons are nested within mountains; trees are nested within canyons; leaves are nested within trees; and cells are nested within leaves.” 21

beauty � understanding “The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree.” Aristotle 22

As I have pointed out, we need to fragment big systems and organise chaos in order to understand it. This need makes us eligible to find systems aesthetically beautiful, as opposed to chaos. Systems in nature are very complex, and because they so incredibly weaved together they can appear as chaotic. Chaos Is it then possible for us to find beauty in chaos, and what is chaos? Chaos means basically “utter confusion or disorder” 23, and is in other words something than is not easily comprehensible to us. Is it possible to adore something we do not understand, or is there a co-dependance in us humans between understanding and beauty? Like Aristotle suggests and as I have previously mentioned, we seem to have a preference for logic and opposites, and aesthetically this noticeable/materialised in the frequency of patterns, contrast and grids we see in all types of art and design. We also tend to simplify things, making stereotypes of natural beings (image!!) on a mass scale. Even our


“She has neither language nor discourse; but she creates tongues and hearts, by which she feels and speaks” goethe


dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

image Haeckel Starfish. Source: Ophiodea_70_Astrophyton_darwinium.jpg

image MC. Escher. Source: trickyrelativity.files.wordpress. com/2010/03/escher_csg026_encounter.jpg

parks and gardens can be said to be examples of stereotypes of how we prefer nature to be. Still, we are without a doubt drawn to things we do not understand as well. Mysteries, and puzzles, unattainable things and the occult are tendencies that we deliberately seek and find attractive. Perhaps is it the curiosity and endless need to figure things out and understand them that is the main attraction. But that does not explain superstition, and believing in stories that are based entirely on the unexplainable. This proves that we are accessible to perceiving chaos, but it might be rooted deeper in us than the accessibility to other types of knowledge.

animals are meant to exist within strict boundaries to not sabotage our rules and systems. Unfortunately, systems are usually supported by bureaucracy, and often natural, self-sufficient systems can be more efficient. A good example of that is a traffic experiment that has been conducted out in towns across Europe. It shows that by removing traffic signs the number of accidents actually went down drastically. By forcing drivers to think and judge for themselves they found that they acted more responsibly and were more alert to the flow in traffic.

Aesthetics & intuition How can we perceive any form of knowledge about chaos if it does Beauty in chaos not fit into our organised underAnd it is not a secret that humans standing of reality? Do we have find nature beautiful, whether it an intuitive, precognitive ability is raw and untouched, wild nato perceive it, and do we have an ture or Kew Gardens. Clearly, we intuitive understanding of what do not need to understand or con- nature is? trol it to love it, but up close wild what is nature? nature can be frightening, and somehow we also find it to hinder The word “nature” has several meanings. We use it when referefficiency and mess up our own ring to the “outdoors”, the countrysystems. That might be why we side, or the “wild” and untouched are in such a never ending batlandscape with wild animals, and tle with it in densely populated we use it when we talk about the areas. Cities are created, artifiessence, form or way of something cial environments - created from or someone. These are all differnatural resources but distorted ent meanings, and slightly vague to the extent that modern techwhich makes it hard to undernology allows. Here the human stand what nature really is to the laws rule, and green areas and

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010


aug/29/frozen-zoo-san-diego-rhino 25 Maturana, H. R. and Varela, F. J.

(1987) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding, Shambala Publication, Boston p.47 26 Soper, Kate (1995) What is nature?,

Blackwell Publishers Inc., Massachusetts, USA, p.15

Definitions Nature: 1. the phenomena of the physical world as a whole; 2. a thing’s essential qualities; a person’s or animal’s innate character; 3. a kind or class; 4. vital force, functions, or needs Definitions of Natural: 1. of, existing in, or produced by nature; 2. conforming to the ordinary course of nature; 3. suited to be such by nature; 4. not affected in manner; 5. not surprising, to be expected (The Oxford Reference Dictionary (1986) Clarendon Press, Oxford)

image A piece of nature clinging to a brick wall in New Cross Source: private

ping the mountain side, and the fresh air surrounding it. Imagine holding a pebble in your hand: would you think of Describing nature Nature is both around and within it as nature or as a product of nature? In fact, would you think the physical world, and exists of anything separated as “nature” as (separate) ideas and percepat all? A plant in a pot on your tions in the non-physical world. “Nature” is all of these things and window sill, a tree on the pavement or a bird on a wire: if a livnone at the same time, and it is difficult to find a description that ing, organic entity, or the produce of such, is not perceived in a the covers all these areas. context of other organic entities, In a way it is something organic – in the widest sense of the interacting with each other, do we word – that we can shape but not recognise it as something more than “natural”? Do we recognise control – in the strictest sense of it as “nature”? It is hard to find the word. Because technology is a perfect formula for what really developing rapidly. Research in constitutes “nature” as it penestem-cell technology is pushing boundaries, and a recent a break- trates so many aspects of our lives through actually announced a chances of bringing extinct species back to life 24 . Still, there is an element of unpredictability in living creatures, if nothing else than that they tend to change more rapidly than artificial creations. I say “organic” in the widest sense of the word because substances like for example rocks are not usually thought of as organic, still we refer to mountains as “nature”. Rocks do however contain carbon and is thus organic in the wider sense. Then again, when we refer to mountains as a part of nature it is possibly not the rock itself we are thinking of but the rock’s or the mountain’s context: the fauna, animals, trees gripmodern man and what kind of relationship we have to it.

and exists in so many variations in our language. Autopoietic In the truest sense, nature is autopoietic 25, meaning selforganised and self-contained, and is coexisting in a synergy of synergies that includes all life on this planet. However, this is an understanding too abstract for common use, all though perhaps optimal. In this dissertation I will therefore be referring to “nature” in the way I, and probably also you, my readers, are most familiar with: as Kate Soper defines it; “In its commonest and most fundamental sense, the term ‘nature’ refers


to everything which is not human and distinguished from the work of humanity. Thus ‘nature’ is opposed to culture, to history, to convention, to what is artificially worked or produced, in short, to everything which is defining of the order of humanity.” 26

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010


“It’s hard to put into words what the mind does, but drawing can map those processes better than anything but music. It’s so agile. It’s like a cloth you put over some complex object and it takes on the shape of the object exactly” robert horvitz

Organic Illumination 27 Radical Nature, Barbican art gallery

(2009), p. 72 28 Berman, David B. (2009) Do good:

how designers can change the world, New Riders, Berkeley, p.1 29 Data Flow: Visualizing Information in

Graphic Design 2 (2010) Ed. by Robert Klanten, Nicolas Bourquin, Thibaud Tissot, Die Gestalten Verlag, Berlin, p.29 30 Data Flow: Visualising Information in

Graphic Design (2008) Ed. by Robert Klanten, Nicolas Bourquin, Thibaud Tissot, Sven Ehmann Die Gestalten Verlag, Berlin, p.8

image Private

social responsibility

sustainability, and that through Design has always been about aesthetics it is possible to increase improving life. From nose-jobs to the flow of information and invite chairs, design is trying to make discovery and insight. Enlightening people life easier, more enjoyable, and I fully agree, and I am proposAs a visual communication demore convenient. And we have ing that it is possible to shape the signer, that social responsibility really enjoyed ourselves so far: we lies in “illuminating” people and future by visually reshaping peohave been partying like there was making valuable and truthful in- ple’s current image of ‘the reality no tomorrow. Now, design is no formation accessible to the public. of nature’, and that “Organic Illonger just about improving lives. On the question about the need lumination” will help counteract It is about “improving man’s abil- for visualisations in the future, alienation. ity to survive on this planet”, in designer and lecturer, Andrew 27 true Buckminster Fuller spirit  Vande Moere says “We have an In that respect, design is beurgent need to use visualization coming more “social” than ever, for socially relevant purposes”, 29 infiltrating new areas of life. and refers to both information Like David B. Berman is saying in overload in modern society and his book “Do good: how designers global problems. He believes that can change the world”, that; information visualisations can provoke questions, change peo“Designers have an essential social ples behaviours and contribute to responsibility because design is at the a responsive public awareness for core of the world’s largest challenges. And solutions.” 28

illuminating nature “illumination and knowledge flow together.” Ferdi Van Heerden 30

“Organic illumination” I am using to describe visual communication that uses organic materials as a an instrument to illustrate and shed light on natural systems. This can happen in two ways: 1. As physical, 3-dimensional “graphics” like branches, leaves, fruit, etcetera, that are used as they are, where they are, or photographed and portrayed on other 2D platforms. (It is very closely related to “Datalogy”, which I will get back to later.) 2. Organic materials that are illustrated in other ways, in a naturalistic style.


dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

31 Illuminate: 1. to light up, to make

bright 2. to enlighten spiritually or intellectually; to help explain (a subject) 3. to decorate with lights as a sign of festivity 4. to decorate […] with gold or other bright colours (The Oxford Reference Dictionary (1986) Clarendon Press, Oxford) 32 Soper, Kate (1995) What is Nature?,

Blackwell Publishers Inc., Massachusetts, USA, p.13

I am using the word “organic” as a representation of something naturally existing in nature or produced by nature, including mineral based objects like for example rocks and all living creatures. The word “illuminate” in this context is meant as “enlighten spiritually and intellectually”, “increase understanding” and to “celebrate” 31 explain” Use in traditional graphic design In this dissertation, I am focusing on how Organic Illumination can be used in traditional graphic design, more specifically information design and in visual identities. To clarify what kind of “information” I am referring to, as almost all graphic design is design of information, I am thinking of facts, statistics, and public information – knowledge we consider reliable, and how Organic Illumination can be used to visualise and add meaning to this knowledge. I will also look into how it can be embedded visually in corporate, public and organisational identities in order to achieve ethical goals and promote and push forward sustainable futures. Organic Illumination is however not limited to the traditional graphic design and can be used on different platforms. Organic Illumination is an alternative reality: an approach to unravel complexity in a way that provides a richer understanding of the

“Organic Illumination is an alternative reality: an approach to unravel complexity in a way that provides a richer understanding of the world”

world, regardless of what kind of platform it takes place on. Triggering intuitive mechanisms The idea behind this visual language is that organic materials can trigger embedded, instinctive/intuitive* recognitions of “nature” in a whole different way than other visual representations of information. Therefore it will be more effective when creating understandable, beautiful, ethical and inclusional design, and a valuable tool to help promote natural and sustainable systems – whether it is the life and death of paper cups or a public transportation system. It is meant as a way to help create healthier, more holistic and authentic perceptions of what “nature” is and our role in it. Appealing to the unconscious The use of organic materials in graphic design will communicate both the right values and the complexity of nature in a simple and understandable way, because organic materials appeal to our intuition about what nature is. I will argue that this is an intuitive recognition happening on two levels. Firstly, the organic materials, or the naturalistic style used to portray the materials, gives us an immediate understanding of a connection to nature that we may fail to communicate in words. Secondly, the autopoietic nature

of our human bodies will have an intuitive recognition of belonging to other, autopoietic systems. This might be sensations happening on an unconscious level, but still a real sensation. It might be connected to what Soper describes as “anthropocentric” attitudes to nature 32: that we relate to nature through a mediation of ideas about ourselves, because that is the only way we know how. We look for recognition in nature related to our own nature.

less is less? Another supporting theory behind the idea of Organic Illumination is that organic materials communicates with our intuitive awareness in such a way that it can convey a meta-language about the “chaos” or complexity of natural systems. As a graphic designer you are being thought repeatedly about how the virtue of good graphic design is simplicity, and the saying “less is more”, is one of the pillars of (modern) design, perhaps particularly within branding and information design. I do not intend to argue with that, especially not in this age where our everyday lives are so dense with information. Like Manuel Lima, Visualization Consultant and author, suggests: “our ability to generate and acquire data has by far outpaced our ability to make

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

1 Cycle + grass illuminating how recycling is a natural part of nature and that recycling in human systems affects nature as well. Source: 2 Illustrator Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, draws naturalistic images of morphologically disturbed true bugs that she finds and collects next to nuclear power plants, and this way illuminating changes in environment and animal life and making it visible to people. Source: malformation.jpg 3 Ernst Haeckel illuminates breath taking beauty in his naturalistic illustrations and overwhelming details. Source: zed/2008/10/20/425pxhaecke l_asteridea_2.jpg 4 “Black Locust” by Brian Nash Gill, beautiful woodcut and ink rubbing of a Black Locust tree, illuminating the tree’s “fingerprint”, it’s “dna”, and years lived. Source: gallery/6/107.jpg 5 “Breath posters”: brilliant campaign about the importance of trees in Berlin, by illuminating the codependency between trees, oxygen, breathing, the city and carbon dioxide. maria tackmann, studio 8 design, p.196 - 197 Data Flow








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33 Data Flow: Visualising Informa-

tion in Graphic Design (2008) Ed by Robert Klanten, Nicolas Bourquin, Thibaud Tissot, Sven Ehmann Die Gestalten Verlag, Berlin, p.28 34 p.7 35 Tufte, Edward R. (1990) Envi-

sioning Information, Graphics Press, Connecticut, p.53 36 Data Flow: Visualizing Informa-

tion in Graphic Design 2(2010) Ed by Robert Klanten, Nicolas Bourquin, Thibaud Tissot Die Gestalten Verlag, Berlin, 28 37 p.128

image [top] lisakurtzedesign. com/pear.jpg image [bottom] Poster by Astrid Stavro Source: images/uploads/astrid_2_o.jpg

potential to be stretched to cover sense of that data.” 33 more than that. The authors exSimplicity is a virtue, but how plains Datalogy as; do we combine it with the chaos and complexity of mother nature? How do we simplify without “a bridge between abstract data and familiar symbols, objects, spaces, or loosing valuable meaning? Must experiences. Rather than using neuvisual communication be simple tral, interchangeable diagrams, the or minimalistic in order to be information is put in the direct context understood? Ferdi Van Heerden, of its theme. Analogies are drawn Design for business specialist at which rely on the viewer’s interpretaideo, writes; tion in order to enhance and intensify the meaning.” 36 “Design is not just about making things simple. In fact, there is a comUsing watermarks on buildings plementary relationship between simas example it explains how by plicity and complexity (that influences seeing watermarks on buildings design choices to produce surprising 34 (either from previous flooding and informative data diagrams.)” or expected flooding from rising sea levels due to climate change), Less could end up being exactly that, and organic materials could the contextual familiarity of what could have been abstract data be an added layer that visualises makes you perceive and interpret the complexity by addressing the information on a much more people’s intuition. intuitive, personal, and effecInformation design guru Edtive level. The same applies for ward Tufte says, “Confusion and clutter are failures of design, not sugarstacks (see image 3 on next attributes of information. And so page): a graph could tell you that the point is to find design strate- 0.5 liters of Coca Cola contains 60 sugar cubes, but a picture of gies that reveal detail and com35 plexity”.  Organic Illumination 60 sugar cubes next to a bottle of Coke could give you a more comcan be seen as such a strategy. prehensive understanding of how much sugar that actually is. You Illumination through Datalogy might even “taste an unpleasant Datalogy are physical, 3-dimensweetness and internalize a link sional “graphics” that are used to the respective item” 37, that to visualise information. It is mere numbers or graphs would introduced in the books Data have trouble achieving. It is inforFlow 1 and 2, and is meant to mation with direct connection to cover visual display of information – statistics – only, but has the its subject that not only informs

the viewer, but also touches instincts and emotions. Datalogy is visual information taken to a new level, based on the notion that “seeing is believing”(ibid). Organic illumination as Datalogy is therefore an effective and powerful way of using organic materials to

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

1 One of many willow sculptures in Kew Garden, by Tom Hare. Source: 3826367330_7fd30ab47f.jpg 2 “Entity” by Are Mokkelbost, a puzzling illustration combining elements from other animals in the faces of monkeys, without feeling random. An interesting example of how chaos and holeness can be combined visually in an interesting and attractive way. Source: c0573862. cdn.cloudfiles.rackspacecloud. com/1/0/128/108424/are0_905.jpg 3 Datology from Data Flow 2 p.133 4 A diagram of software for Mac (1990). A fascinating and inspiring way of “combining worlds”: variation of structures and visual language in one display, creating in a rich and layered visualisation without becoming confusing. This particular piece is about software, but the rich visual language and intuitive approach to materializing knowledge makes it an excellent approach of visually “bridging” the natural and the artificial world. This piece is 20 years old but I predict that this type of visuals is something we will see more of in the future, as the information flow becomes increasingly more complex. Designer: Mitsunobu Murakami. Source: Media/Diagrammes2_1600px/Diagrammes2_DSC_9707.jpg 5 “Visuelle Programme 2.0” by Cedric Kiefers, a visual display of a year of data sent and received through sms. A nice organic way of displaying “digital” data, that on a subconscious level draws lines to possible similarities between human created systems and natural systems. Source: Data Flow, p. 155








dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

38 From illustrators Emily Wilkinson’s

and Ivan Nascimento’s cowritten definition of illustration, which they wrote together for their dissertation in ma Design Futures 2009 39 Data Flow: Visualizing Information in

Graphic Design 2 (2010) Ed by Robert Klanten, Nicolas Bourquin, Thibaud Tissot, Die Gestalten Verlag, Berlin, p. 25

image “Heritage Beast” by Jude Buffum Source: Data Flow 2, p. 25

communicate information in a genuine way, not just through dry statistics. However, as Data Flow points out, using analogies should be done with care and the cultural context for the information one is displaying needs to be taken into account to avoid misinterpretation. More importantly, it is a powerful tool that must be used ethically.

visualising climate change

Naturalistic illustration Physical organic materials, either operating “live” in 3-dimentional form or replicated in photography, speak for itself. The illustrations however, need stricter guidelines. Authenticity is of key importance, which only can be achieved by being sensitive to both detail and structure, and by avoiding reaching for perfection in form. The illustrations are imitations, but not poorer in value and meaning, and can often be more layered and convey more depth than photographs. “Illustration has the power to evoke knowing through emotion” 38, and is often a much more personal communication method than for example photography. Through illustration the “author” is detectable, as he/ she will leave traces of themselves in the illustration. The human aspect is something we can relate to and this way a connection is established.

Abstraction and modification As mentioned in the previous chapter, such graphics are often styled and strongly simplified. Natural, living creatures are turned into symbols and ”reproductions” which again are modified to the end of recognition – and yet quite the opposite. There is a juxtaposition in creating what can be called “abstract visualisations”: When natural organisms are modified and simplified into a homogenetic and abstract entity that bears little resemblance with its original self, yet at the same time this stripped down, simplified symbol becomes the very meaning of what it is portraying. Let us take the pig in the image on the rightas an example: a graphic clear in message but strongly modified in style 39 . Graphics such as this are very common, and only the sight of a twirled tail, or the flat, circular nose is enough information to tell us that “this is a pig”. Of course, it

is not a pig. It is a symbol of a pig, which is a substantial difference, With the increased focus and in- and not an unproblematic one. terest in climate change there has The reason, in my opinion, why also been a subsequent increase this is a problem is that this dein graphics visualising such. ranged, artificial, dead and objecNewspaper articles, rapports and tified image of what is originally self-initiated design works bea complex, living and breathing published online, in print or ing organism, is that it is both on TV contain visual display of a product of human alienation information created to communicate a message.

from our physical environment and a reminder of how we easily see living beings as fragmented, separated objects that we can manipulate without consequence. Different times Perhaps these reflections are coming across as somewhat extreme and uncalled for. After all,

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

symbols and pictographs have been a part of human culture for thousands of years. Ancient pictographs like aboriginal cave paintings or indigenous North American Haida art are also simplified and abstract images, yet they were created (and still are) by people living truly in synch with their natural surroundings.

image Perhaps a dog? Haida art is abstract and conceptual, and easily recognisable. Source: com/3528/3238608179_ cde072ce43.jpg

Obviously abstract pictographs are not to be blamed for our current alienated existence and environmental challenges. A new language What I am saying is that this current, alienated and critical state we are in calls for another type of visual language. One that

does not back up our skewed existing perceptions, but a language that includes chaos, organic randomness and a holistic world view by appealing to an intuitive, animalistic wisdom of what nature is and how we fit in with it. It is not a simple task. Our whole way of thinking and communicating about the world is based on fragmented systems created over time. They evolved for a reason, simply that our brains needed to divide things up in order to process and understand and evolve as a species. A different brain may have resulted in a different segmentation and thus a different world in the mind, and a different physical world in the year 2010. Fragments are not likely disappear from language any time soon. But language is a living thing that is constantly evolving, and perhaps in the far future – if humans are still alive – we are able to communicate and understand a world that is both complex, holistic and sustainable.


interview: anna garforth The work of London based illustrator, Anna Garforth, fits nicely into what I would describe as Organic Illumination. I met with her for a chat over a box of strawberries. Miss Garforth finds it hard to classify what she does, and a variation of descriptives are being used about her in different contexts; natural media artist, illustrator, ecological artist, environmental designer, Guerilla Gardener etcetera, but says that what she is doing is really “urban intervention”. She studied Graphic Design at CSM and specialised in illustration. Inspired by landscape artists like Andy Goldsworthy, she set out to experiment with untraditional materials. The first moss typography piece she did was for a competition with YCN (Young Creative Network). “People saw it on the YCN site and liked it and reblogged it an literally within a month it was just everywhere. And from there I started experimenting with materials and typography.”

She is still exploring different avenues within the natural media realm, working with both leaves and bark. “It is a long process working with natural materials has its restrictions. It can be challenging but I suppose that is what I like about it.”


dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

40 Interview with Anna Garforth,

conducted by myself on August 11, 2010, London

image [top] Anna Garforth in her home in Hackney, London. Source: Private

The main drive behind her work is a general love for the natural world, for plants and anything organic. “I found that a really nice contrast when working with natural media was the city as a backdrop, and I also had a desire to work within the public realm so that my artwork was immediately accessible”

She says the general ideology behind her work is the idea of nature and the city and public merging, and the existence of both worlds together. On the question if she thinks displaying nature a bit out of context makes people notice it more, and perhaps see it for the “first time”, she says; image [rest] Garforth does urban intervention by creating various artworks using the natural media. Source:

“Yes, taking it out of its original context will definitely stir something in people. There is nature around everywhere and a lot of wild in the city. There is for example all this moss on the pavement, that people don’t ordinarily notice. But as soon as you put it up on the wall and give it a voice, crafting it into something that people can relate to, they see it and realise that “wow, there’s actually moss here”. And I find that quite interesting, to be able to perhaps build or develop people’s relationship with nature.”

She says that she herself sees the city differently now, and that working the way she does has made the city become almost

transparent to her. I asked her if she could try and put down in words what it is exactly that organic materials are visually communicating.

“It immediately gets people attention purely because of the contrast of the natural medium against the city. I think it connects with an inherent respect that we all have for the natural world, and it brings something out in people. Moss with its spores and autumnal leaves lid up by the sun; it is already beautiful in its natural state, and coupled with crafting it into something interesting, has a really strong, powerful message. And also I think it solidifies the relationship that we have to nature. We are nature, we are natural beings… It’s hard to explain. It’s instinctive I think, and for me that is sort of what nature is, I suppose.” 40

greenwashing In a way we are now being bombarded with more “organic” visual communication than ever before. Green is the new black, so to speak, and this trend is attracting participants on the market that are far from green in any way. What is greenwashing doing to the future of sustainable products, consumption and business, and how it is affecting sustainable visual communication? Conscious consumers Within the last few years the awareness around climate change has spread rapidly in the commercial world and has

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

41 Futerra Greenwash Guide, digital

version, p.7 [downloaded from futerra.] 42 43 Futerra Greenwash Guide, p.3 44 Futerra Greenwash Guide, p.22 45 The Big Book of Green Design (2009)

ed. by Suzanna MW Stephens and Anthony B. Stephens, Collins Design, New York, introduction 46 Birren, Faber(1978) Color & Human

Response, Litton Educational Publishing, New York, p.47 47 p.16

suddenly become a public domain. Perhaps thanks to Al Gore, climate change is no longer a theory reserved for scientists and experts, but a subject most people have an opinion about. Consumers have become much more conscious about the products they buy and the interest in “organic” food has doubled in the uk since 2000 and is growing at an average of 25% per year. 41 What the market wants, the market gets, and the quick demand for green products has lead to an increase in products that are green on the outside only. Advertising and packaging with promising images and graphics and vague language is everywhere, even certifications without ground or value. Greenpeace defines greenwashing as:

not qualify as a “green” product. of how unsustainable businesses A car will never be a sustainable contact her to shed some green product as long as it runs on fossil light on their products. fuels. “What I do attracts very green minded Why is it dangerous? companies, but there is an element More importantly, greenwashof greenwashing and there always ing is sad and hurtful because it will be and unfortunately I’m not in a is undermining the ethical and place where I can say “no, I cant do it truthful visual communication because it goes against my ethics”, but out there and also the goodI am careful and pick my clients with willed actions of consumers. The care”. 40 consumer rules the market and therefore this emerging interest The colour green in ecological and organic prodThe colour green has been adoptucts is of great global value and ed as the colour of sustainable is vital for building a sustainable design. In “The Big Book of Green future. Greenwashing is slowing Design”, “green” design is defined down this development, leading it by Eric Benson as something that astray, and making it difficult for “conserves natural resources, the consumer to do the right thing. reduces energy consumption, Not only is greenwashing tricking cuts solid waste, and minimizes consumers to support unsustain- the ecological footprint of a able business, but green products project.” 45 “…the act of misleading consumers Colour will, just as metaphors, are often also more expensive regarding the environmental practices symbols and images, always be and the conscious consumer has of a company or the environmental strongly connected to culture, to spend his time on reading la42 benefits of a product or service.”  bels, knowing what certifications and it is a vast field with which I will not go into detail. However, to trust, and to look for products The Advertising Standards green does perhaps have certhat has all the right qualificaAuthority in the uk is upholdtions. Because what is really best; tain universal associations. Felix ing more and more complaints Organic apples from New Zealand Deutsch, a physician, explains against greenwashed advertishow “…emotional excitements […] or “regular” apples grown lo43 ing  . It is not just unethical to lie cally in the uk? It is hard to be a are brought forth through associabout “goodness” and quality or sustainable consumer and green- ation”, and that “these superficial exaggerate the truth, but also to washing is making it even harder. associations lead to deeper lying put a green smile on something memories”. 46 ”Greenwash destroys the very that might be the smallest of In this sense, green will bring market it hopes to exploit”.44 change. 20% less CO2-emissions forth associations of forests, or slightly more effective fuel use Even the work of creative niche plants, and growing things. in a car is an improvement but does artists like Anna Garforth tells The human eye also has a maxi-


mum sensitivity and visibility to green and yellow 47, which means that a great deal of the colours we perceive everyday are shades of green, even in industrial and urban areas. Therefore green is a suitable association to “the environment” – by which green design aims to spare/consider and protect. Still, it is a vague term as it is completely open to individual interpretations and understanding of how green “green” really is. Like our eyes absorb light differently our idea of green will vary from person to person, company to company.


dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010


green branding


The market is booming with products being marketed as “green”. A good share of these products are truly recyclable, biodegradable, organic, locally produced and healthy to humans and the environment, some are shades of green and some are not at all. Let us take a look at a couple of these products and try to evaluate if it is possible to distinguish between ethical and nonethical branding.


garnier [top left] index.aspx [bottom left] melbflowershow. Small.gif[right] beautycosmetic. biz/images/garnier_bodytonic%20 rol-on.jpg aveda [left] thedailygreen/images/8p/Aveda_ GreenScience_MD08-lg.jpg [right top] 4.bp.blogspot. com/_4EfcMatQRcE/SU-ElPbxFI/AAAAAAAAAQo/EvzaEsEGyIY/s320/photo_aveda2.jpg [right bottom]

Green or “green”? Aveda and Garnier are two brands that both offer cosmetics with a wide range of hair and skin products, and who both market themselves as “green”. This is also were the similarities stop, because while Aveda is the first beauty company to have achieved a Cradle to Cradle certification 48, and that use organic ingredients which are ethically sourced, recycled and minimal packaging and is manufacturing with 100% certified wind power, the story with Garnier is a different one. All though Garnier claims to have ‘’respect for the environment’’ 49, be inspired by nature and to believe in healthy lives, there is little or no facts on their products or website to back this up. There is no information about organic ingredients or sustainable manufacture, and the only ‘’green’’ actions they provide

dissertation // Mariann Nikman Freij // ma Design Futures 2010

50 Benyus, Janine M. (1997) Biomimicry:

innovation inspired by nature, William Morrow and Company Inc, New York, p.2

facts for is using fsc (Forest Stewardship Council) certified packaging and a modest reduction in co2 emissions. Is that really sufficient to promote a business as “green”? Technically, they may not be doing anything downright illegal. They are not claiming, black on white, that they are a certified sustainable business or that they are particularly “green” at all. Their visual profile, however, does. Signs of greenwashing Is there such a thing as a ”recognisable design pattern” in green washing? Sustainable communications agency Futerra has created a rapport about greenwashing to guide designers on how to avoid it. They list ten signs of greenwashing to be aware of; 01 Fluffy language: words like “eco-friendly” and –– that has no clear meaning 02 Green products from dirty companies: green products created through polluting manufacture 03 Suggestive pictures: images that indicates un-justified green impact 04 Irrelevant claims: emphasising a minor green attribute whilst all remaining aspects are un-green 05 Degradere the competition: declarance of being greener than the competitors, even

though the competition is far from green 06 No credibility: “eco-friendly” versions of products that in their core sense are the opposite of green, for example cigarettes or cars 07 Unfamiliar jargon: words that only an expert could check or understand 08 Fake certifications: adding made up symbols and logo’s that looks like a third party endorsement 09 No proof: no facts to back up claims 10 Pure lies: fabricated claims or data

our use and other visual effects, and thus appears as much more authentic. The use of organic materials is also different and more specific, which gives the impression that they know their natural ingredients. The simplicity and moderation in the use of special effects might also represent a certain pride in the product itself, which is a good indication of authentic quality.


biomimicral design Biomimicry is according to Janine M. Benyus “innovation inspired by nature” 50, and is closely related to Cradle to Cradle as it is based on mimicking systems in nature. What would visual communication look like through the lense of biomimicry?

biomimicry in graphic design Graphic design is a broad field of things, ranging from everything from designing road signs, to Goodness advertising campaigns, to book True green brands are not just design. What would for example selling healthy and sustainable a biomimicral advertising camproducts, but also a “feeling of paign look like? goodness” for the consumer, To figure that out we need to look “good” beyond that of tasty, apFrom this list there are several of pealing, functional, comfortable, at how natural organisms “promote” themselves. And there is which we can find in Garnier’s and durable. It is a feeling of a lot of self-promotion going on: graphic material; fluffy language, contributing to good, supportsuggestive pictures, irrelevant ing a healthy system of which the in the animal kingdom the male usually try it’s hardest to dress up claims and unfamiliar jargon. consumer is a part of, but easily and shout to make the most fuzz ruined by false pretences. about himself as possibles, while Authenticity wins What happens if or when all the female secretes seductive Advertisers will use all the visual products on the market and effects they know to communimanufacturing methods becomes scents to attract her mate. Flowers do the same to attract the bees, cate the intended message. But by green? If all food is organically which then happily come to collect reading through Futerra’s list and produced? What new levels of the pollen. Berries on plants and analysing Garnier’s visual style, “goodness” will then arise and bushes also dress up in colours we find tendencies of a somewhat what visual identities will they louder language. By having less communicate? Will there be new and scent to be eaten by birds and passers-by and then dropped a facts to lean on, un-green compa- “super products” – locally made couple of hours later in a hopefulnies might tend to scream a little with self-sufficient energy use, ly suitable growing area for their louder in trying to convince the designed for up-cycling and a seeds. Advertising and visual consumer of their green intenCradle to Cradle life cycle? communication in the natural tions. world is about mating and reIn comparison, Aveda’s design production, but also dangers and profile is much more “down survival. Survival and growth, the played” and moderate both in col-

“battle to survive”, is really all it comes down to in human, corporate advertising as well. In that sense, graphic design already is biomimicral. As the berry wants to be eaten to have its seeds spread to new areas, the consumer or “carrier” of the berry gets valuable nutrition, and the same happens in the corporate world: A jar of raspberry jam is purchased, covering both the buyer and the producer’s need for survival. In the human, corporate world, this mutual, coexisting trade with mutual benefits is not always conscious move and the want for growth sometimes leads to unethical exploitation of the consumer. In a way there is trickery in the natural world as well, but life natural system would not intentionally hurt another life in the same system of which it is depending on. For example, if a type of berries depends on being eaten by a certain type of animal in order to spread and procreate, it would be completely illogical for it to be poisonous to that animal. That would be, like mentioned previously, a destruction of the very market it hopes to exploit. It would simply mean the end of business for the berry. The graphic designer’s role in the biomimicral sense would therefore be to make sure that the information it is designing is truthful, and that it is beneficial for all parties involved.

thoughts for the future Because of the global state, climate change and green washing, it is more important than ever to create an ethical, holistic and attractive visual language to communicate complex and layered information. Most materials and systems might not be fully developed and ready to be biomimicral, but that does not mean that we should not aim for Cradle to Cradle systems. Being ahead of the curve is always good and if we do not pull in that direction, we might not get there. The scope of climate change is hard to predict, but it is likely that we can prepare on becoming more self-sufficient which means having a closer, more first-hand relationship to nature and the resources it can provide for us. Organic Illumination is a way to mend that relationship and step a few steps closer to nature. It is a way of improving our ability to survive on this planet.

Bibliography literature

other publications

• Benyus, Janine M. (1997) Biomimicry: innovation inspired by nature, William Morrow and Company Inc, New York • Berman, David B. (2009) Do good: how designers can change the world, New Riders, Berkeley, p.1 • The Big Book of Green Design (2009) ed. by Suzanna MW Stephens and Anthony B. Stephens, Collins Design, New York, introduction • Birren, Faber (1978) Color & Human Response, Litton Educational Bohm, David (1982) Wholeness and the Implicate order, Routledge, London • Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, Horace C. P. McGregor (trans.), (1927) Penguin, London • The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984/1995) Princeton University Press, Chichester, West Sussex • Data Flow: Visualising Information in Graphic Design (2008) Ed. by Robert Klanten, Nicolas Bourquin, Thibaud Tissot, Sven Ehmann Die Gestalten Verlag, Berlin, p.8 • Data Flow: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design 2” (2010) Ed. by Robert Klanten, Nicolas Bourquin, Thibaud Tissot, Die Gestalten Verlag, Berlin • Gibson, James J. (1986) The ecological approach to visual perception, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., New Jersey • Gladwell, Malcolm (2000) The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference, Abacus London • Maturana, H. R. and Varela, F. J. (1987) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding, Shambala Publication, Boston • The Oxford Reference Dictionary (1986) Clarendon Press, Oxford • Philosophies of art and beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger (1964/1976) edited by Albert Hofstadter and Richard Kuhns, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago • Radical Nature (2009) Barbican art gallery • Soper, Kate (1995) What is nature?, Blackwell Publishers Inc., Massachusetts, USA • Tufte, Edward R. (1990) Envisioning Information, Graphics Press, Connecticut Publishing, New York,

• sde research rapport (2008) received from Susana Branco via e-mail, 24.04.2010 • Futerra Greenwash Guide, digital version [downloaded from] • definition of illustration from Emily Wilkinson’s dissertation, ma Design Futures 2009

interview with Anna Garforth at her home in North-East London 11.08.2010

workshop MindMade workshop the 28.05.2010

web [chronologically] • • • • • • • ecology/naturalinclusionality • • • aspx?tpcode=GARNIER^PHILOSOPHY

[All web references were last checked 01.09.2010]

Organic Illumination  

MA Design Futures dissertation, Goldsmiths College, University of London 2010

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