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Relational Design? The exploration of Relational Aesthetics in Graphic Design

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This essay explores the idea of Relational Aesthetics in Graphic Design though Holloway and Blauvelt’s exploration of Relational Design. A new redefined definition has been introduced to better categorize Relational Design and gives a new perspective into the field.
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Relational Design? The exploration of
Relational Aesthetics in Graphic Design
September 18, 2017
Wayne Shih
cshi13@whicadmail.ac.nz
Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design
Te Whare Takiura o Wikiriwhi
24 Balfour Road, Auckland 1052, New Zealand
DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.14812.90245/1
Produced as part of BFA(GDes) coursework
3715 Relational Aesthetics contextual paper
Lecturer: Glen Snow
Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term “relational aesthetics” which he defines as
“[a] theory consisting in judging artworks on the basis of the inter-human
relations which they represent, produce or prompt”, to describe the emerging
trends of 90s contemporary arts. Relational art he says is “a set of artistic
practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the
whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent
and private space.” (Bourriaud 1998, 2002, 112-113)
In a period in which manifestos tend to be regarded longingly rather
than actually written or followed, Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational
Aesthetics has emerged as the text for a new generation of artists,
curators and critics. It offers a new characterisation and collectivisation
of contemporary art practices, and a new configuration of their political
terms and conditions. (Martin 2007, 369)
The most common example of relational art would be the work of Rirkrit
Tiravanija Untitled (Free) in 303 Gallery, 1992; and recreated in the Museum of
Modern Art as part of the installation Contemporary Galleries: 1980 – Now
[2012]. Tiravanija converts the gallery into a kitchen where he serves rice and
Thai curry for free. The visitor is invited to interact with contemporary art in a
more sociable way via food. Thus, blurring the distance between the artist
and viewers. The viewer is not just looking at the artwork, but is also part of
an artwork; therefore, making the art – visitors eating curry and talking to
other visitors. (Stokes 2012)
Graphic design in the relational aesthetics world is historically fairly limited, as
graphic design leaned more towards commercial projects rather than fine
arts’ conceptual thinking.
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While there are a great number of graphic design projects that offer
interactivity, or exploring the relationship of people with a space; projects that
promote social relationships between people are rare. (Poyner 2009)
Timothy Holloway describes design forms with levels of engagement.
First level being fixed – just viewing; second level being interactive – engaging
viewing and self-engagement; third level being relational – engaging with our
senses, ourselves, and mostly with others. (Defining Relational Design: A
conceptual analysis 2012, 3)
[Within fixed and interactive design], the object is in a fixed state. You
can not look at content that hasn’t been created within parameters set
by the designer and within the constraints that are integral to the object.
The available content is potentially the same for all those that use it,
regardless of the way in which the user engages with it. (Ibid.)
Having said this, relational design does not have these constraints. It
exists at the level of engagement without having predetermined outcomes or
parameters.
Andrew Blauvelt began to theorize the emerging trend in design that
showed a progression towards a relational sensibility, extending Bourriaud’s
definition from Fine Arts into the more commercial Graphic Design sector.
(Ibid, 11) Blauvelt describes relational as a third phase of design (which
Holloway categorizes as Post-Post-Modernism or Altermodernism (Ibid.))
extending beyond the form of the design object and its attendant meanings
and cultural symbolism. The concern with performance or use is not the result
of functionality or aesthetics, but rather in the realm of behavior and
uncontrollable consequences. (Blauvelt 2008)
It embraces constraints and seeks systematic methodologies, as a way
of countering the excessive subjectivity of most design decision-
making. It explores more open-ended processes that value the
experiential and the participatory and often blur the distinctions
between production and consumption. (Ibid.)
The typographic system “Twin Cities” is a is a family of typefaces that exists
as a result of the networked society that shapes our current cultural and
social era. This type system is dynamic depending on the weather with the
twin cities – Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Using a weather vane,
the system analyzes the temperature and wind pattern which determines the
style of the type displayed from the 10 pre-set families. (Walker Art Center
2015) (Neville 2011)
The relational and contextual qualities of the Twin Cities system would
not be able to operate without being connected to the internet. It is by
being part of a network that it is able to mutate and transform in real
time. Examples such as this illustrate how much influence the internet
has in creating our network dominated culture. This flexible and
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feedback orientated societal structure is a new one, having replaced the
older formal industrial era hierarchies. (Neville 2011)
Twin, 2012
Designer: LettError; Erik van Blokland, and Just van Rossum
Client: University of Minnesota Design Institute
The use of weather data takes up a large chunk in relational design.
The tourism advertising campaign designed by Neue Design Studio for the
Nordkyn peninsula in Norway utilizes weather statistics to determine the
shape and color of the Nordkyn logo. The shape of the logo distorts to reflect
on the wind strength, it also acts as a compass to show the wind direction.
The differential in color shows the variation of temperate –25˚C to 25˚C in the
region. (Ibid.)
Another example would be eCLOUD. The instillation situated in San
José International Airport is constructed from polycarbonate tiles that fade in-
between transparent and opaque states, which are controlled by real time
weather from locations around the world through National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration’s data. This data is used to create a simulation
representing weather from any of the international locations by turning the
individual tiles on and off in a certain pattern. The simulation is visualized
within the cloud sculpture as well as a dynamic display placed at eye level in
the terminal. (Shih and Le Prevost-Smith 2017, 6)
Using Bourriaud’s definition, the above examples cannot be categorized as
relational art as it lacks “inter-human relations”. On the other hand, Blauvelt
would categorize it as relational as his definition looks predominantly at
people’s relationship between the piece of design and its context, and not
necessarily involve the concept of inter-human relations. However, Holloway
noted that Blauvelt’s definition is flawed as anyone can easily argue any
“good” design is relational, as the designer considered the user’s need and
the context in which it will be placed. (Defining Relational Design: A
conceptual analysis 2012, 28)
A near example of relational design would be the 2009 rebrand of Melbourne
City. Consisting of a geometric “M”, the inside of the logo has been used to
present a range of diverse options and visual appearances. (Neville 2011)
How could we use identity to drive the city’s organizations? Could we
influence how governing agencies think about themselves? Could the
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identity inspire action? […] The diversity of Melbourne became a sacred
concept. We celebrated this in the identity through colour, forms,
facets, and structures. We realized that if we got it right it would allow
Melbourne to flex, grow, and evolve along with a growing and changing
population and connect dynamically with future opportunities. (Landor
2010)
City of Melbourne Identity Program, 2009
Designer: Landor – Sydney and Melbourne office
Client: City of Melbourne
Unlike the previous examples, the City of Melbourne identity doesn’t
respond an external factor or human interactions. (Neville 2011) This is simply
what Holloway would describe as fixed design, where the designers already
pre-determined the fixed visual outcomes.
Having explored these, relational design should be a hybrid between
Bourriaud and Blauvelt’s definition. Having an unpredictable factor – not just
limited to direct audience interactions, but also external factors such as
weather patterns – that shapes the design.
True participation is open and we will never be able to know what we
give to the spectator — Clark, Nov 14, 1968 (Clark and Otiticica 1968-
1969, 115)
In one of my branding projects earlier this year, I have attempted to explore
Relational Design through sound. Unfortunately, due to timing and technical
issues this branding was not turned into relational. The branding was for an
exhibition titled Dystopia, almost all of the works shown had a glitch nature to
it – either artificially generated during render, or physically through loose
monitor cables. The concept of the branding was to have a sound level
sensor that controls how distorted the wordmark of the exhibition brand –
loud, distorted; quiet, less distorted; ambient, no distortion. (Shih 2017)
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Dystopia Exhibition Poster, 2017
Designer: Wayne Shih
Client: Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design
Example renders of different sound levels
(10dBA, 40dBA, 80dBA, 100dBA)
This essay has explored the idea of Relational Aesthetics in Graphic Design
though Holloway and Blauvelt’s exploration of Relational Design. A new
redefined definition has been introduced to better categories Relational
Design and gives a new perspective into the field.
6
Works cited
Blauvelt, Andrew. 2008. Towards Relational Design. Walker Arts. 10
November. https://walkerart.org/magazine/towards-relational-design.
Bourriaud, Nicolas. 1998, 2002. Relational Aesthetics. Translated by Simon
Pleasance and Fronza Woods. Dijon: Les Presses du Réel.
Clark, Lygia, and Hélio Otiticica. 1968-1969. “Letters.” Edited by Claire
Bishop. Documents of Contemporary Art: Participation (Whitechapel
Gallery & The MIT Press) 110-116.
Holloway, Timothy. 2012. Defining Relational Design: A conceptual analysis.
London: Tomothey Holloway.
—. 2012. Practising Relational Design: A concept in practise. London:
Timothy Holloway.
Landor. 2010. Rebranding the city of Melbourne. 26 February.
https://landor.com/thinking/rebranding-the-city-of-melbourne.
Martin, Stewart. 2007. “Critique of Relational Aesthetics.” Third Text (Taylor &
Francis) 20 (4): 369-386.
Neville, Daniel. 2011. A Relational Design Process Thesis. Nevolution. March.
http://nevolution.typepad.com/theories/2011/03/a-relational-design-
process-thesis.html.
Poyner, Rick. 2009. “Strained Relations: What should "relational aesthetics"
mean to graphic designers?” Print 63 (2): 21.
Shih, Wayne. 2017. Dystopia Exhibition Branding. June.
http://wayneshih.tk/dystopia-exhibition-branding.
Shih, Wayne, and Lane Le Prevost-Smith. 2017. “Internet of Things:
Exhibition proposal for Museum of Modern Art (NY) and Toi Moroki
Centre of Contemporary Art (Christchurch).” Globalised Art Making.
Auckland: Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design.
Stokes, Rebecca. 2012. Rirkrit Tiravanija: Cooking Up an Art Experience.
Museum of Modern Art: INSIDE/OUT. 3 February.
https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/02/03/rirkrit-tiravanija-
cooking-up-an-art-experience/.
Walker Art Center. 2015. Twin. March.
https://walkerart.org/minnesotabydesign/objects/twin.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Towards Relational Design. Walker Arts
  • Andrew Cited Blauvelt
cited Blauvelt, Andrew. 2008. Towards Relational Design. Walker Arts. 10
https://walkerart.org/magazine/towards-relational-design
  • November
November. https://walkerart.org/magazine/towards-relational-design.
Relational Aesthetics. Translated by Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods
  • Nicolas Bourriaud
Bourriaud, Nicolas. 1998, 2002. Relational Aesthetics. Translated by Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods. Dijon: Les Presses du Réel.
Defining Relational Design: A conceptual analysis. London: Tomothey Holloway
  • Timothy Holloway
Holloway, Timothy. 2012. Defining Relational Design: A conceptual analysis. London: Tomothey Holloway. -. 2012. Practising Relational Design: A concept in practise. London: Timothy Holloway.
Rebranding the city of Melbourne
  • Landor
Landor. 2010. Rebranding the city of Melbourne. 26 February. https://landor.com/thinking/rebranding-the-city-of-melbourne.
A Relational Design Process Thesis
  • Daniel Neville
Neville, Daniel. 2011. A Relational Design Process Thesis. Nevolution. March. http://nevolution.typepad.com/theories/2011/03/a-relational-designprocess-thesis.html.
Strained Relations: What should "relational aesthetics" mean to graphic designers?
  • Rick Poyner
Poyner, Rick. 2009. "Strained Relations: What should "relational aesthetics" mean to graphic designers?" Print 63 (2): 21.
Dystopia Exhibition Branding
  • Wayne Shih
Shih, Wayne. 2017. Dystopia Exhibition Branding. June. http://wayneshih.tk/dystopia-exhibition-branding.
Internet of Things: Exhibition proposal for Museum of Modern Art (NY) and Toi Moroki Centre of Contemporary Art (Christchurch)
  • Wayne Shih
  • Lane Le Prevost-Smith
Shih, Wayne, and Lane Le Prevost-Smith. 2017. "Internet of Things: Exhibition proposal for Museum of Modern Art (NY) and Toi Moroki Centre of Contemporary Art (Christchurch)." Globalised Art Making. Auckland: Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design.