More than the sum of its parts?

“When someone tells you to start a self-initiated project - is it really a self-initiated project?”

This is a question that was hanging over me from the moment I was assigned this project. I know why this type of work is important – the main reasons being that it is a good way to exercise one’s creativity and an opportunity to get oneself noticed, but…

… my mind refused to cooperate and all my attempts to revive it were swiftly stifled. I had ideas (a lot of ideas, maybe even too many ideas), but none of them felt ‘right’ or ‘worthwhile’ or ‘big enough’ or they were ‘too big’ or they were ‘not feasible’ because of other circumstances. Right now, you might be thinking that this is just a bunch of excuses – and I am with you on that! Making a long laundry list of excuses to prove that ‘I cannot’ do something… is not something that I normally do. What a waste of time?

It is just frustrating – even more so because we were prompted to solve an Industrial Problem and I happen to be a (flippin) Industrial Designer. Well, that is at least what I told myself, “I am – a designer.” - a title that is written in fancy cursive letters on my degree (specifically it says ‘Product Designer’ – but let’s not get lost in the details, okay?) For ‘a designer’ this should be a piece of cake, it is the daily bread they eat and the oxygen they breathe, okay? But apparently, this is not the case for me - I just might be an exception or maybe there was a glitch in the simulation, who knows?

However, I was not going to give up. So, I kept spinning the hamster wheel until I realized that my search for that ‘big tittle‘ and the ‘pragmatic orderliness‘ made me blind to the work that I was continually producing since the start of the year because it did not fit the bill in my eyes. There was no common thread, no narrative or central figure that would tie it all together in a pretty parcel, but it was undeniably there. So, what if this is the thing that I have been trying to find all along? It was just hiding right there under my nose.

I have been told (many times) that I should loosen up, that I should just let go of control - to embrace the chaos because otherwise there is a good chance that I’d burn out or that I’d get suffocated by my own expectations. I agree with these voices of concern but that does not make it any easier to follow through with their advice. Admitting that my response to this brief resembles a fridge covered in children’s drawings rather than a cure for cancer (I am exaggerating here) is hard to swallow. And yet somehow, It feels like a success – because of personal growth – but there is still that feeling of complete and utter failure at the same time – because this collection of randomness does not solve or change anything.

Anyway, this was a very longwinded way to tell you that my self-initiated project is a collection of images, which I named ‘Design Gibberish’. (The name might have to be adjusted, but then again – I have realized that it is not about the title at all – it could be called the ‘Dumpster Bucket of 20/21’ or ‘Mag’s Thoughts’ or ‘As you like it’ or whatever else…) This collection also contains images that were made for the #30works30days challenge. (which are images made in response to the daily briefs. Well… sometimes – because other times I just went rogue.)

You would be pleased to know that I do understand that my work cannot speak for itself so I will gladly provide you with more context (but I imagine that with a little bit of Voice UI -> one day these images might be able to introduce themselves).

This project was born thanks to our tutor who decided to tease us with a few quiz questions on image file format terminology. Instead of digging through my memory to find the correct answer, I looked for other words that could make up the same acronyms, which caused a tiny lightbulb moment - because this play with words turned out to be quite interesting and funny. So, from that day forward I would pay a lot more attention to the messages that I post in the group chat during our sessions (or the thoughts that come during mundane daily activities, or the words of wisdom that come up in conversations or other messages I witness on the internet) Essentially, looking for catchy lines, prompts, and provoking thoughts, which I could utilize in my work.

At some point, I have also started dabbling in poetry. (I think that the Manifesto project was the main catalyst for this unusual behaviour. What caused this sudden switch to rhyming is still a mystery to me. But let it be known that if someone told me that one day, I will be writing poetry in English while studying for a master’s degree in the UK, I’d tell them to go see a doctor.)

After I went through the ‘wordplay’ phase and the ‘poetic’ phase I returned to drawing – first exploring vector-based illustration and then favouring digital drawing for the sake of efficiency. Although right now I am at this point where I can think ideas through in all three mediums (wordplay, poems, and illustration) and choose the most fitting one for the final realization and sometimes when an idea comes, I know straight away how I want to portray it (and other times a combination of these mediums becomes the preferred solution).

Working on these pieces also helped me to learn more about myself and to get out of my comfort zone. Most notably, one of the briefs urged us to seek feedback from our fellows. Not only did I summon up the courage to ask a stranger from the internet for some feedback but I was also asked to return the favour - essentially having a little critique session with someone I have never met. It was interesting to have my work explained by someone else, " looks like a mixture of digital and analogue - like when you can see the folds of the paper or used plastic..."

I had to admit that I do enjoy the illusion of raw materials which do not actually exist, since most of my work is made without any 'tree cruelty'. However, at the same time, I am not sure if textures and illusions are something that defines my scribbles. Shouldn't it be more about what is on the paper rather than the paper itself? Like substance over form...?

The paragraphs that you have just skimmed through might make it sound like I have it all figured out – which could not be farther from the truth. It is a process, and I am still learning. For example, I post most of my creations on Instagram and I cannot say that I am very successful considering the numbers that are attached to my account, but I refuse to be possessed by the algorithms and the need for instant gratification.

I know that It could always be better and it will not get better if I don’t try. The #30works30days challenge certainly helped, but since I made an image every day it meant that the quantity was there, but the quality was somewhat inconsistent. So, the other thing I do is that I tend to go through my ‘wall’ every once in a while to filter out anything that does not fit in anymore. The thinking behind this strategy is that looking at the images a couple of weeks after I have posted them allows me to see them with ‘fresh eyes’ so the shortcomings become more clear (this is also the reason why my IG account has gone through quite a few drastic renovations). Another thing is consistency (and in this case, it does not mean posting every day at the same time – I am not a robot), which are essentially the parameters you set for yourself and the work you create. Nicely organized grids of photos are the ultimate crowd-pleasers, but I found out that the tighter the parameters (aka rules and restrictions) the more likely I am to lose interest in the process of making because it does not leave any room for spontaneity. Therefore, the one and only parameter I have is a black background (which is utilized by several other hopeful content creators – so no, this does not make me stand out – and yes, I might change it someday in the future). In the end, being a (seemingly successful) slave to the platform is not something I hope to achieve.

I have also observed quite a few accounts diving headfirst into offering prints, t-shirts, badges, and stickers. Honestly, it does sound enticing, but for some reason, I cannot justify this for myself. Maybe it is because I am leaning more towards the anti-advertising trend or because I’d rather promote sustainability over selling artifacts that drain the earth’s resources, but then again electricity and the vast amount of data that I have to store for all of these images to exist is also draining resources... so go figure.

In the end, 'goods for profit' is how business works, I know that - but I need more time to figure out how I fit into this system. In the meantime, you know where you’ll find me…

*To browse the full gallery please head over to Design Gibberish.