We visit AGI Open 2018 in Mexico to learn more about the industry’s new upcoming design trends
Julia Sagar visits sunny Mexico to explore new perspectives at AGI Open 2018
Mexico City’s fashionable Polanco neighbourhood played host to this year’s AGI Open in September. The annual conference – run by elite design association Alliance Graphique Internationale – is driven by the core belief that graphic design is fundamental to how we communicate, educate and inform. And true to form, the event’s unwavering theme this year was ‘El otro lado’, or ‘the other side’.
Aside from a few direct references to the political situation between Mexico and America, each speaker interpreted the theme differently. Pentagram partner Paula Scher provided a different perspective on nine well-known projects in which she thought she had control of a certain aspect – and actually didn't.
“Everything you design, always involves other people; cities, business, cultural organisations,” she began. “It's the notion that when we make things, we have audiences. The audiences are the people we're designing for – and when we forget that, we're actually making things that aren't at all useful.”
Scher's branding with High Line, for example, was eventually so successful that the elevated park became New York's biggest tourist attraction. But this led to low-income people in the neighbourhood being pushed out. “There can be unexpected outcomes with your best intentions, sometimes. And that's scary,” said Scher, adding that she's been working continually with High Line to address the unfortunate issue.
Scher also discussed the negative kick-back to her controversial The New School branding. "When we launched, everyone hated it,” she said. “The school had me in to answer mean tweets. But it dissipated very quickly – those senior students had graduated. And I realised that I wasn't designing for them: I was designing for the new students."
However with Scher's The Library of Congress branding, the criticism was more public, political and serious – both from designers and non-designers alike – resulting in an investigation into how much Scher was paid. “I'd done the job for very little money, so we had nothing to fear,” she explained, “but this stuff is dangerous. Mostly it's armchair criticism... But a lot of graphic designers can get destroyed that way. We need to work together better as a community: if we derail each other, we derail progress."
Melbourne and New York-based creative practice Tin & Ed also touched on the idea of community and inclusiveness during its talk. Much of the practice is experimental, with the team of two
regularly venturing into new media and areas they're not familiar with. “Aliens are the ultimate outsiders, so we use them a lot in our work,” said Tin Nguyen. “I guess we feel like that ourselves sometimes.”
But doing things they haven't done before has led to progress, and the pair advise taking an open approach to new challenges – as well as new people. “Embrace the future," advised Edward Cutting. "We all have the power to create it. And embrace each other, because the only way forward is together.”
For illustrator and designer Christoph Niemann – like all the speakers at AGI Open – the path forward must be a responsible one. Echoing Scher, he discussed the unexpected wider impacts of design, using a New Yorker illustration about personal finance – in which a man deposits a coin into the wrong end of a piggy bank – as an example.
“In the US, I think there are statistically more women than men – so in theory, to represent the average person, I should draw a woman,” he reflected. “But if I drew a woman, would it still say: ‘People are bad at making financial decisions'? Or does it all of a sudden say: ‘Women are bad at making financial decisions'?”
He continued: “I don't want to appear to be making fun of women, so I end up drawing a man. But that drawing is published a million times, so it cements the idea of ‘somebody' being a man.”
For Niemann, it's a regular struggle – and he hasn't found a solution. "I don't think designing a poster that says 'peace' will create peace, but we are political, whether we want it or not," he insisted. “As designers, we have to be aware that we don't only react to realities, but we are responsible for creating them also.” www.agi-open.com
Clockwise from left page: Paula Scher opening AGI Open 2018; this year’s speakers; Jorge Alderete; and Christoph Niemann sharing industry tricks and tips.