The Five Obstructions is a 2003 Danish film by Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth. In the film, Von Trier gives Leth, his friend and mentor, the task of remaking The Perfect Human—von Trier's favorite film—five times, each time with a different 'obstruction' (or obstacle) given by von Trier. In the second episode of the Sway podcast, Rory King and I discussed the The Five Obstructions as a framework for a class assignment that forces students to work within constraints to focus on processes, research, and experimentation. We adapted the concept for Sway by selecting a favorite project of each others and then spent five weeks between March 12 and April 30, 2014 to have each other redesign it five times under various constraints. Rory had me rethink my Don't Get Comfortable booklet and I asked him to redesign his identity system for Nuit Noir.
There were two obstructions that gave me the most trouble going into this week’s project: that the book must be all black and white (no grayscale) and that each spread must have a hand-drawn element. The all black and white obstruction upset me at first—while I liked your view that jazz could be seen as an extreme music genre like black metal and hardcore punk, I felt like you were imposing an aesthetic you liked on this project even though, at first look, it didn’t seem to fit. However, once I was in working on it, I was able to take elements of extreme music aesthetics and fuse them with a style that (1) still felt like my point of view was coming through and (2) took inspiration from trade paperbacks of the sixties and seventies (most notable, The Medium is the Massage, designed by Quentin Fiore). Fiore’s work was seen as subversive and counter-cultural just like jazz. I drew inspiration from that mindset in producing this book which echoes nicely the philosophies of extreme music genres. The hand-drawn elements find their way into the book through various typographic flourishes that bleed in from the edges of page and only fully reveal themselves on the promotional poster that flips the focus from photography to typography.
This week found myself following a strange process. While the idea of the of an all type book appeals to me, distorting and bastardizing text doesn’t interest me much at all. I’m rarely drawn to work that uses typography in this way so while the actual design of the book wasn’t very hard, getting myself excited about working on it proved more difficult this time around. I spent the majority of my time playing with type—messing it up, distorting it, seeing what I could achieve with it that I hadn’t before and I only spent the last two days actually laying out the book. In keeping with jazz’s improvisational approach and its often interesting rhythms, I echoed that feeling in these bold titles that sit across the back of the spreads that suggest the meter moving up and down (the type and color then denotes what section you are in). On the introductory pages, the type sits in a quilt-like formation loosely based on the various genres that came together to form jazz and the biography pages continue the jumping motion of musical notes. The other difference you’ll notice is the book was increased in size to a square to echo an album cover.
Although this week’s obstruction was to design a logo and brand for the lecture series, the real challenge—or the question behind the logo—was how does one design a logo for an ever-evolving entity. Unlike a logo for a corporation or movement, I was tasked to essentially design a logo for a musical genre—something that represents both its history and its future. You used the word “timeless” in your assignment but I don’t think there is such a thing as timeless design—all design is a reflection of the time it was created. In thinking about these things, it became clear the identity had to be one that is flexible and has room to grow and change along with the lecture series, and jazz in general.
I don’t have much to say about the design of week’s obstructions because it continues the design system I started last week. I was hoping to use The Five Obstructions project to experiment with a poster/book/fold-out printed piece so I was excited to see you include that this week. It became an interesting challenge because I wanted it to work with each panel being it’s own canvas and then when folded open, it became something else. I achieved this by using a tri-fold brochure as my template but if you keep unfolding, you eventually discover a hidden poster inside it. Between the poster and the wayfinding, one can further see the customizability of last week’s identity system and the way it can respond to the content.
The pieces to this week’s obstructions were more diverse than any of the previous weeks—a logo, two books, and an album cover—and I approached each of them with varying degrees of separation. Because the only obstruction you gave me was I couldn’t do anything I’ve done before, I took this opportunity to explore some things I’d been thinking about through the course of this project.
The majority of my time was spent on the two books. I was curious to see how one could use the same contact and same two typefaces and produce to wildly different books—one is made for academics, the other for artists.