Essay 2 of 3 for MdN Magazine May/June 1995

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I briefly contributed a series of short essays for MdN Magazine in Japan at the invitation of Prof. Yuichi Inomata of Tama Art University. I stopped because I saw that rapid change required actual work, rather than my unneeded, feisty discourse.

Layering” is the term used by April Greiman in Hybrid Imagery to describe her landmark style of building complex collages of digital images, symbols, and type in a manner that has been emulated worldwide. High-tech “grafitti” is the less flattering word that Paul Rand in Design, Form, and Chaos uses to describe what he sees as an unprincipled neo-Dada trend that leads to nowhere.

Although recently we see a rise in criticism fired between the computer-illiterate past and the computer-empowered present, no professional designer can deny that quality issues aside, the computer drastically minimizes the effort required to produce deliverable designwork. As a result, competence with computer-aided design software has become a basic prerequisite to entering any modern design firm, where God-like status is bestowed upon so-called tatsujin (gurus) of the suite of desktop publishing software. However, in contrast to the past when a skill was some-thing acquired over years of arduous practice, mastering digital design requires nothing beyond rote memorization of keystrokes and command sequences. Due to this over-trivialization of many design skills, an increasing number of non-designers, including children, can now effortlessly set type in Helvetica, manipulate photographs, and draw perfectly straight lines with the exact same tools of the professional designer. Of course, work by an amateur cannot compare to the quality and craftsmanship of the professional, but improved tools will ultimately close the gap such that only a trained eye can perceive a difference.

Complexity is the key to writing the next chapter in graphic design. We can easily verify this in any award-winning digital graphic designwork, where the metric of quality is the number of lines, colors, and hours of CPU-time used. I myself experimented with visual complexity by writing PostScript programs that generated ultra-complex digital illustrations, as shown in the full-page image that accompanied the previous article entitled “Time Graphics.” After gaining confidence in manipulating complex two-dimensional image spaces, I added another dimension - time, and proceeded to explore the complexity of infinity. However, as I quickly learned, unbounded expressive spaces that change with respect to time make exciting play, but inadequate communicative design. I then proceeded to strengthen the viewer's involvement with the time form, and began to create “reactive” graphics, visual experiences that respond to user input in realtime in a way that defies physics (not virtual reality) and are devoid of content (not interactive media in the ordinary sense). In my recent book The Reactive Square, I presented an introduction to this style of digital graphicwork with 10 different squares that react to sound. A model of a pinwheel that illustrates this concept is included in the accompanying CD-ROM.

The download described in this essay is available [here]. It is designed to run on a pre-OSX Macintosh for a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels. There is no guarantee that it runs any longer.


Copyright 2005, John Maeda.