Red squiggley lines keeps telling me that “aposematic” isn’t a real word, but it absolutely is; I Googled it just to make sure.
- (of coloration or markings) Serving to warn or repel predators.
- (of an animal) Having such coloration or markings.
This is what I decided to name the collection of textile designs that I produced for the Society of Dyers and Colourists’s live project brief entitled “fashion for the future”. The brief was very open, but we had to work within two constraints: we had to work to a trend forecast from one of the big textile design journals, and we had to strongly consider sustainability or a sense of eco-friendliness in our designs.
The summer 2013 trend “alien paradise” in issue 96 of Textile View really jumped out at me (I’d originally chosen an Art Deco theme, but to be honest I really wasn’t finding it too interesting), saying “This chapter is inspired by the wonderful world of primeval forests and jungles, augmented and enchanted by new technologies. Leaf patterns and the shiny skins of rainforest frogs inspire fabrics and patterns.”
I originally visited Dundee’s botanic gardens to hang around in the hot house and photograph their tropical and carnivorous plants, but found that February isn’t really the ideal time of year for such things. I quickly moved on to looking at rainforest frogs, which I have absolutely fallen in love with. There are so many beautiful pattern and colour variations, and most of the frogs are absolutely tiny and adorable (and poisonous). This area of research obviously lends itself well to the sustainability factor of the brief, so I researched the Amazon rainforest and conservation charities.
I placed my designs into the context of interiors accessories (I do love a good cushion), more specifically kids’ bedroom accessories. I feel that the bright colours and graphic marks I have used would really sit well in a kid’s room, and the subject matter of the prints would help to get the young ‘uns interested in conservation, nature, animals, and travel. I also feel that the handmade element would really add value to my final pieces, and really creates an appreciation in the customer and a bond between them and the finished product, giving a very non-disposable feel to my work.
I hand-printed designs on habotai silk with acid dyes that I mixed myself. I ordered digitally printed silk with my own hand-drawn and Photoshop-coloured-in illustrations of frogs, and my grand plans were to hand print on top with my chosen colours and foil effects, but my prints took over a week to arrive and I received them about three hours before my printing workshop access was stopped, so that’s rather disappointing and I feel as though some of my prints are simply unfinished. However, I am pleased with what I produced in such a short time. I didn’t really know what context I was aiming for when I began printing and chose silk because I felt the delicate, airy, shiny feeling of the fabric was appropriate for my project, and silk really shows colour well; with my context now being kids’ interiors, I wish I had worked with a more durable cotton base fabric.
Here are a few pictures from my sketchbook; there are more (and larger versions) over on Flickr.
And here are my three final presentation boards (A2 in size):
You can’t really tell from the photo, but in between the frogs on the digitally printed fabric I’ve hand-printed lines of gold foil. Also the colours in the photos are a bit off (especially for the context board), but I think it gives a good idea of my project and final designs.
Polysemy is the idea that things (words, phrases, images, signs) have many meanings. In The Rhetoric of the Image, Roland Barthes details three different types of meanings that can be garnered from images. The first type of message you can get from an image is the linguistic message – the caption or slogan in an advertisement, and the labels of the product advertised. The second type of message is the symbolic one (or the coded iconic image) – a tin of soup, for example, will invariably have lovely bright pictures of whole vegetables on the label, symbolising how ‘fresh’ and healthy it is. The third type of message is the non-symbolic one (or the non-coded iconic image) – the obvious message: you’re selling a tin of soup.
“All images are polysemous; they imply, underlying their signifiers, a ‘floating chain’ of signifieds, the reader able to choose some and ignore others.”
Here Barthes is saying that as soon as you see one meaning in an image, you ‘unlock’ many others – an image of a crying person might signify sadness, loss, physical pain, happiness. If you choose one (happiness) you close off the other possibilities but unlock new ones – happiness due to good news, finding something that was lost, ‘happy tears’ at a wedding, etc. Different people often see different meanings, due to differing backgrounds, life experiences, and cultures; adding text to the image fixes the meaning, anchoring the image within the context you choose for it.
The workshop we participated in last week introduced us to this concept, and this week we have performed a little experiment in order to help us understand this whole polysemy thing better. The experiment entailed us picking three random images (or rather, the randomiser at sxc.hu picking for us) and asking members of the public what information they got from the image, what (if anything) the images made them feel, and if they could think of a story that linked the images together. Our results were quite varied – all together we asked 9 people, and heard a number of different stories.
We chose one of the stories we’d gathered to work with further: the three images are part of an ad campaign to promote ecotourism and volunteering. Our next task was to add a fourth image to the set, to see if that would help people see our chosen story more clearly. We found this somewhat effective – the image of people digging, along with that of the women washing clothes in a stream, definitely gave people more of an idea of travelling, working hard, and helping or being charitable. However, there was still some variation in the stories we heard.
We then went back to our original three images, but added the word ‘volunteer’ into the mix. This very quickly led people to understand our story, and most of our participants got it straight away. One female participant said, “Well, this image says ‘volunteer’, so obviously she’s volunteering.” Which, I suppose, is exactly what you want to happen. You wouldn’t be very happy if you were trying to get people to volunteer in Peru but actually your advert inspired everyone to go and book a nice holiday in the south of France. From this result we can definitely see that text fixes a meaning to the images.
I find it really interesting how these randomly chosen images now have a sequence and a story behind them. Now all I can see when I look at them is this imaginary advert!
So what does all this tell us? As a designer, I think it all boils down to the context into which you place your designs. In textiles you have to take into consideration fabric choice, colour, print, stitch structure, construction, and most of all where your design will be seen. Fashion or interiors? If fashion, will your models be in a bright white studio (which might signify “artiness”, high fashion, unaffordable), or a more gritty “street” scene (which might signify wearable, real-life, accessible)? If interiors, what sort of lifestyle do you want to depict? Where do you want your designs to fit in?
Doing this experiment and thinking about Barthes’s explanation in terms more closely related to what I do day-to-day (we’re always being told to think of our designs “in context”) has definitely helped me to understand the concept of polysemy, and the experiment itself certainly made Barthes’s points clearer in my mind, as The Rhetoric of the Image isn’t the easiest read.
Advertising is serious business. You can’t just show a picture of your product, you have to sell the scene, the lifestyle. Use this deodorant and women will find you irresistible, use this perfume and men will think you’re sexy, feed your kids this juice and they’ll be healthy and happy. Product advertisement is often stuff you can tune out – it’s just the nonsense that pops up in between segments of Criminal Minds. Advertising for causes is a different story though, and is often quite provocative and challenging; check out this collection (from 2010) of extreme ads, notably those from Amnesty International, the RSPCA, RSF, and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The workshop I took part in this week has worked to make me aware of a lot of advertising tricks – show a happy family to sell your soft drink (healthy, fun), show “the great outdoors” to sell your washing powder (fresh, clean, bright), et cetera.
During the workshop my team was given this image, and asked what we thought about it – what was the feel of the image, what does it portray, what’s the main theme of the image and what props does it use, what might it be advertising? (Okay, we weren’t asked the advertising question, but all of the images used in the workshop were advertisements (with any text and brand logos removed), some more obvious than others.)
What do you think? My quickly-scribbled notes for this image look like this (but in barely-legible handscribbles): sexy knitwear, Armani-ish?, intimate, loving, black & white – romantic, distinguished, elicit, clandestine (we thought these two might be having an extra-marital affair!), mysterious, black/white clothes, opposites attract, and sophisticated. One good key word for this image shouted out by another team was “luxury”.
It’s actually an advertisement for a mink coat. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to guess that, but it probably would have been a while. We were thinking something along the lines of perfumes and chocolates!
We were given the task of hitting the streets and asking Real People (not art/design students) for their thoughts on the picture. It was a bit of a scary thought, approaching people on the street, but I think Kristen, Stephanie, Sheila, and I took it in our strides. Luckily for the rest of us, Sheila had the confidence to do most of the actual people-approaching.
First we asked a porter in the Dundee University Dalhousie building (where the workshop had taken place – start with an easy one!), a 62 year old male, who straight away spotted that it was an ad for a fur coat, which led me to believe he’d done this before! He said that the ad was obviously about the lady, and the man seemed a bit pointless, really. The ad trying to sell “the finer things in life”, and “a man loves a lady who wears a fur coat.” Next we spoke to three male students in their late teens, who noted the feeling of closeness and intimacy in the picture, and they thought it might be advertising perfume or jewellery (the lady’s bracelets in the forefront). They didn’t seem especially surprised when we revealed the purpose of the ad, as they had expected it to be something somewhat luxurious or “high-end”, although I suppose we aren’t really exposed to advertising for furs nowadays. Lastly we spoke to a female student who I thought to be about 20. She thought the image was possibly for a fashion campaign, and noted that it was trying to show love and a caring attitude, like the man really cared for the lady and is “a really nice guy”. She also thought it seemed quite posed, or fake. When we revealed that it was a fur coat ad, she was quite happy to have guessed at fashion campaign.
This was quite a fun exercise in the end, and I wonder what other opinions we’d have gathered if we could have found more people willing to stand in the cold with us for a minute or two. I would have especially liked to hear more female opinions, to get a more balanced view. It seems that in general people are actually quite good at deciphering scenes and images, when we take a few seconds to analyse them. I guess that also means that advertisers have to be quite clever!
Having thought about it a bit, I think people probably would be more likely to buy washing powder with an image depicting freshness, outdoorsiness (totes a word), and “summer breezes”, rather than a picture of some clean clothes, which is quite funny really, since that’s what you’re going to get out of using washing powder. I’m looking forward to learning more about “what images mean” and doing this kind of exercise again to a higher degree in preparation for our next assignment.
Although they’ve been around since the 1970s, I’ve only just recently learned of the existence of these cube houses, designed by Piet Blom. They’re very beautiful to look at, and I’d love to step inside one and have a look around, but can we really call it good design if a quarter of the building’s 100m2 space is unusable?
I really enjoyed hearing from Dougie Kinnear (a recent DJCAD jewellery and metalwork graduate who is currently in the Masters programme) on Friday, in our Change by Design lecture. I saw Dougie’s work at DJCAD’s last degree show, and it was great to actually hear him talk about it, and about himself. I really appreciated what he said about being very blinkered in his approach to his course – he was very focussed on jewellery, and making, so much so that he felt his design studies lectures were a bit pointless, or at least he found it difficult to apply them to his specialism and way of working. He said he felt like the lectures were designed to turn him into a product designer, which I suppose is understandable.
I have really enjoyed Change by Design so far, and I have enjoyed having the opportunity to step away from sketchbooks and textiles, and to think differently. I sometimes do find it a bit difficult, though, to relate these “think big” lectures to myself – when you spend the majority of your week with your nose in a sketchbook, concentrating on just drawing or making things that look pretty, sometimes that message can get lost. I think so, anyway!
I really enjoyed Mike Press’s lecture, I think, because of this. He spoke about Josiah Wedgwood who, it turns out, was an incredibly influential man, not just when it comes to pottery, but also in terms of mass production, industrialisation, transport innovation, and the abolition of slavery! “He just wanted to make cups and saucers,” Mike told us, but rather than just “being a potter”, Wedgwood worked to change many areas of society. In order to just make cups and saucers, he had to create a way to mass produce them efficiently, introducing “division of labour” into his factories, and building a village for his workers. He had to find an efficient way to transport his raw materials and finished goods, so he became influential in the building of the Trent & Mersey canal. I think it’s safe to say that Josiah Wedgwood had his “design thinking” hat on!
Words to live by: Stay hungry, stay foolish; don’t be a horse, be a sponge; put the “ing” in “thing”!
I’ve heard whispers of the name RedJotter through the grapevine for a while now, but have only really been aware of it in the same way I’m aware of, say, The Wire – something I’ve heard the basic premise of, something that’s meant to be really good, but something that I’ve largely ignored because it’s not what I’m traditionally interested in. The Wire is a really good gritty crime drama. RedJotter is a service designer. Oh, okay.
RedJotter is Lauren Currie, co-founder of Snook, a social innovation and service design outfit based in Glasgow, and a bit of a powerhouse. She came to speak to us Change by Design students on Friday, and held a workshop where we worked in teams to brainstorm, journey map, and design a solution (a service) for a problem. Each team was asked to pick a time when we’d experienced bad service design, and eleven out of twelve teams picked dealing with SAAS. The twelfth team picked public transport.
My team decided, through brainstorming and journey mapping (mapping the touch-points of a journey – your SAAS awards letter, the phone, being on hold, speaking to someone, etc.) that a lot of peoples’ frustrations came from the call centre way of working (many had tried email, and never even been answered!) – you wait for ages to speak to someone, have to “Press 1 if… Press 2 if…”, and often have to be passed from one member of staff to another. One of our team had received several letters containing wrong information and had to make several phone calls, each time having to explain herself many times and each time speaking to someone different. We decided that each university, or at least each university town, should have its own SAAS branch or office, where you could visit on a certain day or at a certain time designated to your course or where in the alphabet your name falls, and where you have one adviser to help you throughout your whole SAAS experience, so there would be no risk of miscommunication between staff, and fewer “lost” files.
I found Friday’s lecture and workshop really interesting and really enjoyable. I found Lauren’s passion and confidence really inspiring – it’s difficult to imagine that she was once me, just a second year design student who hadn’t found “her thing” yet.
I had never thought much about service design before. I imagined it was just the domain of suited-up bigwigs, who decide how their companies should be run. I still find it a little bit difficult to connect everything Lauren spoke about to myself, I suppose, like I said, because I haven’t really found “my thing” yet. Even so, I really enjoyed the whole day, and I look forward to seeing how far RedJotter and Snook will go!