Inspiration Post 1

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As part of my Interactivity class this year, I’m being asked to keep a journal of inspiration. I thought today I would cover someone’s work who both inspires me, and reinforces my sources of inspiration. He’s also a frightening monster of a man who deserves to burn in hell, but who am I to judge when it comes to love?

Eric Gill at Goldmarkart.com

Eric Gill is a type designer, but more a sculptor, engraver, catholic and incestuous pedophile. His typefaces are all very elegant and clean, speaking with and too the spirit of his inspirations; the church and temple art. You can see in his work a supervillain-esque obsession.

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His engravings vary from having slight detail to immense detail, presenting scenes of his imagination and those chronicled in his holy book, many with an erotic twist. This mentality seems to be present in all his work, and although his over sexxed nature seems absent in his namesake typeface, Gill Sans, the fact that it is so contradictory to his once secret nature, is almost as telling. They say art is the lie that reveals the truth.

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Keep Calm

keepbrokenrecordI was getting really tired of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” you see a lot these days. It’s actually cooled down since I first thought this up, but as per my usual, I never got around to it, and the minute there was homework to do, I decided to work on totally not time-pertinent, completely unnecessary pet-projects.

So I did this just now. Instead of 2 assignments due tomorrow morning. There goes my sleep. But, seeing as I haven’t posted here in forever, this should cover the… month.

I’ll probably repurpose the record player I made for the assignments I’m working on. May as well.

Let me know what you think/if it at least made you “heh”.

Design: The Final Test Question

Okay, here it is. This is the essay I wrote in advance of the essay I’m supposed to write answering the question;

“What is a designer? How might the concept of the Subject be engaged to help us think critically about this question? Finally, how might this critical vantage point on the experience of the designer help you re-think the original position paper you wrote for this course that explored your interest in becoming a designer? You should consult Hall + at least two of the case study materials listed below *** to answer this question. ”

I tried my best. I feel like somethings may not have been explored enough, but it’s already too long, so it’s the questions fault not mine. Prepare to be fall asleep halfway through.

What is a Designer?

Design is a complex and not so complex field. It is a broad term, and it encompasses many disciplines, work flows, mediums and thought processes, but they are all held together with a similar approach and framework.  Design, I believe, can be defined fairly straightforwardly, as can designer, and I will be attempting to define designer today. Designer under the lens of discourse changes, and it is that lens that gives it new depth and application, and I will attempt to explain this new level of importance of the designer in our contemporary world. To do that we must understand design, designer, discourse, power, knowledge and subjectivity. Ultimately everything comes down to influence and design as a field is integral to that.

Design if searched can be defined rather 2 dimensionally. Merriam-Webster has multiple definitions, some as vague as; “to  create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan”, and specific as;  “To draw the plans for”. Of course, Merriam-Webster is worried about all its different meanings in different contexts, I am not. I think design can be even vaguer and at the same time even more applicable than all of the definitions Merriam-Webster can muster. To me, design is deliberate action taken to solve a problem with the utmost thoughtfulness to all of its aspects. That means anything from the materials it uses, the processes used to make it, and all the way too who it’s being sold too, how much it will costs, and what will happen when they’re done with it. I say deliberate because deliberate implies understanding and thinking. Everything that was ever made was made to solve a problem. Knives were to cut and stab, hammers to slam and crush.  Design was in the first tool a Neanderthal ever fashioned and in the very last plastic chair in a school’s cafeteria. They both are the way they are for a reason, and that is design. Design goes as far as story-telling, and so it is present in movies. It is a part of paintings. Design is in every car, picture, status update and conversation we’ve ever had. Every time you talked your way out of being grounded or a friend from getting angry, you were picking very thoughtfully the exact words to keep them happy and you out of fire. Now, to define designer, we must go a wee bit further into design and look at it discursively. If I didn’t than all we would have is “A designer is one who applies design”. Which is true, but what that implies is far more complex than it would seem.

Stuart Hall talked about discourse in his work, and what he got to was that all meaning stemmed from discourse. We gave meaning to things, events, people, within discourse. Every conversation was a discourse and every institution was a discourse. More importantly, they all affected each other. This was through knowledge/power. Michel Foucault’s theory of knowledge/power is essentially that knowledge is created through power. That power decides what we know and what ideas are important to us. Foucault did not mean the government prescribed us our values, but that there was power coursing through all of discourse that would create these values. This power was simply ideas surfacing from coincidences; when people started to see that HIV was transferred through needles and homosexuals were appearing with more and more cases of HIV, homosexuality became a scourge. This is knowledge, or how knowledge is created according to Foucault. It may surprise some to find out that homosexuality was hugely ignored and sometimes encouraged in ancient times. What this says is not that homosexuality is actually good, or that is was found to actually be bad, because as we know today homosexuality is becoming more and accepted in mainstream culture, but that it never had a particular polarity; it depended entirely on the circumstances surrounding it. This was discourse, power and knowledge all at once. There is no truth to either homosexuality being a good or bad thing, simply a ‘regime of truth’ that decides at a given time. This regime was put in place by all of the discourses coming to an agreement, stemming from the knowledge that the discourse of health came across; HIV is dangerous and transmitted through needles.

Why this is important to know in regards to design and designer is because we have to understand where design sits on this spectrum of discourse, knowledge and power to even get to the question of subjectivity. If power courses through all of us, and design is inherit in everything we consciously generate, be they objects or ideas, then design is power. That is, design is the language of our expression of our values at any given time. The values we hold dear, that we may or may not know are our values, are being coded into every object that was ever deliberately made. Every chair and cellphone is hardcoded with the knowledge/power of right now that we are all subject too. This is where we finally get to speak of designers.

A designer is one who applies design. This presents a paradigm; the designer is both the coder of power and the person being coded. In our modern pseudo-panopticon, we are all policing each other and imposing power on one another, and so we are all imposed. As much as we may seem the guard at watch, we are also the prisoner under surveillance, and so none of us escapes power’s grasp. This is all even truer when we remember that although “designer” is a title in a club of trendy 20-somethings called “design”, a designer is also actually every single thinking, understanding being. We are all every one of us designers. The only difference between us and great designers is that they are self-concious; they understand that it is their job to not only code our values into their work, but identify those values. So while they are imposed upon by the foggy smoke of power and this force is deciding what is important in their work, they are also speaking for the fleshy mound that is people and the new emerging power that is generating through discourse. The designer is both subject of power and subject of people. The missing link between abstract forces and very real humans.

What this changes is everything; this realization broadens the entire field. Before knowing this, a designer was concerned with the most attractive organization of an object, but this idea of a ‘most attractive organization’ changed every year if not more often, and the designer couldn’t explain what made it so. Every designer was simply regurgitating what everyone already thought was the most attractive organization. A great designer, someone of importance saw deeper into our values and dredged out of us the future. It wasn’t an original thought, it was a subconscious thought, and until it is fed back to us through power, by the designer coding it into their work, we did not know we liked it. We didn’t have a way to describe it. But when we saw it we all understood it, and it was good. If we look at Charles’ Eames Solar Do-nothing Device, we see what I’m talking about. A device running on solar power who’s sole purpose is to entertain. It takes design to a field of more than function, and the simply conception of it opened so many possibilities. Paola Antonelli described designers as culture generators – and she was more right than she would ever know. Designers hold the responsibility of putting our values into new work, but also must realize that they are at the same time subject to this power. Not every idea is a good idea. Not everything should be taken for granted. People are silently crying out for something new all the time, and a great designer finds this and bears it to the world.

In my position paper I wrote at the start of the year, I described design as manipulation. This was close but really only half true, because we have to acknowledge that every manipulator is simultaneously being manipulated. So how much change can you really inspire in people if you’re just a subject of the same influence that these people are? That is the key to a great designer. Ultimately design is delusion – we think we are original but in reality our subconscious is feeding itself back to us. A great designer looks deeper into what culturally is changing; what is emerging through discourse, and makes the most thoughtful action towards progress. A designer will never be removed from the feedback loop, but if the designer can identify it, he can have a huge part in making it better for right now. After all, design only lasts as long as there is a problem that needs solving.

Writing For the Nets: A Blog is Fine Too

Writing is a funny thing. It takes some talent and skill and a lot of understanding. For me it’s like a puzzle. Certain words need to go in certain places to illustrate certain ideas and have a functional and effective paragraph. And then all the paragraphs have to lead in and out of each other. It’s a design, and it’s nature for the best writers. But even the best novelist may have trouble holding an audience like Fark or Reddit readers. Although writing is taught, it takes many forms, and the best novelist, journalist or essayist will have some trouble competing with the best blogger.

Blog writing is a new breed of writing. It takes a new mindset – you’re writing for an audience that is much more casual, it’s a medium that readers can interact with and it’s for an extremely broad sampling of people and on top of all that – it’s near instant. No matter where in the world, they will have access, so you have to keep in mind who’s listening. At the same time, blog writing can be more specific, with all the people on the internet, you find plenty of niches that need catering too, and so my writing on this blog may not hit the ‘big time’ like many of the blogs we’ve all heard about (i.e. trash celebrity gossip blogs).

Writing for the internet, in blog format or any other affords different advantages (and disadvantages) for it’s writers and readers that can’t be found anywhere else. For example, humor is much more common. Generally satire is very popular. hyperlinking and networking with multiple other sources becomes integral, and of course, the ease and accessibility of images on the internet means the entry can be more engaging. And the nature of the internet means it’s always instant.

Polaroids are a lot like the Internet...

Polaroids are a lot like the Internet...

Essentially, a blog post is as much about the text as it is it’s context. With a google search on click away, accuracy and speed is paramount to a blog post.

Maybe that’s why nobody reads my blog.

Jesse & Bob

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a masterpiece. Film buffs would call it a ‘slow burn’. That is to say you will need to sit right through to the end for the intensity of every shot, every line of dialogue, every matter of subtext and symbolism to be done with and to imprint itself on your consciousness. That is not to say you will be bored. Repeated viewings, if you paid any attention the first go around, may not yield too much more insight in the plot or motivations but will afford you time to better study the players on screen, and to marvel in the spectacle of this achievement.


Many shots feature an out of focus effect with a small portion in the center much sharper. It emulates an old time photo. Many silhouettes come into play, shadows and moody lighting create what is best described as a symphony of sights, from Jesse James’ face lit only on one side, to the glow that surrounds him and Ed Morris in the night, as they pass under the stars for one last stroll together. The lanterns only light a small proximity, and the outlines of the men who carry them with bandanas over their faces are carved into the night and against the woods or the iron of the train. Every shot, if paused, is worthy of painting, capturing every facet of life in 1881 in perfect detail, no thread out of place or brow furled wrongly.

That brings us to the acting, which is superb. Casey Affleck puts on one the most disturbing, powerful and provoking roles in cinema. I do not know who he was channeling, be it an earlier rendition of Robert Ford or maybe his very own interpretation but it is hypnotizing and appalling all the same. Such a strange, small man carries so much weight in the rugged tundra and between the tall trees of Missouri, laid up against his contemporaries he is a breed all his own. From the words he speaks to his expressions and mannerism, they exist only here, a microcosm of genius glowing in a thoughtful recreation of America’s freedom age.

But that’s not to say his foil and all his stage-mates were not performing in their own right. Brad Pitt puts on his own Tour-De-Force as the mysterious, dangerous and frightening Jesse James. Spontaneous, unpredictable, equally as peculiar as Robert Ford and awfully alluring, the well-built man dresses sharp and carries words just as sharp. His mind always on the viewer’s mind, no thought goes unpondered in this troubled man’s head as any audience of this movie can attest. His face speaks volumes of what is never said, from his life-weariness and depression to madness and paranoia, Jesse James is a mess and a dangerous one.

Sam Rockwell’s charm and amicable attitude are put to good work here, playing the ignorant friend to Casey Affleck’s misguided hero and Jesse James’ world weary outlaw. So much characterization comes from even the most mundane tasks and conversations, and of course in the grotesque ones, like Jesse killing the snakes, or Robert saying hello to Jesse’s family.

The movie takes us through the life and times of one of the most well remembered outlaws in America and in the world, slandering the thoughts his name might evoke and bringing him to an all too cruel and uniquely human level. Robert Ford experiences the disappointment of a lifetime in meeting his hero, betraying him, and being made to think by the world, fooled themselves, that he was the bad guy by the very end. The narration punctuates emotions that are already tense and close to tearing with it’s all too convenient timing and frank description.

The editing has a very nice rhythm with long sustained shots keeping us mesmerized and looking for every speck of detail. Most notable is the end when the editing speeds up and features freeze frames as if to capture as a record the events that unfold in Robert’s twilight days.

In the end we never really knew Jesse James; even the Jesse seen here may very well not be real. In the beginning he is described as blinking more often than the common man due to a health condition, and yet his gazes lost in thought harbor very few blinks. What we do know is that we live in a misguided world, where villains rise to the top as heroes, and heroes sink to the bottom as villains. Robert Fords tale is the most important one here, seeing a young man with aspirations torn down and squirming under the weight of a million voices, it is a sight to behold.

Interactive Storytelling

So this is a toughy. How do you make a completely interactive story? To make a story completely dynamic, that by playing it, you control every outcome? How is that possible? It’s not (right now) technically or otherwise. I just couldn’t imagine it, designing a system that could take into account every action and have an according reaction… it’s wild.

To begin, where do we begin? A story needs 3 things to be a compelling story, a beginning, middle and end. How do we get all those in a game where at any point you could change the direction of everything? Say you get 10 minutes to get to a location or your girlfriend is killed. And you don’t make it. She gets killed, she had knowledge to secret of destroying the villain, no one ever finds out. Is that really telling a story? Maybe a really disappointing, sad story. But not very compelling.

Now, if you can qualify a story as just a player romanticizing his own exploits within it, then that is something different, but again lacking a structure that would make it interesting to experience. I’ve logged 20 hours in Skyrim, and although I’m enjoying it (and there were quests here or there with strict outcomes and requirements to complete them), I doubt anyone would want to read about me ducking in corners for hours slowly killing bad guys that are too hard for me take head on. It’s just not an interesting plot. But, a video game is a personal experience, so should it matter? If we excised the main quest from Skyrim, and even all the others, and simply left the NPCs to interact with (buy, sell, make friends, whatever else), We could technically have the interactive story the most ambitious developers strive for… but we won’t have an ending. So where do we draw the line?

Dark Souls might be a better example. The world doesn’t have the random assassins like Skyrim that come for you when you have a big enough name, but the world is just sitting there, and it’s completely up to you how you want to approach it. Even the main quest is sitting way in the back, hard to notice, just hanging out. You do what you want, at your pace, and although it doesn’t have the girth of Skyrim (can’t really make any wives in this one), it does have a vast universe to explore.

But, for right now, I’m sticking to the Uncharted’s for my story. It’s structured, linear, well put together and excellently presented. No, it’s not the transcendent game that will change the way we tell stories in video games, but the level of interaction on a purely physical level is unmatched. It is imitating film, yes, but I happen to like a good movie.

The Viral Video

So, the internet. It’s so cold. It devours hilarious video after hilarious video, mercelessly tossing the past one away to the annals of youtube and google search, to be enjoyed maybe one more time a few weeks later. We are consumers, at such an intense level, that we are constantly searching for a new concoction on youtube, some people tasking their weekends to be the guy that found that hilarious new video. The internet is a Meme generator, and executioner. Nothing survives it’s gaze. If it focus on you, expect a week of glory, and lifetime of obscurity. Relevancy on the internet is judged by a split second reaction by a 14 year old girl on youtube, if she’s going to laugh at what she saw and show it to all her friends, or turn away. The crux to every real phenomenon of the last decade.

Neil Blomkamp owes his career to it. As do many advertisers, filmmakers, creatives the world wide. Businesses are so eager to make the next big thing that they will suck the life blood of everyone who did it once – by accident – and try to harness that and direct it into something that lines their pocket.

Napoleon Dynamite. To this day a favorite of many teens (with it’s many dissenters as well). How well did that go for John Heder, the actor who played the title character? He got a couple of movie deals, and then obscurity. They only wanted Napoleon, and they wanted to recreate that phenomenon as best and as fast as they could. They couldn’t. No one can really put a pulse on the genius that comes out of the small successes no one saw coming. Right place, right time, I guess. To explain the breakthrough success of a Video Game heiled as the most difficult of the current Generation – Dark Souls – is impossible to me, except to say that it just wasn’t what anyone else was doing. Now, it’s not outselling Call of Duty, or even Battlefield, or even it’s smallest competitors, but it is a healthy profit for it’s publisher.

The virus is often just a victim of circumstance. A total coincidence. Unpredictable, often impossible to recreate, but explosive and contagious. You cannot harness it, you can try to recreate it, but it will never be the real thing. Look at the old spice commercials – Viral success with the man that you want to be, and his hilarious prop gags. Everyone from Geico, to Dairy Queen, to other lines of Old Spice wants to recreate the guy that sits in the middle of the frame doing hilarious and whimsical things with a straight face. It’s marketing gold, but I’ve yet to see a good reaction to any besides the Old Spice Man.

And with that, I leave you this: http://www.youtube.com/user/tartoras?feature=mhee#p/f/15/H91bEGJYBU4