Realm of The Possible

Reflection and discussion about Design Practice, Arts, Teaching.

I started writing blog posts about Sharing Design Practice during Outreachy Program, I worked then as a Designer for Mozilla Foundation. I wish here to continue sharing my reflection.

Post #04 – Open Design

Post #03 – Designing for Users

Post #02 – Teamwork · About Collaboration

Post #01 – Engagement

Post #04 – Open Design

Here are three starting points for reflection:

— 1. “The Hour of Design”, Ricardo Vazquez

— 2. “Design at Mozilla Foundation 2015–2016”, by Cassie McDaniel

— 3. “Connaître et pratiquer le design graphique au collège”, designed by Fanette Mellier

— 1. “The Hour of Design”, Ricardo Vazquez

During Mozilla Work Week in Orlando (December 2015), I had a fascinating discussion with Ricardo: he created an YouTube Channel, sharing live – difficult exercise – his practice as a Designer throughout “The Hour of Design” [1].
The goal is to show how he daily works at the Mozilla Foundation, talking about tools he uses, how one gets to the final beautiful result: it is not easy at it seems. As writers, composers and any creator, you face the empty canvas or page. His approach is a way to demystify design process. All this is about “open design”. The expression surprised me. What could “Open Design” mean?

Designers work
How could we define Open Design?
First: what does a designer create? It is often difficult to explain what a graphic or web designer achieve. Best way is to show our work, the design field is vast. I usually give examples of projects I did or I am working on to explain what my work is about.
Ricardo's issue gave me opportunity to think about my practice. Have a look at his “Hour of Design”, enriched with nice links about design, music and reading.
Moreover Mozilla Design team is working about open practice (also read Part 2): how to collaborate with engineers and the entire organization, how to make it easy for volunteers to contribute? Read notes from Cassie's McDaniel's article “Design at Mozilla Foundation 2015/2016” .

A creation should be based on originality: the background you acquired, your individual personality and point of view make your creation unique. Otherwise it is a copy (copy and counterfeit topics have often been discussed about in Art History, I won't develop it here). And that's why the creative process and its result are paid at their right price.
A creation is often its creator or a creative agency property. We add copyrights and patents to projects so our original work is recognized and to avoid malevolent reuse.
It is also about the fear to lose the aura of the original work and artist status (also read “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin, 1936).
As a creator, it is difficult to share your research and your technics because it could be reused by others.
Brecht Evens, a Belgian contemporary illustrator, clearly announces some of his illustrations to be inspiration from specific artists, they are a kind of tribute. And he reacts positively when his own work is reused.

But what about copied projects? Either you don't even know that it has been reused without your agreement, or you discover the fraud and ask to be compensated for the copyright (“copy”-“right”). You can prove it is your creation by showing sketches, researches.
Famous European clothing brands has been caught sending t-shirt with illustrations which were not their creation, without their creator's agreement. Don't forget that famous brands rely on counterfeiting to create consumers desire for the authentic product.
But is a copied work really a problem? We can't avoid it. In Arts we learn by reproducing technics or masterpieces (historical artists workshops, Arts studies, amateurs drawing at Le Louvre museum).
It is indeed a problem when one is making money with your creation without you knowing it. But: the counterfeiting team would be wise to deliver a result better than yours! One solution would be to share your work on your own website, or on blogs and Design specialized websites, so it is known and we can recognize the replica. And (if it's good enough :) ) it will inspire others!
Transparency process – in any field (e.g. as we did for the Cofestival) – that allows understanding and resuse can only bring improvements: someone would add new researches tracks, lead your original work a step further because s/he is working in another situation.
That's why we shouldn't be afraid of opening our practice. Spread the knowledge and skills, and allow progress. It's about adding skills and intelligence. Otherwise you keep it for an elite group.
And that's how one day we land in the Open Source field: Open Source Fonts [2 , 3 ], Open Source Objects [4 ], Open Source Softwares, etc.

Richard Stallman
Read about Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software. [5 ]
He was a staff software programmer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (AI Lab). And we read that Brian Reid had inserted a way for companies to compel programmers to pay for information access.
Excerpts from “Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software”:

1) Indeed, the best programmers at the AI Lab disdained the term programmer, preferring the more slangy occupational title of hacker instead.
2) To be a hacker, one had to accept the philosophy that writing a software program was only the beginning. Improving a program was the true test of a hacker's skills.
3) The notion of information sharing was so central to the hacker culture that Stallman knew it was only a matter of time before some hacker in some university lab or corporate computer room proffered a version of the laser-printer source code with the desired source-code files.
4) If anything, Harvard hackers gained in the process, because Stallman had introduced his own additional features to the program, features that hackers at Harvard were perfectly free to borrow in return.
5) “A program would develop the way a city develops,” says Stallman, recalling the software infrastructure of the AI Lab. “Parts would get replaced and rebuilt. New things would get added on. But you could always look at a certain part and say, ‘Hmm, by the style, I see this part was written back in the early 60s and this part was written in the mid-1970s.’ ”
6) If a program or software fix was good enough to solve your problems, it was good enough to solve somebody else's problems. Why not share it out of a simple desire for good karma?

— 2. “Design at Mozilla Foundation 2015/2016”, by Cassie McDaniel, Design Director

Mozilla Design team has experimented many things in 2015: organization, process, tools. The team has diversified its design practice and started to open it, finding new ways to collaborate with each other and with other Mozilla teams.
They drop off their work in shared places so they are accessible at any time, they documented many of their tools, resources and process.
They created a Design brief process between the designer, the driver and the stakeholders consisting of discussion, questions and clarifications to answer the question “Why are we doing this?” before concepting.
As in UX research part (also read this post), to create a solid working basis: always question the context, the needs, the motivation.

They built design processes that aimed to be more transparent, accessible and reliable. So that their colleagues are able to know how to engage with them. Their improvements consist of better communication, listening, process, organization, collaboration.
The Mozilla organization recognizes design as a useful tool, which is not so obvious, as designers are often at the end of the line and considered as subordinates. Creative work is often depreciated: for instance comparing to the programers, the design research part seem for non-designers to provide invisible results but it is essential to go further and create assets that have meaning.
They learn from each other’s thoughts and experiences.
Their new process attempts to change mentalities: considering designers as collaborators and partners rather than ‘workhorses’, and judge their collaboration as opportunity for growth.
They have thus created a rich design ecosystem in Mozilla Foundation organization.
Read Cassie's post. [6]

— 3. “Connaître et pratiquer le design graphique au collège”, designed by Fanette Mellier [7]

Visual and artistic culture in France
In many situations I observed that there is a huge lack of visual and artistic knowledge in France.
The posters we see in the street and the subway are so poorly designed. So are the printed matters, comparing to my Belgian friends nice works. Why?
I can pick at least two problems:
1— Decision-makers poor visual and artistic culture:
Graphic design assets that the public can see is produced for institutional or private organizations.
Finalized and chosen assets depend on decision-makers whose artistic culture is so poor that their point of view and decisions restrict the designers suggestions, creativity, potential, wishes.
To create high quality content, you must share a communal artistic language with your spokesperson, who gives you her/his trust and let you room for manoeuvre. In this situation were my best projects created.
2— Audience poor visual and artistic culture:
If audience were better educated, they may be able to criticize and ask for better quality products. They may influence the graphic design quality.
Access to culture and knowledge is still the privilege of the French elite. As designers we have to change that.

How to spread artistic knowledge and practice?
I see different solutions to pull out of a slump.
How to create situations to share artistic knowledge with everyone?
As some friends do in Brussels (Anne Brugni, Made in Kit): workshops for children who manipulate colored and cut shapes, build graphic arrangements. Art should be taught from preschool to secondary shool. Art should be everywhere at every age.
This is a field in which I would like to get involved.

“Connaître et pratiquer le design graphique au collège”: what is it?
It is a educational kit created in 2015, made up of typography, colors, data visualization, images and page setting resources.
Its goal is to make students (11 to 14-years-old) discover what graphic design is about and revealing the importance of graphic design in our daily lives.
I am pleased to discover this initiative and I am curious to see how it is used, and what it will change in the perception of the teachers and these teenagers-future adults. I will try to get some feedback from teachers or students.

Série Graphique, Fanette Mellier, 2015
Série Graphique - Connaître et pratiquer le design graphique au collège, 2015