Exercise 1: Urgent NoticesThree weeks
This exercise serves as a warm-up parallel to the first full semester project, Characters: using pictographs, symbols, pictures, shapes, punctuation. There has always been a need for urgent notices, messages that need to be seen and understood, but you don’t need me to tell you that we’re all living in a particularly challenging time with critical, even existential issues affecting all of us: climate, politics, capitalism. College, even. I think graphic design, and typography, has an important, potentially radical role to play, and we could all be doing more about it. Using our skills to explain facts, amplify truths, call people to action, even just to express empathy and solidarity.
This first exercise should be quick and instinctive. Something from your gut: an urgent notice. I’d like each of you to think of a cause, an issue, a problem, a message: something you’ve been thinking or reading about, something you’re passionate about that needs sharing, explaining, amplifying. Your materials are words and pictures. Your medium is an animated GIF.
The aim is to not just share it in class, but to disseminate it. The Graphics Interface Format is perfect for this: it’s a pop culture phenomenon, an almost universal format, and is open to sharing, distributing, disseminating, and, most importantly, propagation. That’s how memes work: they are not only shared through networks but, crucially, they are adapted and evolve as they spread.
Whether we like it or not, the square has also become a kind of universal format for sharing images, thanks to Instagram. I’m thinking of this being the format we might all work to. Like all of the assignments I’m setting this semester, I'm completely open to argument on and debate about this. Each of your messages can, and hopefully will, spread beyond IG, but it’s a good tileable, repeatable constraint to work within.
What I think is most important about the GIF is a factor that is shared with so many temporal motion-based modes of communications we experience today: looping. Infinite repeat. I want you all to consider the power of the loop: to me it highlights a particular kind of urgency. It’s non-stop, it goes on forever. If you make your GIF in Photoshop, it’s literally the third option in “Timeline” after “Once” and “Three Times”: “Forever.” Repetition ad nauseam: literally until it makes you sick. It’s tiring for many of us to keep repeating our truths and desires over and over again. At least we can let some GIFs do some of the work for us?
You are free (welcome, even) to make your urgent notice in a language other than English, if you’re willing to have native speakers test-read your design, and to explain the meanings and nuances back to us. Then we’ll have all learned something and can join you in your refrain.
The urgent notice should be typographic and might well be typography-only, but, as with Alfredo Jaar’s piece shown here, the addition of symbols and/or pictures can be just as powerful. Some combinations of type and picture can function as a “rebus”. I think you all know what a rebus is: a mnemonic device, the representation of words by combinations of pictures and individual letters—a kind of puzzle or game to engage readers. I’ve designed one or two myself over the years. It can often be used as a kind of emphasis. The combination of picture and text doesn’t have to work as a rebus (Jaar’s piece doesn't), but it’s something to think about.
Sometimes you need to stop messing around and just spell it out: type only, all caps, just COME ON. But over the last few years I’ve also been interested in the idea of subtle or nuanced rhetoric, protest, statements, &c. Think about what you want to say, and strategise about the most effective way of saying it. If everyone else is shouting, sometimes a whisper will contrast against it all and stand out. There’s an entire spectrum of typographic, kinetic, tonal, temporal approaches to play with. Work iteratively and rapidly, use this first semester exercise to just try as many things out that you can.