Saturday, May 13, 2017


The publication was lying on the table, casually left open from its last perusal. The colour caught the eye: a deep navy blue silhouetted a pure white declaration: Irresistible value – but it was not in italics. 'Irresistible' was in a bold upper and lower case, somewhat like Arial Bold but a little more cheeky. 'Value' was presented as a more stylish, smaller, considered, less assertive lower case Arial. It was a carefully-managed identity with a certain class.

The thought occurred: our world is complete with styled graphics everywhere, at every moment, catching our attention with designed intent. This demanding visual explosion is best revealed in the branding of products. The question arose: what is all of this styling, this self-conscious fashioning, doing to us, to our understanding of our world and its parts? Are we being shaped, trained to see things in a particular manner; to anticipate something from any and every variation and deviation? Are we being desensitised to true meaning and relevance with this tsunami of coloured shapes and references that seek to make us feel a certain way, to desire different things to facilitate sales?

Below this 'Irresistible' message was a 3D graphic image of the product: a set of eight, pale blue wrappers printed with 'Milk Hazelnut Block' in upper/lower case Arial in red on white below the illustrated delight – the layered chocolate wafer block. In a bold blue slash of lettering on a white ground that stretched across the wrapper was the name 'Knoppers' – dark navy blue lettering with a generous, pumped-up, 'bite-sized' identity. It all looked delicious, indeed, healthy. Behind all of these images were two heads of wheat, two hazel nuts, a mint leaf, and a glass of milk. What more might one want? The complete message was underlined by a red stripe with white letters on it spelling 'crispy' in lower case, chunky text. The 'matter-of-fact' message below this line was '25g' in black on white, a necessary aside.

The super-sized bubble emblazoned on all of this clutter was a dominant yellow and red circle declaring the cost: before, as red on yellow – 'WAS $3.79'; in larger text, as white on red, was after - 'NOW $3 8pk.' The eye danced over this assemblage of formatted fonts on the various blocks of colour as the concepts were assessed. In this half-page promotion, there was an array of meanings, all quietly revealing themselves to us with a scrambled certainty and immediacy that became a concern. If this incidental, seemingly innocent, commercial graphic can be so potent with its crafty presentation, what are we continually being exposed to? What impact is this conniving having on us? The issue is more than just mercenary marketing and its foxy conceits and revelations. Forms, colours, shapes and styles are being manipulated to change us with appearances. With all of this merchandising, are we becoming clever, conceited, cunning, perhaps canny, wary individuals, or simply gullible?

Much more is involved in this matter beyond quantitative issues, but there is certainly no shortage of similarly contrived presentations. Below this chocolate wafer graphic is the Sunny Crumpets '6 PACK' all illustrated as a glowing yellow print on a clear wrapper with red text. 'Sunny' is presented in a happy, yellow upper/lower text outlined in red on the yellow background. 'Crumpets' is printed in red, freehand text. In a white circle outlined in red is the black, 'matter-of-fact' message: 'Energy 4% 5/Kj'. Here the font becomes so small that it is difficult to read. Below this again, is red lettering on yellow defining the 'Daily Intake.' The visual dance in this arrangement of colour and text is further configured with the addition of the 'AUSTRALIAN MADE' graphic and the '6 PACK' message in red on yellow. Above all of this, as white text on a red ellipse, on the transparent wrapper that reveals the crumpet itself, is '99% fat free' in a scrawled, matey message. A black medallion authoritatively brands the package formally on the centreline: 'BAKERS LIFE.' This block Arial text is wrapped around a sheaf of wheat – to promote healthy concerns?

The whole image was a styled wonder that matched the yellow and red pricing circle of the chocolate biscuit, with only the numbers being changed – 'WAS $1.29 NOW $1 6pk.' The startling and obvious cheekiness of the priced reds and yellows repeated those colours of the package that reinforced the concept of the bargain: CHEAP! Each piece of the visual field carried a message and a meaning in its considered identity. Our world is complete with such things, intertwined everywhere, in and on everything we engage with: a name; a brand; a typeface; a colour; a text; a format.

Opposite this page was another navy blue background with a white strip below along the bottom of the page declaring in 'matter-of-fact' black: 'No artificial colours storewide only at ALDI / 7.' Yes, this was an ALDI catalogue, if this is the best description for this promotional publication. Page 7 promoted chocolate; but this was no ordinary delight. It was Moser Roth in all of its varieties: Finest Dark 70% and 85% COCOA; Finest Milk Chocolate; Mousse au Chocolat Cherry Chilli. The page carried the bold yellow, red and white pricing circle. The predominant colours in the wrapped slabs of chocolate were brown (chocolate), gold, and pale blue. It all looked very stylish, lucious; but why was it familiar? The dots in the lettering gave it away: the 'Moser Roth' name used the Charles Rennie Macintosh-designed font. One wondered why this beautiful lettering might be used here to promote a brand of chocolate. It seemed to demean the design and the designer. Did the manufacturer even claim the text as its own? The bold, gold naming came complete with the tiny 'R' in a circle that suggested something had been registered as a design or a brand. This soured the set of photographic images of the flavoured squares on each wrapper. What was the message meant here? Was it florid Art Nouveau pomp, flare and flourish embodied as taste? Who knows?

Turning the page opened up a 'New to ALDI' declaration in white on grey, with 'to' having an unusual special blue-blob background. Why? The price circle on this grey page was red with white. Did yellow not have the right feel for 'French Brioche Rolls WITH Chocolate Chips'? The photograph beside the wrapped rolls showed them 'in use' – a cappuccino, a bowl of hazelnut spread, and two rolls indicated what is usually identified as a 'Serving Suggestion Only.' There was no such note here, but one is so used to these presentations that this becomes the hidden message along with all of the others concealed meanings.

The saga of the visual impact of forms and allusions continued in every printed detail. Page 3 changed the bold, one-page promotion by using two columns to display three items vertically beside what is known as a 'Recommended recipe,' here identified as 'Dinner? Done.' - white text on blue, suggesting fast, easy, cheap simplicity: an effortless meal. Looking closely at the lamb shanks that topped the column, one noticed the 'LAMB SHANKS' had been allocated a shaky, shanky-styled, olive green font, with a matching smaller font above, identifying a 'SLOW COOKED' methodology. As if to personalise the wrapper, the brand was in black, freehand scrawl – 'Brannans Butchery.' Plan-view photographs of the finished product with a bowl of potatoes topped with mint on a white table along with bursting pods of peas, completed the wrapper. A price circle lay over part of this package as a red and white stamp. The 'AUSTRALIAN MADE' triangle did likewise, and acted as a 'green and gold' arrow pointing to the peas.

Every detail was emblazoned with affected meaning. 'Salad Mix' was white Times, upper and lower, on a lime green, lettuce background; 'burger rolls' was white on a red circle on clear packaging, in 'happy' Times; the transparent cheese wrapper only needed the personalised 'Deli Slices' scribble in dark green, with a formal 'SWISS' defined precisely below in white on a grass green band in the appropriately chosen Helvetica font – purely and totally Swiss.

In between all of these visual blasts on the page was the small, black, bold Arial lines of text that described the product in the 'matter-of-fact' manner. The price was confirmed in tiny red text below this black strip that was used to organise and separate the blobs of colours in the layout.

The front cover – we have been flipping through this publication backwards from where it lay open – had the navy blue background yet again. The squarish ALDI corporate graphic was located in the top left hand corner. This yellow outlined, orange around the blue with pale blue-lined, styled ‘A’ and white 'ALDI' below is the familiar corporate identity seen everywhere in the world, the image that heralds everything ALDI stands for. The products on this cover all had the yellow, red and white pricing circles layered over the images of the various promotions. Shampoo was 'Head Strong' in two colours of blue on white in a special blockish, angled-end font. 'DOG TREATZ STRAPS' caught attention with a lime green ('REAL KANGAROO') and orange ('REAL BEEF') wrapper branded in white with an italic JULIUS shaded in black. It startled with the quirky, phonetic spelling. The washing booster used a swishy font to brand the container as 'Di.San' that became the bold Arial 'OXY' in smaller text when things more formal, ‘scientific,’ were being 'messaged.' This ‘WOW’ package - ‘LAUNDRY SOAKER & IN WASH BOOSTER 1kg’ all in dark purple on white shading into light purple haze - was this purple and white, with a gold lid and a highlight marker of red, blue and yellow making rainbow colourings for the ‘COLOUR SAFE’ message. Each product was being pointed to by the 'green and gold' triangle.

One could go on and on, but there is a limit to one's analytical patience. The discoveries are painful concerns. Every page of this promotional material uses specially drafted and crafted graphics to thrust perceptions and intentions onto us as if by sleight of hand. One can understand how this might simply be ‘marketing,’ but it is more than this. Each choice, each decision, uses elements that can help us understand and accommodate our world and its relevance if used differently. To have design used in this manipulative fashion in every aspect of our daily grind, opens up the possibility of our world being demeaned; of ourselves being changed, unknowingly trained to be cynical, to be de- or re-sensitised, or to be dumbed-down.

What interpretations do we give to any colour and style; to nature; to form, after having been exposed repeatedly, so constantly to these messages? Are our expectations shaped to desire only repeats of this self-conscious pretence; this imposing self-centredness of self-interest? Does this understanding explain the urge, the drive for 'selfies'? Is this why our art has become 'performance' based? Does this explain why art has come to be mere 'self- expression'? Is this why we accept the Gehry exaggerations; the Hadid distortions? Have we already been blinded to things subtle, things modest, things gentle? Are we always looking beyond the ordinary to expect only the extra-ordinary? Is this why the 'everyday' has become as nothing but less than ordinary? Has this excessive exposure to colour, form and style driven us to want, to desire, to demand more and more extremes and extremities, as pornography might?

We need to carefully consider our circumstances. How can we ever know what is happening to us? Is it only when we have become immune to reality and its sensitivities that we will know that we have been transformed by our graphics? Have we been changed already? Do not forget that 'an image is worth a thousand words.' The ALDI catalogue carries millions of ‘words’ as messages that impinge on our being, everyday. If we do not know what this is doing to us, (note that we are using ALDI here as a simple, sample reference rather than as a single, core critique of a unique approach – this strategy is implemented everywhere, everyday), then we could be racing off into an unknown, into a world in which we expect the extra-extra-ordinary everyday: everything there for me whenever, as cheap as chips; fast, available, simple and easy - DONE! This outcome could not only transform our being through forms of feeling, but might also make us desire everything for nothing now. We could become an arrogant race of indulgent, self-interested individuals who expect the world and everything in it to be there for us, and for nothing – for no thought; no effort; no hassles.

A couple of aphorisms come to mind: One gets what one deserves; One has to work for what one wants. In a similar vein, our ex-PM noted: “Life was not meant to be easy.” This catch-cry was bettered by the more mystic response as graffiti: Life was not meant to be anything. These sayings, these truisms, probe at life, and warn against the hedonistic world of promotional bliss.

With this ALDI-like approach to messaging, the world is likely to become a place only for ME & MY display. Architecture is more than this: it is a place-making; the making of shelter for folk to be at home; the accommodation of being and contentment. Where design does otherwise, we potentially have a real problem. ALDI-like graphics encourage us to not even anticipate concern for others, let alone to ever consider a neighbour.# Such presentations promote opportunities for one to grasp for one's own indulgence – immediate self-satisfaction: WOW! The results can be seen in the actual physical struggles in the ALDI stores when supplies run low.

The strategy is crass, like using poetry to promote a washing powder; a novel to sell a lamb chop: we see movies used to promote products already. When there is so much that graphics can do to help us in our world, to explore it; to explain it; to aid our happiness, it is sad to see this art-form used in this smarty-pants manner, to flog the unnecessary wonders of our existence, to enhance perceived comfort, desire, well-being with false hope that stifles contentment – the delights of dog 'treatz'; 'Macintosh' chocolates; 'Bon Appetite' chocolate chip bread; luscious, 'slow cooked' lamb chops; etc. This approach also distorts, deforms our understanding of the sources of our food and apparel, leaving us spinning in a haze of referenced muddling instead of understanding that, e.g., a lamb chop is a piece of the living animal that we also see promoted as the symbol of the church; the identity of love and compassion – the lamb of God; and, as if to more assertively jumble meanings, a grove metal band: LoG.

Is it the death of symbolism that lies at the heart of this concern; the grasping of the use of signs and symbols to flog products, whatever? Consider the meaning of flowers; the Hindu book of references for art and architecture to comply with - that communal sense of  subtle understanding now mocked as an irrelevance. We are encouraged to do anything; to accept anything. Is this why the slaughter of the bull and the spilling of blood (MONA 2017) has become art? Yes, it involves life, it involves participation; it involves existence – but conversational words alone do not make art. Things are inherently, innately richer than this. Graphics can do much more than debase our experience with clever, multiple distractions creating false attractions that always disappoint. We need to explore the resonant depths of being that will persist, enrich, rather than the bespoke, ephemeral quirkiness of images adapted to attract and sell, sell, sell.

A performance by the Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch, which will use the carcass of a slaughtered bull
to stage a “bloody, sacrificial ritual” will take place, as planned at MONA on 17 June in Tasmania.  

While everyone is, in some degree, openly cynical and accepts the cannily sly promotional games called 'merchandising,' maybe with some reservation, perhaps even shielding themselves from its blasé inputs and impacts as if to excuse it, defuse it, exorcise it, there is more involved here. This has to do with colour, form, content, and meaning – and perception itself, in its rawest state of remembrance. The most subtle of variations are embedded in these messages, using qualities and approaches to hold substance as art and architecture can – referencing, touching other worlds, vague and elusive; embodying meaning. As long as we engage in this commercial manipulation, the more we will become engrossed in shutting ourselves off, isolating our emotions as we might try to deal with marketing strategies in general, and with ads on TV in particular: MUTE. This closing down, brushing aside, is the issue. We need to remain as open and receptive as possible to all things subtle and variable, being able to relate to, to feel these ephemeral matters sensed in the most complex aspects of experience, by recognising, responding to signs and symbols that aid our existence, our tolerance and our being in this world. For this to be achieved, we need to exercise an inherent trust, and not be cheated or teased. Without this gentle, open, mutual honesty we are likely to become mere voids, hollow, alone, protective, screaming out ME to get noticed as sets of selfies.

We need images to aid our understanding of rich, delicate and elusive emotions and ideas, to remind us – to put us in mind again – of: who we are; where we are; where we have come from; what we are; and what we might be and become. By adopting a dismissive, cynical stance to things graphic, meaningful signs and symbols become part of the illustrated world of our understanding that is quizzed, challenged, doubted, maybe ignored, perhaps dismissed, when the role of these revelations of aspects of experience can be critically important for core levels of being that evade knowing. This is the concern with the brash games of commercialisation and its shrewdly clever, ad hoc, randomly-adapted images that glut our world with guff, blinding us to matters otherwise, potentially transcendental, with a bewitching, brashly raw rudeness that makes us likewise.

A principle developed by Lord Atkin in the famous case of Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562 (HL Sc) (Snail in the Bottle case) to establish when a duty of care might arise. The principle is that one must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions that could reasonably be foreseen as likely to injure one's neighbour. A neighbour was identified as someone who was so closely and directly affected by the act that one ought to have them in contemplation as being so affected when directing one's mind to the acts or omissions in question.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.