Sunday 17 Jan, 2016

In a freezing but still beautiful Paris the third edition of the Fête du Graphisme was inaugurated on Thursday (January 14th), an International graphic design festival celebrating work from around the world. The brainchild of friend and colleague Michel Bouvet, French poster designer extraordinaire (a Personal Views lecture series speaker at ESAD in 2013), whose energy and passion has managed to create a notable graphic design event in the French capital.

Michel kindly invited me to participate once again – last year in the 'We Love Books' exhibition and to run a 4-day workshop – this time as one of 39 international designers asked to design a poster for the streets of Paris under the title 'Celebrate the City'. The brief was short – a design to celebrate, not specifically Paris, but any generic viagra online. Simple is good but not necessarily the same as easy. The city is many things. Above all perhaps, it is from its shared collective nature that it derives its power, a home and place of work for so many where the diversity of its inhabitants, individual and unique, combine to create a collective dynamic – individual trajectories that form a tapestry, sometimes chaotic, sometimes uniform but always with a marked identity. There are as many ways to define the city as there are stories to tell about it, and each invited designer recreated their own reading. For me it was a story about the sum and its parts, moving independently but with a collective dynamic.

The arrow is a simple graphic sign and I used it in an attempt to symbolize movement and direction in every sense of the term, not simply physical. It is of course also associated with urban signage. The arrows are combined together so as to create a collective presence, and like the city itself, can be viewed from close and from far, as a pattern or as unique components. Within the design, in addition to the title, I included a text, suitably situationist in reference – "Nous ne sommes pas simplement observateurs du spectacle, nous en faisons nous-même partie" (We are not simply observers of the spectacle, we are ourselves part of it). The electricity of the city – its human energy – led me to limit the colour palette, as I imagined the contrast of the black and yellow with the poster backlit at night.

Some posters have a sort of independence, unhindered by physical context, but in this particular work it had seemed to me beforehand that its location would define its existence. Consequently, it was only complete for me as a work on seeing it in the locations for which it was designed, and particularly in my mind, at night.

The 39 posters were placed in locations all over Paris – approximately 10 different sites for each one. Later this month they will all come together in one display on the Champs-Élysées. They will be available to see on the Fête du Graphisme site in the near future. Many thanks to Michel, co-organiser Blanche Alméras and the Fête du Graphisme team for their hard work.


Tuesday 18 Aug, 2015

Images of the recently opened exhibition about the remarkable life and works of Emílio Biel can now be viewed in the portfolio section under 'exhibitions' 

Monday 09 Feb, 2015

Four days, thirty one students, and a design school in the centre of Paris. This was the basis of the workshop I was invited to run at ESAG Penninghen in Saint Germain as part of the Fête du Graphisme 2015. It was one of ten workshops being run simultaneously in ten different schools in Paris by ten invited international designers. It was my second visit to ESAG Penninghen – I was there in 2011 as a jury member for the student diploma assessments, and it was nice to return.

While four days is longer than normal to run a workshop so thirty one students is also more than normal. The theme I chose for the workshop was inspired by my good friend George Hardie and one of the workshops he ran on the MA at ESAD. It's a method/theme that uses collected objects as a basis for the generation of ideas. I fashioned this to the location and to my own interests and chose to make the twenty 'arrondissements' of Paris the basis for the collection of the objects.

In the centre of my own practice, as a designer and an educator, I've always been drawn to the humanistic possibilities of design, of the potential to be able to tell stories, of tapping into the imagination – in short, a design practice that ultimately, at its best, is able to reveal something about our shared human condition. I also believe that one need not go to the extremes of our condition to do this as so much about our relationship to the world around us is revealed in the everyday. In fact the reason I find the everyday so fascinating is because it is so close to us that its often the last place we look for clues about our hopes and fears. But there are other reasons I am drawn to this methodology. Observation, interrogation and discovery seem to me to be central to the design process and in addressing a question that students of design need to ask and educators need to find ways of answering – which is where do visual ideas come from?

Observation is not a passive act and is not the same as simply looking. It is a reflective process that demands constant questions – what I call interrogation. It begins by looking at what seems obvious and everyday and by questioning what we think we know. In turn this leads to the third element – discovery – where things are revealed or inadvertently uncovered as a result of close scrutiny. Discovery is a central component of graphic design – our ability to discover is generally greater than our ability to invent. In short, it is easier to find a world than to make one. This proposition was central to the workshop.

The theme
Working with the title ‘The Paris Museum of Extraordinary Everyday Objects’, the students were asked to work towards creating an exhibition of collected objects and an accompanying catalogue. An ambitious objective for a four-day workshop but a challenge that the students addressed with dedication and enthusiasm.

Divided into groups, the students were asked to collect objects from the 20 arrondissements of Paris – ordinary objects in many ways, ones they found in the street or came across in shops, new or used or even broken, objects they found visually interesting or intriguing. They could be parts of bigger objects. If possible they needed to have a degree of ambiguity with regard to their purpose, function or origin.

Let’s play – but let’s play seriously!
The next step was to interrogate the collected objects, trying to establishment what we could conclude about them simply by observing. A shoe for example. What could we say we knew. That is was a shoe – an item worn on the feet. That it was the shoe of a child – because of its size. That it was a girls shoe – because of its colour and style. That it was not very old – by the nature of the materials. And why was there only one? At this point knowledge is replaced by conjecture. And that's fine because conjecture is a doorway to imagination, not from an abstract idea but from what is in front of us. What we see must inform us so that we can then inform what we have seen.

The students were then asked to create narratives about their chosen objects – two for every arrondissement. And even though these narratives were imagined, they needed to be believable because even fantasy needs to be taken seriously. So the students needed to base or reinforce their narratives through historical research and link their stories to Paris.

With all the objects selected and the narratives at the point of completion the students began to work on the publication. Divided into 10 groups, each one focusing on two different arrondissements, they were asked to design printed items that could vary in size and format as long as they folded down to an agreed common size. The exhibition catalogue is therefore a compilation of all the different printed designs held together by a cover.

The students needed to include the small texts they had written in their printed items – the same texts that would be used as captions for the exhibition. The challenge was to tell visually what they had told in words.

The outcome
As a final work the exhibition is as important as the catalogue – they are equal parts of the narratives they created. To produce what they did in the time available is quite an achievement bearing in mind that workshops are always short intensive bursts of concentrated focus, serving as gateways to further study, new possibilities and ideas. In the end there's never quite enough time to take outcomes to where they might ultimately go. The aim was to demonstrate that the key to finding visual forms and languages comes from understanding what you have in front of you, that the content will always tell you something and give you visual clues if you are able to observe carefully.

Below – A selection of the student work

Below – the catalogue

A big thank you to all the students, the school directors, to Ludovic Dumielle for his help and hospitality, and a special thank you to final year student Alice Ottenwaelter (below) for all her extra work and dedication in organizing the catalogue and final exhibition after my departure.

Participating students: Julie Anet, Yves Barreira Diegues, Andrea Berthet, Mathilde Bubbe, Alexis Cathala, Audrey Coffignot, Éloïse De Luca, Marine Dion, Amandine Dormoy, Kévin Drygala, Coralie Frat, Pauline Gallois, Flavie Garciau, Olivier Jeanmaire, Luna Kindler, Océane Lasselin, Qingling Li, Maxime Martin, Marie Milon, Léa Murawiec, Alice Ottenwaelter, Lucie Plançon, Fiona Poupeau, Mathilde Rinjard, Cécile Santais, Jeanne Schelle, Baptiste Siguier, Thétis Tsahakis, Baowen Zhang.

Saturday 07 Feb, 2015

Great to be in Paris again, especially when it's the result of an invitation. Friend and colleague Michel Bouvet – renown French poster designer and driving force behind the design festival La Fête du Graphisme (now in its second edition) – invited me to include books from the studio in the exhibition We Love Books! A World Tour in Paris, also in its second edition as an international exhibition – the first edition took place in Echirolles, France in 2008 in which work from the studio was also included.

Ironically, but very pleasantly, I get to have dinner with friends from Porto (Lizá and Artur from R2) in Paris rather than in Porto where we live – a reflection of the all-consuming professional lives that most of us lead. But I'm not complaining – events like this are always welcome opportunities to meet up with old friends and make new ones. 

Left to right: Françcois Caspar, Michel Bouvet, José Albergaria, Rik bas Backer, Fons Hickman.

The programme for this years Fête du Graphisme was diverse and spread across Paris. It included a variety of exhibitions, some with specially commissioned posters displayed in streets all over the city, conferences, lectures, special showings and visits. A good video report can be seen here. The Cité internationale das Arts alone hosted three exhibitions on four floors. On the first and second floors was the exhibition Utopies & Réatilés, showing the work of the German illustrator and designer Henning Wagenbreth, and of the renown Japanese poster designer Kazumasa Nagai. Both of these exhibitions made easy viewing as poster exhibitions usually do – because they're large scale single surface works. The juxtaposition of these two bodies of work created an interesting contrast – the controlled, often calm but intricate designs of Nagai and the colourful and expressive illustration designs of Wagenbreth. 

The silkscreen posters of Henning Wagenbreth

On third floor was the exhibition We Love Books. The exhibition has as a subtitle, 'A World Tour' which expresses its principle objective – to give the audience a taste of book design from around the world, including work from countries that don't usually feature on the normal circuit of design reporting. That part is clear on viewing the exhibition but it still suffers from the habitual book-exhibition problem – that it invariably turns into an exhibition of book covers. Even though one is able to get a sense of the book 'as object', not being able to look inside leaves the viewer with an incomplete journey. It's understandable that curators are concerned about protecting the exhibits from damage, and multiple copies of books are simply not a realistic option. Perhaps though, for the sake of a deeper understanding of book design, it would be better to run the risk of exposing books to handling. The alternative is to ensure that the catalogue makes up for what the exhibition is unable to fulfill and therefore reproduces multiple spreads from the books. So it's a shame that both the catalogue and the exhibition do the same thing. Exhibiting posters is one thing but in showing book design what matters is being able to view narrative sequence, picture editing, use of colour, typography, hierarchies, and print quality, and naturally it's frustrating when you can't see it. 

Photo: Didier Pruvot for la Fête du graphisme 2015

Photo: Didier Pruvot for la Fête du graphisme 2015

Photo: Didier Pruvot for la Fête du graphisme 2015

Books from the studio on display

And on the top floor was the exhibition Underground. Revues alternatives, une sélection mondiale de 1960 à aujourd’hui displaying underground graphics from around the world from the 1960's to the present day. This exhibition is a visual explosion of graphic styles and applications.

Every exhibition has at least two moments of experience. There is the global overview – the sight that greets you on entering which forms a first impact. It's an impact that not only sets the tone for your experience, it also acts as a contextualisation – a curatorial view –  intentionally or not. The other moment(s) is the nature of the individual focus. There is so much going on in this exhibition that it's difficult for your eye to stay in one place for long – a bit like being in an electro-domestic store where all the TV displays are tuned to different channels. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In this case it does convey an energy of production, and it highlights the range and diversity of the many strong independent voices that counter mainstream publishing, both ideologically and visually. It's also a reminder of the extent to which graphic languages are developed outside of the mainstream graphic design profession.

Events that deal with graphic design are not particularly common and to organise a festival such as this is a real achievement. Michel and his team are to be congratulated. In this second edition they have cemented the idea of the festival and hopefully it will grow in the years to come.

One of this year's initiatives was the organisation of 10 workshops run by 10 international designers, taking place in 10 different design schools in Paris. It was motivated by a desire to establish stronger networking between design schools. A nice twist in aiming to achieve this was that each workshop received a selection of students from the ten schools. My workshop took place at ESAG Penninghen in Saint-Germain – more about that in 'Part two' to be posted shortly. 

Monday 07 Apr, 2014

We've recently produced a series of five videos about the Porto Design Summer School Editorial Course. In addition to a general overview video, there are four more detailed ones that cover the city, the participants, the programme, and the turors. Last year was hugely successful and the 2nd edition of the summer school takes place this July. The principle tutors will be Jessica Helfand, Hamish Muir, and myself. There's also a possibility of a special guest tutor arriving in the second week. The deadline for applications is May 4th. For more details please visit the summer school website.