stealing eyeballs 04

Interview with Alexei Tylevich

AutorInnen
Simon Hadler

The written version follows the original e-mail interview.

Simon Hadler: when you emigrated in 1989 you came to a totally different world of media-design. was that a reason why you started to work with new media design? Fascination with a new system of signs/designs? 

Alexei Tylevich: I was deeply affected by the transition as well as by the political changes that coincided with my move to the States. at the time, the possibilities offered by new technologies seemed limitless. traditional tools were no longer sufficient. nothing could quite measure up to the thrill of exploring the new worlds of converging media. In many ways, this process of creative discovery was mirrored by my experience of adaptation to a new cultural system. Learning to function in both real and virtual worlds simultaneously was fascinating. 

SH: everybody says that your channel one news design was even more experimental and hipper than mtv. where did you get your inspiration for a news-channel for pupils? tv-news for pupils - for the ears of somebody who has never watched it, sounds rather serious, or even old-fashioned - not at all experimental? How do you manage do get young people to watch news? Normally, pupils are rather interested in music, wrestling or i don't know what... How did you gain the attention of young people? 

AT: I'd like to point out that the role of design in the overall programming should not be overestimated; though used as a supporting and branding tool, the graphics are never allowed the autonomy to compete with the content itself... so the question is a bit misdirected , since I was not involved in writing or marketing of the show.

SH: everybody says that your channel one news design was even more experimental and hipper than mtv. where did you get your inspiration for a news-channel for pupils? tv-news for pupils - for the ears of somebody who has never watched it, sounds rather serious, or even old-fashioned - not at all experimental? How do you manage do get young people to watch news? Normally, pupils are rather interested in music, wrestling or i don't know what... How did you gain the attention of young people? 

AT: I'd like to point out that the role of design in the overall programming should not be overestimated; though used as a supporting and branding tool, the graphics are never allowed the autonomy to compete with the content itself... so the question is a bit misdirected , since I was not involved in writing or marketing of the show.
setting aside the obvious claims that any organized news broadcast is a form of propaganda, and there cannot be such a thing as unadulterated pure information (which is a well-discussed subject), the news is a realm of everyday mythology solidified into a set of easily recognizable clichés.
on a superficial level, graphic packaging is used to offset the monotone relaying of factual information. traditionally, the news broadcasters are concerned with issues of respectability and authority, which usually comes across in ultra-conservative presentation. those issues are deemed less important when appealing to teenage viewers, replaced by permanent anxiety regarding their allegedly low attention span.
this rather condescending approach opens up gaps waiting to be filled. a knee-jerk response is to replace the "wrong" signifiers with the "right" ones (usually borrowed from other visual genres popular with teenagers). another strategy is to contradict viewer expectations with unfamiliar associative connections derived from the material at hand, in this case, political events.
in retrospect, I can say that I was initially determined (perhaps naïvely) to disturb the clichés, attempting to do so through a process of elevating the mundane (in contrast with fictionalizing the factual, which is arguably what news is by default). following an absurd idea of attaching something "extra" "between the lines" of the main broadcast, that would appeal to other senses than cynical reason. 

SH: that sounds very critical towards the system and also towards yourself... is your disappointment with news or the system of information politics in the US in general the reason why you are only doing independent stuff now?

AT: I don't think this is too critical... actually pretty mild in my opinion:) I wouldn't say that I am disappointed with the system of information politics in the US. The same applies to other countries as well ( a whole another discussion altogether...). This is simply stating my understanding of the way things seem to work, based on my personal observations and experience. My goal at the moment is to be independent in the choice of clients I work with, as opposed to serving any one specific interest group.

SH: arent you underestimating design when you say i overestimate it? ;-) Adapting McLuhans theory, isn't the form nowadays the message?

AT: when I wrote "design in the overall programming should not be overestimated" I was referring to the particular case of Channel One (in my opinion, the same applies to other institutions in the business of disseminating news, across media). To put it in a different way, in traditional news broadcast, aesthetic issues come last on the priorities list. graphics are mostly used in functional terms: diagrams and explainers to support a news story about a plane crash, for example; items like over-the-shoulders and lower-thirds, plus interstitial bumpers for station identification. nothing to the extent of the dominance that design enjoys in advertising, for example. Entire commercial campaigns are built on a simple graphic idea. that level of abstraction is impossible in the way news are delivered. graphic language is expected to stay pretty literal. (perhaps it's because the product on sale here is called "reality", and that it is a carefully doctored editorial construct that does not tolerate any further visual elaboration or commenting upon).

SH: You work both commercially (james bond, channel one news, ...) and in the field of experimental graphic design. How do you coordinate these two worlds? 

AT: it's problematic. on careful observation, the two worlds exist in a state of false opposition. formal innovation is encouraged by the market, which treats experimental and academic research as raw material (going back to the contradictory belonging-together-in-opposition of the avant-garde and the dominant culture). design by definition occupies a compromised position. confronted with contradictory demands to be as innovative and original as possible, and at the same time to conform to established norms and conventions, a dedicated practitioner is cast into a state of simulated schizophrenia.

SH: yes - but it seems to me that most designers want to argument this point away and say that there is no such opposition. they say something like - if you work for something you believe in, money doesn't stink... is that your position, too?

AT: I am not talking about the problem with the capitalist system itself (that would be a whole another discussion again..) I am not even referring to the position of choosing one's clients based on one's political or moral beliefs. I am only looking at the position that a media designer occupies within the system, no matter who the client is. it's "abstract thought" vs. "purposeful communication", and a gray area of compromise in between.
In client work, the designer is hired a specialist and a collaborator in shaping essentially a public message. In experimental work, the issues of "usefulness" and "communicability" recede into the background for the time being, until the results are found an application (or not) at a later point. it's a private process of discovery and letting oneself be informed on the level of the subconscious. as opposed to performing a task of informing others on someone else's behalf.

SH: your domain is perishablegoods.net. why perishable goods?

AT: it seems that the name accurately describes the essence of image as commodity. the domain will act as an outlet for various experimental projects.



appendix


magazines

2001

Creative Review (01/01), UK
RES (1/01), "Grand Opening: Title Design's New Visionaries" profile

2000

Creative Planet (12/00), feature, www.designinmotion.com
Creative Review (12/00, 07/00, 5/00), UK
Creativity (5/00), "Russian Revolution" cover story
Poliester (vol.8 #26), "Designing Credits"

1999

ITEMS (9/99)(Holland), "Alexei in Wonderland" feature
Creative Review (08/99, 02/99), UK
Eye (vol.8, #31), UK, "West Coast Latitudes" profile

1998

Creative Review (9/98), UK, "Prodigy" feature
IDEA (11/98, #271), Japan, feature
Creative Planet (10/98), feature, www.designinmotion.com
RES (1/98), "The Future of Filmmaking", profile

1997

Wired (11/97), "Hollywood 20" profile
I.D.Forty (1/97), profile
CAP&Design (1/97), Sweden, "Grafisk Sparv fran Minsk" profile

1996

Domus (10/96, #786), "The Simulated Body"
Visuelt (3/96)(Norway), "Zeitgeistylevitsj" interview
Eye (#11,#28), UK

1995

Plastikk (1/95), Norway
Designer's Workshop (vol.11,#72), Japan

1994

ASCII (9/94), Japan

1992

Design Quarterly (2/92), US



books

2001

Soon, ed. Lewis Blackwell, UK
ZOO #8, UK
100% Cotton, UK

2000

The 100 Show (21st Annual of the American Center for Design), Juror, US
Typography-ex.[pt.00], Japan

1999

New Design: Los Angeles, ed. Edward Gomez, US

1998

Soul Design, published by Emigré, US
Whereishere, ed. Lewis Blackwell, UK

1996

Typography Now Two, ed. Rick Poynor, UK
FUSE #16 "Genetics", UK

1995

Prix Ars Electronica, Austria

1994

The 100 Show (16th Annual of the American Center for Design), US
SIGGRAPH 94 Visual Proceedings, US

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