Design memes

One of the powerful aspects of theories of memetics is that they look to understand the process of societal evolution – applying across all aspects of human activity.

Memes are stories, songs, habits, skills, inventions and ways of doing things that we copy from person to person by imitation. Human nature can be explained by evolutionary theory, but only when we consider evolving memes as well as genes.

Susan Blackmore / Scientific American, Vol 283 No 4, October 2000

How else do we explain the personal computer? It’s an aggregation of all of the technologies that survive in the current cultural artifact – the technological genetics of the machine – that replicate within human cultural economies.

The dead ends of techno-evolution are myriad – SCSI interfaces, CRT Monitors and Syquest drives. Film cameras.

We allow specific technologies to continue within larger parts of the cultural matrix, because they survive in the evolutionary marketplace of ideas, fashions, beliefs and practical techniques.

This approach is quite distinct from the teleological narratives that valorize innovation and more pertinently disruption as something more than acute upswings in the aggregation of memetic success.

Facebook [originally a only digital yearbook application for college students] – made countless clever segues into its present form, yet a good friend once remarked to me “I don’t really get it – it’s just group email with pictures”.

Yet clearly more than the sum of its evolving parts.

Our cultural commodities emerge through assimilation and incremental change – each iteration a suite of characteristics that compete individually to survive another generation

In this sense, Facebook’s “evolution” is less disruptive and more a like decade of considered and highly participatory trial and error.

The CD Discman and the portable MiniDisc have much of the same techno-memetic raw material – optical disc and the personal electronics / audio player being common . While they are now culturally extinct, [though you can still be a Discman if you are determined] the personal / portable audio meme is alive and well – jumping from iPod to cellphone in in the polyvorous realm of digital technology.

Network technologies have not slowed this change – from a cultural point of view they hyper-inflate the memetic process, from this week’s Ice Bucket Challenge to the domestic animal imagery that is too cute not to pass around.

Hosting culture is our nature [how else can it replicate?].

In motion design, the infographic is a cultural artifact that is understood by the participant community as worthy – because it informs. It’s more than pretty pictures.

Most of these works are, on close examination, a pamphleteer‘s speech. With beautifully orchestrated moving images as accompaniment.

The graphic content of these works at best contextualises the spoken word. Too often, however, the pictures simply spell out the spoken word from the voiceover. They re-iterate exactly what is being said – a form of  visual redundancy that clearly is efficient to create – if not particularly well considered.

As a genre, that lives almost exclusively in virtual space, they demonstrate a considerable capacity for memetic transfer of visual motifs:

The Waiting for Superman infographic was very well received when it came out – and quickly passed around the usual communities of interest.

In short order, this piece – Oil’d came out:

And it is hard not to see the similarities.

The incessant rotating starburst motif – which provides a consistent device of transformation in the first piece, appears as a less clearly motivated visual meme in the second.

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 12.11.18 pm   Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 12.47.37 pm

Likewise – the use of multiples contained in the outline of the United States to indicate sweeping statistical quanta [housing / car journeys]

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 12.34.38 pm     Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 12.35.48 pm

..and the use of diagonal lines to “infill” transitions or as a repeated visual motif to break the look of solid areas of color on screen.

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 12.35.26 pm     Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 12.33.50 pm

While the aspirational urge to inform in these slickly animated pieces is apparent, I am always struck by the pop value of the visuals.

As design solutions they subsume the urgency of their message in their visual slickness. Their calls to action ….See a film! / carry a Thermos of coffee! – ride a bike! … are  anticlimactic after the gravitas of the narration.

I can’t but help to feel that drive for creation is not so much determined activism, as the pleasure of the text.

And yes. Pop will eat itself.




Comments ( 0 )

    Leave A Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *