Charting the Uncharted

Map Irish Design

30th May 2019
by Elaine McDevitt

Cover image: Charting the Uncharted

Those of you who have followed the call out and announcements in relation to Map Irish Design will undoubtedly be interested in how things are progressing. You’ll also be aware of the premise of the project:

Since our foundation, it has been the mission of the 100 Archive to capture, present and contextualise contemporary design in Ireland and the individuals, studios, clients and collaborators who make it happen. But here’s the thing: we’ve been gathering this stuff for years through your 1800+ project submissions and our 8 (so far) annual archive selections, but have yet to have the resources to really take a proper look at it. We have a sense of what’s in there, but have never been able to draw some insight from it. Now, thanks to Creative Ireland, we have resources to put behind a proper analysis of what we’ve got, to take the guesswork out of it all, and to share a clearer, more detailed picture of Irish communication design and the impact it has on culture, commerce and society. — From the Map Irish Design call-out brief

If you’re somebody like me who is not a designer but has a huge interest in design, contemporary design practice, design history and Irish design’s untold stories, a call-out like this pushes lots of buttons! In my previous roles within The Institute of Creative Advertising & Design (ICAD), I managed the processing of entries for 15 annual awards judging sessions, seeing some of Ireland’s best design and advertising work come through each year. The practicalities were always the most urgent aspects of this, however — did the files work? Was the entry in the correct category? Was there enough information so that judges could get a clear picture of the submission, or so much that they might be overloaded? Each year, anecdotal evidence of trends would emerge but as with the 100 Archive, the resources weren’t there to fully research these.

In putting myself forward as researcher of the Map Irish Design project, I proposed stringently working out from the archive itself, recording pertinent information to work towards answering some of the more data-driven questions. I assessed the questions posed in the brief, probed them and added to them:

Economic & Industry significance — How does design affect/reflect Ireland’s changing economy? What’s in the archive that shows us how and where money is made and spent? What does the archive tell us about Irish businesses and Ireland’s place in the global economy? What do new career paths mean for the future of designers in Ireland?

— Who are the corporate commissioners of design? How does the work they commission compare with their cultural client counterparts? How is increased/ decreased confidence in the Irish economy discernible through investment from business? What types of designers are working on behalf of these clients: larger studios, individual practitioners etc? How does the tendering process influence the client / studio breakdown? How do design service, innovation and creative ideation companies influence the design industry landscape? As traditional media boundaries continue to shift, is further delineation or integration required, or both? How is the 100 Archive positioned to address these industry questions? Where are the industry gaps in the Archive? How can the submission process address any perceived gaps or issues?

Society — How does design affect/reflect Ireland’s changing society? Do our archive selections reflect recent changes in Irish society? Does design play a role in social movements?

— Put simply, what work is being designed, by whom and in what context? Recent referenda provide a wealth of material but how is this qualified? How can grassroots design collateral such as the ‘Repeal’ movement and merchandise be positioned in relation to ‘commissioned’ social design? How can ‘society’ be linked to the economy and culture through the story of design?

Culture — What is the relationship between design and Ireland’s changing culture? Is Ireland’s cultural sector still the most significant commissioner of design? Does design have a place in Ireland’s cultural heritage, and can the 100 Archive help articulate that?

— Is Ireland’s cultural sector the most significant commissioner of design at all? On what is that judgement based: output quality, budget, number of designers employed etc? How can the wealth of Irish design history and culture be seconded to position contemporary Irish design? How is the story of Irish design linked to the Irish diaspora? How are cultural tastes reflected through design, from the nightclubs of the 90s to pop-ups and the resurgence of LPs? How does the end-user influence the design itself?

Ah, the young, heady days before you actually get stuck in …

In tackling Map Irish Design, the roles of research, design, visualisation etc have been relatively fluid: it’s not a linear or binary project, it’s collaborative throughout. Everyone involved brings a unique perspective and energy (and it’s a wonderful team). Nonetheless, the extent of the task has been revealing itself, slowly and surely, and some of the initial and usual excitement has had to give way to the practicalities (AKA timelines). The possibilities, however, are incredibly exciting. There are now 2379 projects within the archive, meaning that this is likely the largest single dataset of Irish graphic design, ever. E.V.E.R.

Lots of other wonderful work has come before, and during, lots of work has been recorded, recognised and awarded, but not held together as a single and complete entity. This uncharted territory puts the Map Irish Design team in a privileged and daunting position. It is our aim to communicate this work in a way that is meaningful, not only to designers, or indeed clients, but to a broader public.

Currently, we are charting the previously uncharted. We are examining all of the work submitted to the 100 Archive since its inception and manually inputting notes in relation to specifics (client, client context, year, country of production, media) and the more complex: public engagement, social context, cultural context, economic context, design history. There are stories emerging and you’ll hear more about these as they show themselves in more concrete form. At a later stage, we’ll also be conducting interviews and gleaning more of your direct experience and insight, as well as those of design initiatives and researchers that have previously grappled with some of these themes. Some of you have already offered yourselves for interview via twitter (thank you!). But if, in the meantime, you have specific notes you’d like to make on the social, cultural and economic significance of work you’ve submitted to the 100 Archive, please feel free to share those notes with us

Simultaneously, we wish to expand on what we know of the practitioners and studios themselves. With that in mind, the 100 Archive will be releasing some short surveys for you to fill out, the first of which looks at the who, where and when of Irish design practice and is here. Fill it out on behalf of your studio or One Person Enterprise (it’s a term now) to give us a picture of your design business in 2010 and now. We’re also in need of some help to look at the data we’ve got: could you volunteer a few hours to the cause? If so, drop us a line. Map Irish Design could help to strengthen the idea that design is a key part of Ireland’s cultural heritage rather than a peripheral industry, but it will take a collaborative voice to do so. Add yours!

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