Somehow a large portion of the population believes that anyone can spontaneously become a graphic designer. Why? We wouldn’t assume that with no background in biochemistry, one would be able to walk into a biochem lab and run an experiment. We wouldn’t expect that one could manage a business without any experience in training or business management. And yet, every day, countless business people, scientists and others with no training in graphic design create and present horrible slide shows and posters that are boring, ugly and/or fail to communicate their intended information accurately.
A graphic designer with a modicum of experience understands that mediums are not neutral. They shape the content in ways that need to be compensated for in order to communicate clearly and accurately. Even still, this may not be possible. Information that makes a clear point in a paragraph may transform into something completely different when forced into a pie chart.
I created Dear Anyone Who Cares as a way of exploring how mediums shape information. The source material was a box of letters, photos, journals etc. left behind by a young woman in an apartment we moved into years ago. Taken together, the contents told a heart-breaking story of a girl who joined the military to escape an alcoholic mother and a dead-end life. She appeared to get her life together, was married and had a daughter. She was living on the west coast. Then, for reasons we’ve never been able to piece together she abandoned this to move across country to a crappy apartment with an abusive drug-dealing boyfriend back east.
I’d intended for this to be an ironic commentary on our need to force data through the filters of spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations on order for others to look at it. This was an actual human’s life here, not just facts and figures. Limiting what can be communicated to what can be put into a spreadsheet meant cutting away so much of this woman’s life. I also restricted myself to using just what was available within PowerPoint and existing templates. The final product was displayed at a Grad Expo at the University of Maine, along with many other unintentionally horrible PowerPoint posters.
Surprisingly, while I’d intended for this to be a critique of PowerPoint etc., it did reveal something we hadn’t noticed before. In high school she’d had a boyfriend who clearly adored her and let her know with every letter he wrote to her. She went into the military and he went to college and they stopped communicating around this time. In the husband’s letters there’s a complete lack of creativity or emotional connection with her, but the loser drug dealing boyfriend’s language is actually very similar to the high-school sweetheart’s. Was this the reason she moved back? Was she just looking for a love that felt real?
You can see the full-quality piece here: Anyone Who Cares.