UN-TRASHED

08 November 2006
Iva Babaja
Iva Babaja

One of the most puzzling issues that plague the design community as well as their clients in contemporary Croatia is the issue of criteria. Criteria are the subject of heated discussions during exhibition selections (leading on to further discussions on the exhibitions being the idealized pictures of the profession without any real pretensions to depict the reality of our visual environment (1), during organization of competitions when the decisions by expert judges are overturned by political and not design professionals, and, last but not least, in the everyday dilemmas of our clients looking at a new proposal. Of course, there are other issues in which criteria, or the lack thereof, play a crucial role in the complex paths through lobbies, ideologies and corporate manipulations, as we are being warned by First Things First Manifesto, Adbusters, No Logo and other voices of consciousness that barely, in a vague echo, seem to reach the ears of our designers who are far from the prospect of being able to have much choice in their assignments, satisfied by merely getting paid for the job.

Last year, when we organized the 'Design&Morality' exhibition, we felt convinced that we were doing the right thing by questioning the responsibility of a designer towards society. Today, a year later, nothing has really changed, though design is definitely talked about a great deal, and although some important things have happened (such as lectures by Nigel Holmes and Peter Bilak or the fact that some works by Croatian designers have been included in some of the world s most prestigious design publications), yet the education of the public remains neglected and the whole situation given a lot of lip service but not much else. Still, one has to be fair and admit that young Croatian designers today are more willing and prepared to face issues older generations managed to neglect. The collaboration of ULUPUH and HDD, our two graphic design associations, has finally overcome the critical phase of rivalry and seem to understand the importance of acting together to benefit the profession. On the other hand, the real question is what the profession can actually do to help itself.

In all the discussions and brainstorming sessions that we have been conducting over the past few years, the same two issues always came across as the origins of every problem we stirred - client education and respect for the profession. The fact that these are not our isolated local problems, as our colleagues from abroad inform us, makes them seem just more overwhelming. Our clients cannot respect the profession unless they have developed criteria for design evaluation. Criteria that are mostly used in our society, apart from the eternal nepotism, mostly come down to a low price and a general likeability of a designer s work. New technologies nowadays allow everyone to think of themselves as designers, skills such as the ability to draw are long forgotten, whereas the necessary level of visual culture is never even mentioned anymore. The direct result is the market overwhelmed by amateurs without any clue about design but with sufficient computer skills and low prices to recommend them to clients who, mostly unable to see the difference between the work of a professional designer and that of an amateur, happily embrace the cheaper option. Therefore it often happens that good works end up in trash whilst our visual environment gets progressively more and more polluted by products of miserable quality. The problem, though, is not in the amateurs themselves, as they can be forgiven their own oblivion to their incapacity as designers, but the clients who should know how to evaluate the works they purchase (or toss into trash). Most clients firmly believe that they do, indeed, possess these criteria, whereby they mostly rely on the like/dislike technique.

Namely, the general truth at the beginning of the 21st century in Croatia is that design is purely a matter of liking. Surely we cannot expect our clients to display a detailed knowledge of design, but is having confidence in designers who already possess this knowledge too much to ask for?

Many designers have had first-hand experiences with their best ideas being pushed away as the client decided they would not be sufficiently understandable to the general public, whose capacity to grasp ideas, according to most clients, expires with anything different and more provocative than the most stereotypical solutions, far away from any ironic or complex interpretations. These rejected ideas are usually the products of the ingenious moments of spontaneous inspiration that leave the clients with puzzled expression of uneasiness about their lack of understanding or the lack of courage to exploit them. On the other hand, there are clients who wish to appear 'modern' at all costs, whereby they often fall victims to the predominant trend and stick to mimicking formulas from abroad, instead of striving to find a contemporary and authentic solution. In this instance things do appear different in a formal way, but essentially remain just the same.

If this is the reality that surrounds us, is what we see in our daily walks through the streets, by looking at the magazines and ad campaigns, the true picture of the quality and authenticity of our designers imagination? Surely not. To complete this crooked image, what we see at various exhibitions of graphic design are just accepted works, selected according to the taste and criteria of a few, without much reference to reality. Official exhibitions usually limit entries to accepted and printed works, consequently making rejected works unpresentable to the public. So what should then happen to the works we keep hidden from others and ourselves at the bottom of our drawers or dusty digital archives, works we have never showcased as they failed to satisfy the taste of our clients?

After the 'Design&Morality' exhibition, full of enthusiasm and convinced that, if we cannot change the situation, we can at least hint at the problems, we decided to continue the series of problem-oriented exhibitions and make an exhibition of rejected works as an antithesis to the typical graphic design manifestations in our country.

The goal of this exhibition is precisely to show the real situation on the graphic design scene through the relationship between the clients and the works of professional designers. These are, above all, works the designers were satisfied with, their first and authentic solutions that were either rejected or subjected to so many compromises by the client that they ceased to have any resemblance to the original idea. We hope that this exhibition will give its small contribution in provoking the public opinion and confronting our clients with missed opportunities. To better illustrate the comparison between designers authentic ideas and the works our clients consider to be well designed, we decided to show rejected works in juxtaposition with the works that were finally accepted and published, regardless of them being works by the same designer or another author (or amateur).

After we sent out the call for entries we received many responses from designers both from Croatia and abroad. As the exhibition entry, due to lack of means, was limited to Croatian designers, we decided to expand the project on the Internet as a work in progress and thus give an opportunity to authors outside our country to showcase their rejected works. The UN-TRASHED web-site will, therefore for the next year, be the space where all interested designers will be able to present their new rejected works, comment on existing choices and discuss the issue of criteria. Of course, this process might give us an opportunity to summarize the situation after a year s time and, hopefully, affirm the need for a regular manifestation where rejected works from all around the world could be shown in a year or two intervals, thus helping complete the global picture of graphic design profession. See you on the 1st Untrashed Festival in Zagreb...

(1) Dejan Krsic, 'Fiasco follows form', 2001, Globus supplement on design for Design days 2001.




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