A personal statement about my research

I started to study graphic design in the 80s, the decade in which first Apple Macintosh computer was born and Tim Berners-Lee’s idea of the World Wide Web appeared. The nearly twenty years I have been professionally active into graphic design both as a designer and as a teacher I’ve been living with curiosity the transition from printing production paradigm to digital one.

The main questions I ask myself in my research field are related to how graphic designers can better manage the complexity of digital production workflow, and how the development of the WWW could include more graphic design culture when designing on-line media services.

When personal computers entered to graphic design studios graphic designers’ work began to be more complex. In these short 30 years its workflow has gone from being a process of communicating and expressing a graphic message applied to a defined number of printed media like a poster, a newspaper or an advertisement, to became also responsible for producing it in an indefinite number of devices for displaying digital media: an smartphone, a tablet, a laptop. That’s making the design workflow a much more complex task and from my point of view there’s a need to become more competitive acquiring a systematic way of thinking when projecting a design.

The main design trends that influence my thinking are from 60‘s design schools like HfG Ulm and Swiss International Typographic Style. Some of their teachers’ contributions to semiotics, typography and visual syntax were focused on finding how to systematize graphic design processes to ensure more competitiveness and greater consistency in decision making when a design is applied to multiple graphic medias. Karl Gerstner, Gui Bonsieppe, Ottl Aicher, Joseph Müller-Brockmann and Emil Ruder are some of the most relevant to my study field.

On the other hand, graphic design industry hasn’t been too involved in the immense development achieved by the WWW in his short 25 years of existence. Although by the end of century digital culture gurus like John Maeda from MIT alerted graphic design community from the “autocracy of software” and sent the message that designers should embrace programming skills to really control creativity and expression in the context of producing 100% digitally, the truth is that still today not too many designers really understand the logic behind digital production language.

So the WWW development has moved on with few contributions from the disciplinary field of graphic design and today web 2.0 has consolidated web-authoring services implementing a visual culture paradigm based on templates. I strongly believe that even though templates facilitates web-authoring to non experts, it limits the creative potential of graphic expression to our contemporary society because regularizes part of its aesthetic.

I’ve been always involved in fostering graphic design culture through writing, exhibition curating, and organizing events at some relevant design institutions like FAD and GRRR Collective. And I worry why if from the Trajan’s Column to Never Mind the Bollocks’ punk cover trough the Gutenberg Bible or Marinetti’s poems our cultural aesthetic have always included typography in its discussion as part of a cultural heritage, there’s not such kind of discussion on the WWW development despite it’s being commonly accepted as an increasing mass communication media for culture and knowledge.
My opinion is that on developing the WWW, web-authoring services should also include options for graphic expression in their algorithms in order to guarantee and provide good opportunities to users to express their own personality visually.

Last year during a conference from Simon Sterson Eye Magazine’s Art director at Elisava School of Design where I teach, I discovered an analogy that could help graphic designers to understand why embracing coding skills could be a natural back to basis of designer’s workflow. Sterson was talking about Willy Fleckhaus work for Twen Magazine and he emphasized the handmade process of the letter-press of this period and how Fleckhaus worked very close to printers to get its best results. It was then when I realized that until personal computers arrived to graphic designers studios, the workflow for producing graphic designs were based on writing instructions to typesetters and printers suppliers. So we now do the same when we write html and CSS instructions to computers describing how to generate the graphic message output.

That discovery reaffirmed me that if I want to define a system to help graphic design decision making, this should be expressed in a language that describes different sets of instructions in order to also facilitate designers understand the logic of the WWW language.

Now, I’m applying to an MPhil/PhD Design Program at Winchester School of Art at University of Southampton, to develop those ideas presented above. So this is the first post about my research process. Any positive contribution will be very welcome.


Rosa Llop 2014, March 24th.
PhD Research Journey #1
Licencia Creative Commons