The MA in Communication Design at Central Saint Martins always produces highly creative, innovative and opinionated people. It's always a pleasure to interview new graduates at the start of their careers, and we brought four together - Davide di Teodoro, Elif Gurbuz, Chinami Narikawa, Bastian Müller - to talk about their time at CSM, and how they see themselves - and the discipline of communication design - evolving over the next few years.
Please start by introducing your work.
DDT: I like to think of my work as an hybrid; as a trans-disciplinary process which wants to escape definitions yet to adapt to any relevant context. My work references and studies the Internet as a phenomenon. It is an acknowledgement of the personal understanding which I have of such environment and its ecologies.
BM: My publication series Future Journal was designed in order to investigate various plausible future technologies and environments. The series of journals is part of an ongoing research project, Speculative Environments. It is a project which led me to discover and investigate forms of speculative design, and how it may be applied to and implemented within the field of graphic design.
Holistically, the combination of visual and words within the publications come together, not as a means to be answered, but to act as a platform to provoke thought on the topics being addressed. The journal aims to probe the possible uses of technology in relation to privacy issues, overpopulation and government monitoring, thereby questioning its possible future technological capabilities and possible effects on society. The study of speculative design is an attempt to provide insights towards alternative techniques for creative exploration and the development of self-initiated projects.
CN: I have created an installation called ASMR Trigger Experiencing Service which contains YouTube interactive flowchart videos and the Personal Isolated Booth, where we can experience various ASMR triggers by interacting with the videos to get rid of our daily stress and anxiety.
ASMR refers to Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. This neurological sensation is also described as “Brain Orgasm” or “Brain Eutopia” - something which gives you an overwhelming relaxation. The sensation is caused by various triggers; people playing with hair, a hairdresser touching your hair, the sound of cutting your hair with scissors, listening to whispering voices, people clinking bags, flipping a bunch of bobby hairpins and so on.
The method of experiencing ASMR is very simple. You sit back on the chair in low light, loosen up your body’s tension and focus on the sounds and movements to find out your own triggers. There are lots of “ASMRtists” with their trigger videos in the YouTube community. The artists make trigger videos to help viewers get rid of stress and anxiety, and also to help them fall asleep. The video’s followers often refer to “Browser-based relaxation”.
The installation is a service to go inside of YouTube to help people filter through all of the pre-existing ASMR videos, making it easier to find the perfect match for each viewer. By answering interactive flowchart questions, a user will be diagnosed with his/her current hidden negative emotions. The interaction will offer a selection of perfectly matched trigger videos in order to experience the tingling sensation.
The installation booth will be located in a public space for every user to justify their stress and anxiety by experiencing the interactive videos and ASMR triggers, which aim to change the notion of social rules by their permeative status. The booth has a dark and cosy interior decoration to increase the effect of ASMR sensation. The half-exposed shapes will help people to recognise the experience of the user inside. The design aims to make our society and its individuals notice that there is a place to use to get rid of stress and anxiety rather than carrying severe inner negativity around.
EG: My project is called #OccupyOccupy. It is an online movement that critiques the extension of the Occupy movement on social media. The map that I exhibited during the degree show, which is one of the outcomes of this project, is an online Twitter archive of the global Occupy movement. I laid out the archive on Google Maps, placing each Tweet around the symbolic space of the related protest it is talking about. I also broke down this massive content into a timeline, and limited it to the physical occupation period of each protest. You can, for instance, explore all the “Occupys” during Occupy London, and how they were interacting with each other. The aim of this is to create a context for a political movement in relation to the global Occupy protest. This map also facilitates the concept of archiving as a form of protest itself. Finally, #OccupyOccupy attempts to translate a physical protest into digital media by extracting social media data and representing it on Google Maps.
How did the way in which your style, thinking and conceptualisation develop during your time at CSM?
BM: Completing my Masters degree has significantly broadened my understanding of communication design. The field is a substantial part of the way in which we engage with the environment and people around us. It has encouraged me to think and develop my designs from a conceptual viewpoint, which has in turn allowed me to become more politically aware. It has taught me to apply my skills professionally, and to create design solutions which are aimed at people.
CN: I have become more observational and questioning what’s around me.
EG: I approached my project very abstractly, and didn't have the slightest idea of a tangible outcome at the beginning. My subject lays at the intersection of design, politics and technology, and Occupy is a constantly-moving topic. I started off with conventional literature research, and there were many contemporary resources that had influenced my ideas. As a result, I spent lots of time nuancing my own position to my subject, before I could get my hands dirty.
DDT: At Central Saint Martins, I met tutors who asked me the exact questions which I didn’t want to either answer or think about. By being forced to go through the process of answering those questions, I strengthened and articulated my way of thinking. This made me a better thinker, which is the most relevant aspect of being a good practitioner. I’m aware that my work has a strong visual aspect but I never think about style itself, unless it is as a way to better contextualize a conceptual process. Style is synonymous of visual language: it’s a set of signs which you need to adopt to better reference a context. It’s much more about the context than the style itself and at CSM I learned where to place my work.
Do you consider your work to be representative of the title of your course - "Communication Design" - or is it something different, perhaps broader? Do you consider yourself to be a communication designer?
EG: I feel very comfortable with the title Communication Designer. I come from an architecture background, and I have always been dissatisfied with it, wanting to become a graphic designer eventually. But at the same time, I had the arrogance to think "Oh, graphic design is easy… anyone can do it… I can do it". Of course, the more "conventional" graphic designers I met, the more I acknowledged the expertise they had within this field. This realisation helped me get to know myself as a designer. I didn't really have that expertise as I didn't really have a "favourite" media I always worked with. When designing, I usually try to find a way to best communicate something, which shifts the focus from the outcome to something more intangible. This is how I think communication design functions as well, and I am a self-diagnosed communication designer.
CN: It it difficult to explain what is and who is a “Communication Designer”. From my point of view, those titles may put a limit on our ability to try something completely new. I have used video and social media for my latest work, but I still like to draw things that do not communicate clearly. Sometimes, even great design doesn’t give an impression to a viewer. I believe what we can and I can do, is to despatch various visual messages for viewers to be aware of new possibilities.
DDT: Communication Design itself is something bigger than how you can possibly define it. It’s everything and nothing at the same time, and it is always going to be something broader and more vulnerable than the attempt of defining it. Yes, I do consider my work to be representative of the discipline, or at least to be representative of one of the many faces it has, but I don’t consider myself to be a communication designer. Every single practitioner in the fields of art and design is a communication designer. If you consider yourself as such, that means that you’re hiding what you really are and what your work is actually about. I think that I’m a practitioner placed at the edge of the design and art world, right there where the two worlds touch. It’s a tricky balance, but I don’t mind hanging in it.
BM: Communication Design is still an emerging field, which for myself makes it something that is highly enjoyable to study and learn from. In many aspects, it is still quite undetermined what exactly Communication Design is and what it should represent, and it may not be as easily defined or determined to a particular medium in any case.
I believe the body of work which I have created throughout the course, and for the project Speculative Environments has significant amounts of accumulated research, which is disseminated through quite an established medium.
Yes, I do consider myself a communication designer.
Which particular theories - whether art, communications, technology or elsewhere - interest you and your practice?
CN: I am interested in psychology, and am especially curious about how our brain works when people are in the process of decision-making.
DDT: I’m fascinated by the Internet and anything that comes with it: the process of image circulation, of digital visual culture, data, the networked image, memes, agency online, new technologies, the Internet of things, drones… These are all the things that I currently contemplate and base my research on. It’s not really about the technology itself but the network that it generates.
BM: I find my interests and intentions to be constantly changing. Sometimes it may depend on the idea, and I will then follow that idea to uncover specific information, which may be tied to a particular field, whether art, technology or other areas of design. If the initial idea seems to have a strong potential, I will almost always be interested in investigating and further conceptualising it. I have always had a passion for art and the practical, and I believe a lot of my inspirations are related.
EG: I think the more you start seeing design everywhere, the better of a designer you become. I really don't believe that design is an exclusive field and designers should only know about designers similar to themselves. I don't think this can make anyone inspired and up-to-date. On the contrary… your work becomes perfectly dull. To avoid that, I try to keep my eyes open and connect everything back to my practice. For example, focusing on coding opened up a new perspective into rule-based design systems, and now I am particularly interested in that area of design. I guess this is what happens when you're obsessed with something: you start seeing it everywhere.
Given that the barriers to entry in terms of communication design in general have been all but removed (in that anyone can pick up a laptop and start "designing"), how has your education in this area changed the way in which you think and the way in which you view communication design practice - and how democratic it has become?
EG: I think everyone is welcome in any field of design. I don't see design as an exclusive practice and it is getting more and more democratic thanks to “DIY”. I am also very much in favour of the removing of boundaries and everything becoming interconnected within fields. The vague description of Communication Design may be encouraging this; the result might be confusing and unclear, but also quite progressive and positive. Communication Design is a very new concept which, like many others, didn't exist in my life before the course. This also makes me a newcomer, and I dare to claim to be a part of it. When I was doing the #OccupyOccupy project, I didn't hold myself back from creating a political project, just because I wasn't a social scientist. Communication Design allows these kinds of overlaps and I realise more and more how progressive the field now is.
BM: I believe that my education has greatly broadened my understanding of what communication design is and can be. In many aspects, it has allowed me to approach projects with an open mind and to develop my designs conceptually. It has taught me how to engage in comprehensive research before undergoing the initial developments of any piece of design work. It has allowed me to develop my understanding and passion for design writing, and has encouraged me to reflect upon, explore and investigate existing work in the field. It has developed my understanding on how circumstantial communication design is applied and aimed at people in order to possibly create change, and in the best case have a positive effect on the society it engages with.
DDT: I don’t think that the design process is democratic at all. Design is not about doing things or technical skills: it’s a way of thinking, it’s about how you see the world, it’s about creating meanings and delivering messages. It’s not how you use a computer but what you use it for and what you do with it. Computers are just tools that can only facilitate the process. It’s about you, first of all.
CN: I believe that there is no barrier to enter the world of Communication Design. Once any interesting idea has come up in your mind and the action to try to express it visually, this action is communication design. My education taught me various important practices to be a Communication Designer, not only designing but also listening to people.
What's next for you?
DDT: Who knows?!
BM: To build my experience in the creative sector.
CN: To make the ASMR Trigger Experiencing Service become a medical tool. I am planning to develop it in collaboration with a physiologist.
EG: I'm still working on #OccupyOccupy on the side. The #OccupyOccupy map for Occupy Gezi is already online, and I'm wrapping up another map for Occupy UAL, because I told the guys that I would. In reality, there is a massive and routine workload left to be done, but I try to remind myself about my motivations. I've made something meaningful, and I would like to finish and share it with the Occupy community. I would also love to pursue digital design, which I enjoy a lot. And London is an amazing source of inspiration, so I would love to stay here.
Further information and a sample of work from all of the graduates is available at Central Saint Martins' Communication Design 2015 website.