Where is identity heading?

Yesterday the DiaTipo DF conference was held in Brasilia, Brazil. Thanks to Twitter (where I found out about it) and Livestream (where I caught the live online video), I was able to follow it.

During a roundtable discussion, there was an interesting exchange between Fabio Lopez and Fabio Haag left me thinking. It happened towards the end of the video I embedded at the bottom of this post. Here is my (approximate) translation of Fabio Lopez’s question:

Those who have analyzed corporate identity and institutional communications historically throughout the decades have noticed that in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the message and objective was neutrality. Companies wanted to present themselves as being neutral.

Moving on to the 90s and the first decade of this millennium, the message was that of being modern, of showing how advances in technology was changing all aspects of business.

And now it seems that the message is to be informal, approachable, friendly. These days, very company is informal and friendly. It is thanks to the talent of designers that within this common objective that companies share, a lot of diversity exists.

But it’s true that every time a new client arrives with the need for a new identity, they ask to be simple, informal. Even though they are big companies with millions in revenue, they want to appear to be simple and approachable.

How to survive this, and what is the way forward for identity? In 2020 and beyond… what will companies want their identities to be?

This certainly got me thinking. It is very true that now everyone is friendly and approachable. He missed innovative, another overused word. All corporations think they are contemporary Leonardo da Vincis.

But the big question, which I hadn’t considered until I heard it in the video, is what will the next decades bring for identity? Where is it heading?

The answer from Fabio Haag was instructive, if not all-encompassing:

More and more, the definition of a brand is coming from the users. Because of the internet and social media, people are less and less buying wholesale the message coming from the top.

It’s true that in the past, these messages felt very corporate and distant, whereas today the attempt is to appear to be near. But it seems that as time goes by, the message (advertising and identity) is less valuable, and it is how a company behaves that becomes more important.

Actions and attitude, in the practice. True actions that have a real impact in people’s lives shape a brand more than any verbal or visual message.

Identity is escaping companies hands, and it is consumers that are beginning to take charge of the relationship.

While this is true (and it has already began), I found the answer lacking because a visual and verbal message will still have to be created in the 20s, 30s and beyond.

The big trend I see moving forward is the collision between the extremely adaptable, and the extremely personal.

More and more we are seeing generative identities, ever-changing and reactive whether manually or through the programing power of Processing and the like. Examples abound: MIT Media Lab, Casa da Música, Aol, Google’s doodles and many others.

But thirty years from now, these will not look timeless. They will probably feel dated and rudimentary. Massive amounts of data are being collected from tracking our online habits (what we do and see on the web, smartphone, etc.), and in time it could give corporations the power to personalize not just their message, but why not all the way to their identity when they talk to each of us.

Maybe in the future, each screen will adapt to the individual user in ways that affect even the identity of the company communication. Screens could even replace packaging labels, which  powered by LED or e-Ink displays could show a different design to each person looking at them.

In such a world of extreme adaptability, where all messages can become local and personal, why would identity remain a universal constant? It’s hard for me to think that corporations will not find a way of “owning the relationship” once again.

Se você fala portugués, jump to 01:29:00 in the video to follow the exchange I transcribed above. Or watch the whole event here. Most of the presentations centered around typography, from creation to usage.

The roster of presenters was very interesting, and included Frederico Antunes from ChibaChiba, Fabio Lopez and Daniel Souza from Tátil Design (whose work includes the identity for the Rio 2016 Olympics), Fabio Haag (type designer at Dalton Maag, whose founder Bruno Maag run the workshop I attended in Urbino last month), Elaine Ramos (art director at Cosac Naify, a very cool Brazilian publishing house), Eduilson Coan (type designer from dooType), Dino dos Santos (type designer from DSType), and Alceu Nunes (art director for VIP magazine).

Dieter Rams: Simplicity with a soul

Today is one of those days when I count myself lucky to be a designer living in San Francisco. I attended a very interesting lecture and discussion on the work of Dieter Rams. The talk, held at the Goethe Institut in San Francisco, was called Less and More: German Design Reconsidered and was related to the Less and More exhibition opening this weekend at the SFMOMA.

There were three parts to the symposium. The event started with a presentation by Professor Klaus Klemp, Head of Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art in Frankfurt and co-curator of the SFMOMA exhibition. He talked a lot about Dieter Rams’ time at Braun, and shared a thorough analysis of the characteristics found in the designs from that time. The title of this post comes from Klemp’s great way of describing what makes Rams’ designs so special.

He closed the presentation the famous Ten Principles for Good Design:

Good design is innovative
The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

Good design makes a product useful
A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

Good design is aesthetic
The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

Good design makes a product understandable
It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Good design is unobtrusive
Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

Good design is honest
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

Good design is long-lasting
It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.

Good design is thorough, down to the last detail
Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

Good design is environmentally-friendly
Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

Good design is as little design as possible
Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity!

The second part of the event was a panel discussion among several German designers: Thomas Overthun (Associate Partner and Design Director at IDEO), Wilhelm Oehl (Partner at Eight Inc.), Daniel Hundt (Creative Director at One & Co.), Markus Diebel (Vice President of Design at Incase) and Moni Wolf (Principal Design Director at Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business).

Inevitably, at times the discussion would center around Apple and its approach to design. Maybe it was top-of-mind for people, especially with Steve Jobs announcing recently that he’s departing as CEO, or maybe because Apple is mentioned at every business meeting these days. In any case, during this talk it did seem appropriate, as one can find many influences from Dieter Rams aesthetics in the work that Jonathan Ive has been conducting at Apple. I wonder if decades from now people will talk about Ive the same way we revere Rams now.

And speaking of revering, during the Q&A session they had a surprise for us: Mr. Rams showed up to take some questions! He was very pointed in his disdain for “-isms”, in his belief that design should be centered around being “less but better”, in the challenges that design needs to consider as billions of people from the BRIC countries enter the marketplace in the upcoming years.

He also shed some light as to how he was able to get Braun to produce such high-level design products. Very simply, he credited those running the company (Erwin and Artur Braun) for wanting to achieve that high-level. According to Rams, shared goals and a close partnership between the head of the company and the designers are key. It happened at Braun because the Braun brothers cared. It could be seen later at Olivetti because his Adriano Olivetti was just as concerned about design. And it happened at Apple for the same reason. (He talked about this in greater detail in a Telegraph article earlier this year.)

Overall, a very inspiring night. Now I can barely wait to see the exhibition at the SFMOMA and maybe even get its catalog. In the meantime, here is a clip of him in Objectified:

A day in Verona

The last stop of my trip through northern Italy was the city of Verona. I didn’t get to spend a lot time sightseeing, as I was on a mission to buy a nice pair of sneakers (mission accomplished). So you won’t find photos of Juliet’s house in the slideshow.

But I did get to enjoy one great final dinner, at the Osteria al Duomo. The regional spaghetti con sugo di asino (that’s right, donkey meat) was really delicious.

And with that, my trip came to an end! Italy, I miss you already…

At the Venice Biennale’s Giardini

While everything I saw at the Arsenale was great, I found the Giardini to be really the heart and soul of the Venice Biennale, with its Palazzo delle Esposizioni and the many national ones. As The Art Newsletter’s Venice Biennale Guide 2011 describes,

The Giardini’s pavilions are the unique and most controversial element of the Venice Biennale: to many, dividing artists by nationality is an anachronism, a lingering vestige of proud, colonial nations. But equally, the 30 national pavilions play into contemporary artists’ hands: they are architect-designed and explore nationhood, echoing two of the most prevalent themes in recent art, namely architecture and identity. Artists love awkward contradictions and historical complexities, and the pavilions provide those in spades. Much of the resulting work, then, directly challenges the buildings and the past and present of the countries they supposedly evoke. At the centre of it all, meanwhile, is the imposing Palazzo delle Esposizioni containing one half of Bire Curiger’s signature ILLUMInazioni exhibition.

Right outside the Central Pavilion, I was greeted by Latífa Echakhch’s tilted flagpoles. And then inside, there was so much to see from Tintorettos to the latest in robotics-based sculptures. All the work was connected to the theme of light and nationhood.

I enjoyed the classroom by Nicolás Paris, the rubber band room by Gianni Colombo, the Hippy Dialectics animatronics by Nathaniel Mellors, the interactive plasticine room by Norma Jeane, the photographs of Cindy Sherman, and the works by Amalia Pica, among others.

Everything looked so cool, even the restaurant.

And then there were the national pavilions. A total of thirty, and representing all the continents, being able to see them was one of the highlights of my trip.

The one that I consider most memorable was the British Pavilion.

It’s hard to describe with words what the experience was like. Basically, inside this big building, Mike Nelson built a network of rooms from a forgotten era, from a forgotten land. For twenty minutes you feel as if you got transported to an alternate universe. Unforgettable.

A somewhat similar approach, but with a completely different aesthetic, could be found at the Swiss Pavilion. Thomas Hirschhorn created a strange set of installations in what he called the Crystal of Resistance. In his own words:

Crystal of Resistance is the title of my work for the Swiss Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennial. Through my work Crystal of Resistance I want to question. First: Can my work create a new term of art? Second: Can my work develop a ‘Critical corpus’? Third: Can my work engage – beyond the art audience – a ‘Non-exclusive Public’? I want to answer each of these questions, these goals and these self-demanding ambitions – with my work and in my work.

I believe that art is universal, I believe that art is autonomous, I believe that art can provoke a dialogue or a confrontation – one-to-one – and I believe that art can include every human being. When I write ‘believe’, I’m doing it not because I think or know it, not because I can prove it – but because in art – it’s a matter of believing.

With Crystal of Resistance I want to produce a work that is irresistible. … With Crystal of Resistance I want to cut a window, a door, an opening or simply a hole, into reality. That is the breakthrough that leads and carries everything along.

Western Europe was also represented with pavilions for Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Spain and Sweden.

In their own way, they were all really engaging. The Austrian one was not very photogenic, but it was one of my favourites along with the Danish, Dutch, French and Greek.

Eastern Europe had five representatives at the Giardini: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia and Serbia. As a designer, with all the symbols on display, my favourite of this group had to be the Serbian.

Moving over to the Americas, the pavilions representing this region of the world were the United States, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela and Uruguay.

The American pavilion’s theme was Gloria, and had a great sense of humour. There were various performance art pieces (one involving a noisy upside-down tank turned into a treadmill).

Other pavilions at the Giardini were those from Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan and Korea.

The Egyptian pavilion was very moving since it involved showing work by Ahmed Basiony, a young artist that was killed during the repressive last days of the Mubarak’s regime.

But the Japanese and Korean ones were the most engaging through their use of technology. Watch them here and here.

At the Venice Biennale’s Arsenale

One of the coolest things I got to do while in Venice was to be able to attend the Venice Biennale. As a modern art lover, expectations were high because I’d been wanting to go for years. It did not disappoint.

The Biennale is massive. With 89 nations participating this year, and pavilions scattered throughout the city, trying to see it all was not going to be possible in two days. I decided to visit the most important sites (Arsenale and Giardini) where the most renowned work could be found.

With the company of two friends I made during my previous week at the type design workshop, Yotam Hadar and Meir Sadan, and the help of a trusted guide, The Art Newsletter’s Venice Biennale Guide 2011, I arrived at the Arsenale.

The ancient source of Venice’s seafaring majesty, the Arsenale was once able to produce a galley in a few hours; and now, every biennale, it becomes the city’s most enormous gallery. Owned by the Navy, it is inaccessible for most of the year, only opening its doors to the public for special events. This is reason enough to visit the biennale, because the Arsenale is an extraordinary space. The majority of the art can be found in the former rope factory, the Corderie, a seemingly never-ending procession of brick-built spaces with fat columns running its 316m length.

The biennale’s theme this year was ILLUMInazioni, delving into the concepts of light and of nations. It was curated by Bice Curiger. At the Arsenale, there was a lot to like from what was on display.

Upon entering the Corderie, I was greeted by Song Dong’s para-pavilion with its Chinese doors, and hosting work by Yto Barrada and others. And it just picked up from there. Some of my favourite works were those by Mai-Thu Perret, Franz West, Nicholas Hlobo, Fabian Marti, the drawings by Mariana Castillo Deball, Navid Nuur, the sound sculpture (watch) by Haroon MirzaElisabetta Benassi, the amazing light sculpture by James Turrell, Urs Fischer decaying candle sculptures, and the addicting 24-hour film The Clock (watch clip) by Christian Marclay.

The Arsenale was also host to several national pavilions including Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Croatia, India, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, China, Italy, South Africa, and one dedicated to Italian-Latin Americans.

My favourites were the Chinese, Saudi Arabian and Argentinean ones (the last one not because it’s where I come from; the work of Adrián Villar Rojas was really good).

The Italian pavilion was very big, and filled with lots of art pieces. It was a little overwhelming.

Or should I say underwhelming? Considering there was so much work on display, not all of it was of the same caliber. Still, it was useful in that I could discover some artists I hadn’t seen before, like Olivo Barbieri or Pino Chimenti.

There was a section of the Arsenale (the Arsenale Novissimo) which could only be accessed by boat, so I hoped on one and was able to see some of the best art of the day.

The South African pavilion was located here (inside the Torre di Porta Nuva tower), as well as a pavilion dedicated to work from fine art students from around Italy, and a collection of work inside a building under the banner of Sottopelle, by Renato Meneghetti, all of it very mysterious.

But the best was reserved for last.

The final building contained the work  Outside Itself by Federico Díaz, an installation which contained robots that created sculptural forms from individual black balls; and One of a Thousand Ways to Defeat Entropy, by Adrian Ghenie, Hans Op de Beeck, Alexander Ponomarev and Ryoichi Kurokawa.

Four days in Venice

Ah, Venice. What can I say about you that hasn’t been said before? What a unique place.

This was my next stop in my trip through northern Italy following the amazing time I had in Urbino. The journey to Venice was uneventful, and once I arrived via train, I was ready to go straight to the B&B I had booked.

Or so I thought. Google Maps printout handy, I left the Santa Lucia train station and ventured into the streets of Venice. All went well, until 40 minutes of walking later I realized I didn’t have the right address. Fortunately, I was nearby so it didn’t become a big issue.

During the first day, I found I had to constantly remind myself I was in the actual Venice, and not watching a movie of it or at a Las Vegas/Epcot Center rendition. I kept telling myself that Venice has actually looked like this for centuries, they didn’t build it recently as a tourist destination.

It does seem unreal at first: no cars, the sound of water, catching the vaporetto to go from place to place. While I took a lot of pictures, none of them do it real justice. It’s one of those places that has to be experienced at least once in a life. (Piazza San Marco only requires 30 minutes of that life: it is so crowded with tourists it’s almost not worth seeing.)

When it comes to food, Venice was a place of contrasts for me. I wasn’t as lucky every single time with the choices I made for restaurants, but I did get to enjoy the best dinner of the whole trip. The first night, thanks to my friend Heather’s recommendation, I had booked a spot at the Osteria Alle Testiere. The food was incredibly good, all seafood, with a menu dependent on what they got at the fish market that morning. My mouth still waters when I think of that dinner. Another great place to eat came as a recommendation from my friend Laura: Al Bottegon. The cicchetti there were delicious.

While I saw a few churches and tried to visit all the islands, the highlight of my time in Venice was without a doubt the two days I spent at the Venice Biennale. All day Sunday at the Arsenale, and all day Tuesday at the Giardini. By all day I mean 6 or 7 hours, and surprisingly I barely got to see everything in them. Taking into account that there are many other pavilions scattered throughout the city, if one would like to see everything Biennale, a full week in Venice would probably be required.

I will be posting my impressions of the Biennale in upcoming posts and share plenty of pictures and video, so stay tuned for more Venice.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about how the city of Venice functions, you should check out this cool documentary called Venice Backstage. It was put together by Insula Spa, operational division of Venice Municipality. (Volete vederlo in italiano? Clicca qui.)