Sunday, 25 September 2011

Skipping the London Design Festival would have felt like a total crime for me. I almost smelled Christmas coming early when I heard about it, and when I finally went to London for a couple of design-flavoured days, it left me with a bucket of things to think about.
LDF logo
Even though I only came for two days in the middle of the festival, I had set up myself an elaborate and diverse itinerary. Despite it not going as smoothly as planned (which, as I've experienced, often turns out to be a good thing), I saw plenty of things that made me gather my thoughts once again and seriously look at my future. I love it, I really do, when events like this make you investigate yourself much deeper than the actual subject may be going.
Luckily, I can allow myself to make a conclusion that design for publishing is not dying out. Examples like those shown in London Design Festival remind you that it's too early to even call it an exotic thing. Festivals like this wouldn't even really have to happen if it was exotic; how long is it before all the publishing goes online and we don't find excuses to get up and have a walk around some galleries to see things we can't yet reach via internet? Thankfully, long enough. I love internet, and yet I'm glad that there are things that still have cannot be transferred online. I love being surprised by a book or a magazine in a gallery or designer's studio, which is still a step further than one click on a computer.
Timber Wave by AL_A installation at the front of V&A
The first destination we went to was V & A Galleries. Now I feel a little embarrassed that I had never been there during my previous visits to London, but I made myself a promise I will pay another visit there next time. There's probably no need to introduce the gallery here, but before making a complaint about it not being too clear about directions to LDF exhibitions (spent a lot of precious time before realizing everything was on the different side from we were), I have to say it's a lovely place to go for a cultural afternoon.
I am not going to be too elaborate about not publishing design-related exhibits, so I'll rather say that there were some really interesting things going on there. I especially enjoyed the 'Brutal Simplicity of Thought: How It Changed the World' exhibition – simplistic but strong, and very thought-provoking. Art and design has to both please and provoke one's mind, otherwise it is rather useless.
Graphic Design Walk poster
I have to praise the Festival's design itself: there was absolutely no lack of free swag to bring back home. My wall is already being decorated with a few samples, ensuring that I won't forget about LDF next year and will also promote it to my friends. Again, I am going to cover the pros of free flyers/brochures/stickers in another blog post later.
One of the things that left me a big impression in the V & A Galleries was the Illustration Award winners' exhibition. I guess, every buyer of an e-reader should once in a while confront the things they are losing by leaving printed books for others.
The most exciting thing – and the one I was looking forward to the most – was the Graphic Design Walk (Bird Watching). It felt a little like an orientation game, hunting for the design studios using the map provided by the organizers (for a symbolic fee), but like a nice one. My heart started to pound when I saw a pile of Coralie Bickford-Smith designed books (the ones I mentioned in the previous blog entry), but due to a limited time I never got to see the designer herself. I will leave this one to the future, when I have a clear idea of what I would like to say to her.
April moustache mania
The first studio we attended was April, where people were posing with chocolate mustaches and seeing some nice ideas being actualized by the designers. It felt great, finally coming in and watching books from a completely different perspective: not for their content, but for the design that was done by the person in the same room. The room where this book actually was designed.
Mia Wallenius (Art Director of Hel Yes!)  was an amazing discovery, and bringing back a free poster designed by her (the pros of great timing!) was a nice symbol of the general effect all this adventure left on me. I might be a little modest and short on words on this entry, but I genuinely was impressed very deeply, and I'm not too sure if today, a couple of days later, I can shake off the remnants of what I heard and saw. 
Another amazing discovery – and definitely the loveliest atmosphere of all – was the one of Catherine Nippe's studio. A very warm atmosphere with a smell of coffee, a friendly designer and examples of Swiss design of the top class. Clean but powerful – those would be the keywords I'd apply to Catherine's work, and even though my work is oh so different from that, strong examples of successful people and their successful work make one think about pushing one's limits. Even if the 'clean' sounds pretty limited, that's something one has to be able to do when there's a need. And after all these interesting conversations and discoveries, the term of 'designer' has gained so much more layers in my mind.
By Catherine Nippe 
What I realized on my way home, is that design for publishing is so much more than satisfying one's desire to create something visually beautiful. It's a very sophisticated form of communication, and the responsibility laid on the designer's shoulders is huge. Amazing design can make huge changes in making world a better place (no cynicism allowed here: we have to believe in order to achieve). And to make amazing design, one also has to cope with their personality. No joke intended - on this trip, seeing loads of interesting and beautiful people, I just figured out how much we have to work with our subconscious to start seeing things as more than just 'natural'. Design is not 'natural' – it comes from hard work and determination of a strong personality. It is very personal, and it has to be shown: if we try to make it clean and sterile, we deprive it of any human touch. The lack of human factor makes communication impossible, or at least very difficult. And as long as we realize that good design does not only follow rules of aesthetics, we are not doomed.
That is the conclusion I came up with, when I realized that my previously lively and highly illustrative work is now often replaced with me trying to come up with something structural and impersonal. I know this is a key part of education and development – learning to follow the rules in order to be able to make your design more powerful later – but if I cannot manage communicating with my own work, so how can I expect anyone else to be attracted by it?
I may be going a little too deep into this matter, but when the real-life press is threatened by the comfort of onscreen publishing, it is useful to stop once in a while and remember we are doing this for people like us, not some cold and heartless audience. 

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