TYPO Berlin 2018 kicked off with two quiet political talks this year, that were hold by the Godfather of the concept of the Creative City Charles Landry and the upcoming New York based Art Director Jonathan Key. At first glance, Landry and Key didn’t seem to share much common ground—coming from different disciplines, continents, backgrounds, and generations. One is actively involved in the development of Berlin and the other, visiting the German capital for the first time. But with a closer look they both have more common ground on how change is a chance to challenge the status quo for the better, either in theory or practice:Charles Landry’s talk about urban change, based on his recent publication “The Civic City in a Nomadic World” (read a short synapsis here). Landry, an advisor, and author from the UK, raised the question of where we belong if everything—people, ideas, goods and even reality—is under constant change and moving forward at a fast pace. His big-picture approach to the development of liveable spaces can also be applied to the design process.
After Landry, Jon Key took the stage. He is a perfect example of a designer who is not intimidated, but rather feels inspired and challenged by the spin. Key is a New York based freelance Art Director and member of the codifyart platform—his mission, to make the mainstream society more aware by giving marginalised groups a voice, particularly women, queer, and trans artists of colour. He is also one of the co-founders of Artists Against Police Violence.
No matter if in urban development – Landry advices over 60 cities worldwide – or in the cultural industry, that Jon Key is having a lot of clients in, design can trigger new work routines and reinvent social structures. Here are five key aspects:
1. PEOPLE FIRST!
Good designers are great listeners and emphatic towards a client’s needs, driven by the urge to get involved. Jon Key stated, “With every client, we begin the design process by listening and getting a sense of their mission, goals, and personality.” The essence of his work is people centric. Timothy Goodman, who purely entertained TYPO Berlin’s audience in the big Hall, is on the look for the personal and singual, yet not to confuse with the egoistic: He presented 12waysofkindness.com where he and fellow designer Jessica Walsh, made a whole project on how to become more emphatic. Working as an Art Director, Muralist, and Illustrator in New York City, Goodman is triggered most by telling people’s stories through his graphic design skills in order to connect to people on an emotional level, to educate and raise awareness. He also motivates the audience to get rid of labels and titles and instead just do what they want. This leads to the second point:
2. RELOCATE. DIFFERENTIATE.
“Writers, filmmakers, and artists have used their feelings, like fear, for years to generate output, why do designers not?” Goodman asks. He is combining his emotions and creativity for purposes that matter to him and others around him, especially the ones with a weak voice.
Our need for stability and certainty sometimes collides with the fast-moving world. Instead of just giving in we can relocate and strengthen our inner voice.
Physical location is becoming less important today, so one’s inner attitude and anchorage become even more important. Times of transformation always provide an opportunity for growth and inspiration, even though it seems intimidating and overwhelming at times.
But if those borders blur and the often funny chaos grows, how do we keep an eye on our (financial) wellbeing? Alex Mecklenburg and Erica Wolfe-Murray from lola media in the UK triggered the whole industry to not to be afraid of talking about money. “Let’s seize control!” and strengthen the creative industries by learning to think creatively about the commercialisation of our work, not only design aspect.
If we know what differentiates us from other design studios, and if we become aware of what points we are really good at, it’s easier to value our work and put a price on it. Let’s not use the initial time taken as the only currency and give away our potential future value for free. Let‘s see our work as an investment, not as a one-off cost.
The thought about the future impact of design leads to the third point:
3. AIM FOR HEALTHY DESIGN
Without being negative design Rockstar Aaron Draplin underlined that his creativity is indeed fueled by the need to pay bills – next to a pure ambition that everyone could feel and see. But many speakers explained that this isn’t the sole focus of their work. Charles Landry, once more explains that for the sake of our future we should aim for “healthy” design, with long-lasting values and ethical purpose, instead of short-term profit-oriented only. Getting involved in the “bigger picture”, the world’s longer-term needs, is an interactive process—at the end rewarding for everyone.
For Saar Friedman from Jerusalem, this means aiming for an open world. In his speech, he gave us insight into life within the borders of his home city, but also in daily (design) life. Boundaries are always around us, giving us stability but also limiting us: budgets, client wishes, social structures etc. Friedman says he has chosen openness as a way of life because inner borders prevent us from doing what we really want to do. It is not our sole task as designers to simply make things prettier but to step out of our comfort zone and create a better environment for everyone.
Golnar Kat Rahmani, a Berlin-based Iranian Graphic Designer, and Typographer is engaged in the fight against racism, Islamophobia, and gender inequality, using her design skills to trigger conversations and encounters between people and also raise questions about things that come up short in daily life. She feels that her point of view of an ideal world should lead her work.
4. NOW IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE THE WRONG TIME
How many personal projects are jammed up somewhere in our minds—postponed because of the lack of time, money, resources etc.? What keeps us from focusing more on them? Elliot Jay Stocks, an Art Director and musician from the UK encourages us to value personal projects as we do “money-jobs”, using structure, timeframe, and milestones to achieve them.
dina Amin, an Egyptian Designer, was tired of postponing the inner urge to do the thing that she really likes. She took the time, made herself aware, and focused on “the thing”—meaning stepping back for a moment from being driven by career progression, paying bills, solving problems, fitting into society. In her case, it is taking products apart, thus giving them more value by exposing the complexity that is normally hidden within.
For Timothy Goodman, the trigger to do “the thing” came after seeing painting a huge mural in New York, which consisted only of huge black and white brush strokes. “How do you manage to get paid to scribble on a building?” Or for taking things apart rather than delivering slick ready-to-print data?. The key is to put your work out there and let people know what you are good at and what you’re interested in. That way we can shift the focus of our work to what we are really passionate about.
Another excellent example on how to actively draw work to you instead of just waiting for it to come along is Hansje van Halem’s story, who published her type design “playtime” as a book and unexpectedly received a number of commercial inquiries about it. Putting passionate work out there attracts future clients which share the essential style and values of these projects. Social media tools make fundraising much easier these days—the crowd can even replace a single purchaser at times.
5. MAKE A DIFFERENCE
International trends and global exchange in design, architecture, tourism, and commerce, lead to a merging of aesthetics and a mainstream look around the world, overlooking the voices of marginalised groups and jeopardising the richness and variety of environments and cultures. Experimental zones and spaces for wackiness have become rare, and all things look cosy and familiar—and boring?
Chris Campe, who works from Hamburg, specialising in lettering, book design and everything typography-related, encourages her audience to add to the world, the thing that in her view, is missing—real inspired design work instead of just another inspirational hand-lettered quote.
So, after three really inspiring days at TYPO Berlin 2018, we have been triggered a lot! Design is not the only tool to answer all the big questions of our time, but since it is the thing we’re best at, we might as well use it and rise to the occasion to challenge the mainstream society a bit. Triggering our environment, and through this, changing its spirit, is a good and rewarding thing, if we keep in touch with our inner voice and lead the movement in a healthy direction.