Computer Arts Projects (Issue 147) - New Styles and Substance

Today’s top visionaries of tomorrow’s new visual styles are makers and shakers in contemporary communication design. Trendsetting now where others will follow – these are a diverse group, each employing iconic modes and methods to produce style with substance, content with collateral.

With constantly evolving visual approaches - staying ahead of the curve and staking out new territories – who are the new guns and leading lights, emerging from the shadows? Who will set the scene for a new style offensive? Picking the brains of those in the know, from It’s Nice That and Think/Do in London to Ian Wright in NYC, we asked them all - who are the purveyors of the new visual aesthetics?

From the age-old design mantra - less is more and form follows function, given new lifeblood in digital domains, to the very natural progression from the handmade and handcrafted onto more natural and organic visual aesthetics – it is clear that a new range of attitudes and approaches are emerging…

It’s Nice That…
Founded in April 2007 It’s Nice That has fast become the website de facto for providing a daily diet of what’s new, what’s emerging and what’s what across the creative industries. Will Hudson and Alex Bec created It’s Nice That as students, going onto achieve cult status – charting the rising stars and starlets of advertising, animation, architecture, art, fashion, film, illustration, graphic design, photography and design for the web. These guys are experts in following and comprehending the twists and turns of the creative industry, staying ahead of the game by detailing tomorrow’s talent - today.

Quizzed in their Hoxton hideout Bec and Hudson offer up their immediate thoughts on what’s hot and what’s not with wry smiles on their faces. They know what they like and what they are tipping for a big 2011 but equally understand that the final choice often remains with the end-user or customer. ‘They’ll be far less specialists,’ offers Hudson, ‘and simply far more generalists. New creatives are already demonstrating that they’ll cover more bases, that they’re more adaptable and can span both digital and print domains,’ he adds. Bec agreeing with Hudson, adding to the mix that even with increasing access to digital platforms, print continues to be the medium that many remain attached to – ‘Landfill. Zineswap. Riso. These are all ensuring that print remains a medium to contend with,’ Bec offers, ‘but ultimately I guess we’d tip new digital modes of expression as being at the ahead of the curve.’

Pressed to reveal a little more - Bec and Hudson explain their thinking. They believe that a return to a ‘less is more’ aesthetic is becoming popular – that stripped back simplicity is the key that perhaps influenced by a new austere age, the days of decoration and superfluous detail are numbered. ‘We’ve seen vector come and go, we’ve witnessed collage come in and out of favour, we’ve had 3D models en vogue for a while, but perhaps a more honest, pared back look and feel is now becoming more dominant,’ opinions Will. ‘The screen as a blank digital canvas, as a starting point and the ways and means of simple, straightforward expression and communication is really current,’ adds Bec.

It’s Nice That see a no-nonsense, no bells and whistles, often witty, pixel-powered simplicity in the best work being created by the best practitioners for 2011…

Interview 01 - Rafaël Rozendaal
Rafaël Rozendaal, born in 1980 in Amsterdam, is creating a storm with his artworks or art pieces, call them what you will. Matching a stunningly simple digital aesthetic – think Macpaint – with witty artistic and design thinking his work has a contemporary resonance that doesn’t betray its roots in the birth of the digital.

Rozendaal’s website,, is a treasure trove of intriguing works for a global range of galleries, clients and collectors. “I have chosen a working method that is very direct,’ admits Rozendaal, ‘the closest possible connection from my brain to the network.’ Working methods? ‘I have many ideas and I out them onto a To-Do List,’ he states in a dry matter-of-fact manner.

Interview 02 – Jez Burrows
‘Get a job. Get excited. Do some research. Try a bunch of things and fail at all of them. Get miserable,’ Jez Burrows is explaining his working methods, ‘Have a coffee. Talk to myself. Try a bunch of new things and fail at less of them. Keep talking to myself. Eventually start to get somewhere.’

Burrows is being hard on himself – keeping visual communication boiled right down to the essential essence of the message is core to his working method and he is fast-becoming a master at making less seem like more. ‘I’m hoping that I can keep refining my process,’ he states, ‘being honest with myself about what works and what doesn’t…’ What works is his pared-back digital visual language.

Interview 03 – Troika
Troika are Eva Rucki, Conney Freyer and Sebastien Noel. The trio met while studying at the Royal College of Art, probably on the most interesting postgraduate course at the institution – Design Products.

The group’s approach is best summed up by the experimental nature of their practice, positioned on the junction where art, architecture and technical inventions exist – but it is the formal simplicity of their design solutions that have clearly impressed It’s Nice That. ‘We work with craftsmen, engineers, researchers and scientists,’ explains Rucki, ‘and create multi-layered objects, installations, sculptures and exhibitions.’ ‘Troika represent the rise of the generalist,’ adds Alex of It’s Nice That.

Ian Wright
UK-born, educated and practicing since the late 1970s, through the 1980s and the 1990s before relocating to New York towards the end of the last decade Ian Wright is an illustrator, image-maker and educator who commands respect from his peers as well as a trail of much younger exponents and practitioners.

Wright has continually moved his own work forward at a pace many would shudder to even contemplate – just as a visual style he has forged and championed has began to gather momentum, he is off inventing and discovering new ways of working. He is an artist and designer motivated to keep things on the move visually.

‘Making stuff, using your hands, drawing and painting, it’s all about process,’ explains Wright when quizzed in the basement studio of the downtown Manhattan gallery representing his work. ‘It isn’t a movement that is confined to editorial or publishing,’ he adds, ‘here are artists that are happy working across a range of media – somehow it has started to switch away from regular commissions and becoming broader – artworks, events, clothes, the list is becoming longer of extracurricular activities.

Wright believes that the movement towards the handcrafted and organic will continue into and through 2011. Expressive motifs and more playful themes and ideas will win out – ‘people need some light-hearted relief in tough times,’ he states, ‘designers are using old technology and combining with new technology – true craft skills are reemerging as younger practitioners introduce themselves to old-school techniques.’ Wright has been quick to recognize how some of the new school using letterpress, screen-print and other low-tech methods are taking into hi-tech digital environments. ‘They’re doing it with style – they’re doing it with expression and often with a degree of humour, that really keeps things fresh,’ Wright adds.

‘I think that the use of technology isn’t as visible as it once was,’ explains Wright, ‘the idea, the guts of the image and the heart and soul are crucial, critical aspects of this movement – it is encouraging that some of the young blood now coming through have a confidence that isn’t built on software techniques, but is built on producing creative images with a depth of expression.’ Ian Wright is motivated by finding new ways of working himself; he looks constantly at how to keep fresh, forward-thinking and exploring new methods is a key – ‘I’m always looking at who is coming through and how they’re making images. Expressive and handcrafted feels like it has so much further to go…’

Interview 04 - Jiggerypokery
Lauren Davies and Anna Lomax are the duo named Jiggerypokery – utilizing their dual skills across a range of commercial and non-commercial projects. ‘We apply playful imagination, hunter-gather skills and excellent scalpel and gaffa-tape precision to bring ideas to life,’ they explain.

Making something of nothing – Jiggerypokery beg, borrow and steal the objects and ephemera that make up their constructed and very much hand-made visual solutions. ‘We have a large archive of collected objects that we find inspiring,’ offers Lomax, ‘and we’ll sit down at the start of a project and brainstorm ideas to bring to life the objects,’ adds Davies. The double whammy of two creative brains and their handmade aesthetic continues to be a winner…

Interview 05 – Natsko Seki
Born in Tokyo before studying in Brighton and currently working in London, Natsko Seki combines her loves of photography and illustration through her handcrafted collage technique. ‘I’m inspired by architecture and fashion from different ages and cultures,’ explains Seki, ‘and I’ll often use photographs of my family and friends in my work,’ she adds. Quizzed on why – she offers ‘I believe they are a crucial part of my practice – they give my illustrations a timeless quality and lend them meaning too.’

Ideas are important to Seki’s visual approach, but the breakthrough in her technique comes when constructing her final images – ‘the process is often trial and error or even by accident,’ she admits…

Interview 06 – Craig Ward / Words are Pictures
Expressive and experimental typography is at the heart of Craig Ward’s practice – ‘I’m drawn to projects where the client is trusting of both my conceptual abilities and my ability to make things work visually too,’ states Ward. Working under the name – Words are Pictures, Ward makes work that explores natural forms, expressive formats and aims to blur the lines and edges between type and image.

Taking a unique stance to each and every project, Ward executes visual solutions through thorough exploration of the subject – ‘Inventive solutions can always be found – semiotics are evident in every piece of text, my job is to create the aesthetic to communicate…’

Tara Hanrahan / Think/Do
Former Creative Director at London design agency Thomas Matthews, Tara Hanrahan now operates out of her own studio – Think/Do. An award-winning designer whose portfolio of work spans projects for V&A, Battersea Arts Centre, Trust Museum and Town and Country Planning Association as well as Unilever and the Hong Kong government, she is much in demand.

Hanrahan’s take on the aesthetic taking hold for 2011 and beyond? ‘There is a real sense,’ she starts, ‘of going back to the physical – it isn’t quite un-digital or even anti-digital but a movement towards reconnecting with our human side.’ Recognising a shift away from purely digital working methods – Hanrahan sees a shift towards a vision, interestingly sat between It’s Nice That’s view of a stripped back digital aesthetic and Ian Wright’s return to the craft driven and handmade, that simply reflects a more honest view of visual communication.

‘After all of the visual noise of recent years; the digital fakery and overblown advertising budgets spent on post-production trickery – there is a return to creating real stories,’ Hanrahan explains, ‘people are much less impressed by wizardry than they once were – they know if something is real or phoney and are not as amazed by the use of technology as they once were – things have certainly moved on, and with that too has been a yearning for using real life as inspiration.’

Hard to pin one visual aesthetic down – Hanrahan’s vision for a visual direction for the near future is in her sense that people want to look and feel something real again – ‘people are engaging with brands that are straightforward and honest, people are certainly interested in how something has been created – there are more ‘The Making of…’ background stories to projects cropping up,’ she states, ‘but only if the story is honest, real and engaging.’

Having lectured nationally and internationally on design for behavioral change and with expertise in sustainable design practices and a decade under her belt as a creative director, Hanrahan knows a thing or two about forward-thinking and future-gazing – ‘knowing how and why visual trends emerge is a fascinating subject,’ she explains, ‘there are so many aspects that influence fashions in design and being immersed in discovering how people are telling their own stories, on a more personal level, is fundamental in understanding where visual communications are heading…’

Pinpointing how, where and why visual trends emerge; recognising those that may lead towards new design thinking and those that will simply fade away is a little like gazing into a crystal ball – nothing is yet proven, the future is yet unwritten.

Interview 07 – Indianen
‘Human projects, these are ones that most interest us’ explains Tim Knapen - one quarter of the design quad that make up Antwerp’s Indianen, ‘we do like to work with digital processes and tools, but in the end it comes down to the same old idea of telling a story – will this idea grab people’s attention?’ he adds, ‘Will it resonate? No amount of technical gimmicks can do anything past the first ‘wow, how does this work?’ reaction.’

Indianen are clearly flexible and adaptable – working with ease across borders and boundaries creating design solutions in print or interactive projects using custom software or electronics – ‘whatever the medium; what is important is triggering the imagination of the viewer…’

Interview 08 – Art+Com
Founded in Berlin in 1988, Art+Com began life as a registered association of designers, artists, scientists and technicians before 10 years later becoming a public limited company. Art+Com create screen applications, websites, terminals and installations as well as multimedia and sensory experiences for commercial and non-commercial clients.

‘We’re interested in the projects that allow us to develop ourselves as much as we are able to solve the needs and expectations of our clients,’ explains Creative Director Joachim Sauter. ‘We constantly try to reinvent ourselves and we are open towards experiments,’ Sauter adds, ‘and we have the ability to recognize when they fail.’ Whether working on kinetic sculptures for BMW or an interactive display for the German Salt Museum, Art+Com bring a human side to their results.

Interview 09 – Sennep
Infusing design and technology with the human is key to Sennep’s design philosophy – ‘There’s a strong sense of craft to the work we do,’ explains Matt Rice, Creative Director, ‘we merge traditional design skills with the latest technologies and we find that getting way from the computer helps create a more tactile and rich outcome.’

It is clear that where the handcrafted meets the digital interests Sennep – the London-based agency that emerged in 2003, and that life experiences figure large in the digital work that they create – ‘we use the real world to investigate how technology can enhance everyday experiences and human interactions in playful ways,’ Rice states, ‘where physical artworks, design, code, electronics and social networks meet are where you can find Sennep.’