Online portfolio and print on demand catalogs for Graphic Design and Animation graduates from the Department of Design 2012. On this page you will find our conference presentations, and by hovering over the menu groups on the left you can read contextual documents. You are welcome to attend our Grad Show, opening on 29 November 2012 at 6pm, and daily from 30 November to 6 December 9.30am – 4pm.
Graphic Design for good: Defining my niche as a Branding and Communication Designer
During my period of study there have been a number of theoretical contexts related to my practice, which have remained constant. These areas of discussion tend to focus on design responsibility. The use of stereotypes in contemporary New Zealand society, and the avoidance of cultural cliché has always been a major concern to local designers, as has the need to understand the relevance of signifiers to a wide base of cultures and nationalities. I have been inspired by the ability of Graphic Design to promote change in the world, yet I am wary of the misuse of this power, particularly in propaganda and to a lesser extent, in the promotion of brands. The final theoretical area that helps to frame my project is sustainability and environmentally aware design principles. I tend to apply semiotic techniques when addressing these problems so this area was also of concern.
Visually, rigid movements such the Universal Style, also known as Swiss typography, heavily influence my work. I am also influenced by ‘messier’ styles such as collage and printmaking, particularly in the deeper narratives that these methods can produce. Brand imagery and propaganda (between which I draw many similarities) is another key influence to the style of work that I produce, as this work helps to create ‘communities’ of varying size and scope. I also have an interest in film and video and the narratives that can be created in this media.
Responsibility is an issue that is very much intertwined with Graphic Design. Design writings such as Tony Kirshner’s ‘The Design of Dissent’, have given a background to the history of graphic design as a tool for change. However, establishing my position and tone has been an important part of my study. An article by Rick Poyner titled ‘The time for being against’ led me to further analysis about the role of tone in the perception of a work. Modern audiences tend to react negatively to antagonistic materials, instead preferring an approach where they are encouraged to feel as though they are part of a group. Poyner explains the story of a professor at a large American Design school, “He gave a spellbinding performance, unleashing a scintillating stream of facts, statistics and examples of earlier environmentally based art and communication projects. He outlined the issues and constructed a cogent and provocative set of arguments. The students—about forty of them, all studying at masters level, young adults in their mid-twenties—sat there like a bunch of sullen, unresponsive kids, offering only a few occasional, usually sarcastic remarks.” Hence the realization that overt political agendas are not particularly conducive to the promotion of change in a modern context. Rather than to directly agitate, the preference is to use semiotic and subliminal references to suggest ideals, which additionally allows a designer to develop a straight-laced brand image whilst still appeasing activist ambitions; a two-fold return when compared to risking isolation through aggression.
Understanding what it means to stereotype, as well as why people stereotype others, has been a constant part of my work. As a Maori New Zealander I am put in an interesting position where I am more aware of the prevalence of stereotypes in New Zealand, as they are often directed towards me. This relates to my graphic design practice, where I try to avoid reliance on visual stereotypes of ‘culture’. Such reliance can create a harmful phenomenon described by semiotic expert Roland Barthes as ‘Mythic Speech,’ a concept whereby a sign once removed from its intended use becomes false in meaning. The Haka for instance, has lost its meaning as a war dance and is now indicative of rugby and drunk Kiwi’s abroad. Understanding more subtle semiotic ways of identifying culture rather than relying on a few stereotypical elements is important to my practice, and to me, is a more thoughtful way of creating identity. It makes the narrative of the work more important, which is more rewarding if the viewer takes the time to understand it. Perhaps most importantly it targets the culture specifically, while the alternative paints a picture that is more accessible to those outside the group. This phenomena is best illustrated by Ellen Lupton’s analysis of the Panzani ad and it’s creation of italianicity through the use of a set of signifiers which alone are ambiguous, but together form a cohesive sense of identity.
As a designer who focuses on identity, I have found the study of the methods of branding to be essential. I have found many parallels between brand identities and the creation of national identity through propaganda. Both are heavily reliant on colour, symbolism and type when defining identities, and in both cases the aim is to create an entity that is above its true station in the world. For example Red Bull is not really an energy drink company; it is in fact a media and marketing corporation. Its aim is not to sell a lot of beverages; its aim is to sell a sense of loyalty.  Similarly, political propaganda does not offer a stable government or efficient services, but a sense of belonging and identity. Whilst it may appear cynical, these two methods are proven in effectiveness as governments have been built and companies have gone global. I am well aware of this fact and I aim to responsibly utilize certain areas in my practice, whilst remaining responsible to my own ideals.
The effect of consumerism on the environment is a discussion that is a comparatively recent concern in my practice , but it is one that has been dominant in discussion around materials and methods. Previously I subscribed to the belief that any decision on material should be made on what gets the most brand attention. I did not consider the end of life of the product I designed, where it came from, what it was made of, the only outcome I sought was pure brand saturation. This is a short-sighted and selfish view, but it is perhaps true in the majority of designers. I do not consider myself an eco-warrior, but I do believe that as Graphic Designers we should understand that the decisions we make in the studio have repercussions in the wider world. In addition the idea of sustainability is gaining widespread media coverage. Companies who are seen to be green are lauded, whilst those who pollute are held with disdain by the media and the general population. It is important to me to integrate sustainable practices into my Graphic Design practice both for brand perception, and more importantly, for my personal ethics.
Aesthetically a wide range of media and approaches have influenced my practice. Recently I have become more focused on the International Typographic Style. I find the working methods of these rigid grid-based European works to be surprisingly flexible and create a sense of freedom in my design work. These styles allow for highlighted elements, such as images, or a call to action to take precedence, while providing a synthesized background of added knowledge in the form of colour, space, shape and typographic personality. These aesthetic styles have often been used in the theoretical discussions I have explored previously. As they came from a time of great change in Europe (post WW2), thus they have become associated with the promotion of change. Additionally, a secondary connotation is that of European efficiency. This idea has been developed in the general consumer by companies such as Konica and Lufthansa, which use the International style to great effect in developing brand recognition through the concept of power in anonymity. This twin personality sits well with my own practice, which tends to cross between activist and consumerist ideals. The example of the Swiss typographers has been invaluable in expanding my practice.
Soviet propaganda was the first form of graphic design to truly get my attention. Strong colour, shape, symbolism and indiscernible but undeniably nationalistic type made the works a show of pure dominance. It was not the message of the works that interested me, but the effect of a series of otherwise ambiguous symbols on the definition of Soviet Identity. The signifiers are simple, the colour red, a golden hammer and sickle and occasionally a gold star, all of which have numerous connotations, yet the message is simple, the Soviet Union. Brand imagery has undeniably been influenced by this practice, where a sense of belonging is built to promote brand loyalty rather then a national identity. In method the two utilize similar graphic techniques to achieve dominance. Understanding this concept is important to any designer who intends to work in commercial or corporate design and thus it is important to my practice as a Graphic Designer.
The majority of these contexts involve responsibility, and the application of responsible practices to Graphic Design. This is an overall theme of my personality as well as my design practice. I also operate within visual contexts of International Typography, the aesthetics of branding and the application of universal symbols. This is due to the close relationship between these subject areas and my own ambitions and the niche I aim to fill as a freelance socially aware Graphic Designer.
I have been faced with several key decisions this semester. These decisions have been a heavy load to bear at times, but having the flexibility to choose, rather than defaulting to a set plan has, in my opinion, given me more freedom to produce better work. Decisions over the message, format and audience were all monumental in defining the direction of my final outcome.
Defining the content and message of this final project was the most monumental decision made this semester. I have decided to brand myself as a Graphic Designer. Initially, I focused on one part of my design portfolio, community work. This was limiting and left me at times unable to define where I see myself in the Graphic Design field. I decided to take a wider look at my practice, my audience and my ambitions. This process allowed me to define my position as a Graphic Designer who targets local commercial clients. This will allow me to be involved in projects collaborating with community groups and other social causes. Understanding how I see myself allowed for other decisions, such as specific target audience, brand aesthetics and brand delivery method, all of which are tailored to my brand aim.
The audience I have defined is small to medium sized commercial businesses initially focused in Auckland’s west fringe. I made this decision based on local knowledge, anticipated future commercial development in the area and most importantly, the network I have already established in the area. I have participated in several projects in the area which have given me links to both community and business entities. This means I have a base from which to grow a freelance design business. Surrounding suburbs such as Avondale and Waterview are beginning to enter periods of gentrification, which will introduce more affluent people and their businesses to the area. I aim to be established and ready to approach this market within a few years.
The brand imagery I have developed is based on my personal aims and an assessment of my intended audience. I have developed a symbol that features imagery that relates to the community aspect of my work. I have used a dominant and angular outlining shape to create a strong modern impression that is tailored to appeal to my target audience. Colour within this imagery is limited to a tri-colour theme of black white and a slightly muddy red. These colours were chosen due to the significance of red in socialism and as a signifier for the earth and power in certain cultures. Black and white have significance in New Zealand and the combination of all three has significance to Maori. The typeface, ‘Din’ reflects my European typographic influences and the transient nature of Auckland’s citizens. I have also developed alternative versions, which sit within a square. This contributes to ease of use in the grids, which I often utilize. The square is used for synthesis in other materials I intend to produce also.
Format was a concern that I needed to explore at numerous times during this project. I have explored several possible media types including film, animation, web and publication; the latter two are my final decision. This process of exploration uncovered several difficulties that while frustrating, allowed me to define a more considered outcome. I made decisions based on what would be most useful to me, both now and in the future, and which formats would be best for approaching my target audience of local commercial businesses. I decided to develop a brand guidelines publication in which I can set a series of rules regarding brand usage and ethics as my business develops. This document is to be square in order to reflect the grid like aesthetics of my brand.
This semester I have been working on a publication and branding materials related to my personal brand. The publication will be a brand guidelines booklet, while the accompanying materials are intended to publicize my freelance design services to clients. I chose to make a publication, as it has been important to my practice to define my position as a Graphic Designer. The publication will assist in the maintenance of ethics as I progress in my career. The included materials will feature stationary such as business cards and letterheads, which will be sent to prospective clients. The materials and the publication will be synthesized through the use of my personal brand.