Michèle Champagne / Sandberg Institute Amsterdam, Design Department
That New Design Smell
That New Design Smell
Purpose, medium and its design meet each other as equally significant components in this project. – Kim Hyungjin
This is a platform for design discourse that vividly conveys conversations in their raw, unpolished forms. – Kyungsun Kymn
The integration of different media—web, print, video—is very successful in this hybrid design journal. The atmosphere is open and spontaneous. This is how a design magazine should feel like. – Sulki and Min Choi
That New Design Smell
That New Design Smell is a design criticism magazine based on dialogue rather monologue. It experiments with open content production where criticism engages an active online public at thatnewdesignsmell.net. Dialogue is then edited into a printed magazine you can hold in your hands. The magazine also presents live performances, videos — available at vimeo.com/thatnewdesignsmell — and continues the conversation with an active news feed at twitter.com/newdesignsmell.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
That New Design Smell began with the objective of thwarting lame designer lingo and the “likedy-like” mafia. When design magazines subsidize designer’s marketing efforts and positivity becomes mandatory, they lack credibility. They can deny our ability to think for ourselves and be vigilant against soundbites, idiocy and forgeries. They can also present design as a one-sided consumer subject. Consumerism can be part of design but when magazines become shopping catalogues, That New Design Smell says enough! While there are several obvious approaches to infusing independent thinking and criticism in design, some are too easily dismissed. Traditionally printed design magazines have gone the way of the dodo, with their revenue models no longer tenable and their audiences busy googling instead. More monologues from professional design critics are known to be ignored by designers and the public alike. Academics used to own criticism, but now — with blogs and forums — it belongs to everyone. Yet, more often than not, design blogs are short, shallow and trite. Most design websites give the impression designers and aficionados are only able to like, love, follow or appreciate. Professional blogs may be smarter, but their intent to self-promote is too obvious. As an alternative, That New Design Smell explores ways of introducing an independent venue for design criticism and dialogue in a pan-media fashion — it offers dirty yet diligent dialogue online and a batterie-free product in print.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
The intent of That New Design Smell is to foster design criticism and public debate. We define criticism as the evaluation of arguments and we define public debate as the ability of persons to openly question and challenge the arguments and opinions of others, including those of esteemed designers and design critics. To do so, the magazine fosters independent thinking, which we define as free from the control of another or influence of groupthink, ideological bias or outdated status quo. Recognizing that independent thinking can generate disagreement, we deny insults and welcome smart and humorous conflict. To encourage this thinking, the magazine provides an environment of radical openness, even though honesty can sometimes be difficult and uncomfortable. The magazine is not a massage parlour. That New Design Smell’s editorial policy requires each contributor to ensure they say makes sense to them and editors have the obligation to intervene only when food fights erupt. Everyone is encouraged to be both assertive and open-minded in order to build a more robust understanding of where design was, where it is now and where it’s going in the future. In order to maintain an environment of independence, the magazine is developing an independent revenue model, with no advertising, corporate sponsors, political donations or government funding. The magazine is seeking a revenue model based on crowd-sourced funding and merchandising. When evaluating the independent claims of any publication, it’s important to “follow the money.”4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Research for That New Design Smell was divided into different yet inter-related areas: Design, criticism and magazines. Design research revolved around: the dotted line between design, art and commerce; no-style avant-garde turned high-end glamour; Virginia Postrel on glamour; and the no-context “vacuum fetish” of icons and objects. Criticism research focused on: The “likedy-like” ideology; Barbara Ehrenreich on positive thinking; and Rick Poynor on design criticism. Magazine research was all about: The future of the magazine as a medium; the orthodox of a “controlled media citadel”; magazines on- and off-line; and open systems for content production. Overlapping research, That New Design Smell was translated into an applied design project in the form of a periodical magazine. 01 — First, a visual concept was formulated: disgrace. Then, a visual strategy was chosen: one that engaged non-glamorous design representation and pan-media aesthetics. Here, the real life of design was visualized: photography was allowed to be pixelated, people and objects appeared in their original contexts and the blasphemous font Arial ruled rows and columns. 02 — Second, an editorial narrative was put together. The first section would be about design theory, and asked designers to quite literally define design, no matter how tricky the response. For Issue nº 0, designers Gert Dumbar and Daniel van der Velden from Metahaven were interviewed. The second section was about design practice, as applied to people and life; with the J’adore part as a unique column, where “likedy-like” comments were collected from design blogs. For Issue nº 0, four article appeared in the second section: Roundtable Harmony looked at global roundtables as mythologies of egalitarian furniture, The Billion-Dollar Party looked at G20 Summits as designed events, Design For Another Day looked at Western designers problem solving in China, and Embracing Worlds Gone Wrong looked at design that doesn’t always “make the world a better place.” And for that deja-vu feeling, the third section was about design memes in the public sphere. For Issue nº 0, two design memes were explored: Northern New Age looked at sacred geometries on top of mountains landscapes and Mysterious Panther looked at the allure of dark and curvacious aesthetics. 03 — Third, the magazine’s medium was designed with web-print-life balance in mind. The magazine begins online, where criticism engaged a thinking public at thatnewdesignsmell.net. The online forum was designed with an interface where dialogue was king and readers thoughts were front-and-center. Then, online dialogue was edited for print. The editorial design focused on a classic physical format and applied the disgraful visual strategy. 04 — Fourth, the magazine launched during Sandberg Institute Amsterdam’s “The Future Is So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” Design Department events and graduation. And as mentioned previously, the magazine presented videos, performances and continued the conversation with an active Twitter feed.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
The motto of That New Design Smell is “our public knows more than we do.” The magazine’s value cannot be assumed by its creators but generated by its readers, watchers and contributors. That said, and in addition to the above statement of intent, That New Design Smell presents itself as healthy alternative to the traditional design press. In its willingness to foster critical thinking, perhaps its value is intellectual — it offers the chance to engage with brain activity. In its willingness to actively foster public debate, perhaps its value is social — it offers the chance for everyone to participate in the conversation. In its willingness to experiment with independent editorial models that match independent revenue models, perhaps its value is economic — if offers independent thinking and publishing another shot at being widely read and bought. During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the concept and public figure of the critic was almost eliminated. As has the general practice of critical thinking in society and in design. An anti-criticism sentiment presides, cheered by small studios and multinational who reassure their public there’s no need to think for themselves or discuss. That New Design Smell knew another kind of dialogue was possible — intellectual rather than academic, popular rather than populist, and rife with fiction, documentary, irony, comedy and satire. That New Design Smell was convinced that in a likedy-like culture, critical and engaged reflection was more important than ever.