Just my Cup of Graphic Design

Graphic design

Graphic Design is more than just art – it has the ability to create change. Helen Bührs, Managing Director of Inscape Education Group and thought leader on Design Thinking and Innovation, shares her perfect cup of Graphic Design.

The world is bombarded with information. A myriad of typefaces, a mountain of imagery, a plethora of animated gifs travelling at high speed. Visual communication navigates its way through our landscape – adding to it, extending it, intercepting it, breaking it, being it, ruling it. Settling my eyelids, I look for a space of relief, a quiet blankness, and a time to be uninformed.

As I lift my lemon and ginger infusion to my lips and inhale the crispness of the tea before me, I am certain of one thing – this is my cup of tea. The tea tastes good, leaving just the right aftertaste lingering on my taste buds. Of course, according to Veg Kitchen, it will boost my immune system, bring instant relief from nausea and indigestion, lower the effects of diabetes (of which I do not suffer), and is the one-stop drink to perfect skin, great hair and aids in weight loss. And so as I enjoy the perfect cup of tea in silence and in my uninformed state, I wonder just what my cup of graphic design is. Establishing the answer may assist in deconstructing the business of information thrown at me daily.

My Cup of Graphic Design

It is plainly obvious, through my ceremonious tea experience, that what makes a good cup of anything is knowing that behind the perfect aroma, appropriate colouring and presentation of the product is knowledge that the content makes a difference. Imagine a cup of tea that did not provide life changing benefits aiding in healing and health management. That cup of tea, would never have resulted in being my cup of tea.

I begin by levelling with the concept of visual communication and attempting to understand when graphic design no longer exists for the purpose of graphic design. The Professional Association for Design explains that “Graphic design, also known as communication design, is the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content. The form of the communication can be physical or virtual, and may include images, words, or graphic forms. The experience can take place in an instant or over a long period of time. The work can happen at any scale, from the design of a single postage stamp to a national postal signage system, or from a company’s digital avatar to the sprawling and interlinked digital and physical content of an international newspaper. It can also be for any purpose, whether commercial, educational, cultural, or political.”

At what point does imagery exude an inherent ability to make a difference, change the world, and bring about healing and health management of individuals and communities at large as effectively as my cup of tea? I enter into an exploration and discover the most fascinating case studies of designers who not only produce aesthetically pleasing solutions but have impacted individuals and communities through their craft.

Using Visual Communication to Make a Difference in Communities – Project Phoenix 

Roger, a former member of the dreaded Numbers Gang, is marked with the tattoos from his days in the gangs. He reforms his life with the help of a tattoo artist.

Project Phoenix is a documentary that follows the journey of a former member of the Numbers Gang. It shows how creativity helped transform him from a hardened criminal into a valued member of society. South African gang members can be identified by the unique tattoos or “chappies” that mark their bodies. Their members walk a dark path and many end up behind bars. After serving time in jail, some try to reform but they struggle to find jobs and properly reintegrate into society due to these gang-associated tattoos.

With the help of tattoo artist Manuela Gray of Wildfire Tattoos, Roger was able to transform these messages of hate into symbols of hope. Grey worked on the designs of the tattoos with Roger over the course of 13 months. Each tattoo now represents a phase of his life: the dragon in the flames representing the days with the gangs; the phoenix symbolising the days afterwards.

“People used to cross the road when they saw him coming. Now people come up to him and ask about his tattoos and tell him how beautiful they are. It is a complete reverse to what he is used to,” says Justin Gomes, one of the Project Phoenix filmmakers from FoxP2. The film uses dramatised flashbacks to take the viewer into Roger’s memories. The flashbacks are abstract and dreamlike, with Roger’s voice narrating his journey. The film was conceived by FoxP2 and co-directed by Robin Goode and Karien Murray from Giant Films.”

Check out the documentary. 

Design Indaba

The following two highlights featured at the 2015 Design Indaba.

  • Start is a six-week digital programme, designed to help people monitor their antidepressant success. Iodine developed Start with the help of pharmacists, doctors and University of California physicians, who are experts in medication adherence and primary care treatment. The six-week programme is based on widely used clinical practice guidelines, STAR-D – the largest study ever conducted on real life experience with antidepressants – and other medical reviews. Their mission is to build tools that help people understand their health and improve their healthcare choices.

Check out the information video.

  • Ahmad Hammoud completed his final project for the Semantics course, Applied Arts, German University in Cairo. His attempt is to encourage people to follow the rules by changing their behaviour through Graphic Design. He created public signs and posters that use and experiment psychological strategies that affect the unconscious mind of the viewer. The first strategy intended to complement the ego. Boosting the feeling of ownership over an area would drive the individual to feel more responsible, therefore, following the rules. The second strategy intended to offend the ego. Measuring how being alienated from a public space by being offended would spark a reverse action of following the public rules, or of being more arrogant and stubborn.

Ahmad produced the following posters and placed them in visible spaces in his hometown:

Click here to see the results as published on January 9, 2014

Boiling the kettle for another little boost of immunity and hair perfection, I can’t help but think of Roger the ‘gangsta’, the ‘Start’ app and Ahmad in Egypt. I realise, that if I am to consume cups of visual information, I prefer to receive content that intends to improve human behaviour, assist us in managing our own selves and make for a better world. Here’s to just my cup of graphic design – bottoms up.

Advice to Students

As a last note, if a visual world intrigues you and Graphic Design is a possible career you might want to pursue, then you will most likely be researching possible institutions that will suit your needs. It is important that first and foremost you ensure that the institution is registered with the local authority body in your country and that the programme or course you are interested in is accredited. Making enquiries in the local industry will aid you in determining how relevant the course is, but, ensure you do so with a few companies to ensure you receive an objective opinion.

Finally, get a feel for the institutional culture and decide whether you see yourself fitting in. The amount of time you will spend engaging with the students and staff will make or break your experience as a design student. Remember, design is a lifestyle, not just a job, so if you feel passion from the people you engage with at the institution and your research shows a legitimate organisation with quality-driven and recognised programmes, then you are in the right place.

EduConnect 2cents

Graphic Design sound like your dream job? If you’re looking to study in South Africa we’d suggest Inscape Education Group, a tertiary design education institution. It’s pretty great in our opinion and the staff are very helpful. Inscape doesn’t only focus on Graphic orientated qualifications but also on Architecture, Interiors, Fashion, Ideation and other short courses. Get out there, be creative and make a difference. 

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