THE DESIGN VOCABULARY: VISUALIZATION, MESSAGING AND THE PATTERNING OF IDEAS, MARKS AND MEANING.
I had a chance to present, at the behest of the esteemed Mark Anderson a string of ideas at the Strategic News Service presentation of FiRe at the Stein Ericksen Lodge in Park City, Utah.
Just got back, people asked if they could see a copy of the talk.
Frankly, it was a little terrifying to be presenting to a clan of scientists and astonishingly progressive and action-oriented minds. I wrote the presentation without ever having attended the conference.
After I started listening,
I thought, “whoa, is this the right talk?”
But it’s what I had to give.
People were talking about big challenges for humanity and the planet, and I was walking, as usual, a more mystical interpretation of the fluency of design thinking in the context of the deeper symbolism of mark-making.
When you make a magical mark, imbued in a touched gesture in space, it becomes a place, a plane is defined. The mark does something, it changes everything around it—a gravity is created. But in ancient, even primordial contexts, there are deeper symbolisms, allegories and metaphors of meaning that can be part of the magical transformation that can occur.
A mark with meaning is a signal, it’s a sign, a talisman, a map of the mind and universe — a sigil of intention and direction.
And to that, in the very placement of a mark, as in this ancient Mespotamian clay tablet, it lays out a map—
in this instance—a mapping
of ancient civilization.
But one mark, by movement and flow on a field of something, or nothing, sets the stage for patterning—it’s the beginning of a rhythm—either quietude or cacophony.
So what’s the movement?
By a mark, something is defined: a calling evocation to force or spirit, a pathway to grasping and entering another realm, a new way of seeing, a story—whose beginnings are told.
Making marks are part of our ancient calling—as we draw, we draw out, we draw through, we draw in. and even this distant set of scratchings, to archaeological interpretation, have meaning and power.
To what calling, what interpretation of this patterning could be known?
The weaving of ideas and quickening visualizations, the interplay of mark and form on volume—each intermingle conceptually
to make a statement of one being.
And their being.
As designers, we know that simply making a mark isn’t enough, there should be more to it, it should “say something.”
This mark stands.
It stands for something.
And that might be the gesture to an idea, or it could be a deeper intention, an intonement of mysterium tremendum—the fascination [fascinans]
of what lies beneath.
A mark made is transformational—the very work of “illustrating” comes from the idea of making something shine, as in the luminous luster of
a polished idea—it’s alive.
In the premise of magical work, as in ancient magic, mark-making is a way to write the code of a doorway to another dimension, another parallel universe. A sigil is a binding spell, it is a spellcaster for those who know how to read it. A mark could be that— and as noted in the complex concatenation of John Dee’s otherworldly sigillum aemeth—
it’s a map, a gateway
and portal opener.
Just as in the raw construct of space and time, a mark folds dimensionality. From absent, to present—a mark, or a patterning of markings:
it makes a place, it defines a plane—makes a plan.
There is what is there. And what is not there.
The stroke and the non-stroke.
And in the tendon-metaphor of intention—
it stretches out to reveal a flow.
The visitor interacts.
Visualizing nothingness, the fog of the unknown, the mist of uncertainty, it’s in our nature to quest to find the answer in the nothing, made:
Perhaps one of the more powerful symbolisms relates
to the beingness of place: “I’m here, not there.”
In the circle of the compass, there is a distant and archetypal symbolic language in the circle of heaven and the square of earth, a hold-over of ancient cosmographical interpretations of our place on living earth and the realms beyond.
People ask, how did you get here?
As a designer, calligrapher and letterman, my work lives right here:
the meaning of the mark and its interplay in mind and visualization—by mind and with meditation.
Everything we do is about aligning meaning with messaged imagery.
It’s how people grasp things.
I started in science and got kicked out since my way of “inner-standing”—or understanding was founded on this intermingled state of mind-being.
I intertwine them.
So a lab journal becomes something else.
Calculus becomes artisanal. Geometry becomes cosmical drawings.
The drafting of equations could
be just as beautiful as…
An early professor said, “you should do something else.”
So I looked to books, their designing and make up, their illustrations and packaging, the framing of ideas in the marks of typography—then I learned to draw my own type, each: special, their own.
Someone asked, “where did you go to school?” The road scholarship of writing to people, heading out, visiting them, studying with them, learning from them—throughout the US, then the UK, Europe, Russia.
And I realized, too, that is wasn’t just about drawing the marks, it was about knowing what was their history.
And, to etymology, what was the deeper meaning of the word?
When they came?
What did that word mean when it was first spoken?
Libraries—new and modern—old and ancient became other places to get my hands and eyes on the how of the words.
How were they drawn? Bound up? With what? How?
With that, I built flow and ease of movement
in graphical and marked interpretation.
I set out to learn every paleographical rendering of the alphabet, in Western civilization, for 3000 years.
What’s the rigor of the pattern?
HOW did it work?
WHAT was the sequence of how and where they came from.
Moreover, what is the flow of their stroke—just how were they drawn?
And why did they look that way?
To break the rules of design,
you first have to grasp the plan of its expectation.
And then you can, like Harold and his Purple Crayon—
draft your own new world.
As I’d mentioned in the talk,
a mark can make a place—
or a patterning of them could form a statement of being.
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To that, working with the Wachowski siblings was one of those unforgettable moments in my history as a theatrical designer of “marks.”
In that, as in all best-case scenarios, it started with a live meeting—walking the storyboarding of their filmic proposition — “who were these guys?” Why and how was Warner Brothers willing to invest $70m in such an intriguingly intricate cosmological view of this hidden, code-ridden realm on the other side of things?
A new script was created,
which started as a string of marks—
“make us a new language”—
More here—to cinematic, world-whorled font creation.
Still too, to the notions of place-making there is the patterning language as to how building and places are designed as patterns that humans interconnect with, in place, in journey, with each other.
And what about you,
what marks do you evidence,
what are your markings in the patterning of you?
Each of us has our own flow and movement, our own gestures and movements as we mark our place, our speech, our ideas.
If someone were to ask,
“what is your mark,” you’d say…
X marks a spot.
Circle contains it.
As etymologist Phil Harper notes, it’s from the “Latin mysticus “mystical, mystic, of secret rites” (source also of Italian mistico, Spanish mistico), from Greek mystikos “secret, mystic, connected with the mysteries,” from mystes “one who has been initiated.”
It’s the path less taken, to find the hidden.
And it’s about belief.
What do you believe in?
To that, a symbolical sequence
begins, as with everything:
Which is then defined as a point, a place—now known—in space.
Which then becomes the line,
the dividing sectoring of unknown and
now distinct entity of presence in division.
Which then, doubled, articulates axis, the axes of direction,
the mysterious symbolism and
magically important point of the crossroads.
Then arcing containment, the whorl of sky.
Every mark begins in the anatomy of movement.
And so too, the alphabet: a skeleton of curves and stems.
To each, I examine the ballistics of symbolism—literally, “that which is thrown,” given the lightning bolt of recognition, the flash of ideas—and the realized actualization of them.
That’s where I live. And breathe. And I’m thankful
for the chance in this: of opportunity.
As luck would have it.
Tim | GIRVIN OSEAN STUDIOS
CROWD MIND | EXPERIENCE DESIGN | MEMORY STRATEGY