VBAT’s latest generation of designers and interns visited ADCN’s evening of talks, Q&As, games, and a couple of Heinekens. The event took place at Club ADCN, in the Westergasfabriek; a charming studio, part living room, part workspace. The large table in the room had been pushed back to the wall to make way for 4 rows of chairs facing the projector. As we entered the event, a member of ADCN greeted us and offered us refreshment — to which we graciously accepted. The atmosphere was relaxed, no more than 30 people were chatting with one another, most of whom were young creatives from around the world. We talked for 15 minutes or so before we were asked to take our seats, the talks were about to commence. And what was the topic of the event?
Design that does more than communicate. Design that creates an experience.
“In today’s world, design alone isn’t enough. Available technology can turn anyone into a designer. Design has been democratized. What a designer really needs is the ability to tell stories. To share ideas and experiences in a way that connects. The strength of an original idea is more necessary than ever. Design that aims deeper, sparks inner excitement, plays with universal feelings and opens your eyes to the world around you. Design that makes you smile. The smile is the expression of contentment and satisfaction, of intelligence and ingenuity. We believe in design that frees your inner child, asking you to remove all insecurities to be fully immersed. Play!”— ADCN
ADCN had arranged for two guest speakers for the event: Dennis Elbers; cultural entrepreneur and curator of Graphic Matters (formerly know as Graphic Design Festival Breda), and Karin Langeveld; co-founder of Trapped in Suburbia.
The first talk was delivered by Dennis Elbers. The focal point of Dennis’ lecture was on the month-long festival Graphic Matters itself; the designers he had cherry picked and the stories they brought to life. The festival’s slogan “visual stories you care about”, made sense as Dennis progressed through his talk. All the designers Dennis talked about shared common themes: political awareness, equality, social change, challenging the status quo. Some works were negative, others positive, some old, some new. All were highly relevant to the controversies of the modern day.
One of the first designers Dennis spoke about was a German lawyer-turned-graphic artist named Klaus Staeck. Dennis showed us through his work: Nichts ist Erledigt! (Nothing is Done!), its visceral style of assemblage, anti-design posters tackled the big issues of everything from government corruption to pollution. Staeck was unconcerned with the perfectly designed poster, he relied on the powerful message his typography carried, rather than perfect typesetting. He relied on controversial imagery rather than complex collage techniques. Throughout his career Staeck’s work attracted the attention of the banks and large corporations that his work targeted, he was taken to court 41 times over legal disputes regarding his posters. Clearly Staeck was as talented in law as he was in the arts as he won every single case, each time through the freedom of speech act. “He rented his own spaces to exhibit his work and he knew where the line was, he never crossed it. He always cut as close as he could without doing anything illegal” Dennis told us, a hint of admiration in his eyes. Dennis recalled the time he had overheard a remark a girl had made about Staeck’s work “I was at one of the exhibitions, and this girl said: ‘this is all so true, these things are happening all the time!’ But what she didn’t realise was that the work she was referring to was almost half a century old!” It would truly seem nothing has been done, as Klaus Staeck’s work is as relevant as ever.
In stark contrast to the likes of Klaus Staeck, Dennis then showed us the work of the illustrator Jeremyville who’s light-hearted, quirky collection named: Community Service Announcements were exhibited in one of the festival’s less conventional spaces: in Chassé carpark’s 3 Second Gallery –named so as people drive past them in 3 seconds. Jeremyville’s poster series promote a positive self-image, social and environmental change, their messages of good-will are bound to put a smile on your face. Dennis’ curation did well to include artists such as Jeremyville, with a festival tackling such big issues, it could come off as too much doom and gloom, but lucky Jeremyville and co. provide a light at the end of the tunnel. The message says: things are bad but together we can fix them, and design will be our tool.
The final pillar of Graphic Matters was the interactivity of the event, Dennis wanted to encourage visitors of the festival to get involved, to let their voice be heard. People could make posters at stations around the festival, protesting anything they liked. There was a march held on one of the days of the festival at which people were invited to make boards describing what they hoped for in 50 minutes, days or years. In addition to this Dennis tells us that there are multiple workshops held over the course of the festival, hosted by a variety of designers. Two of the main exhibitions were created through interaction, the Flags of Peace project was created by submissions from around the world to create a visual dialogue about peace. The same is true for the Speak Up! exhibition, Dennis explains that the political posters display had entries from 91 countries this year, with the total number of entries in the thousands.
The curation of Graphic Matters certainly impressed, its mixture of styles from the light-hearted to the macabre painted an honest picture of the world we live in, its provocative statements are bound to create conversation, and — with a bit of luck — inspire action. Dennis was an excellent speaker, he was much like the content of his festival: honest, at times humorous, and unafraid to use graphic language to get his point across.
Next up to the ADCN podium was Karin Langeveld from the Dutch studio Trapped in Suburbia: specialists in unique book design, exhibitions and brand identities.
At the heart of Trapped in Suburbia lies an old Confucius teaching: “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand”.
Karin explains that she sticks to that motto and proceeds to show us a short introductory video of the studio’s work. Set to a bouncy electronic soundtrack, short cuts of footage showcase the quirkiness, playfulness and the originality of Trapped in Suburbia’s catalogue of work, manifesting itself in a variety of visual styles. The defining element to the studio’s work was apparent though. Interaction, don’t think for a second that the book you’ve bought from Karin can just be opened up and read. First, you’ll have to bake it in the oven, or you’ll have to read two books simultaneously, as they’re fused together, or you’ll have to listen to an accompanying audio track to make sense of the imagery. All of it comes back to that motto. They want you to get involved in their work so that you fully experience it.
For me, I thought the book designs Karin showed us were some of their most exciting work, she champions the mantra:
“The medium is the essence.”
Each book’s physical form reveals the core of the brief, the thing that Trapped in Suburbia really want you to understand about the books’ subject matter. The potential of the publication is pushed to max in Karin’s work.
In the case of the book produced for the filmmaker Jaap Drupsteen, Karin wanted to emphasize the importance of Chroma Keying (blue screening) in Drupsteen’s work, so the exterior of the book was made completely blue, page edges included. Alongside this, an app was developed which would allow the reader to use Chroma Keying to access a vast catalogue of Drupsteen’s work when you scan your phone over the book, using the actual book as the blue screen. Inside the book reveals something unseen in Drupsteen’s work, the beautiful composition of each still that makes up his moving images. Something few people would ever appreciate from just watching his films.
Or take the Amsterdam Kansenzones (Amsterdam Opportunity Zones) book, or should I says books? Trapped in Suburbia produced this publication to tell the story of the failed Amsterdam Kansenzones, a scheme which the municipality financially aided local shopkeepers, that was shut down due to a lack of mutual understanding between two very different groups. The book split into two publications of contrasting style, and printed on different paper stocks. The municipality’s side utilises the dry, monochromatic, formal visual language associated with government documentation, and is juxtaposed by the colourfully loud visual language of the shopkeepers, which tells their story through poster designs with slogans inspired by the shopkeepers’ advertisements. These two parts are stuck together by the friction caused by the two different paper stocks. This means the reader must read both stories at the same time, making them see both sides of the story. The intertwining of the documents is metaphorical for the two parties’ reliance of one another. Even the size of the document is relevant to the essence of the brief. The client didn’t want the story of this scheme to be locked away in some government drawer, never to be read, never to be learned from, so the book was produced to be A3 — too big to fit into a standard issue filing cabinet.
Another recurring theme throughout Trapped in Suburbia’s work is the notion of completion through interaction. Take the sound poster series: a collection of posters made for the 3 Second Gallery of the 2015 Graphic Design Festival Breda (now known as Graphic Matters). Each poster contained a motion sensor which plays a soundbite when movement is sensed. When played in succession, the posters play a composition. Through interaction the viewer experiences a multi-sensory language, the relationship between the imagery of the poster and its corresponding soundbite. Karin admitted that not everyone enjoyed the posters, she recalled one such person complaining that they had to park somewhere else as they used the Chasse car park frequently, and walking past the posters every day was too much for her — let’s just say the sound played by the posters isn’t a soothing melody. Karin laughed a little at this “I don’t try to get complaints, but its kind of nice that the person has been influenced enough by the work to write an email about it, even if its negative.”
The sound poster series spawned another experimental poster concept: the shy poster. Again, using motion sensors, this poster went beyond give a poster visual style by giving it a personality, revealed by interaction, or rather the posters lack of willingness to interact with you. From a distance, the view can see the colourful shy poster, set against a black and white background, but as the viewer approaches to inspect closer, the poster closes up, showing the other side of the poster, hiding it by it blending in with the background. These posters emphasize a big part of the studio’s style, the sense of play which is crucial to the original concepts that are ever present in Trapped in Suburbia’s work.
The best part of Karin’s talk was the final part, I’d dare say everyone who went to the talk would agree. Proving that she had absolute faith in the studio’s motto of “involve me and I will understand”, she invited us to play a game.
The aim was to split up into groups and create a design concept for a hypothetical brief, using a set of randomly selected cards, consisting of a client, audience, medium and method card. The medium and the method were techniques which Trapped in Suburbia frequently used. Now I had considered myself pretty lucky as I’d paired off with Dennis Elbers, so I thought I had a pretty good chance of winning this game. That was until we picked our cards. Our picked cards meant we had to create a concept for a skateboard brand product. For the elderly. The medium was a city dressing, and the method: completion through interaction. Now if there’s one thing I know, its that the elderly and skateboards do not go well together. Our concept was ridiculous –most groups concepts were equally as silly, it gave everyone at the event a snapshot into the unconventional ways that Karin and her associates worked, and if nothing else, it was great fun. Perhaps Karin may have also heard the other age old proverb: “you’re learning more in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
Karin’s talk was a triumph, it went beyond the usual trend of talk at an audience for an hour, take a few questions at the end. She took questions throughout the talk, used moving image and physical artifacts to better make her points, at one point in her lecture she had everyone close there eyes so she could paint a mental image for everyone in the room. She even had us playing games and getting along with strangers by the end of the evening. I’ve said it already but I’ll say it again, Karin sticks to her Confucius teachings, she told us, she showed us, she involved us, and that, made us understand the work of Trapped in Suburbia, and what is meant by Experience Design.
All in all, a highly enjoyable evening, two thought-provoking talks from two innovative speakers. Often when we think of Experiential Design, we think of interactive digital media, VR, fancy websites etcetera. ADCN’s event proves that way of thinking of Experiential Design is just one side of the coin. And on the flip side is a world of festivals with political conscience and books that tell you everything you need to know, without ever having to read the first page.
Finally, to anyone in Amsterdam when the next ADCN event is on; I recommend you go to it.