Post-grad school has been a whirlwind of job hunting, house hunting, moving across the country, getting used to a new city, and getting used to life after the unique experience my MFA provided. The most difficult thing has been carving out time for new work outside of what I do for Chalkbox, family life, and much needed relaxation and decompression time. What makes this especially complicated is thinking about the context in which such work will exist. In graduate school I had a studio, a teaching schedule, and a culture around me that encouraged long pensive hours ideating in my sketchbook or making something in my studio. There was also a clear directive; at the end of the experience there was an MFA exhibition, a thesis, a presentation to defend that thesis, and a lovely piece of paper in a frame to be hung on a wall.
Now things are less clear, but the desire to move forward and continue working is very much present. Graduate school revealed to me a higher level of conversation in the art and design world. It stoked my hunger to not only make work, but make good work, work that asks questions and is meaningful. While in school I operated within what I consider a murky area between fine art and graphic design. I used a combination of both tool-sets and processes, thinking of both gallery space and screen space, the printed page, and the painted surface.
Specifically my work explored how technology is altering biological memory, referencing and building from contemporary research coming from the neuroscience and psychology fields. Being one who has had a screen present in my life in some form or another for most of what I'm able to remember, the biological repercussions of this interaction really interested me.
It also changed the way I think about design and how it is positioned in our cultural mind. Having worked commercially for the last decade, it is easy to think of the practice being solely relegated to a branch of capitalism. Branding, packaging, advertisements, layout and magazine design, UX, UI, all being tied in some way to someone selling something. Right?
I don't think so anymore. These operations are really just on the surface of what design can be and can do. Really effective design shifts culture, makes culture, sets dialogue or opens up new dialogue. I don't think I've made anything that comes close to operating on that level but I want to.
For example: I am really interested in new breakthroughs in research that utilizes psychedelics like Psylocibin, DMT, MDMA, and LSD in treatments for things like anxiety, depression, addiction, and PTSD. This research is new and exciting but it is faced with a huge social stigma that shut down this avenue of inquiry for almost 40 years after the 60s and Drug War era propaganda. Designers had a significant role in the creation and facilitation of this propaganda. Numerous PSAs, and scare ads meant to prevent use, large campaigns that stoked fear and distrust in the cultural mind of the United States. Sure, designers weren't alone in facilitating this, but they played a part. The effects of this are multi-generational, leading to harmful policies of incarceration, cultures of misuse and abuse.
Now after all that time new things are happening, new work is emerging, the benefits of things like psychedelics when used appropriately, in the right setting, with the right conception of the substance, are making their way into the light of day. So where does design come back in? And how does this relate to the problem of science denial and anti-intellectualism that is plaguing (in my opinion) broader cultural and political dialogue?
What if designers and researchers from these fields worked together. Why aren't there designers on research teams? If for no other part than for when the finished research is to be disseminated. When I think of all the stuffy journals most research work seems to be limited to I see a big opportunity for design. Perhaps designers, working collaboratively with teams of researchers can make this information easier to understand, more accessible. Taking this type of research to new venues and context. Galleries? I don't know. Maybe designers working this way can start to shift the culture of anti-intellectualism and science denial by working with academics in the sciences. Will it pay the bills? (as many professional designers may ask). Probably not, at least not initially.
Is it an idea worth exploring? I believe so, but the problem is complex. Much more complex than laid out here in this ranty blog post. More to come.