Out of the Box

11.11.05 |

As published in: Threaded (a design magazine), Issue 3, 2005
Website: http://www.threaded.co.nz

I imagine that hanging out with a generative/programming/design guru closely resembles that of hanging out with an indie rock star. Those that are ‘in the know’ know just how big he is and those that don’t, don’t. In this respect, design is not like good music, we don’t make laborious mixed tapes of it in an attempt to convert our friends. However like good indie stars that make it big, design trends seemingly all have humble beginnings.

The heavily tattooed and energetic Davis is not a young whiz kid who fell into the international design scene by doing a one-off design job for a big-name corporate brand. It’s true that he’s done that, but more importantly he lived and worked through the years that saw the design community grapple with what to name his new design medium. (ie. interactive design, digital media, multimedia, new media, etc) Additionally, just when designers are all trying to buck our desire to do work for the man, in steps someone Nike swooshed and BMWed. Dropping big names casually, he spits out a beautiful well-rehearsed response to that inevitable Ad-buster-esque question of “how can you ethically take a check from a company like Nike…” The reply of which is a paraphrase, “I thought long and hard about it and decided why shouldn’t I be the one to get the 20 thousand? Better me than someone else.”

What Joshua Davis does to a conference audience is what we have come to expect from designers preaching to a student-heavy crowd. Far from a boardroom situation, it’s a sweaty room full of new converts and he works them in a way in which we all become somehow captivated, or in some cases uneasy.

The word generative art might drum up ideas ranging from painting machines to the visualiser application in iTunes: the definition is wordy at best. In a current design trend of graphic-heavy illustration, it was refreshing to see that Davis’ generated and dynamic work had such a layered process. Covering nearly all aspects of current design, Davis started with a pen and paper. The creation was analogue before becoming digital, graphic before becoming digitally dynamic, seemingly painted before becoming client approved and launched into every format available, from t-shirts to album covers to websites. Weeks long, and full of varying renditions, the audience didn’t just get to see the shiny ending and logo, they got to see the initial sketches, see them turned into bezier curves, see them multiplied and divided one click at a time.

It might not seem as mysterious or mythical as it would have even just a couple of years ago, as the end product seems almost cookie-cuttered and easy on the eye, but then you realize that the reason it’s now in is because he was one of the ones who started the trend, coined it, coached and preached it’s simplicity and curves all around the world through design and it’s conferences. A few years ago, all those instances of design newness happened to be pointing us to Joshua Davis and his now defunct praystation website and found us reading about his crusade of vectors and programming randomness in the likes of Wired magazine. Soon after it was no longer attributed to a particular designer, it was simply a style, which soon became a trend.

Circling back to rock stars, there are a few that manage to hold on and return from time to time with surprisingly contemporary tracks, the same will probably hold true for Davis and the marks he makes on design. As he helped usher us into the digital decade he will most likely be there to usher us into the next.

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