Out Now: Desktop #301—Design As Activity

Published:  February 5, 2014
Bonnie Abbott

While perusing the Arc ’74 showroom on 18 September 1981, British furniture designer Jasper Morrison recalls “feelings of shock and panic.” During the Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano, an annual furniture fair known for featuring cutting edge designs, Morrison had come across the debuted collection of the Memphis Group. This handful of young designers and architects, disenchanted with the high-minded moralistic strictures of modernism, united under the moniker in the early 1980s and from the beginning, shook the design community. “It was the weirdest feeling,” Morrison says. “You were in one sense repulsed by the objects, but also freed by this total rule-breaking.” —Patrick Templeton, The Memphis Blues Again.

Issue #301 is a step away from design as something reliant on formula and expectation. The practice of graphic design can often fall into automatic modes, leaning heavily on the habitual habits that get you from day to day—it is, after all, a profession where deadlines and client expectations rule.

After years in the studio, the youthful energy to smash all with iconoclastic exuberance is often replaced by the necessities of the daily survival of the studio, and the wider potentials and implications of your skill and talents can become diluted.

This is not the case for all, indeed many designers have the opportunity to run tight practices with live-or-die manifestos and unyielding vision. These kinds of studios are often featured on pages such as ours, studied and celebrated for the kind of work that makes an indelible impact on society. Meanwhile, the industry of design grinds on under commercial expectations.

However in these circumstances, graphic design need never lose touch with its ideal, as the communicator, the visualiser, the intersection of need, thought and expression. Whatever your daily pressures are, often just a moment or opportunity of a short break of pattern, a challenging thought or disturbance to your technological routine can reintroduce or reinvigorate even the most commercially-driven, pre-conceived work. It is the understanding and practice of the wider activity of design, all the looking or thinking you do, or exercises with pen and paper, or reading and studying other disciplines to your own, that a few minutes and simple exposures can remind us that graphic design is a particular way of seeing and understanding.

German studio I Like Birds illustrate the activities that inform their design work, desktop #301

In our Activity section, designers from all over the world have supplied activities that are quick, simple and accessible to everyone, written to break you out of the cycle of creative stagnation or innovative ennui. As a continuation to this issue, we would love to see what you do with these exercises, which we will upload to our website and invite commentary from the exercise’s inventor. Email your responses through to the editor, at bonnie.abbott@niche.com.au

We also talk to designers and design studios who push their practices into unknown areas, always experimenting with their process, technology and levels of comfort. Product designers Daniel • Emma push their object’s scale into exaggerated domestic forms for their first solo exhibition BIG!, graphic designers Tin & Ed design flags for the opening of Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria, and photographer Christian Mushenko explores the extremes of photographic practise, by taking photos without a lens.

Daniel and Emma’s trivets for BIG!, desktop #301

Christian Mushenko’s ‘Long Light’ photographs, desktop #301

#301 is also the first of our bi-monthly issues. With a more condensed, considered approach to the print side of desktop, our 6 issues a year now have more time and space to investigate, develop and consider our content.

Now the second month of 2014, as our heartfelt resolutions begin to fall away, it is within the ‘activity’ of design, it’s place in everyday life, that fundamental changes can be made to our existence. But all great things start small, and all big projects contain many small steps, of which a moment from the norm can inspire. We can’t wait to see what you do.

Tin & Ed’s flags among the ‘On Top of The World: Flags For Melbourne’ show at Melbourne Now, NGV.

Desktop #301 — Design As Activity is available only through subscription. Subscribe today — 6 issues for $49!

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