Monday, July 18, 2005

That's Med!ocre

Mired currently in career crisis, it is good to get out now and then and remember why one should be glad that one is not a Graphic Designer™. Toiling on the outer edges of the design field, it’s easy to go weeks without using the terms “sub-branding” or “stakeholder.” It’s possible to forget that designers are as much to blame for the homogenisation of our cities as media monopolies, big box stores or Starbucks. Out in the design periphery, the exclamation point is still on the far edge of the type case; in corporate design, ! has come to embody all the hyberbolic aspirations of consumerist culture.

Not Me!

Saturday’s Character forum was an unsettling but welcome reminder. Much was made of the success of the That’s Me!bourne campaign, with longing reference and comparison to Milton Glaser’s I Love NY. City of Melbourne industrial designer Ian Dryden and branding expert Vincent Lazzara stayed on message, moving from A to B to C through their PowerPoint presentations, forgetting they were at a public forum and not simply pitching clients. Andrew Haig considered the subject at hand thoughtfully, but seemed resigned to the limitations of destination branding. He likes the That’s Me! Campaign, but he loves I Love NY. Which must have made New York native Jeremy Wortsman wish he’d never left home. His was the only presentation which strove to illustrate the particularities of the city, the beauty of its vernacular forms and the hope that something regional and real might come out of an examination of those elements. Despite Stephen Banham’s humorous and earnest exhortations to debate, the afternoon never took off.

Contributing to the problem, I posed an incoherent (non)question to the panel, mumbling about particularities and the off-putting, empty slickness of That’s Me!bourne. What I really should have asked was this: Why is it that the more branding we do, the more we start to look alike? Why can’t we let stories and images and intrigue attract visitors to our city? Why can’t we love our own city with the kind of passion New Yorkers show theirs? Why can’t we generate this passion from the ground up, instead of the top down? Why can’t we start looking for answers in Richmond and Northcote and Fitzroy and Heidelberg and Bayswater, not New York or London or Toronto or LA? Are we less interesting, less unique, than we once were? Are our cities? We need to look back to an era in which loyalty was something deep and true, not just a catchphrase on a credit card application or the tagline for a branding campaign. We need to stop trying to sell our souls. Design, I think, needs to be a force of good, not evil.


Blogger Jeremy said...

Came across your blog while ego-tripping over at google to see if anyone noticed that I kept saying kittens were bunnies...

I am relieved that you enjoyed my speech, and I enjoyed your comments here. Perhaps the idea of continuing the dialogue outside the event was not a total loss.

The only thing I have to add is that perhaps one reason Australia cant seem to get their act together is due to its completely regressive immigration system. I have been here for four years, and am on the verge of getting kicked out, and everyone I know here just wants to go overseas to make it. As long as have a great deal of your talent leaving, and not letting any talent in, coupled with an overburdened education system that cannot produce designers who 'think', the power remains in the hands of the few.

Anyway, thats my rant. Thanks again for coming, and keep rocking NPR down under.


4:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

your comments on design reminded me of one of the saddest moments of my life: i was a junior in high school. my pal and i were one the second floor of the school overlooking the library on the first floor. a thought struck me soo hard i halted: good graphic design is soo lovely and striking but successful graphic design blooms in the form of capital CASH. from that moment i knew i could not follow my deep deep passion for letters and graphic design, the thought of gripping and twisting someone with lettering beauty just to make them buy stabbed me too hard.

so i studied photography instead.

i hope and think that someday soon graphic design will appear as a fine art and that cities can reclaim their accents.

(and i'm glad that knit; it might keep my city warmer.)

9:18 AM  

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