Yesterday we had to talk about where we were up to with our research questions. Here are my garbled notes which I intend to shoe-horn into a presentation with full backing of well researched references.

How can graphic design practice be enhanced through the exploration of materiality?

Ultimately anything produced in graphic design is created to meet (needs better word) a user. The purpose is to create an experience – to what end depends on the brief – but it’s about experience.

To fully experience something, it has to appeal to some of, or all of our senses. There’s a reason the word “immersive” gets thrown around so much in graphic design circles. The more someone can connect to something, have a relationship to it, the more the message is communicated.

Sometimes something flat and 2D with no tactile qualities is enough. The message itself is strong enough to communicate on its own. In other cases, it’s not enough and that’s where the exploration of materiality comes in.

Materiality in this context could mean one of two things – however both meanings are related. It can be to do with the material nature of the object – or whatever it is. Or it can be to do with the message itself. (Expand on this from notes).

It’s physical nature.

“although material designates physical matter, it also assumes potential from its association with non-physical matter”. http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/material.htm
The non physical – the context, the experience?

This need for the physical qualities of things we interact with can be seen to emerge with the advent of e-books on devices such as the Kindle. The makers of these devices have had to create ways to give them tactile qualities – to make them “feel” like a book. I think we can all agree that there’s nothing quite like curling up with a paper book on a Sunday afternoon, large mug of tea in hand. It has a feeling, it has a smell and it’s just not the same when you’re holding a computer device. Or seeing a painting “in the flesh”. The content is the same, but the experience isn’t.

This could link back to the extended meaning of materiality – our Western mind-set of more things = better. We like to have the things – the CDs with the songs, not just the MP3s, the physical software discs. Some of it is the fear of losing the item within the vastness of computer technology…

How does this relate to graphic design? Looking at one of the branches of graphic design – web design – and its struggles over the years to produce a fully immersive experience – it’s easy to see a trend emerging. It got done at the “start” of web design, but then sort of disappeared as being too corny and that’s the idea of using everyday objects as “textures” or as part of the experience – you could argue that on screen, it’s not a texture, it’s a pattern. Extending the desktop metaphor. It all started with the “web 2.0” gradients and drop shadows and has extended now to adding noise to things, using photographs of textured objects to make it look as though you could really reach in and touch it. I think what’s important is that you don’t have to be able to touch it in this instance; it just has to look like you can. If you look at web design today, you will see a lot of this – hell, I even do it. It makes something seemingly immaterial (although lots of people have argued that computer information is material) material.

Obviously this is of no help to people who can’t see – they can’t feel the screen. Although I suspect they experience much of the world through words.

If we then go back to print design, where you can touch and feel, it becomes even more obvious how exploring materiality can enhance the experience of a piece of graphic design. Obviously these effects should only be used when required – there are still very strong arguments for simplicity – but I think we all know how a spot varnish can make something look and feel a lot more fancy.

It can give a feeling of having gone that one step further.

Exploring materiality keeps us in touch with the real world – with a lot of graphic design being done on the computer, it can be easy to forget our roots. These roots are important for a more well-rounded design. It’s important for us to have the experience too.

It creates a more immersive experience.

It allows a user to have a stronger relationship with the item.

Whilst design isn’t fine art, something truly beautiful has strong artistic qualities and even today – even with graphic tablets and Photoshop – fine art is still often about the physical. The immersive. The reaction from the audience.

Whilst you don’t have to have material qualities to a piece of work for it to be a successful design, I think it is important to consider these things, to think about the users experience of the item and how you can potentially enrich that.

The weather installation at the Tate!

Need examples – that PS3 brochure?

The cursor as an extension.

Trying to create an experience – without directly copying. So the spot varnish creates the idea of fanciness as a metaphor.

Photography – digital isn’t enough. We now try to recreate light bleeds, black and white, film grain etc. These were all material things, there’s a nostalgia there.

“Walter Benjamin questions the lack of “aura” in the work of art in the modern technical reproduction that is indefinitely reproducible through printing and photography” http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/material.htm

“differentiating the surface” – makes it 3D? Gives the idea of physicality, that it has depth.