Notes on the Allied Media Conference
Toronto (+1 Montreal, +1 NYC via Tennessee) AMC crew returning to the Wayne State parking lot
Last weekend I attended my first ever Allied Media Conference in Detroit, Michigan. I was deeply inspired (and a little overwhelmed) by both the conference and the city itself, and hope to be back for the next edition. The AMC brings together thousands of participants engaged in media activism, a large percentage of whom also present sessions and workshops, and truly is a network of networks. It being my first conference, I don’t feel like I’m well positioned to attempt to describe it, in all its diversity and complexity, but I thought I would share some notes all the same, to document and provide touch points moving forward back in Montreal.
I participated in fewer sessions than I intended to, the pace was far faster than I had imagined, and I often felt I needed a break to absorb and reflect afterwards, rather than rush to the next one. I spent a lot of time hanging out in the Future Design Lab practice space, or wandering the Wayne State grounds, chatting with people and sharing stories. As the weekend progressed, the Future Design lab filled with images and texts, mind maps and posters (and wormholes!), it was a beautiful thing to observe this rich accretion of ideas.
Shock Troops and Cheerleaders
Shock Troops and Cheerleaders
Excerpted from Issue 13 of Four Minutes to Midnight, this is my first article for Medium. It’s a scattershot rant on the current state of graphic design, with a brief look back at the International Typographic Union, and what it might mean for us as designers to reflect a little bit more before we make. There are a lot of ideas that I touch upon that I hope I will be able to develop further in writing.
And I’d like to offer an unsolicited plug to the designers at Medium, the UI for writing and reading stories is really great and was super easy to use. Good job.
* Resistance *
Jack Allen pointed me towards this beautiful visual essay by designer and artist Paul Soulellis. In it he narrates and argues for a counterpractice of design that I can very much sympathise with. It’s an inspirational read for the new year, and will surely help to guide how I approach my projects in 2014.
Read it here.
Interviewed by Papirmass
Papirmass is an amazing art subscription project run by the talented Kirsten McCrea. I was honoured to have Kirsten invite me to contribute to the upcoming issue, as both writer and designer (with art by former Four Minutes contributor Kevin Ledo on the flip side). In lead-up to the issue, Papirmass has just posted an image-rich interview with yours truly, and I couldn’t be more chuffed to share some thoughts on design, typography and activism!
Read the interview here.
P.S. For those that make it all the way to the end, there’s a little surprise in store on the studio front. More on that very soon…
Issue 13 WIP
Things are coming along slowly, but surely, with the next issue (13) of Four Minutes to Midnight and I wanted to share some work in progress images. Alongside a much tighter conception of what we want to do with the issue, I’m very excited to announce that Howl Arts will be officially supporting the project with production and distribution. With this support, we’ve decided to print an offset run in colour for the first time ever! We also plan to engage the talents of local craft printers, and employ letterpress, silkscreen and risograph printing for covers and inserts.
I’ve mentioned the International Typographical Union in a few of my recent blog posts, both the historical union itself and the design group aligned to, and inspired by it. Above is a short slide show showcasing projects by the latter group, and below is a concise contextual history of the former that I’ve written for the next issue of FMTM.
The International Typographical Union was the first national labour union in the United States, founded on May 5, 1852 (the name was changed from National to International in 1869 after it began organizing members in Canada). The I.T.U. was composed of typesetters, printers, apprentices and journeymen, and was considered one the most democratic and progressive unions; condemning Sunday work, actively supporting organizing efforts by other craft unions, and being among the first to institute membership by women, with Augusta Lewis Troup becoming the first woman (in 1870) to hold a national office. In 1906, the I.T.U. secured the eight-hour work day through the use of tactical strikes in major cities, paving the way for a standard that would be implemented across other industries. After World War I, when employers sought to lengthen the work day to 12 hours , the I.T.U. fought back with massive strikes across the country, engaging in a three-year long battle that cost employers dearly, successfully defending the union’s significant gains.
On December 31, 1986, the I.T.U. dissolved, largely due to the automation, mechanization and digitalization of the trade. The remnants of the union membership merged with the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
More great slideshows by Charlotte Cheetham on printed matter here.
I recently stumbled across this fascinating article from the Walker Art blog describing designer Sang Mun’s degree project at RISD: ZXX. ZXX is a type design project that attempts to “articulate our unfreedom” through the design of a typeface that cannot be decoded by OCR technologies. In light of the recent revelations about the NSA Prism program , this project is particularly relevant.
What’s interesting to me is how this project seems to bring together inherent aesthetic cues of the “ugly” trend (I really need to come up with a better term for my understanding of this) that I’ve been discussing here (the distortion/layering of type elements and placement, the concept of default/open-source design, issues of illegibility/accessibility, through to the presentation of the project) with a critical social commentary of the surveillance state and privacy concerns. It makes me wonder whether this “state of anxiety” may be at the root of the aesthetic currents running through graphic design practice.
What’s also really encouraging is that ZXX might be a representation of a re-engagement with design language, and typography/type design specifically, as a form of critical engagement and aesthetic experimentation, much like Neville Brody’s FUSE project from the 90s. Hopefully it’s not just closing a loop, but a “sign” (pun intended) of things to come. I’ll certainly be taking some of these cues into, and using the typeface within, the next issue of Four Minutes to Midnight.
See more of the project, and download the typeface, here.
Some thoughts on “Critical Graphic Design”
Last weekend I was invited to participate in a small symposium/dinner at the N/A space in Toronto on the subject of “Critical Graphic Design”. Organised by Chris Lee and Patricio Davila, the dinner brought together a diverse group of (mostly local) designers, educators, researchers and activists to chat informally about what critical graphic design might be, with the goal of moving towards a series of workshops in the summer.
I was honoured to be invited amongst the numerous guests, which included a couple of old friends, a couple of design heros, and generally all people I’d like to get to know better: JP from Paper Pusher, Anouk from Studio Feed, Sheila from The Public, Abake, Michelle Champagne, members of the Beehive Collective, and many more.
It was a pleasure to meet everyone around a delicious potluck, and I was really excited by the prospect of this re-engagement with design discourse. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay very long, and I wish I had had a chance to speak with people more in depth. Nonetheless, quite a few interesting ideas emerged from that night, and I’ll sketch a few of them out here.
You were a true poet / down to your scarred knuckles
Two years ago today, my friend and poet FA Nettelbeck died. A month earlier Four Minutes to Midnight published his final book of poetry, Happy Hour, with illustrations by Sophie Jodoin. I had planned to perhaps visit him over the holidays that year, take a trip with my brother down to the backwoods of Oregon, with a box of books in tow. Those plans fell apart, and in the new year, I was contacted by his sister Sandra, first to let me know that he was in the hospital, and soon after to let me know that he had died. I didn’t know that he had a sister. She didn’t know that he had a publisher.
I wrote briefly about our time “together” shortly after his death, and today, it’s weighing real heavy on me again. Things are looking pretty ugly to me right now, with a lot of blame to go around in this frigid country. The list is long, and probably not worth mentioning here, but the world looks a lot like he saw it, and I wish he could write it down for me. Set it on the page, or at least the screen.