Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tooling with Design

You know, I think I've been neglecting something these past few years that used to be kind of a big deal to me.

Back in Middle School, those wonderful, impressionable years we spend first figuring ourselves out, I made my first website. It was a shoddy thing, sloppily assembled with obnoxiously tiled pictures for backgrounds and awful midi music playing at all times and a color scheme that could induce spontaneous eye bleeding. Much as I knew the thing looked horrible I was all too excited to make my first embarrassing foray into the World Wide Web. But like a good little participant in the virgin world of a youth-enabled internet, I didn't just leave the site alone like a school thesis paper. No, I kept it organic, modifying it constantly, adjusting content, introducing new material, modifying colors and layout... it was like an experiment in the mass appeal of specific aesthetics. The layout would be published one day, and over that week the community of inquisitive young minds with which I associated (okay, so it turned out they were in their late teens and early twenties, thus making me the miserably nagging whelp) would comment on what worked, what didn't work, suggested changes, anything to make the site less a trigger for migraines. Over the 6 or 7 years that I kept the site running, what began as a subdued seizure of a website became something respectably designed, assembled and executed.

In the process of building that website I acquired most of my knowledge of image editing and effective layout. Some nights I would tool about in the software with no real aim in mind, simply the ultimate objective to make something new, visually stimulating, and potentially cool. I would raster type and use it to create images, or distort it to create what would look nearly like lines of The Matrix, only blue, scrolling horizontally and much more full of glow. And whenever I would come up with an image or some content that struck the right nerve, I would incorporate it in the website somehow, be it in the background, menu interfaces or simply an accent to the title banner. Put simply, my interest was in the design itself.

While in High School I had my mind set on pursuing a degree in graphic design despite a course load and structure that very much pointed in the opposite direction of artistic pursuits. Instead of taking art courses every year the pressure was upon me from the school itself to dive deeper into core studies, math, science and English. Senior year I hit a sort of rebellious point wherein I enrolled in a program that allowed me to skip half the school day assuming I attended a college course instead. With the choice once again my own, I enrolled in my first, and unfortunately only, communications and technologies course. It touched on all the essential areas, the business of creative design, its application, basic principles and techniques, the works. With very little direction or aid from the professor of the course, I excelled, enough to the point that he saw fit to pull me aside and discuss my professional entry into the field. He indulged the business aspects further than he ever did before, and unmasked the razor sharp, competitive nature of the industry. As a yet-to-be-truly-motivated-to-jump-into-a-competitive-career young adult not even yet at 18... I fled in terror from the thought of engaging myself in the graphic design industry. And instead of admitting to terror, I convinced everyone (or at least myself) that I was intent on "forging my own path" so that I could "appreciate" it more.

Ever since then I never really managed to coax myself back into design. That's okay, to some degree - the pure act of photography cropped up very quickly and became my primary pursuit. But last night I was bored. Bored and I had no images to catch up on editing save for two. I took a look at my page on Facebook ( for those who didn't know) and noticed the only photos on the page itself were a crappy little banner piece and 3 cell phone snaps of the studio that could've been mine. What with Facebook's little 5-image bar at the top, it made the immediate appearance look kind of ugly, so I took it upon myself to very half-assed-ly compose some business card sized images to take the place of the ill match 5 image spread on the top of the page. So I thought briefly on what I was trying to accomplish exactly with that spread and immediately came up with 5 images on Flickr that advertised the point perfectly. But the images themselves weren't enough. No, they needed something else. In fact, the entire Kneejerk Imagery name needed something a bit more than what it had already gotten. Not more photos, it was late and I was tired. Not another blog post, after all I had nothing to write about. And it clicked - a logo!

Those photographers whose work I appreciate most, I see now that it's not just their photographs alone that makes them stand apart for me in the greater mental space. Something they've all managed to do is convert their talents into a brand. They have iconic logos, usually signatures or symbols, assorted shapes and lines that convey without a doubt that the image itself was conjured by their unique eye. And it makes perfect sense, it is a crucial element of the trifecta of marketing (which isn't really much of a trifecta, marketing successfully takes a lot of work from several directions). I have the media, the content I wish to share is available and I've steadily worked to diversify it from the simple image to varied other media. I have a theme, a general tone, mood, an intent, and although it has been recently derailed I am confident that I can get the train back on the tracks. And while I have a name that pairs beautifully with my intended tone and presented media, it has only ever met with a portion of its potential because the name was missing its simplified public face - its brand and its logo.

I will be frank, the assortment of 5 "branded" images I crafted are very shallow attempts. But the simple act of working on them reminded me of nights spent working my old website back in the far more naive school days. The knowledge I'd accrued during those years came into good use, especially for my very rusty instinct for optimal aesthetics. And I enjoyed creating them, for all the 3-5 minutes a piece they took. The real thrill was in the design of the logo, the KJ symbol. I've always been fond of the minimalist aesthetic, and took care to ensure this "sketch" kept with it. Satisfied with the logo design, it was then a matter of choosing how it should be incorporated in the images, and a partially transparent overlay of it sang wonderful notes to my appeal. It may undergo a bit of metamorphosis, but the point is I know what I want it to look like. And damn does it look good.

KJ will be my little side project for some time now. Maybe I should actually purchase a domain and try that whole website thing again.