Useful beauty and the third industrial revolution

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Posted by: Creative Times on February 29, 2012 16:10

When Creative Times hosted our second Beauty of Digital event at Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol back in January, the first of the panelists to speak was Jonathan Waring, of creative digital agency 3Sixty. Here he talks about why ‘analogue’ designers such as Romek Marber and Ben Boss continue to be hugely important in the digital age.

Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol was the venue for a Creative Times discussion centred on technology and old aesthetics. The theme caught my attention; partly because I’m old enough to remember life before Macs, but also because it resonates with our approach to design at 3Sixty. We call it useful beauty – it’s about bringing the utility of digital and the aesthetic of traditional graphic design together.

I’ve been fortunate to be taught by some extremely talented and generous people, and learned early that understanding old aesthetics was fundamental to being a progressive designer.

Romek Marber, for example, taught me and my classmates that design is not just decoration, but a systematic and intelligent approach to problem solving. He designed the grid system for the Penguin books crime series; his structured approach to the cover designs are what made Penguin books so distinctive throughout the 60s and 70s. The grid he devised is now known as the Marber Grid.

The work of historically important creatives is all about human understanding, a little empathy, good ideas and great communication.

Incidentally, Romek is a holocaust survivor and his story is remarkable. I highly recommend his 2010 book: No return: Journeys in the Holocaust.

Another man to teach me fundamental lessons in graphic design was Ben Boss at the influential Dutch design group Total Design. Many people regard them as having helped shape the future of graphic design.

His lesson to me was simple and delivered one day while having lunch together. Ben was deeply interested in the work of designers like FHK Henrion and Abram Games. He was horrified to discover I knew virtually nothing of their work.

As punishment for my ignorance, he directed me to set text by hand in a large circle for a series of posters for the Dutch Opera House. Ben would stroll past, stare for an instant and inform me that the letter spacing was incorrect somewhere – and I’d have to unpick the whole sodding lot! If I remember correctly, it took me three days!

Total Design had one of the most advanced graphic computers on the planet at the time – Aesthedes. Probably, it could have set a circle of type in minutes. But Ben taught me that the tradition, culture and pace of setting by hand encouraged an uncommon level of reflectiveness that shines through.

These days, things happen so fast, the cost of technology has meant it’s available to everyone. Plus, there are virtually no media costs associated with broadcasting your work with YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, blogging and so on. It has made getting great stuff out there quicker and easier than at any time in history. Digital technology has opened extraordinary avenues of innovation. We are experiencing a sort of third industrial revolution.

All of which means our work has to compete for attention in a crowded and fragmented media universe. And while technology may change fast, humans evolve very slowly and the work of historically important creatives is all about human understanding, a little empathy, good ideas and great communication.

Their work is relevant today and will be a hundred years from now.
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Jonathan Waring is Creative Director of Bristol creative design agency 3Sixty

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