Mario Hugo’s portfolio is something to behold. Full of moody and intensive illustration, the work moves seamlessly from surrealism to modern typography. All of the work has an eccentric and unique voice. Via But Does It Float.
As many will tell you, the great lessons of design are rarely gleaned from a book or learned by sitting in a classroom. Design thrives on multidisciplinary experience, an immersion into the unknown and a search for the unknowable. If you are looking for such an experience, look no further than the hallowed grounds of the Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church. One three-hour service will convert you and possibly, make you into a different designer.
As I sat in church, jazz music flowing over me and through me, I was amazed by the one-of-a-kind environment that the Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church has consciously and unconsciously designed. If as Hank often said, design is simply a plan to make something, this plan was truly inspired. The church has all of the elements that are present in great design. First, it builds on tradition, breathing new life into something you know. Second, it breaks with tradition and reveals the stuff you have been missing. Finally, it disregards rules in favor of experience, and in this case, an experience that you will not forget. Here’s why.
With deference, the church uses tradition as a touchstone. If you attend other religious services, you will sing hymns, hear performances by talented musicians, be treated to a gospel or two, and last but not least, receive a healthy serving of sage and universal wisdom. The Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church does not disappoint. It delivers in all of these areas; however, the delivery is unique.
The music is organic, never stopping, never starting. It is simply a necessary element. The gospel is delivered with a smile and a welcoming invitation, and in my case, it was delivered by a glowing woman, wise beyond her years. And, the wisdom, so often delivered with a hint of fear, is delivered democratically. Archbishop Franzo King is not above you; he is with you, staring you squarely in the eye. The paintings, as represented above, deliver Marie, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus. (And, of course, Saint John is alive in the room.)
How is good design different? It isn’t. Good design should build on tradition, turning what you know into what you’ve never seen. It should treat its audience as an equal, never pandering or underestimating the people to whom it speaks. Finally, instead of an intrusion, it should be a welcome addition. It should act like it has always been there, like it always will be there.
Yet, the church is not like any church into which you have entered. The first hour and 45 minutes were a jazz immersion. There was no surfacing for breath, as song bled into song, as dance and performance mixed with the proceedings of the morning. As Archbishop King put it, we were raising our praises and acknowledging our blessings through performance. It was a concert. It was an opportunity to dance. It was an experience to write about.
Like good design, the church’s service breaks with tradition. It is not a stayed ceremony with time allotments. It’s dogma is the lack of dogma. Like the thinking behind a piece by James Victore, it acts like it failed to learn the rules. If you don’t know them, then you aren’t beholden to them. And, the result is new; it’s fresh; it’s unexpected. Good design isn’t a sum of parts. Good design is a synergy of parts, a combination that breeds something new, something unexpected.
The final lesson, and perhaps the most important. The church welcomes all people, and this welcome extends well beyond convention. From performers entering and exiting during the service, to kids moving freely around the space, to unexpected additions, the importance of the execution does not outweigh the importance of the principle experience. Too often, design seeks to erase the possibility of romance and intrigue, replacing it instead with an empty search for perfection. A tightening of bolts that causes the machine to burst.
Not this church, a church where a 15-minute tap performance is seamlessly inserted into the experience, a church where people enter and leave freely, a church where children take on instruments and feel like a welcome addition to the experience.
In essence, it’s inspired. It is inspired by John Coltrane, a musician without equal who honored his relationship with a spiritual higher power. It is inspired by the church’s leadership. It is inspired by a nomadic and changing congregation, which immediately feels comfortable. And, it happens because it speaks to and fulfills a need for inspiration in all of us.
So, designers go fourth, and “Get your praise on!” Church is always in session.
The Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church worships from 12:00 to 3:00 PM Sundays. It is located at 1286 Fillmore Street in San Francisco.
100 Hammers is a collaborative project inspired by Maine artist, David McLaughlin,a locally known craftsman and collector who passed away in early May of 2010. David spent his life inspiring others not just through his art but through his passion to see and bring new life to otherwise unwanted materials. We’ve gathered 100 second-hand hammers and intend to keep his dream alive by passing them along to people who can give them a life they otherwise wouldn’t have had, creating a new and unique history for each hammer.
Selected participants choose a hammer from our collection and are asked to create an art piece with it (in whatever form it may take, nothing is off-limits). Once the hammer has shipped, they’re given one month to complete a project and are then encouraged toshare
it on our site for the 100 Hammers community to enjoy. If the artist chooses, they can also donate their piece to be sold with the proceeds benefiting local art and design projects on David’s behalf. The hammer is then shipped back to the 100 Hammers library to continue it’s cycle of creation.
Select your hammer and get started.
Ben Barry, design extraordinaire for Facebook, has an excellent library, which he has graciously placed online. Composed of more than 721 books, magazines, and ephemera, the library is a great look into the inspiration of one designer. Barry has even crafted a stamp, in his signature style, which guards his property against well-intentioned borrowing that turns into ownership.
The AIGA just relaunched The Living Principles web site, creating a collaborative and open space for sharing projects that realize the power of The Living Principles Framework. If you are not familiar with The Living Principles, a short introduction follows:
The Living Principles for Design framework aims to clarify the multiple, interrelated dimensions of sustainability and guide purposeful action in everyday design and business practice. Drawing from decades of collective wisdom, theory and results, the framework weaves environmental, social, economic and cultural sustainability into an actionable, integrated approach that can be consistently communicated to designers, business leaders, educators, and the public.
When you have a free moment, join the community and share your perspective on the evolving role of sustainability in design.
Get your letterpress on daily. This is a great resource for typographers, students of type, and people who cherish the letterpress.
Are you satisfied by design books that only include one book between the covers, or would you prefer a design book that delivers 100 books between just two covers? What if those books were design classics without which you couldn’t live? Well, that’s basically the pitch for Bibliographic, a new book by Jason Godfrey, published by Laurence King. Bibliographic is a compilation of “the best” design books from the last 100 years. The book even includes shots from manuals by László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Müller-Brockmann. I checked it out at a local store and was impressed by the material. In some cases, you simply can’t find the books that are included in Bibliographic
Listen to Angus Hyland of Pentagram Design talk about the book, if you need an expert, second opinion.
What is pride? According to wikipedia, it is a double-edged sword. It is one’s sense of personal status, i.e. the sense of where you rank and a tool by which you judge yourself in relation to others. It is also a product of praise, a byproduct of a job well done. Personally, I have been struggling with the issue, and for some reason, I believe that this struggle is unique to design.
First, an admission. I am a proud person. My sense of self worth (not to be confused with pride but definitely informed by pride) has helped me weather many a storm, and I believe that pride is a component of my self worth, an ingredient that I would be foolish to deny. It has also compelled me to reach beyond myself, for if one is good at one thing, why can’t one excel at another? In design, I would argue that pride is essential. If you are not proud of your work, how can you confidently present it to a client? If you don’t take pride in the tradition of design, how can you learn from it and ultimately honor it? Unfortunately, there is another side to this coin.
By ascribing value to your work, you inevitably set a price of entry, and unless you know when to be humble, which is more difficult than it sounds, this price of entry can condemn your work. That is the root of my struggle. Because I am proud, I feel the need to defend my work. It is, after all, a reflection of my process, my thinking, and my intuition. Right!
Actually, I think that these assumptions might be wrong.
As a designer, I don’t exist to defend my work; I exist to advance my work. This complex equation requires a number of harmonious elements, but more than anything, it means that I have to let go and give myself over to the experiment. Pride impedes this process. Pride warrants a series of small battles that are bound to lose the war. Pride dictates that you dismiss the speculation of people who “have no business” commenting on what it means to design something great. Worse yet, pride often excludes those who you are ultimately meant to help, call them customers, clients, or partners.
This is the revelation that compelled the post. Pride, I’m afraid, is a process killer. Like a stop sign in the middle of a highway, pride can be used to halt the advancement of process. Because pride is a point, not a line. And, if you focus on the point, ascribing all value to it, it can stop the advancement of the line.
So, what can a proud person do? Here’s what I think. First, I think that I should be proud of the process, not the end product. The journey, not the destination, is the reward. Second, I should focus my pride on solving the client’s problem. This removes the focus from the end product (the point) and focuses me on solving for need (the line). Third, and perhaps most difficult, I should simply let go. Pride will become fence, and if I let it, it will hem me in, stunting my personal and professional growth.
All easier said than done, since pride has a way of lurking in the depths, only rearing its head when the sting of criticism seems too great. When this happens, I think that all designers should take a deep breadth, step back, and open themselves to the opportunity. At least, that’s what I’ll be working on in the future.
“The Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives, a division of the Visual Arts Foundation, is dedicated to preserving and making accessible design works of significant artistic, cultural, and historical value by preeminent designers, illustrators, and art directors who have close ties to the School of Visual Arts.”
This is a great resource for design students and designers. Via FFFFound.