Friday, 5 June 2015

"People vs Graphic Design" - our take on the Clerkenwell Design Week conversation

Have you ever thought I can do better than that? Let’s not mention the mass hysteria when the London 2012 logo was launched!

Angus Montgomery, Editor of Design Week, held a talk on ‘People Vs. Graphic Design’, at the Clerkenwell Design Festival with its panel of graphic designers: Patrick Myles (RIBA Journal art editor), Sarah Hyndman (Type Tasting), Jim Sutherland (Founder of Studio Sutherland), Jonathan Barnbrook, and Tony Brook (Spin).

There are varying factors causing a clash between people and design from social to taste.  However, the general consensus at the centre of this crisis was due to people’s lack of understanding of what is graphic design and its processes, and how it should be celebrated and championed rather than be “the poor cousin of architecture and fashion”.

What is graphic design? 
Jonathan Barnbrook described it as “an intellectual exercise…part of solving the problem and producing a response” by using text, symbols and imagery. A solid understanding of composition is essential to visually communicate the message effectively.

Graphic design is too often misunderstood and considered an after thought. Maybe it is because its main output are on throwaway materials such as leaflets, business cards, brochures, reports etc. It would be wrong to think this. At its very best, it can unite and inspire a nation with a singular belief – Shepard Fairey’s poster of ‘Hope’ for Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign – or emblematic like Milton Glaser’s, I♥NY.

Natasha Chetiyawardana, Creative Partner of Bow & Arrow, believes designers are integral to how a business, brand or product can work – it can lead to a real and beneficial impact on people’s lives than merely the execution at the end of the project’s lifecycle.

So how can we get people to understand?
It needs to start within design education. Designers need to understand the value of their skillset and the impact it can have in business. We often forget it is another language, and to engage non-designers we need to use other means to help them understand whether be it through familiarity or social context.

Without reach, design runs the risk of getting smaller and smaller, talking only to a select group and becoming increasingly insulated and isolated. The social landscape is constantly changing, and if history has taught us anything, to create a movement, we need endorsement.

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Standing more at work?

There has been a lot of coverage in the media recently around a newly published study that says office workers should spend more time at work on their feet. The study focuses on the benefits of standing at work because a clear link has been established between productivity and standing for certain tasks.

Of course, as the study acknowledges, there are lots of other things that can be done in the workplace to help reduce sedentary behaviour. Sit/stand workstations are starting to become more popular in the UK (even we are about to practice what we preach in our office!) to give people more flexibility in their posture.  Office design is increasingly reflecting different work styles and providing a range of spaces that encourage movement around the workspace and can include more areas for standing meetings or work.

The key seems to be identifying this as an important design requirement and getting the client organisation to buy-in to this - if wellbeing is at the heart of the workspace design then these features can more naturally emerge.

In addition to passively providing opportunities for employees to work differently can they be actively encouraged and reminded to vary their posture depending on the task they're doing? After all there is still the concern that they can be underused and staff stick to their traditional desks as much as possible!  Do they need a nudge and a reminder every now and then?  Perhaps technology can lend the most effective helping hand in proactively prompting a change in the way people use space at work. For example, smart glasses could be used to encourage a change in posture if they detect the person wearing them hasn't adapted their posture at the same time as changing from one type of task to another (e.g. from data analysis to looking at emails). Alternatively, provided they are used tactfully, wearable trackers could encourage certain behaviours like standing for meetings.

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