design school


Nature is a construction. The idea of nature started to get a deeper meaning as human beings started to take distance from nature. It became used to mean something in contrast to culture and civilization. The notion of nature is a symptom of alienation by humans from nature. Nature is a product of- and defined and designed by humans.

The meaning of the word 'natural' depends on your interpretation, like most other words, but for 'natural' people seem to reserve a special status. When something is taken for granted, it is often called 'natural'. You can take your ideas to a more universal, non-debatable level by simply stamping the word 'natural' on it, while others might use the stamp 'artificial' to tear them apart. No wonder, talking about 'the natural' offers material for discussions and interpretations.

To declare something 'natural' can be an expression of power. It is a technique, used in debates on the 'natural' roles of men and women, 'natural' ways of being born and dying, the 'natural order of ethnic origin' and about sex as to what is 'natural' and what not. People who steer society are often professionals in 'naturalizing' the process. In doing so, they postulate the direction of steering as a 'direction of nature'.

In (graphic) design 'natural' is also used to claim quality and superiority ('this new order of chapters is more natural', 'this concept just arose 'naturally' in my belly', 'a message on paper is more natural then a message on screen') and associated with nice ideas like innocence and pureness - but it takes a lot of professional skills to make a visual message look really 'innocent', 'pure', or 'naive'. Nonetheless, whole categories of design are claimed as being 'timeless', 'perfect', 'objective', words you might also find in descriptions of god(s) and (other) phenomenon's of nature.

The alternative tendency is to claim almost exactly the opposite: you want your work to be 'accidental', 'unfinished', 'intuitive' ('I just kept it as it was', 'I let myself go', 'I blur this text, I don't want people to read it.'). This more challenging approach connects to roughness, animalism and wildness, and so to nature as well.

'Natural' in this project should not encourage you to copy images of plants, bones or planets into your layouts. The question is: what does natural mean to you [and to others], and how can you relate your capabilities, attitudes and methods to these meanings.

Besides a theoretic discourse, this project will focus on practical 'natural' aspects in editorial design. We will practice with tools related to natural phenomena: the gravity-aspect of composition, strategies to catch special kinds of attention by the use of form and color, using web-like navigation structures, building pages with grid-cells, involving ergonomic aspects, etc.

The main outcome will be a usable application in print or on screen. Therefore, each student will focus on a self-chosen sub-theme within the main theme. We will follow the scheme: research - filtering and ordering - design (and back again).

[co-teaching by Justin Hoffmann]