Yesterday, Michael Rock of 2 x 4 design gave a lecture at UIC for the architecture lecture series. Bob Sobal, director of the school of architecture, made a statement that he asked Michael to come because he was a designer content with just designing and had not given into the call for research. That ruffled my feathers, but as I listened to what Michael was saying I realized that this was not true. What Michael was describing was the essence of graphic designing, which is about the mastery in which you treat the content that you are provided by the client.
Michael made a very astute statement about how as a designer you cannot control the content, all you control is the treatment of the content. Beyond cries for designer as author, I believe in most cases that is true. I know this to be true because on almost every project that I've worked on with a designer, I had to come up with the content. My disappointments with working with designers is the inability to generate content as well as form. I think the call for designer as author is tied to the perception that somehow this focus on treatment is being superficial. The calls for design thinking is about proving that the thought process behind the selection of treatment is deep. Which is true, but it is true because good designers are gifted in discerning the best technique to get the essence of the content.
Michael described the evolution of two treatment motifs that 2 X 4 has explored for mostly Prada, but also Brooklyn Museum, the Muhammed Ali Museum, and Chanel. The first was the motif of fauna, where through pixelized patterns 2 x 4 treats mostly walls as interactive surfaces of perspective play. Figures only become clear from the distance of an airplane as in the facade of the Muhammed Ali museum. Microscopic pollen patterns close up becomes rich but indistinct decorative wall paper at a distance. The idea that there are teaming lifeforms that exist if you are close enough or far enough from them becomes both a visual treatment, but also social commentary in the world of high luxury goods.
The second motif was flora, which describes their use of organic flower shapes to comment upon mostly cold modernist structures. He described the work they did for Vitra furniture where they turned modern chairs into flowers, see case study at 2 X 4 site. The flower logo for the Brooklyn museum, and the really cool flower-inspired Waist Down exhibit of skirts.
What I appreciated is the fact that Michael was confident in his identity as a designer, who uses the language of form to give appropriate meaning to whatever content comes his way. That is the value-add of design. So while it is not the kind of design I would engage with because I am more on the information design side of things, it was great to get an appreciation for the kinds of work that 2 x 4 does. And reminds me of the diversity of perspectives in design.