We began this term discussing the distinctions between art and design. How do we differentiate these two creative fields? Can something be both art and design at once? We read Rick Poynor’s article, “Art’s Little Brother” from Icon Magazine Online.

+ + + + + + + + + + + +

Design is functional. Art is expressive. We accept these qualities as truths about the related and interdependent disciplines of art and design. The converse is also true: design can be highly expressive, and art serves a necessary function in our society.

Design is communication. Design is a vehicle for conveying meaning. Design has the power to evoke emotion on a massive scale. The covers of popular magazines have forever been a site for designers to air experiments and trends. Widely distributed media has the ability to shock, please, horrify, or deeply move the public. Graphic designers are trained visual communicators with an arsenal of semiotic tools and tricks at their disposal: conveying messages with word and image become challenging exercises whose solutions have the power to express distinct emotion. Such widespread expression of ideas and emotions can facilitate a collective consciousness that would not be possible without the scale and accessibility of design.

Design is visual culture. As seeing beings we observe and respond to pieces of design daily, often in the same manner in which we observe and respond to pieces of art. Poyner writes this about pieces of design: “The sensory, intellectual and emotional satisfactions they offer as pieces to look at, think about and react to—as well as to use—are akin to the experience of sculpture.” (Poyner 3) A piece of design can ask questions and a piece of design can evoke emotion.

Art functions as an intellectual and emotional playground in our fast-moving, highly pragmatic world. It serves an intangible function that is contested, and perhaps to some, unnecessary. The Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project of the 1930’s and 1940’s revealed a moment in our county’s history when art was considered necessary. Artists were given employment opportunities and unprecedented (and unrepeated) equality in the eyes of the government. The work of a poster artist was just as important as the work of a crane operator.

Art can be an accessible lens into inaccessible issues. Artists have long exposed public sentiment on controversial matters through their work. Art can tell a story, can expose valuable truths, and ask questions. These are all necessary parts of the human condition.

Art can be decoration. This idea isn’t derogatory, but instead reveals our desire as a society for the presence of compelling visual elements within everyday life.

Art can create community and art can create change. Contemporary and historical movements and genres within the art framework have united neighborhoods, nations and cultures.


This is a reading response to Andrew Blauvelt’s article “Towards Relational Design” that was posted to Design Observer in 2008. Our class had some trouble wrapping our heads around it. This response is a bit fragmented and super expository but works through my developing understanding of the concept of relational design.

+ + + + + + + + +

“We are in the midst of a much larger paradigm shift across all design disciplines, one that is…potentially more transformative than previous isms, or micro-historic trends, would indicate.”

Andrew Blauvelt posits that we are currently undergoing a slow, massive shift in all fields of design toward solutions that are relational and contextually based. He claims that this is modern design’s third major phase, following phases of formal innovation (the first) and the creative development of meaning (the second). I appreciate his ability to see patterns so large in fields so often disparate.

How might graphic design play a role here?

I have thought a lot about the connections between Graphic Design and relation or engagement since I began taking classes in Art and Social Practice with Harrell Fletcher. Taken on a whim, my first term in the class proved so transformative that I repeated the class twice after that. I was unfamiliar with the concept of Social Practice as defined by Fletcher, and even with the framework of contemporary art. To me, art was paintings. In a museum. Maybe art could be photography. In a gallery. But the insights, theories and approaches I learned through Social Practice began to permeate my thinking and encroach into my evolving concept of Graphic Design.

Social Practice is essentially about engagement.

It brings relational and contextual aspects into its formulation and execution. A Social Practice art piece could be a performance, a repeated action, an interaction, an exchange, an investigation or an immersive experience. Social Practice art requires people, and it requires experience. Social Practice artists may adapt or mimic practices or structures found in everyday life, and it is in this seemingly non-art context that interesting truths, stories and experiences emerge.

Graphic Design is essentially about communication. And communication is engagement. Graphic Design relies on an audience. It relies on people and everyday life, though Graphic Design need not attempt to mimic “real life” because it simply is real life.

I early on began to sense the connections between Graphic Design and Social Practice, but could never seem to articulate them. One relied heavily on objects, physical formats, and end-products. The other shunned the art object and instead advocated intangible ends–or perhaps no ends at all, and instead just the process.

But both hold the capacity for–and in fact require–engagement.

Why this round-about comparison of Social Practice Art and Relational Design? Because the development of a new wave of Design is supported and mirrored by a shift in experimental art practice. They reinforce one another.

That Blauvelt uses Daniel Eatock’s work as an example of relational (in this case, participatory) design thrills me. I find Daniel Eatock to an apt example of an effective marriage of form, meaning and engagement. Call me a fan if you will, but I consistently appreciate the work that Eatock makes: whether he requests user input for “Picture of the Week,” creates form layouts that beg for participation, or develops a web template that encourages the indexing of projects and the sharing of process, Daniel Eatock considers the experience and engagement of his audience and empowers would-be designers through an open-ended process.

I see Blauvelt’s example of the shift of architecture toward the relational to be equally applicable to graphic design:

“In architecture, the discourse has shifted from the purity and organizational control of space to the inhabitation of real places–the messy realities of actual lives, living patterns over time…and social, not simply physical, sites.”

This statement, when paired with Blauvelt’s discussion of new contexts for user-input within design, offers a glimpse into the state of graphic design today. Web 2.0 and the social networks fueled by developments in technology facilitate user-input and interactive design on a whole new level.

Models like Threadless or the print-on-demand realm that Blauvelt mentions offer graphic design new contexts. These formats require participation. They include non-designers in design practice, therefore democratizing design and forming it into a populace process. (I could write forever about Threadless.) These formats reflect a type of “social logic” that is indicative of the new wave of design and far different from formal logic or the logic of meaning we see in design history.

I recently read an article called “Better than Free.” The author, Kevin Kelly, proposes that modern consumers, in a world of frequent reproduction, want things that cannot be copied. Consumers will open their wallets for: Immediacy, Personalization, Interpretation, Authenticity, Accessibility, Embodiment, Patronage and Findability. It isn’t a perfect article, and some of these things need to be explained, but what I took away from this is: consumerism is changing, and by default graphic design must change. The Threadless model is so distinctly a “21st-century brand” because it offers immediacy, personalization, accessibility, (etc., etc.) and ENGAGEMENT.

I saw Jelly Helm speak in September on the topic of “What’s next?” He blew my mind with the concept of “21st-century brands,” also known as “people-powered brands” or “emergent brands.” He must have read Blauvelt’s article as research for that lecture. Emergent brands enable the user to create content and meaning by using that brand. They allow themselves to be adopted into the identity of their users. Apple. Wikipedia. Google. These are emergent brands. They’re not rigid. They allow for individuality within the brand, for consumers to participate and tout the brand as their own. These brands become adopted by users and integrated into personal identities. “I’m an Apple person.” “I googled it.” Graphic design is by some accounts the business of branding, and this idea of emergent brands offers a glimpse of what graphic design might look like in the next century as we continue down our path of relational design.

Back to Blauvelt. He nabbed my undying attention with his opening question and kept me fascinated until the end of the article. He is simultaneously objective and optimistic. How does he do it? My favorite tidbit is in the second-to-last paragraph:

“…the third phase presents a multitude of contingent or conditional solutions: open-ended rather than closed systems; real world constraints and contexts over idealized utopias…in lieu of the forlorn designer, the possibility of many designers…the ascendency of enabling or generative systems; the end of discrete objects, hermetic meanings, and the beginning of connected ecologies.”

This is exciting.

Art 471 is a Design Seminar class intended to mimic the “real world.” Two professors teach the class. You switch halfway through and thus have two different “creative directors” for two separate projects.

I had initially fought against the prospect of continuing to explore the concept of place. What I began with This Place Projects hardly feels resolved, but I worried that should I continue to gravitate toward a single topic, my portfolio will be too focused.

Whoops. Too much research has seeped its way into my permanent consciousness, and the most interesting idea I could propose was about place. Or placelessness.

The Center for American Placelessness is a traveling museum that seeks to educate the public on the consequences of living in a homogenized landscape devoid of meaning or community. It will encourage community-based approaches to land-use planning and development. It will encourage place-making.

Here is my project proposal. Center for American Placelessness ::: Proposal

The project required us to pinpoint a negative scenario, understand the culture surrounding it, and work to offer positive solutions or alternatives. I proposed a handful of rather silly ideas. Below is one of them, a campaign against insincere positivity in advertising.

But now I’ve accepted that it’s okay to focus on one topic. Place is a broad concept that incorporates aspects of geography, architecture, urban planning, public policy, community-building, economics and more. Endless. I can read so many books and never understand it completely.

Besides, why not become an expert of sorts? By the time my friend Emma is finished with her Senior Thesis at Reed College, she will have spent an entire year exploring the Christianization of Scandinavia. Vikings and Latin translations. She will be an expert.

Readings 15 + 16

December 8, 2009

How do you handle a frustrating creative process? How do you handle potentially negative press about your work? How do you keep working as hard as you can and as good as you can? Ask Will Bryant. I think he’s on to something.

+ + + + + + + +

How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul by Adrian Shaughnessy
Chapters 8 + 9
Self-Promotion + The Creative Process

+ + + + + + + +

Christy and I decided to googlechat instead of writing a reading response because we had both waited until the last minute to finish them all and we were sick of writing reading responses. Well, that’s at least my outlook on the whole thing. Below are some excerpts of our conversation, interspersed with my own thoughts and some found images that are supposedly relevant to our conversation.

Self-promotional piece from Cari Vanderyacht, PSU alum. Whoops! I guess it worked! She works at W+K now!

Christy: ‘I don’t want to be famous, I just want my peers to like what I do.’ lol

me: oh hey

one second

Christy: cool 🙂

me: but that’s what I define “famous” as!

Christy: I know, that’s sort what was funny about that because that’s what we all strive for.

the acceptance from our peers

me: Agreed. I want people to want to put my work up on their walls as inspiration!

Christy: me too, I’m not there yet but hopefully soon …

Admiration + respect, not fame

me: yessss

Promotional design by Kyle Van Horn. Pretty smart.

me: There was an interesting note about fame in terms of getting press.

Want to hear a quote I typed?

Christy: yes

me: Oops, no quote. Just a paraphrase: One piece of design press (one article, one blog post) doesn’t equal instant fame, it’s accumulative. People have to read about you + see your work a few times in order to recognize that you’re capable of greatness.

Christy: lol

me: That one made me humble =)

Christy: Self promotion is the ability to make it in people’s minds, mouths and walls … in addition to our doings when we give people our cards and promo pieces. Blogs help get others to see what we can do.

me: Yeah, blogs are really interesting in that regard. They are real enough to make us feel like attaining acceptance onto them is the ULTIMATE, but they’re super ephemeral.

There were no blogs around when Charles and Ray were making things together. I have a sneaking suspicion that they didn’t give a shit about being famous. They just wanted to make good stuff. Let’s all learn from the Eamses!

Christy: the reputation such fame brings or the reputation one strives for

as you make the press will come to you

me: I want my reputation to be that I’m a forest creature that lives in a tree house! (=totally false)

Christy: I want my reputation to begin, but at the same time I don’t even care. I just love working with other people and getting out there in any way I can. If I go throughout my whole life never being mentioned in a magazine or blog, I’ll be ok. Just as long as I am working with great people like Nicole, Precious and many others 🙂

me: Oh, you! If you have your mind set on making making making and challenging yourself and putting your work out there, you’ll totally make it happen.

People will notice, whether you are trying to get them to or not!

Some advice on how to approach the idea of getting written about on blogs or not getting written about on blogs. I wish I could say, “Jeez, they’re just BLOGS, get over it!” But ask any one of my roommates how much I freak out when I get a google alert with my name in it…

Christy: I agree with that. lol, I’m trying to go through this chapter

me: Did you read the part about self-initiated briefs? “Graphic authorship?”

Christy: Oh, constraint, that’s interesting.

no both chapters is good

I haven’t read them fully

me: Yeah, constraint!

I really liked the concept of giving myself a brief to work with.

Like, defining my goals, touchpoints, themes for a project, making a proposal to myself, and then striving to accomplish it.

It makes me think that all artists wish they knew about design briefs!

Christy: “designers need briefs like cars need fuel”

me: oooh did you make that up?

Creative Process in Action: Jesse Brown and Chad Kouri of the Post Family camped out at Renegade Handmade in Chicago for a week and worked in the window.

Christy: Oh man, the creative process … it’s a long one sometimes

me: Whoops, sorry, was taking screen shots of my brand book.


That is what I need.

I think that is what a brief will help with.

Christy: I sort of just want to find a design job or something in the field that pays me well enough that I can go to Holland for a holiday and come back inspired and well rounded.

me: YES.

That sounds perfect.

Sorry. I can’t stop thinking about bloggers. This lovely little thing was made by David Fullarton. SWEET.

Christy: see you tomorrow at 2!

me: yeah! nice chatting with you

Christy: you too . bye

I intended this project to be a long one. One that I could focus on long after school finishes, and certainly into the next two academic terms.

So the word “final” applied to these images and ideas is somewhat of a false one. In the realm of Art 470, Fall Term 2009 with Lis Charman, these are final images and ideas. But in the rest of time and space This Place Projects is an ever-evolving project.

Download a PDF of my brand book here: BRANDBOOK

See close-ups below.

Thank you!

Places that inspired the formation of This Place.

Visual Mood for the project: nostalgic, timeless, regional.

The Hometown Lecture Series: Documentation of peoples’ lectures.

TP1 > An Ode To Summer In The West by Nicole Lavelle (me!)

(See more on Flickr.)

Reading Response #12

December 7, 2009

Bruce Mau knows a thing or two about running a studio.

How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul
Chapter 5
Running a studio

Dear Mr. Shaughnessy,

Again, THANK YOU for wading through all the boring details. I appreciate it. I won’t waste time restating the good tips you gave about project managers, receptionists, and hiring people. I will instead talk about developing a design philosophy.

You state that a design firm must establish and work according to an ethical and creative philosophy. I’m interested in this assertion in light of how much we design students worry we’ll be working for soulless firms doing jobs for heartless clients. You give me faith that no one really WANTS to do these things. Sometimes it just happens.

Your studio’s philosophy is to do high-quality work for all clients, regardless of the budget.

Your logic is that low-budget work often offers more freedom. Doing good work with a small budget leads to bigger, better jobs.

You employ creative individuals to whom you then grant freedom to work towards their own creative visions.

You claim that people work harder and produce better work when allowed to experiment and create independently.

I’ll buy that!

Nice philosophy.

I’ll let you know when I develop one. Here’s what I have for starters:

Enjoy going to work everyday.
Make things that you want to show your friends.
Don’t work with assholes.
Don’t promote products that kill people.
Don’t cause more harm than good on this here good planet.

I’ll have to narrow it down at some point, but that’s what I’m thinking so far.

Thanks for making me think.

Sincerely yours,

Nicole Lavelle

The philosophy of Bruce Mau Design: “We create massive change. We invent cultural possibility. We design positive innovation, we ignite audacious action.” You should probably read this book:

Readings 9 + 10 + 11

December 7, 2009

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 from How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul
(How to find a job + Being freelance + Setting up a studio)

Each of these chapters could have been its own book. They need more room to stretch. That’s my sole criticism.

Tips on portfolios were useful. The anecdote of the young woman trying to open her portfolio only to have turned it upside down made me cringe and laugh at the same time. Awkward!

Even if I work at some huge soul-less firm and don’t have a workspace of my own, I want to make sure to have a fully-stocked home studio for tinkering in on the weekends (and early mornings!) (Skinny Laminx studio via sharesomecandy)

The prospect of the ultimate flexibility that accompanies being freelance is SO utterly appealing that I have to keep from quitting school, quitting my job, and running out into the world of graphic design to fend for myself. That said, the stability (financial and schedule) gained from a regular, full-time job is also more realistic and practical. My goal is to find a happy medium that allows me to take time off to hang out with my sisters AND that gets me up at the same time every morning. Working on freelance projects but in the company of others is the MOST appealing scenario this book has posed for my future working life. Having creative people around to bounce ideas off of PLUS having the freedom to take a nap after lunch sounds terrific.

The ULTIMATE cabin studio of Mel Kadel and Travis Millard (Via Fecal Face.) I would work here. Happily.

Skinny Laminx makes working for yourself look REALLY GOOD. Teatime anyone? (Via sharesomecandy)

I most appreciated the insight into the client-designer relationship and how it manifests in each of these three scenarios: working within an existing studio, working on your own, or setting up your own studio

The client-designer relationship is one that mystifies me. At the point we’re at, most of us design students have only worked for our parents, our family friends, our neighbors or the coffee shop down the street. The end objective for accepting such jobs is usually to boost the variety of work in our portfolio. We rarely get paid, and if we do, it’s measly. We don’t choose our clients and our clients don’t choose us: these relationships are the result of circumstance and convenience, not typical scenarios that pop up in the “real” design world.

A place to talk to clients, in the Minneapolis studios of Eight Hour Day. (Via sharesomecandy)

I also liked the idea of a craving for authorship as being the impetus to start one’s own studio. At least for a while, I’d like to continue having support to ease out of the school environment. But as soon as the work I’m making under the direction of others starts to feel stagnant or separate from my creative input, I’ll get my own digs. I’ll keep the notion of authorship in the back of my mind to help me pinpoint if I’m getting bored.

Can’t stop gawking at dream workspaces. APAK studio via sharesomecandy.

Considering authorship is another way to tie these three separate (but related) design existences together (working for another studio, being freelance, setting up your own studio.) In a freelance situation, you retain sole authorship of your work, your voice is heard and your aesthetic is obviously stated. This appeals to me the most, but I also am wary of diving into a situation where my skills and work are judged so directly until I feel comfortable in my design shoes! Must find that voice, must have that commanding use of type, must be SO GOOD before I break out on my own.

Some beautiful personal work by Lisa Congdon. (via sharesomecandy)

Margaret Richardson said in Art History class the other day, “Your life will start as soon as you start thinking of yourselves not as design students, but as designers.” She meant, “Do it now.” Make that mental switch and things will start to make more sense. The transition out of school won’t be so difficult.

Thanks, Margaret. Now, can you get me a job at Nike? (Just kidding.)


November 9, 2009

Picture 2

They really do make it easy for you to sync up a url to a wordpress blog. Awesome!
But not php. That is not easy.

Check it out!

  • It’s all placeholder content, but you can get a good idea of the format.
  • Does the format feel good? Is this the right theme for me to use? Click around, try to get back to things, is the navigation acceptable?
  • I will change the blue type and try to add my own header. Trying to get the posts in the right place, haven’t even started with CSS yet!
  • Working on making sense of the categories, how many i really need, and where the posts go when i write them.
  • Ack. If anyone is a php wizard, shoot me an email. I need you. Can trade baked goods, design work or nature walks if you want to be the web friend that I exploit for your skills. (That sounds terrible.)

A site map: another thing that was due today.


Three sections.

Frequently updated content that promotes and unites projects and facilitates discussion.

• Posts about existing projects that work within this realm of place-based.
• Artists, projects, books, writers, photographers, events, organizations, record labels, imprints.
• Interviews, reviews, comparisons.
• Photographic exploration of places. (TPP exclusives) (myself, my community, artists I approach,
photographers who look at place already)
• Interviews with TPP artists.
SECTION TWO: News/Releases/Updates/Events/Calendar
• News: grants, new project releases, promotional for events and releases.
• Call for entries: collaborative zine? Whole, independent projects?
• Exhibition for This Place Projects projects.
• Documentation of the project: photographed objects, photographed events.


SECTION THREE: Navigation/Information/About
• About This Place Projects
• List of This Place Projects artists and their relevant links.
• Blog bios, guest bloggers.
• Store to purchase releases