Graffiti Research Lab. Barcelona 2007

Bringing together an eclectic mix of creators at the forefront of design to present and discuss what the future may hold is not an easy curatorial task. Perhaps the results were spectacular for some and indeed the talent is great however there was an essential question remaining that left me bemused from my 3 day visit to this years OFFF Festival.
Amidst a plethora of code based creation, open-source tools and talk of a new democratic digital movement, the boundaries between art and design have become somewhat blurred. Many of the talks given at the festival revolved around self promotional presentations that gave little insight into the problematics of client based work within a design perspective. This was apparent in work that expresses purely aesthetic lines and indeed communicates little beyond the initial emotional attachment. The perfect example of this dichotomy was perhaps best seen with the conference talk between Neville Brody and Joshua Davis. The latter makes no distinction between art and design, his clients buy a piece of ‘Joshua Davis work’ and that’s it. Brody on the other hand is commited to the message and ultimately aware of the necessary visual tools to best communicate it. The client therefore wants a specific work that is capable of transmitting more than an emotional state. What this reveals is that the distinction from art that design is a client based discipline seems to no longer hold as an argument. Or rather is design losing its function as a message bearer amongst the advertising World?
I would tend to disagree and if we are to follow in the festival’s theme of ‘Re-fresh’ – meaning restart the system afresh – then I would hope that the ‘What’ have we got to say and the ‘How’ we say it, is taken into more consideration. Indeed the theme proposed was provacative – it implies that we have come to some state of plateau in creative terms and that we need to re-think for a more fertile future. And fertile is one word that springs to mind with the likes of the research group Future Farmers who take on the greener side of design issues. Or perhaps the Graffiti Research Lab who take on the urban surroundings as a fertile environment to pass on ephermeral messages and undermine the advertising ethic. Advertising = Graffiti ? Beyond the commercial crass which for some is like a necessary evil to fund their work, the festival revealed some very interesting issues that point towards how a part of the design World and indeed the motion field may develop. Coding is becoming an increasingly popular tool for designers. The possibility to create systems that not only generate aesthetically pleasing images but are also capable of organising complex data into graphically meaningful information, is a reality and becoming an essential skill within the design studio set up. The San Francisco studio, Stamen or the UK based Universal Everything are two perfect examples of what is developing in the field of code based design. Furthermore, behind this tool there is a strong community driven by the working ethic of open source which is an exciting as well as important part of working with code. This means that applications can be built, shared and developed within an international community. Another trend that became apparent during the OFFF presentations was the number of creatives taking a research approach to their work. If the words ‘research’ or ‘laboratory’ were not in the title then at least you could be sure that somewhere there was r&d in the back room. The need to experiment is an essential part of the creative process however it appears that the experimental lab is opening up to become an integral part of the modern design studio and is to some extent presented as the final product, design or philosophy.