Flash Forward – part two

Published:  February 20, 2013
Flash Forward – part two

Seven studios from Australia, New Zealand, and Japan share a vision of the future. Participants were encouraged to imagine the cultural, aesthetic, and social issues that desktop might be exploring between now and the year 2030, and to consider where their own practices might be headed.

Today we’re sharing the final four contributions which come to us from Dan Pike in Brisbane, Graeme Smith in Sydney, Pandarosa in Melbourne, and Groovisions in Tokyo. Take a look at Flash Forward – part one to find visions from Collider, Catherine Griffiths,  and Jordan Dolheguy (Totem Visual).


No matter how many times I tell my family I’m a graphic designer, I’m still the guy who works in advertising…

This is more likely due to a lack of interest rather than ignorance (as I would have no idea what people do in insurance agencies) but in terms of futureproofing the graphic design profession, my aim is to build an awareness of the wider scope of the designer – distinguishing what we do from advertising.

The latter is a book in itself, but briefly, advertising’s established profile has perpetuated the community’s perception that the primary role of graphic designers is to brand organisations. Locally, there isn’t much scope beyond this, whereas an idle surf around the websites of our European counterparts reveals a healthy proportion of brand-based collateral (identities and supporting applications) alongside the general design of content (publications and public posters). It shows not all content needs to be branded, just considered… and perhaps more importantly, demonstrates a healthy respect of the role graphic designers can play in the community, as both branding consultants and content communicators.

What we’ve identified locally as missing are short run, small scale publications – archiving ephemeral content that currently flies under the radar of mainstream publishing. It means there is an opportunity to show Brisbane (and whoever else may be watching) a market can exist for carefully crafted publications that speak to a specific audience.

The Letter D, as a service-based studio, is relatively reactive in its scope so we saw a need for a separate proactive vehicle. A catalyst for content and collaboration. A parallel practice of sorts, which we’ve called Capital P.

As a production arm, Capital P exists outside of the studio model. It allows us to foster relationships with the local creative community on collaborative terms, with a key objective to promote the wealth of talent available locally. So the two entities exist in different spheres – one being service oriented and the other product focused – but there is a healthy overlap. Capital P will use The Letter D’s design services, and ultimately promote The Letter D’s publication design capabilities to its customers and the broader community.

Ideally the local perception will slowly shift, and with any luck my family will come to realise that while I’ve designed the odd billboard, there is so much more that graphic designers can do to shape our visual landscape.

Dan Pike - The Letter D


Sharpened minds
Every view of the future is a prediction and an imagining. All clues that suggest what the future may be like are informed by our current situation and the way we see ourselves positioned in the world and how we relate to it.

One way of arriving at a mainly predicted view of the future is by having an analytical view of the world. When I think about the analytical way, it disheartens me because the most prolific and relentless everyday, everyminute analysers of the future are not scientists, and certainly not designers, but people who work within the sphere of finance and marketing. They view the world as a thing we can do stuff to and take stuff from. The world is understood as a separate entity and their language is the abstract, distancing language of the corporation. They talk about identifying potential needs and creating desires, the analysis of trends and predictions about the effects of new technologies, shortages and surpluses, and all the current indicators of how the world may turn out for their ever-demanding stakeholders. This is a way of thinking about the world that many branding industry  designers —perhaps forgetting that sense of wonder, a sense of the absolute gift of the things around them as children—have accepted without much reflection on the way it has removed the joy from aspects of their work or dulled their design thinking.

Another way in which a view of the future can be arrived at is by having a more poetic view of the world—where the viewer and the world are one-in-the-same. This is a place where we need, and desire, to think about what we do to it/ourselves and what we take from it/ourselves. Not just for the survival of its plants and animals or the quality of its air and water (that’s another angle entirely) but because it gives us a deeper, more world-connected sense of lived reality: a sense of the gift of things and an incidental satisfaction in knowing that at least an identifiable part of our lives is lived without being overtly thought of as the tail-end of someone’s strategy or forecast — and our sense of self worth is not so incessantly, wearingly geared to what we can afford to consume.

In my current and limited explorations—talking to creative people about their practices, their desires and their own futures—I have noticed some current indicators that reveal that many designers are wanting a different future to that of the analysts and strategists. One indicator is the growth of small, independent publishing houses. Another is the return to smaller, more compact (even more profitable) working scenarios: the return of the atelier, where studio, showroom, production facilities and often living spaces are combined—not always through economic necessity, and often because ‘this is the way we like to work’ or ‘this is the way we do better work’. Another is less silly reverence for, but casual (bordering on ambivalent) acceptance of, technology—a ‘some bits are me, others aren’t’ attitude that indicates a new maturity in design values.

Another indicator is designers having a much deeper interest in the world with active careers over several disciplines or simply trying new things because they feel right.

Some examples from where I’m writing at the moment (Berlin): Architect Gabi Schillig (who once worked at Sydney’s Harry Seidler & Associates) became less interested in buildings and more fascinated by non-permanent, open structures and the interface between the body and its surroundings. She moves around a lot, particularly Europe, working between architecture, writing, textile design, performance and conceptual art.

Illustrator Henning Wagenbreth recently launched his new book about a Welsh pirate by putting on a musical / theatrical show in a tiny Berlin theatre —something he had never attempted before, but he happened to have learned to play the mandolin in East German youth camps and his partner could play the chord harp so with two actors and some projection help they gave it a go, and it was beautiful.

Poetic thinking is not strategic, but it reads the world through indexes that corporations, with their relentless culture of consumer happiness, rarely use: displacement, incongruity, impermanence, unexpected media, ambiguity, uncertainty, the false starts and dead ends of creative process, the beauty of emptiness, new thoughts on where the body ends and the world starts, or using, in Schillig’s words, ‘actions as levers that shift perception of the everyday’. All wonderful resources for better designing that are, I believe, ways of thinking that come naturally to designers and a reason, I’m guessing, that many of them chose that career.

The trend I’m seeing is that no-one is talking much about trends. However some designers are finding new touch-stones to ‘the real’: more reflection on the things that count and what is real and more reading of the world through sharpened minds. More critical thinking. Less uncritical acceptance.

There is one indicator for the future of design that worries me personally but I know it can be overcome: the shrinking (or non-existent) space in design magazines for primarily written articles exploring design issues that go beyond straight project reporting. It’s indicative of, not just a legitimate editorial desire for concise writing, but the increasing hegemony of flip-book-fast, often passivating imagery, the reduction of design insights to design trends, and of how marketing is taking up more than its fair share of space—that could be used for deeper forms of attentiveness, a fuller sense of reality and the ‘living through’ of things not directly attached to a strategy.

So far in the Australian design media, there is little acceptance of, or space made for, criticism and reflection. The writer Susan Sontag’s comment on one of the tasks of literature, ‘…to formulate questions and construct counter-statements to the reigning pieties’ applies equally well to one of the tasks of design — and some of the clues I have noticed suggest that, in the near future, we may be designing with much sharpened minds. This is my prediction and imagining.

Graeme Smith - Henning Wagenbreth’s theatralischillustrativmusikalische buchpremiere was in a tiny Berlin theatre that held an audience of about fifty. Henning played mandolin and his partner, Sophia Martineck, played chord harp while two actors, Albrecht Hirche and Günther Lindner played the pirate and pharmacist in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Pirate and the Apothecary: translated into German and illustrated by Henning Wagenbreth, published by Peter Hammer Verlag as Der Pirat und der Apotheker


The truth is that we have no idea what the ‘future of design’ will be, either from a close perspective only as far as tomorrow or as distant as 10 years from now. Since our graduation at the end of the 20th century, things have expanded so much (remember Pantone paper and Omnicrom machines?), with streams so commonly intertwined these days, that it is unclear what label constitutes this ‘interdisciplinary’ described realm in which we operate.

The lines have been blurred and they will only get blurrier, due to technological, social and economic elements surrounding our everyday. What we do know though, is what we’d like to see design incorporate as an integral part of its ideology, and that is the principle of chance.

Throughout creative history, many visionary movements and individual creators have applied this principle to varying degrees and levels of success. The Fluxus movement, Dadaist and surrealist come to mind, producers of incredibly beautiful outcomes, that were as well-designed as they were randomly executed.

How would [Marcel] Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even be perceived if it wasn’t for those fateful ‘cracks’ that eventuated through its transportation? Would Walead Beshty’s Travelling Glass Cubes series have the same connotations if it didn’t utilise this karmic element? Could Max Ernst’s collage work portray the same intensity without an open mind towards contradictory randomness?

The implementation of this principle has resulted in the production of pivotal works in typography, print, collage, sculpture, architecture and other fields, all of which have greatly influenced contemporary aspects within design.

What we propose is not to simply devalue every structural fundamentality behind design, principles we must all learn during our formative years before we can disregard them, but to keep an alertness towards exterior factors that come into play alongside these elements through the design process.

The chance we are referring to isn’t just about being playful (who can argue with having fun, right?), but rather as a symbolism to open up, to let things in – opinions, influences and analysis, not merely from practitioners, but a broader audience – to explore theories that come from texts as well as experiences, an awareness of the everyday.

The future of design needs thought, a focus on process, contemplation and reflection rather than on ‘keeping up’ with the speed of life. An emphasis on developing a train of thought, rather than a final product.

It is our hope that this ‘opportunist’ approach will assist design in no longer being defined by a doctrine of physical function and purpose, but evolve it into an exchange of ideas full of flexibility and adaptability among a greater collective.



This graphic is inspired by the work of of Itō Jakuchū, a Japanese painter from 250 years ago. We believe that future concepts and ideas can be developed by referencing the past. Referencing the past isn’t only about looking at the external object/form/format. Referencing concepts and philosophies from any period in history can be useful. That’s where the future of design lies.



Thumbnail image: Original design by Eamon Donnelly, The Island Continent.

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