27 October 2006

Design Inspiration? Try the last 5000 years.

and the solution to the chicken and egg question...

As designers and innovators in the digital age, we tend to get stuck chasing the cutting-edge. Sometimes aiming always for this edge, we witness design that mimics the current fashionable idea of what defines this newness, but really just pretty much looks like everything else they're putting out these days. Things get stale.

What we sometimes forget, is that everything really new was inevitably built on something that came before.

That's evolution. That's the answer to the chicken and egg question. A chicken came out of an egg that was hatched by something that wasn't quite a chicken. And as it so happens, we have a good several thousand years of visual landscape that just might be what hatches that next new animal in the mind of an up and coming designer.

From ancient Celtic symbols to late 19th century poster art, from medieval Illuminated manuscripts, to the Bauhaus and April Greiman -- the greatest treasure trove of creative sparks in form, colour and significance is all for the taking. If everything innovative inevitably started with something that came before, why, in our magazines, seminars, web browses and coffee talks, are we visual designers limiting ourselves to the last 5 minutes when we could be plunging the inspirational depths of the last 5,000 years?

This doesn't mean a cheap rehash of something old for an easy sell. This isn't Titanic the musical. And it's not another retro remake. It's about enriching our influences. Some of us will already have been exposed to many of the design greats, gurus, movements, visual languages, icons. etc. as part of a formal education.
But I know I'm not alone in being a multimedia professional who arrived where I am, starting from a different discipline altogether. Computers are new, so we didn't all get classical training in graphic design.
This is a good thing, because multimedia design isn't classical graphic design. Experience in film, architecture, psychology, anthropology, music, education, etc. has all been essential to the mix of things that is multimedia. But lets not neglect our meat and potatoes.

On a mission to stock up my warehouse of design knowledge (the essentials, the culturally inspirational, the exotic, the artistic and the iconic) I will initiate a series of articles. This series of inspiration basics will be dubbed "2-minute Design History". Each article will look at a particular person, movement, visual device, event, etc. that can be of unique inspiration to visual designers today, and in so doing, bring it up to date and enrich our landscape.

Some articles will bring us up to speed on those things "we're supposed to know about" and sometimes maybe pretend to know about, but maybe don't know much about cause we ditched class that day... (eg. the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier, Guttenberg, etc.) Some things will be drawn from our rich past as humans who have always communicated visually, (eg. Chinese paper cuts, French cave paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphics). Others will just be unexpected.

The mission: to enrich and deepen our influences and the well of inspiration we draw from everyday. To avoid going stale in imitative attempts to look cutting edge. To sound smarter at parties. To innovate, by taking a moment to look backwards. Because sometimes looking backwards is what gets us moving forwards.

So stay in touch, and look out for the first of this series. And please make topic suggestions - we'll all go inspiration fishing together. And oh yeah, just in case you missed it earlier...it was the egg.