QUALITY OF INFORMATION. INTERVIEW WITH KATHERINE MCCOY, GRAPHIC DESIGNER
In our interview series and prelude to the 2003 Icograda Nagoya Congress Nagoya, Japan, it's Katherine McCoy's turn to answer questions from the Congress organisers.
Visualogue: The theme of this Congress is VISUALOGUE: Quality of Information. What image does this bring to mind?
Katherine McCoy: The title 'Visualogue' fits my recent focus in design. Communications design is a dialogue between the message, the client, the designer and the audience. All communications design is very interactive - not just electronic media. The client's message and the designer's graphic interpretation of it must interact with the audience so that they actively interpret it, make meaning out of it and respond to it. Communication is a two way street, a visual-verbal dialogue and discussion about a message's meaning.
Visualogue: Please describe one of your recent concerns or themes of interest, either within your field or personally.
Katherine McCoy: Over the past century, designers developed professional methods to serve clients effectively and to interpret messages in eloquent graphic form. Now we must learn more about our audiences. Because global society is diverse, designers must be prepared to 'speak' graphically in many different graphic languages instead of using just one language, whether it is the Bauhaus 'one size fits all' universal design idealism or just the designer's own personal graphic expression. I am exploring how designers can design messages that speak appropriately to targeted audiences with tailored messages that resonate with each audience, language, cultural values, needs and preferences. I have been thinking of this as audience-centered design for 'cultural sustainability' - the celebration of the unique communication styles that belong to national, local and subcultural audience groups.
Visualogue: What are your expectations for this Congress? Alternately, what fruit do you expect the Congress to bear?
Katherine McCoy: I hope it will be a feast of ideas that will send us all home to our design practices and universities enriched by an international banquet of new methods, strategies, theories and forms of communications design.
Visualogue: Please provide us with a message directed to the younger generation (design students and young working designers).
Katherine McCoy: Communications design is a new profession, relatively speaking, when compared to other professions like architecture, medicine and law. Because it was born within the past 100 years, our field is still young and growing, even more so now with the advent of electronic media and interactivity. So there is a great opportunity for young designers to break new ground, make their mark and contribute to our profession with new ideas, methods and forms. I hope all designers will think about their work as a contribution, a gift to the profession to help it grow and mature, as well as a gift to our audiences.
Visualogue: Concerning your partnerships with various clients, please describe the kind of relationships you have built in the past and/or the kind you expect to build in the future.
Katherine McCoy: I like to think of working with the client as a dialogue, a collaboration, and an interaction in which we will each influence the other. An enlightened client gives the designer a new learning experience and understands that they will also learn from their designer.
Visualogue: Please answer the following question in the form of a message directed toward mature professional designers. Clearly, our modern communities are grappling with regional and cultural discord and face serious economic challenges. Given this environment, how might designers make the most vital contribution to society today?
Katherine McCoy: We must find methods and strategies to honour cultural diversity, rather than spreading a homogenous cultural veneer over the world, whether it be a Modernist design expression or a Euro-centric consumer culture. Also, we must not dictate meaning, but instead offer potential meaning and stimulate our audiences to interpret messages individually within their own contexts, thinking actively and critically for themselves.
Visualogue: In light of this answer, what are your thoughts about the meaning of and possibilities for the design profession in the society of the future?
Katherine McCoy: We live in the midst of a communications revolution. Everyone is communicating intensely through constantly expanding channels. Communications designers are needed more than ever to translate messages into graphic meaning appropriate to each communications channel. As interactivity becomes an essential element of rapidly increasing amounts of communications, graphic designers' skills will be even more essential to bring order and resonance to complex information spaces.
Visualogue: What message would you like to convey to the audience in your lecture/presentation?
Katherine McCoy: Designers must develop empathy, methods and strategies to understand and communicate effectively to our target audiences. 'One size fits all' graphic design is inappropriate for a diverse world of many cultures and threatens local cultures and rich traditions.
Visualogue: We have scheduled an international forum for those who teach in design-related institutions to take place prior to the opening of the Congress. Please give us your point of view on design education.
Katherine McCoy: Communications design has reached a point of development and new complexity. Formalised highly rationalised design curricula are required to adequately prepare new designers. The days of learning 'on the job' is over. A four-year degree is absolutely necessary for professional practice. In fact, a conventional 4-year university education may be insufficient time in which to cover all aspects of communications design and prepare new designers for professional practice. The new demands of interactive electronic communications design add a large new range of theory and method to the traditional range of skills.
About Katherine McCoy
Katherine McCoy is a Senior Lecturer at Illinois Institute of
Technology's Institute of Design in Chicago, after co-chairing the
Department of Design at Cranbrook Academy of Art for 24 years. A 1999
Medalist of the AIGA and elected member of the Alliance Graphique
Internationale, she is a Fellow and Past-President of the Industrial
Designers Society of America. As partner of McCoy & McCoy she
consults in communications design and design marketing.
She writes on design history and criticism, and has co-produced a television documentary on Japanese design and chaired the first Living Surfaces Conference on interactive communications design. As a partner of High Ground Tools and Strategies for Design she organizes professional education programs