menu

What The Foreman Of D&AD’s 2014 Design Jury Wishes She’d Designed

What The Foreman Of D&AD’s 2014 Design Jury Wishes She’d Designed
culture

The Whitney's "Responsive W" quietly and cleverly conveys the museum's nature, Jessica Walsh points out to Inspire.

D&AD
  • 30 december 2013

This article “I wish I’d done that – Whitney Museum” was originally published on D & AD, and republished with kind permission.

We asked the world’s most potent creatives what they’d seen in 2013 that made them think ‘I wish I’d done that’?

To discuss design, we spoke to Designer and Art Director Jessica Walsh, partner at Sagmeister & Walsh and Foreman of the D&AD 2014 Graphic Design Jury. Here’s what she chose as her stand-out design of 2013.

Following Jessica’s choice, we caught up with Experimental Jetset, the team behind the Whitney Museum identity. Experimental Jetset is a small, independent, Amsterdam-based graphic design studio, founded in 1997 by (and still consisting of) Marieke Stolk, Erwin Brinkers and Danny van den Dungen.

The ‘Responsive W’ reacts to the available space, why was that important in this context?

In a way, the whole concept of the ‘Responsive W’ has a lot to do with the notion of institutional space.

In our view, a museum is not a neutral, invisible space, but a very specific environment, one that has quite a complex relationship with the works of art that are contained within this environment. And when you think about it, objects such a posters, invitations and banners are institutional spaces as well – material environments that have a very specific, spatial relationship with the reproduced artworks that are printed on them.

So we thought it would be interesting to somehow make this relationship visible, to make it material – or better said, to make it graphic.

chart-1529327a2ad52f-500xAUTO-center

Chart displaying a selection of possible variations of the ‘Responsive W’. (Folded A2-sized poster, as inserted in the 220-page graphic manual that EJ created for the in-house design team of the Whitney). Experimental Jetset, 2012

The underlying principle is quite basic – it’s a game of proportions. A poster is a sheet of paper that comes in certain proportions, while the proportions of the reproduced artwork are usually given as well. So when you print this reproduction on a given piece of paper, there will always be a certain amount of remaining space. And this remaining space will always be different, as almost every artwork will have different proportions.

So the ‘Responsive W’ is basically a zigzag-shaped line measuring (or mapping) the remaining space, and by doing so, making visible the institutional space.

So we think it’s a very honest and open gesture – instead of pretending the institutional environment to be neutral and invisible, the zigzag reveals the material dimensions of this space.

Does it feel empowering to design a scheme to be used by others, rather than a specific set of executions? Do you enjoy seeing what people do with it?

We regard the graphic identity basically as a set of instructions, or notations. The designer in charge of executing these instructions (the ‘performer’, so to speak) first has to define a certain space, in which she then has to draw a series of four connected lines, in such a way that the result resembles a zigzag (or the letter W, depending on the way you choose to look at it).

In many ways, it can be compared to the rules of a instruction-based artwork, musical notation or a theatre script – the rules seem quite strict, but are at the same time quite open to interpretation. In other words, the shape won’t be determined in an algorithmic way, but is fully dependent on a human interpretation – the decisions made by the individual designer.

busshelter-poster-1529485a6de6dc-500xAUTO-center

Early sketch (photomontage/simulation), showing a Whitney poster installed in the streets of New York. Experimental Jetset, 2012

In that sense, we think the graphic identity is not so much about empowering us, but more about empowering the designers who are currently working with the graphic identity. We really developed this whole graphic system for them, so that it could serve as a sort of stage, or platform, for their creativity.

In fact, the moment we saw the items produced by the Whitney’s in-house design team (headed by the brilliant Hilary Greenbaum) was the moment we felt the whole graphic identity really came together.

We have been working on this assignment from November 2011 to May 2013. We gave all we could in this project, and we designed hundreds of templates, manuals, models and examples; but all these items make up only half of the story. The other half of the story is the actual application, and we really think the Whitney designers excelled themselves. You can see they really put their heart in it, coming up with results we never even dreamed of. So yeah, we absolutely enjoy seeing what they are currently doing with it.

If we can give two examples of these results (coming from the Whitney Tumblr) – first of all, here’s a subway poster announcing a Hopper exhibition. And secondly, here’s a newspaper advertisement, as appeared last September in the New York Times.

Do you feel the Whitney identity is a synthesis of European and American cultures?

The Whitney Museum, as an institute, is in itself a synthesis of European and American cultures – or at least, when seen from a historical perspective. The Museum came into existence during a very interesting time in art history – the period in which Paris stopped being the center of modern art, and New York became the capital of it (a really interesting book in this regard is How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art by Serge Guilbaut).

So this was a time when, especially in New York, there existed a certain dialectical tension between American art and European art. In fact, at that time, the Whitney was founded specifically as an ‘pro-American’, emancipatory reaction to the ‘pro-European’ policies of the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. And even though the Whitney specifically defined itself as a museum for American artists, there have always been these hidden European undercurrents in its history – think for example of the fact that the Whitney building on Madison Avenue was designed by an European architect (Hungarian-born Marcel Breuer).

In fact, that was one of the (many) reasons why we decided to choose, as a typeface for this project, for a version of an European typeface (Neue Haas Grotesk), as redrawn by an American type-designer (Christian Schwartz). In short, we tried to detect, in this redrawn typeface, the same sort of tension between American and European cultures as can be found in the history of the Whitney Museum. An European typeface, with hidden American undercurrents – that was more or less what we had in mind when we chose the typeface.

We don’t know whether we actually managed to convey this idea – but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. It turned out to be very good typeface for the Whitney either way.

Yours is a very philosophical approach to design. How do you ensure that this is always a consideration during the design process?

You know, it’s actually more the other way around – it is our graphic design practice that has informed (and keeps informing) our ‘philosophical’ approach. We actually don’t have a proper theoretical or academic background – it really is through our daily practice that we keep coming across all these more theoretical concepts (and then we piece them together, in a rather ‘savage’ way, we have to admit).

For example, in 2007 we were working on the graphic identity of Le Cent Quatre (104), a French cultural institute that was situated in a large, roofed street – basically a ‘passage’, or ‘gallery’. Doing research for this project, we automatically came across Walter Benjamin’s ‘Arcades Project’ – which immediately had a huge impact on our way of working and thinking, and keeps on inspiring us ever since.

A similar thing happened when we were working on the graphic identity of the Whitney. Thinking about instructions and notations, we remembered an essay by the Welsh New Left scholar Raymond Williams, in which he basically describes art as a form of notation. And this idea (of art-as-notation) then immediately became part of the design process, amplifying ideas we already had, but were (until then) unable to articulate.

So we wouldn’t say that theory is something we try to impose on our practice from the outside. It really is the other way around – while designing, we discover all these theoretical principles that are already buried within the practice of the graphic design itself, almost like treasures. Or at least, that’s how we experience it.

9354838435_15d2127d6e

And finally, is there an example of some creative work you’ve seen in the past year that made you think “I Wish I’d Done That”?

Without doubt, the new graphic identity of the Stedelijk Museum, designed by Mevis & Van Deursen. It’s a visual language that seems very light and casual, but comes fully loaded (at least to us) with all kinds of interesting associations (Mallarmé, Apollinaire, Concrete Poetry, etc.). When we first saw it, it literally took our breath away.

In a recent interview, Armand Mevis (of Mevis & Van Deursen) actually mentioned that one of their inspirations (for the Stedelijk Museum project) was the graphic identity that we designed in 2004 for SMCS (Stedelijk Museum CS, which was, at that time, the temporary location of the Stedelijk Museum). So that was quite flattering to hear…

Almost as flattering as Jessica Walsh choosing the Whitney project as an example of a project she wished she’d done. So Jessica, if you read this – thanks!

This article “I wish I’d done that – Whitney Museum” was originally published on D & AD, and republished with kind permission. 

You can enter your work in the D&AD Awards 2014 now.

culture
Trending

How Indiegogo Is Becoming An Adult Product Destination

Retail
Home september 23, 2016

Watch This Fire Pit Dance Along To Your Favorite Song

Music City Fire is a system that is designed to flicker in time to ambient music

Automotive september 23, 2016

Slick GPS Navigator Gives Directions To Moped Riders

This small, round device attaches to a sideview mirror to display maps for safer traveling

Trending

Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Home september 23, 2016

A Clock That Beautifully Manages Your Information Overload

The wall-mounted timekeeper is made to help people maintain focus and stay up to date with their appointments

Arts & Culture september 23, 2016

Performance Piece Blends Dancers Into Folds Of Light

The work provides commentary on the increasing connection between programmed and analog dimensions

Related Expert

Dan Barasch

Nonprofit Organization Management

Design & Architecture september 23, 2016

Design Firm Adapts Childhood Homes For Unemployed Young Adults

The studio has unveiled three prototypes of transformed living spaces for people forced to move back in with their families

Health september 23, 2016

These Chocolate Squares Claim To Reverse The Aging Process

A group of researchers from Cambridge University have developed a candy bar that promises to give you a youthful glow

Cities september 23, 2016

Food-Producing Architecture Competition Seeks To Better Feed Cities

A design challenge in Copenhagen highlights the need and beauty of urban farming

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed september 23, 2016

Productivity Expert: The Magic Of The Five-Hour Workday

Stephan Aarstol, Founder of Tower Paddle Boards, explains why the modern notion of office hours needs to evolve

PSFK Labs september 22, 2016

The Future Of Work: Why Innovation Is Every Employee’s Job

PSFK Labs sits down with management at Johnson & Johnson to learn how the company comes up with their next ‘big idea’

Health september 23, 2016

Wearable Monitors Sun Exposure To Prevent Sunburn

The clip monitors UV rays to make sure you're not receiving too much sunlight

Culture september 23, 2016

This Exhibition’s Crowning Jewel Is An 18k Gold-Plated Toilet

The piece, titled 'America,' is meant to raise questions about the country's wealth inequality

Culture september 23, 2016

Match Up With Dates On Tinder Based On Your Music Preferences

A new partnership with Spotify lets people pair up based on shared tastes in artists

Entertainment september 23, 2016

Capture, Cut Up, And Configure Your World In 360 Degrees

To meet a booming 360 and VR video-capturing industry, a multimedia software company bolstered its media editing suite for 360-video creation

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

Advertising september 23, 2016

Buy Movie Tickets Directly From Your Facebook Profile

The new feature is part of a campaign from Fandango to further imbed social media into the ticket vendor's digital presence

Asia september 23, 2016

Co-Working Space Brings The Calming Atmosphere Of Nature Indoors

An architectural firm in China has designed a new type of shared office that prioritizes the natural environment

Retail september 23, 2016

Live Beacon Simplifies Cloud Sharing For Businesses

The battery-powered device and smartphone app allow anyone to send location-specific content without the hassle of code or hardware

No search results found.