The approach of the practical design issues from a network of references is our proposal to communicate the academic and cultural encounter “Reception | Perception of William Blake”. The web page, a preferential support for communication, favors the rhizome to the line of text and offers the possibility of rewriting the contents. The experimental component of the project reinforces the concept of work in progress with the use of open source platforms. Through the interface (space where the communication between the subject and the object happens) we define a language common to all the disciplinary interventions of the program.
The interface, its usability, functionality and interaction with the reader define the importance that Design has assumed in this project through communication. For Ellen Lupton and Abbot Miller (1996) the discipline of Design works as a “text” that quotes other “texts”. It is a discipline built from the sedimentation of knowledge of other disciplines.
John Heskett: A definition of design and design as process
When using an interface, the designer defines the resources and strategies that will be adopted, since, according to Sofia Gonçalves (2009), ‘it is completely different to develop communication strategies for a poster, a book or a screen page’.
The role of communication becomes evident through the transmission of ideas and concepts. The function of Design was to assume the role of mediator, catalyst and co-author of contents, to fulfill the communication process. Accordingly, the process of mediation will never be neutral, which foresees a presumed authorial role. Formal choices that relate to media, typography, illustration, formats, or image influence the construction of the message. The proposed interfaces operate on two levels (print and digital) and here the page beyond semantic coherence makes the connection between virtual and material supports. We are therefore interested in approaching communication from the point of view of its technical, graphic and conceptual characteristics. In this context, the work of Design resembles that of writing where questions are raised regarding authorship (Benjamin, 1979; Barthes, 1968; Foucault, 1968 ). “The author is dead,” as Roland Barthes tells us, using Michel Foucault’s phrase to refer to “everyone is an author” since all or almost all are involved in finding meanings in texts of all kinds.
Design, communication and authorship are concepts that become relevant here because we are faced with a reception and perception of an author for whom the authorship issues were also relevant in their work process. In this sense, the intervention of Design through a more cultural work, and therefore free from commercial constraints, managed to overcome the traditional problem-solution-question and thus adopt an authorial role. It makes sense to the reception and perception of William Blake through Design.
Let us take as an example the proposed graphic authorship. In addition to the question (problem-solution), we move from a mediator status position to one of author status.
This is the type of project where the designer moves to a position where he can claim some ownership of the message. And here, the non-existent “customer” starts from the idea that Design has always been part of the process, even in the construction of the initial concept.
Thus, we seek to explore the possibilities of expressing messages through graphic-visual and textual devices in an egalitarian way. We intervene to produce graphic sense and construct a visual narrative. We have not limited ourselves to transmitting a message, but to creating a territory (the interface) for the transmission and exchange of messages, and the reader (our audience) must also assume the role of sender, since he appropriates the messages and also becomes a co-author of this process – ‘Different people will construct different meanings from the same message depending on their experiences, values, motivations and capabilities.’ (Crilly et al, 2008)
We then come in touch with several readings (design, communication, editing, authorship, production…) that we can make out of the academic and cultural meeting “Reception | Perception of William Blake”.
The poster of “Reception | Perception of English Literature” transposes the typographic grid and underlines the need for rationality. It imposes a closed hierarchical structure through a static grid (the Cartesian system of organization of the design of the page). The proposed concept focuses on the image of William Blake and adopts a sober, moderate and formal visual language that the academy demands.
The hierarchy is defined by the grid and, within it; the typographic composition creates a visual spot where William Blake’s face is framed, at the level of the reader’s gaze. The portrait centered on the poster and the main typographic elements (title, subtitle, translation, location, date, description…) frame the face of William Blake, thus creating the harmony that the grid demands. The author’s signature, although it may be a risk-taking decision, assumes that the reader is familiar with Thomas Phillips’s portrait of William Blake (© National Portrait Gallery, London).
The Chronicle Display typography with formal references to the Didot typographic family (1784-1811) is an element that, in the case of visual communication, should have a meaning in the text that should clarify the message and reinforce the concept. Therefore, the drawing of serif typography, in a classic style, points to the romanticism of the alphabets drawn in the days of William Blake. Each typography and font used carries in its design formal and historical characteristics that influence the reading and the form of the text, allowing a certain degree of graphic experimentation. These outside and within the text, the paratexts of Gérard Genette, mediate between the text and the reader. Spacing and punctuation, margins and frames are the territory of typography and graphic design, these marginal arts that make texts and images readable. The substance of typography lies not in the alphabet as such – the generic forms of the characters and their agreed uses – but rather in the visual framing and specific graphic forms that materialize the writing system.
Consequently, the visual language adopted did not feel the need to resort to graphic elements because the portrait environment and typography complement the proposed concept. This support, the only printed, was thought to create a visual stain in the space where it is inserted; a space where the reader’s gaze upon the eyes of William Blake feels provoked and invites him to read it.
The reading of the poster could never be neutral, because the designer always brings something new to his work, he can not fail to be informed of his personal tastes, social, cultural, political and aesthetic beliefs (unless the intention is to make the design neutral), which seems unlikely. We can follow rules, concepts and briefings, but deep down the design always ends up being a personal interpretation – ‘show me a designer who doesn’t feel the warm glow of authorship when he, or she, produces work created by a combination of imagination, skill and professional judgment …’
The concept of transdisciplinarity of this meeting then proposes that most of the communication live on the digital interface (website).
The “A Taste of Blake” poster, although following the rules of the static grid, addresses an interactive component through moving image. The poster is not printed; it lives on the projection that gives it movement. This is where the essence of graphic design lies, translating verbal messages into visual forms. The proposed interfaces experience a verbal and visual language and should be considered a tribute to graphic design, because by having greater control over the aspects of communication, the designer is free to explore deeply the relationship between content and form.
But why point out a moment within a cultural and academic meeting whose main communication is defined by the sobriety and formality of the concept proposed for the printed poster?
“A Taste of Blake” is a moment of protagonism in the program, which makes sense, as it is yet another experimental moment where Gastronomy approaches William Blake’s work through its own language. Thus, the poster image reflects a table setting (plate and cutlery) on a porous texture. On the white plate a constant change of the chromatic code shows and hides the main title. This digitally manipulated food chemistry color change creates the idea of movement and the illusion that colors constantly blends and mutate, referring to the color palette of William Blake’s work. A game of “hide and seek ” that takes the reader from the reds to the blues in a visual allegory to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the starting point for students of Gastronomy.
The classic and static grid of the poster contrasts with the subtle movement of the image. This formality of the grid and the hierarchy of the graphic elements (typography, title, description…) create a link with the main poster that is the face of communication and is transposed to the culinary performance staged through the Culinary Arts.
‘If one of the purposes of communication design is to create a sense of identity in visual terms, the capacity of new technology to enhance mutual understanding between those who create images and those who receive them offers considerable potential for the future.’ (Heskett, 2005, 67)
The visual communication of the project “Receiving | Perceiving English Literature” incorporates a multiplicity of methods that do not dichotomize the constructed knowledge, nor the fragmentation of the work, but extend the definition of authorship in the design referring to its etymology: “to grow”. In order to emphasize this notion of Design that intervenes via the mediator-author-producer-editor and to contextualize the Portuguese panorama, specifically in these projects, we realize that truly interesting graphic design is linked to cultural motivations, as is the case of this meeting, and it works at the service of culture and academia. We recognize that design does not only function as an element of content promotion defined by “cultural management”, but it is active in defining the same content, giving itself an identity.
According to José Bártolo, ‘the positioning and, more broadly, the definition of cultural identity are built by designers who always work on solid foundations for these institutions.’ We tried not to present definitive messages but to offer a choice of perceptions and interpretations.
To reflect and discuss in the future, in the case of the organization of this meeting, the author presupposes an “individual”, how can we characterize authorship in a set of individuals? How can we define these specific projects within the authorship? The author(s) belong to a collective of authors, where the idea was not the most important issue, but rather how was the idea developed? For now we are pleased to pre-conclude that these projects, even belonging to a universe different from what we are accustomed to be the intervention of Design through communication, can fit into this classification, because the Design produced in the framework of collaborative practices of social participation, becomes an intermediary in the production of meaning.
CIAUD / Faculty of Architecture│University of Lisbon
CIAUD / Faculdade de Arquitetura da Universidade de Lisboa