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Can Ideas Make Your Design Better?

April 2, 2010

Well, duh, of course they can.

But what I mean, can they make the design look better to you, the designer, post-facto? Yes yes yes yes yes

Have been struggling for a while with Zirma city poster. The poster included a calendar of community events; the concept was that the calendar is a sort of map of the city-communal space. Just then I also discovered these gigantic Sanborn maps in the Pratt BK library–terrific, lovely, gigantic street by street maps of Brooklyn at the turn of the century. Amazing that students have free access to them, actually. Anyways–calendar as map–strong concept, no doubt about it, but in terms of execution was having serious issues; I didn’t want to just make the calendar a map–that seemed lame–and I didn’t want to just transpose a map on the calendar. The whole thing was driving me nuts and I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and  trying to do some reading on mapping and psychogeography to get ideas–which led me down a lot of exciting interesting avenues and got me really excited about Directed Research this summer where I could continue exploring these things–BUT no real thoughts about the poster.

Anyways I sort of continued working on it and was working with a version I was not super happy with–brought it into Type 2 and the teacher LIKED it. That’s tough. When the person you were hoping would help you resolve issues is sort of just pleased with where you’re at. But I just was unhappy with it–I think the real concept was somehow unresolved for me, how the map and the calendar interrelated and informed one another, besides just being superimposed.

Anyways, without further ado, here is what I have now (the gray border is InDesign background–I am really excited about using screenshots for the blog.); it’s a more refined version of what I had for class, though it’s still not done (the back, the grayish one, is especially in flux).

So this is what I was not super happy with and then today! Boom! I was looking through my notes for something else entirely and then discovered some notes I had taken on the mapping books–and remembered this interesting idea about urban planning I had read–that it is actually the NEGATIVE space of urban planning that is crucial for the city: the open spaces, the streets, the parks, the plazas– this where people get around and interact, etc–that is where communal life happens.

And then it all clicked into place, beautifully–the days that are active–are negative space–these communal events are the communal space of the city.

And now I’m happy with the design, so happy, without having changed anything.

This sort of post-facto understanding of what you are going for, truly really underneath it all and all the fancy articulations you make for other people, happens to me fairly frequently for better or worse. The only reason I am slightly regretful about it is that the sooner you realize what you are truly going for, the easier it is to feel at ease with your design; to resolve some tricky matters that your gut-design-instinctive-understanding of the situation could not get you through. Thank god for my strong gut-design-instinctive-understanding though;  it usually does not lead me astray. I think part of being in school though for me–and the whole concept with Twyla Tharp’s “spine” concept–is getting faster at rationally understanding what you are going for. As I said above, this allows you to cohesively resolve tricky points and articulate the concept to others. (Though as I hinted above, I think being able to articulate the concept for others and knowing what it is for yourself are two different things–and I am happy to mention that Twyla Tharp agrees.)

UPDATE: Immediately the first idea I’ve had for how to improve this with my new understanding of the situation is that the map and the calendar don’t have to be tightly, goofily, married, which is a thing that had sort of been making me sad and uncomfortable from the very beginning, but in the absence of concrete reasons against it, it seemed like the thing to do. I’m excited about that, because it means the map can get more realistic (the map now is a photoshopped version, precisely engineered so that it relates to the size of the calendar boxes.) which I am always excited about and breaks down some of the weird rigidness of this thing. I can bring in some of the lovely non gridded elements of these maps.

Very excited about this as a thing to explore–now if I can only resolve the other thing that’s driving me nuts–that the calendar doesn’t seem to relate to how the thing folds up. (Everything else is relating very nicely indeed–not that I think every calendar entry should somehow be placed neatly on a folded panel (though that’s of course the first thought I had) but I want there to be some clear correspondence.) And then…. voila. V. excited.

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