Going off the Grid

We are surrounded by a digital world that seems to be gaining mastery over the physical, actual world. All of our work is done on screen within the confines of a digital computer system with the only so-called physical connection to the artwork made via a digital tool such as a drawing tablet or a computer mouse. The digital screen has become all consuming. We spend the majority of our days with our eyes focused on one type of screen or another (laptop, mobile, tablet…) rather than the natural, physical things and world around us. When it comes to creative work especially, this can be both at times incredibly helpful but also detrimental.


Graphic design, especially logo design, has become a medium largely of controlled creativity within a digital realm. For the most part this is with good reason. Design grids were created to keep logo and corporate designs consistent, which aids in brand awareness and identity and helps in keeping the “message clear”. Companies came up with corporate identity manuals, which went into extreme detail about how logos should and shouldn’t be used, where they ought to be placed (and how) in different mediums from printed materials to transportation and building ads and now social media and websites.


A growing amount of corporate design work lacks physical texture because it ends up primarily online or is sent out via email. How does the design feel if you run your fingers over it? Is it raised or flat, shiny or matte? These things add to the design but without print this aspect is inevitably missing (unless we somehow create more textured computing, which might be interesting). I still remember the feel of the paper against my fingers and how sometimes the pages would leave a bit of ink on the fingertips I used to hold or turn the page. Yes, nostalgia is part of it (and nostalgia is also currently influencing art and fashion with an influx of gorgeous retro designs).


What is concerning about a purely digital world is the potential for confinement, which isn’t to say that digital technology equals confinement but surely the physical world still offers more? Print is becoming less common, and yet more effective in some cases because it is less common! The majority of the greatest pieces of art have been created freely, unabashedly, and not within an obvious framework. What would happen if the design world went “off grid”? Would it crumble into chaos? Would audiences be simply confused? Or would they be excited?


I am reminded of the latest Tron film. The majority of characters exist within the context of a “grid” where programs are limited to specific roles and structured as dictated by a higher (oppressive) authority. Early in the film the hero is rescued from attack by hopping into a car, which proceeds to drive off the grid to a desert oasis beyond the controlled city. It’s here in the land beyond the grid that true life and creativity happens in this world. I believe this is where some of the best art happens too.


Logo and graphic design work “beyond the grid” is inspired by a temporary disconnect from our digital frameworks, taking time to enter back into the textured world around us. Why not get our hands dirty? The result off art such as this is perhaps less predictable, but potentially more vibrant. We are used to the parameters defined for us by corporations and design theories. A design that goes outside the boundaries of grids and expectations of normalcy may be shocking. It could also likely have a very positive effect on the audience, especially if intended audience is younger or the brand needs re-imagining. Leaving grids and frameworks aside for a moment, it’s important to note that simply pulling our eyes away from the onslaught of screens and screen-related working ultimately is a good idea; it frees our brains up to be more creative.


A different part of our brain is being used when we write or draw with hand and paper and not the computer, in fact our brain is more active when we are more physically engaged with our art or work. This is why many authors still use pen and paper. Our brains think differently on paper than when we are engaged with a screen. Regardless of your intention with a logo design, creativity is boosted by going off grid even just for a little while. See what happens when you start without confines – designing a logo with paper or paint, something with texture. See how it affects the design process. For more of this check out this link which shows how a truly spectacular design brand was created completely by hand for BIF (no Photoshop tricks!). Starting or staying in the textured mediums and taking a break from digital authority can often give your creativity, inspiration, and designs a real kick.


Have you found more creativity outside the confines of the design grid? Does the thought of leaving it behind make you uncomfortable? How do you think technology benefits or harms creativity in design work? What kind of designs would you like to see more of, or do you miss from days gone by?

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