Visual Philosophy

Graphic designer Genís Carreras talks to Dominic Falcão about translating ‘-isms’ into
evocative pictures

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Genís Carreras is a graphic designer in his early twenties and author of the “philographics” series, a project which attempts to capture abstract philosophical ideas in colour and shape. Some of his other work is stunning. Having seen this breadth and ambition, I wanted to get an idea of what direction he was heading in.

Currently, his work on ‘philographics’ involves designing new theories, testing prototypes and getting in touch with publishers. I can imagine the end result: a fantastic, colourful book capturing the essence of philosophy in geometric shapes. “So far I’ve designed 48 theories and I have between 30 and 40 more on the way. The idea is to cover all the ‘isms’ and turn the book into a useful (and beautiful) visual dictionary of philosophy.” This is certainly one way to shed light on this dry and abstract subject.
One thing that surprised me when I first came across Genís is how shapes (particularly, Utilitarianism, Dogma, Realism, Empiricism, and Idealism) with no obvious connection with their subject matter were somehow made to connect with ideas that are so complex to express in words, and yet so simple when put into images.

Genís explains, “to create the visuals I used different techniques depending on the theory: some of them can be explained with a visual metaphor, like the domino effect in Determinism, but most of them need to be explained in a more abstract level, like Empiricism and its reference to the senses and perception. With colour, like music, you can communicate a lot of information and it can be understood instantly and instinctively.”

But that fluid explanation surely glosses over a rocky transition from words to image? ”The hardest ones are those I haven’t made yet and now I’m starting to face. Some theories, like Post-constructivism or Functionalism, are very dense and harder to boil down. I might leave them out of the book if I’m not happy enough with the outcome.” Yes, I can imagine why Functionalism might pose a problem, but even as I think about it I have some intuitions as to what direction his formulation might take.
I am no art critic, nor philosopher, and part of my fascination comes from the fact I’ve never really come across a project like this, and struggle to pin down a genre. Genís explains: “I’m very influenced by the Swiss graphic designers from the 60s, the layouts of Josef-Müller Brockmann and the use of colour by Max Bill. I also admire the work of contemporary designers like Noma Bar and Olly Moss.”

Digging a little, I find in Broackman the simplicity, the geometric shapes, the bright colours of Genís. In Max Bill (with a name like an expensive night out…) I find pure abstraction. But no time for an art history lesson – it’s time to dig into the contentious issue.

I initially found it implausible that someone who cites Nietzsche as inspiration and also comments on the importance of subjectivity and interpretation for consumers of the Philographics project could also aspire to capture some core of meaning in his work that would connect with similar patterns in the intuitions and thought processes of onlookers.

With colour, like music, you can communicate a lot of information, and it can be understood instantly and instinctively

Was there a conflict between finding solace in Nietzsche and the advocacy of a crystalline distillation of philosophical thought? “I think there are universal ideas no matter our culture or education, but there’s not a universal way to communicate them.”

Maybe using simple shapes and colours can be a way to overcome some of these barriers.” Ah. He is adding to pluralism of delivery techniques, and Nietzsche in turn contributes to the pluralism of philosophical ideas.

But how does Genís deal with controversy when it arises? In a previous interview, he noted that “some people associate the pink triangle of Hedonism with an homosexual icon while others see a part of the female body”. This has sparked minor criticism from feminists, who argue that it implies female sexuality is somehow implicated in the idea of hedonism, and from the LGBTQ community who resent the possible implications of the connection. Whilst  insisting on freedom of interpretation is of course his prerogative, I asked him to elaborate on his inspiration for this particular symbol; “All I can say is that I like having a sense of humour in what I do, and this poster is one example of it. I see this design as a very contained representation of physical pleasure and not as an attack on anyone.”

Of course, this is only my vision and everyone has their own. But I’m sorry if anyone feels offended, because my intention was the opposite.” We find a defense of light-heartedness, you can tell that Genís is really the gently sensitive type, though I’m not won over by it.

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There’s also been noise from graphic designers at the rise of low-cost, “skin deep” crowd-sourcing graphic design sites like 99designs, which provide only a very short brief to give new designers a chance let their design speak, to get jobs without a portfolio. Genís’s designs stand at odds with this trend and are maybe even threatened by it, his designs possibly made vulnerable by being penetrating and thoughtful.

I leave the observation open and am rewarded by a feisty reply: “I think it’s a normal thing that responds to a specific demand and we shouldn’t be worried about it. At the end of the day, businesses pay exactly for what they get, an amateur design that makes them look like amateur businesses.”

So what does the future hold for the graphics industry? “I can see minimalism and simplicity getting more and more popular in branding and digital. In a fast-changing world with too much information and messages, I think it’s a good way to be efficient, transparent and honest, while standing out from the rest.”

I finish the interview by turning to introspection, and with a guilty surge realise we have spoken very little about the man himself. I manage only to tease these final retiring observations “Hm… in ten years time I see myself going back to Catalonia, having my own small studio in Barcelona and probably with kids!” He chuckles. A future as simple as the work he’s producing.

Prints can be bought at http://society6.com/gex6/prints, and the whole colection can be founds at : www.Geniscarreras.com.

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