by Juan, Irina, Sharon and Emily
Interrogation is a collaborative installation resulting from collective questioning regarding Graphic Design’s dual-identity as a medium and a discipline. Between us four Designers, we naturally had ideas that either helped clarify our understanding of Graphic Design or challenged it, and we wanted to create something which expressed that experience. We posed our questions and interpretations through independently-made posters, culminating in a mosaic-like presentation of our works, aiming to suggest opposing ideas of order and chaos. The installation also aims to bridge the gap between the artist and the audience by challenging traditional gallery standards in how work is presented, as well as reminding the audience of the process of making.
The installation is titled Interrogation because of the word’s confrontational connotation. At times, it was uncomfortable to ask questions about Graphic Design because it contradicted what we once thought, therefore the title speaks to the idea of seeking answers through investigation. In addition, the word’s integration of the prefix “inter-” was compelling, as the Latin root refers to a “togetherness”, therefore we felt it worthwhile to use the word to refer to our process of collaboration.
The work is presented in a grid-like structure, symbolizing the Designer’s invisible tools and processes. Grids, though usually present in all Designs, are typically presented in a subliminal manner in which the audience does not see a grid, rather they simply perceive the order resultant of the grid. Not only does a grid represent our processes, it also represents the idea of following or breaking the rules, and our willingness to stay in or out of the grid.
Considering the gallery space, there tends to be a dichotomy between artist and audience when it comes to the work; often gallery attendees are discouraged from entering the hung work’s “personal space”, creating an us-versus-them sort of tension. To bridge the relationship between artists and viewers, we let our designs spill onto the floor, aligning them to the posters we had already placed on the wall.
While the center portion of our work emphasizes the grid through the approximate 1” gaps between tiles, the outer frame works on two different systems which culminate in our mosaic of squares. On the left and right side of the installation exists a system in which frames touch; whole, unscrambled (but still tiled) pieces are presented with at least one square’s worth of border around them, but the borders overlap. At the top of our installation, we present a system in which corners touch, where the whole pieces connect through at least one of their corners. By merging these systems together, the result is the mosaic within our frame, which represents the search for common ground in unique ways of thinking about Graphic Design.
With regards to the idea of “interrogation,” the idea of asking pressing questions, we wanted to reference the relationship between the student and the teacher by placing two chairs opposite of each other. The chair with the desk, covered in and sitting over our designs, represents the student. Meanwhile, the stool, which simply prompt’s the viewer to “take a seat,” represents the teacher. This not only represents the learner’s process of asking questions to gain a broader understanding but also challenges the idea of the “expert,” as the student’s chair is filled with much more information than the teacher’s chair and therefore disrupts the hierarchy of knowledge. This begs the question, “How much can a student learn from a teacher, and how much can a teacher learn from a student?” It also challenges the notion of functionality in Design, as the posters on the chair are covered in easily transferable RISO ink; how does a lack of functionality affect a Design’s, or a Designer’s, merit?
It is also worth noting that the frame and the mosaic are presented in opposing color gradients. These counter-gradients also represent “going against the grain” and pushing the notion of challenging our understanding of Graphic Design. Similar to how the mosaic converges systems, the two gradients naturally blend together at the center to imply a sense of “meeting in the middle.”
- Discover (week 1–2)
Up until this point, we had only worked in groups of two, so working in a group of four was new territory for us all. However, this was an opportunity to learn new strategies in collaborating remotely or on-site and find new ways of communicating ideas and opinions to each other in the search for a united, coherent result.
To kick off this project, we read two articles: Education and professionalism, or what’s wrong with graphic design education? by Katherine McCoy (1997) and What is this thing called graphic design criticism? Parts I & II by Rick Poyner and Michael Rock (1995 & 2011). These readings discussed the role of the designer in society, and we tried to interpret the topics that were raised, including public perception of a Graphic Designer’s professionalism, Graphic Design education, and the value and prevalence of criticism in Graphic Design.
The next step was to develop 25 questions per person in relation to these articles and offer each other potential answers to get a general idea of everyone’s thinking. We then met as a whole group on Zoom to review our answers and our most important questions, trying to narrow down topics and main interests regarding the questions.
These included questions such as:
- Define professionalism?
- Do we need a degree?
- How essential is design criticism?
- Is criticism too restrained? Do you feel attacked?
- What happens when we avoid criticism?
- Can designers be purely visually appealing for commercial use or others?
- What is the most important thing through college education?
After discussing our questions, we split our ways again to conduct independent image and type research to create 25 design iterations each, inspired by the topics we had discussed, in preparation for the next phase of the project.
2. Diverge (week 2–3)
Being four designers in the group, when it came to planning our installation, we all had different visual and conceptual ideas. The question became, “What is the best way to bring all our ideas together to some degree?”
We began with the technical; we decided to focus on the RISO prints and cut apart our final designs to puzzle them back together to create new forms and see what conversations they might have with each other. We agreed to design our posters with dimensions of multiples of 8” to be able to separate them into squares. These dimensions included 8”x8” (1 square), 8”x16” (2 squares), and 16”x16” (4 squares). The challenge here, before we were certain how much space we needed to fill, was to begin a system flexible enough to fit however much real-estate we might have had to work with, and we felt 8”x8” tiles were a good place to start. With these squares, we wanted to give the impression of a grid. Finally, we agreed on a general color palette to abide by which could offer flexibility in our making but would compliment each other’s posters.
With these elements of our system in place, we began designing our posters in order to be ready for the next part of our process, which was printing and installing.
3. Deliver (week 4)
This week started with Juan and Emily printing about 60 squares-worth of posters on the RISO printer. Between understanding file set-ups and dealing with relatively new hardware, this was a 2-day process.
As for installing, we started the process by laying out at least one of each tile and decided on the placement that will go up on the wall, landing on a gradient using the five colors our posters consisted of: red, orange, yellow, white and blue.
For the specific grid-like structure we were aiming for, we used levelers, masking tape, and rulers to place our pieces on our wall space. We started from the top of our mosaic and worked our way down onto the floor.
b. Installation Evolution:
After an initial critique, we realized that our presentation might appear too harmonized and structured to properly express the notion of “interrogation”. We definitely needed to add another layer of meaning to evoke the sense of anxiety and worry that interrogation can bring. There was also much room to expand the real-estate which our work took up on our wall. We had to adapt to the space that we received, which was more than we had initially anticipated at about 20’ wide and 10’ tall. As a group of four, we ultimately decided to elaborate the element of conversation/interrogation through the use of the chairs, as well as the contrasting placement of squares in the outer frame.
The outer frame, developed by Juan, was preceded by a time-intensive planning period, including setting up a masking tape grid. The grid would serve as a guide to allow playing with the tiles at our disposal to create a meaningful system. After Juan had a rough idea of how to present the frame, he spent the last night before installing securing them to the wall.
Meanwhile, Emily worked on covering and collaging the “student’s” chair. Due to the complex shape of the seat, it was not enough to paste the tiles as they were squares. Instead, the sheets closer to the concave section of the chair had to be cut into triangles in order to allow more flexibility with the paper. The chair also had to be covered in colored sections which would allow the chair to camouflage against the mosaic.
The last step to complete our piece was using vinyl lettering to write out the title and the indicator for the audience to let them know that they may sit in the uncovered “teacher’s” chair. The font we used was Cy by Jürgen Huber at Supertype. Cy was a compelling typographic choice because of its variety between rounded and rectangular letterforms; once again, the objective was to present contrasting ideas, and we felt the different structures of the letterforms spoke to that aim as well. To emphasize the “Inter-” in Interrogation, we used the rounded forms for the root word and the rectangular forms for the remainder of the word.
Design is all about asking questions, calling out ideas, making decisions, and finally creating the final product for others to use or simply to enjoy. For this project I wanted to elaborate on multiple topics that my group had discussed: professionalism, breaking versus not breaking the rules, the role of social media, inspirations as designers, language barriers, and criticism.
I see my design as contrasting ideas that I put together in a coherent whole: like a puzzle. Therefore, I came up with the idea of “puzzling” together with my inspirations. I noted down quotes from my favorite designers and filled the whole space leaving no white space. This is what designers usually see as breaking the rules, which is another idea that interests me. I used three colors to highlight different aspects and create a hierarchy.
The way we think is influenced by our surroundings, culture, and language. I am fluent in both English and German and is therefore integral to how I communicate daily. My bilingual identity is a critical aspect of my designs. For this design (see below) I wanted to highlight the difference between the two languages and ask questions in both languages. Both raise new questions in different ways, just like there are different ways of expressing myself. Many people ask me “In what language do you think” and this is why you can see this question stand out. I added pictures of both places that I call home at the moment: Frankfurt and Boston. However, the images aren’t clear and that’s because it feels like a blur. My constant switch between the places I stay at and the languages that I both speak, read, and think in.
During our discussion we came across the idea of how social media plays a role for designers: we use it as a source of inspiration, to publish our work and everyone uses it to brand themselves. I also realized how we all critique each other’s posts as if they were designs or art. You can escape it. We watch out for the number of likes and comments. Therefore this piece contains an image of a woman with a big red heart over it. Here the heart is bigger and therefore shows the power that social media has over us. It has become a part of our everyday lives
The other pieces include the idea of being in the spotlight, whether a degree is necessary, professionalism, contrast, and inspirations.
In the beginning, I was challenged because there was so much I could have touched upon and I had to limit it to 20 squares but I enjoyed the process where it ended up in space.
For my share of posters, I was very much responding to the Katherine McCoy reading and the notion of making Graphic Design “more professional” in the public eye by making Design careers and education more exclusive. I frankly felt like this was a very privileged take, as a college education is synonymous to capital access, so this desire to be perceived as more professional comes at the expense of underprivileged aspiring Designers. If I may connect my thinking to the Rock & Poyner reading, I wondered why our concern with “Design Criticism” was with the criticism of work as opposed to the criticism of attitudes and concerns amongst Design circles. If we want people to understand the value our work and our processes, why gatekeep who can and cannot engage with the Design sphere?
My posters reflect my concerns by posing my questions through the Wingdings suite of typefaces. Wingdings, though programmed as a typeface, is not designed with legibility in mind, rather to offer a quick solution to presenting an icon and add decoration to a document. Like McCoy’s solution to seeking professionalism, the use of Wingdings is outdated with the modern rise of Emojis. In short, my aim was to use an obsolete system to criticize what I felt was an obsolete way of thinking.
My system also integrates the ideas of ethos, pathos, and logos, and what role those play in Design. Ethos, a Designer’s credibility, is definitely valued within our field, and pathos is valued in the sense that the integration of “empathy” in our practices is encouraged. However, I think our understanding of logos is misplaced. I think most Designers would point to theory and our “masters” as the source of logos in our practice. However, in order to prevent toxic, exclusive sentiments such as the ones proposed in the reading from 1996, I think it is important to also root our logos in modern social justice discourse, and have a community-wide understanding of the privilege that comes from pursuing Design as a career, and ask ourselves, “how can we uplift aspiring Designers without compromising capital accessibility to Design education and tools?”
I think that in our installation as well as in our design experience the interrogation is an essential part that we are all going through from class to class. Basically, we are being interrogated by each other while doing our design critiques. We are also being interrogated by our teachers, and what is more important, we are being interrogated by ourselves all the time when we create a new piece of art. We constantly question our own decisions and we think that in design practice questioning is a never-ending experience. In our installation, we’ve tried to recreate this experience through questions, expressive typography, graphic imagery, and physical objects that we think helped us to bring the viewers into the design world of questions, decisions, and analysis.
There are so many questions we need to overcome as a designer, and I would like to question myself on all the details I am paying attention to in design. I started with making squared fragments in design, and a word list contains all the details in the design. Also, I am considering putting those fragments into a grid, which is inspired by Herman’s grid illusion.
Later, from the feedback, I adjusted my design more focusing on the questions, and a visual representation of the questions I have, but still mostly questioning myself. Our group decided to continue using the ordinary grid as a system, so that I also expanded the idea of breaking a whole design into fragments, and put it as a whole new design, inspired by our group members.
This project has brought a lot of questions, explorations, and challenges to our team. We were not only challenged to come up with the idea that would unite all of our posters together but also we needed to figure out the best way of executing it. As far as not everyone was able to come over to campus, the physical execution and production were done by just two members of our team, Emily and Juan. Moreover, we believe that each step of this project made us think about design with a new and fresh perspective, as well as helped us to answer the questions for ourselves that we’ve never thought about before.