fr/en Patrick Doan
What is your educational background?
First I went to Duperré to study applied arts for four years, then I did two years at Estienne in type design. At both schools I was able to take part in exchange programmes through Erasmus, first at KABK in the Hague, then at the Rietveld Academy.
What was the reason for going through different educational systems?
There are lots of good reasons. The first comes from the mix of influences, because your classmates are from every nationality and because you are a foreigner yourself. It is not only the teaching which is different, but life in general. There is a real dynamism, a will to assimilate, which means you react differently. You are open to everything. Because you’re no longer in your day-to-day routine, out of our comfort zone, you are much more receptive. As for the studies, there is certainly a different approach to teaching in the Netherlands, but that is really Dutch, it even changes from school to school. The KABK for example is a school which is more focused on know-how, methodology and design. The Rietveld Academy is much more conceptual, it focusses on the place of the designer in society and the role of design in society. There is a lot of introspection at the Rietveld Academy. The two schools produce very different graphic designers. Take the Hague, you’ll find big studios which design visual identities (Dumbar, Thonik). The Rietveld is going to produce graphic designers who are more like authors who are into experimenting, who use a critical approach to design (Linda van Deursen.).
You were lucky to be able to test both these approaches! How do you re-exploit that as a teacher and researcher?
Yes, I experienced both and it was clearly very different but extremely complementary. That helped me combine methods of teaching which are very practical but also about being much more introspective and analytical. As a researcher, the teaching at the Rietveld made me stand back from my way of working and observe it. It enabled me to develop a meta language which opened up the field of research: you develop a system or a method of analysis to re-explore the very subject of the discipline you work in and examine the ideas that you implement daily from a different viewpoint.
The subject of your thesis deals with the positioning of calligraphy within a digital context. What inspired the choice of your subject and what are your expectations?
I teach calligraphy as a tool to approach typography. I think that by doing calligraphy, we learn because I see the importance of certain operations requiring control which the student must aquire to be able to see and understand. I realized that there is a cognitive process needed to do calligraphy. Techniques for teaching calligraphy are still very traditional, yet they have reached a moment in the history of technology when writing is threatened and calligraphy has almost been forgotten, when we have new technologies to imagine methods to help us do calligraphy. I’ll give you a simple example: today, we can do calligraphy on a digital screen linked to a computer. The computer can help us, follow how we are making the strokes, and eventually, influence us and help us, just like a GPS. There are new possbilities which question the sychronism of teaching calligraphy, in other words the guidance, the autonomy, the notion of the model… that interests me as a teacher. A research team from UTC Compiègne, who are working on the question of describing the scriptual gesture, contacted Ésad to put together the project Descript which triggered my interest in researching along the same lines.
That brings us back to the debate about how handwriting practice in primary schools has been replaced by digital. Your project brings together the gestual aspect of writing and new technologies.
Yes. Soon, we will not be able to counteract these changes. Typescript and computers have clearly taken over. On the other hand, lots of research shows that writing aids the acquisition of reading skills. So how can we keep children doing writing activities? Maybe through new technologies, with the modernization of these practices, by making them attractive, interactive, stimulating, we can improve the way children approach writing.
In GestualScript, you explain how the viewpoint of graphic design has opened up a new approach to sign language. What are the specificities to the way a designer sees things?
He has another way of looking at things, not sign language itself, but how sign language is represented. Graphic design brought a scriptual conception to writing, which involves the inscription by gesture. Scientists and linguists had broken down sign language into linguistic parameters and then represented each parameter by graphic objects. It is one representation, but it is not scriptual, it is not about transcribing writing. Scripture needs a visual-gestual coordination and a writing tool. Our thought process and our intuition as designer was to say: before imposing a representation by default or without analogy, by imposing shapes which have no natural reason, why can’t we question the language itself, the signs themselves, to see if there might not be a graphic component which already exists, a preliminary, a genesis? Sign language and writing have a modal analogy, both are visio-gestual. One traces graphic objects in the air, represented by an analogy and by the association of ideas and concepts and objects which are visual and gestual. The other traces graphic objects in the air which might have a graphic analogy or not, but which also have a meaning. By placing both of these practices in parallel, sign language and writing, is where graphic design was behind our approach.
Conversly, what did sign language bring to your perception of calligraphy? You describe ‘strategies of graphic inscription’ which are physical, spacial and temporal.
Sign language has had little influence on latin calligraphy. On the contrary, the question of signs helped us a lot in working out our graphic theory in GestualScript’s main area of research. It helped establish the theoretical notions about the formation of language and how it functions. Because in our work as graphic designers we manipulate language, that builds on our experience and our conceptual tools. Couples such as linguistics/psychology and design/calligraphy work together in the very precise framework of GestualScript.
How do you see this mutual offering between design and other fields outside it?
Of course, what design can offer the client is very important because it is the client who has approached you! What it offers is multiple, on different levels and often, surprisingly, it is strategic. Often, what students don’t see, is that over and above graphic performance, there is the aspect of analysing and guiding the client through the design problem. That is what we call the strategic brief. It is a domain which no longer concerns graphics, but communication and information. The strategic brief is about the client and the designer working together. It is the first part and one of the most interesting parts of the commission, because often the client himself needs help knowing what he wants. And that is beyond design. It is a mix of experience, of know-how built up thanks to different situations that we have had to manage, an ability to discuss and bring out ideas in common… all that creates a base of experience which can be reused.
What stimulates you outside graphic design?
Does the mastery of type design influence the understanding of editorial design?
Absolutely. It enables you to gain greater attention to detail and it gives you supplementary practical and intellectual tools, if only the vocabulary that you use to talk about things and that you play with, over and above the purely intuitive side. You make use of a story, a culture, codes. Type design doesn’t only come through skill.
Do you have any advice for a young graphic designer?
Do everything possible to explore your intuitions. As a young graphic designer and young creative artist, you naturally have a strong formal intuitive dominant which makes you say and do things in an implicit way. But you need a certain discipline and aquisition of skills and tools to go beyond that intuition to discover new territories.