Interlude: The Journey Project

I’ve decid­ed to revis­it the exer­cise I wrote about pre­vi­ous­ly called the Jour­ney Project as an inter­lude to this brand. I feel I’m immersed in this agency of map mak­ing at the moment that I’d like to branch out and do some­thing even more hypo­thet­i­cal than my hypo­thet­i­cal iden­ti­ty project. Maybe this will just end up being Sojourn, but for now I just want to make things, make maps, and cre­ate some form of jour­ney, both objec­tive­ly and sub­jec­tive­ly.

Some ini­tial thoughts as I begin on the project:

For­mat becomes an imme­di­ate con­cern. For these cre­ative projects in school, there was often the conun­drum of being giv­en free reign on what form the com­plet­ed project would take. Could be a series of posters, a book or a dig­i­tal pre­sen­ta­tion, even inter­ac­tive. In class, a ques­tion like “what for­mat should this project be?” would often be met with an answer like “what for­mat do you think is best?” I don’t resent that kind of spur for cre­ativ­i­ty, but real­is­ti­cal­ly speak­ing, a graph­ic design­er isn’t nor­mal­ly giv­en such a wide open avenue for pro­duc­tion. Regard­less, in the very first moments of brain­storm­ing for this jour­ney project, a real design con­cern will dic­tate how the rest of the piece will be com­plet­ed, and that’s decid­ing what kind of visu­al piece will rep­re­sent this jour­ney.

I’m not exact­ly threat­ened by this prospect since this is a com­plete­ly per­son­al project. To answer the ques­tion I mere­ly have to decide what I want, and although I can some­times have trou­ble decid­ing between choco­late and vanil­la ice cream, a prod­uct like this can become way less tran­sient than desert, and there­fore car­ry some impor­tance. The jour­ney could be a series of posters or plac­ards and I could envi­sion them on my wall (should the visu­als attract me enough), but then per­haps they’re more like paint­ings than a real piece of design. Noth­ing wrong with that of course (see my pre­vi­ous review of Paula Scher’s book). Per­haps the piece is a book; that’s a nat­ur­al choice since it is inher­ent­ly nar­ra­tive and is an age-old prac­tice of keep­ing scraps of a jour­ney bound to remem­ber it fond­ly. Maybe the final prod­uct is as sim­ple as being a map itself; if the geog­ra­phy of the jour­ney is implic­it, then the func­tion­al­i­ty becomes an inher­ent foun­da­tion for the life of the project. I could envi­sion one being able to use the piece to retrace the steps of my for­mer jour­ney, and coin­cide their impres­sions with mine. I feel like this is done all the time with Google Earth—just plop in your own pho­to of the Eif­fel Tow­er on the map and peo­ple can see what you saw. But this project might need more than pho­tographs to con­vey my inter­nal response to the voy­age.

Ref­er­ence is an impor­tant detail that dif­fer­en­ti­ates a map from anoth­er form of design. Maps uti­lize references—a series of indi­ca­tions that help the view­er locate them­selves in the vis­i­ble field. This is, as I’m learn­ing, poten­tial­ly the most basic and fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence between a map and any oth­er form of graph­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Per­haps this is why I’m most drawn to this order of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, per­haps this is the inef­fa­ble aspect to them that draws me in time and again. Of course, it’s dif­fi­cult to invest ful­ly in that con­cept as a full def­i­n­i­tion of car­tog­ra­phy, there are many exam­ples of maps that do not geo­graph­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent a place I am cur­rent­ly in, or can ever be (maps of the moon, fic­tion­al maps, con­cep­tu­al maps). But I do believe it is safe to say that all maps must have a qual­i­ty of ref­er­ence. If a map in the front of a book shows the trav­els of Bil­bo Bag­gins, obvi­ous­ly you can nev­er place your­self in ref­er­ence to that map, the book is a work of fic­tion. But the illus­tra­tions of the book’s geog­ra­phy require a ref­er­ence to the char­ac­ter in that book. With that sim­ple detail cov­ered, so much more infor­ma­tion may be absorbed from the map: how large the world is, where his home is, what fea­tures are there to the land, what parts of the world will he explore and what parts of the world might we nev­er even learn about. Some of these ques­tions might be answered, and some may not, but that sim­ple ref­er­ence point inspires the key qual­i­ty of won­der to maps that make them so enchant­i­ng.

Won­der is found in so many forms of design and art, espe­cial­ly in the nar­ra­tive world. Books are mak­ing you won­der from the very first sen­tence, and the nar­ra­tive pro­ceeds to either answer your inter­nal ques­tions or to leave them untied. For this jour­ney project I def­i­nite­ly want to retain some of that curios­i­ty, but a good map also answers some ques­tions and com­mu­ni­cates an idea. This project is a bit bril­liant because it is com­bin­ing both a map and a nar­ra­tive; it can be both place and time. I sup­pose time could be replaced with impres­sion how­ev­er, as there’s no true need to dic­tate how long one thing takes to get from point A to point B, but it could. Time could also be gen­er­al­ized, just like so many aspects of a map. A sim­ple sequen­tial order is inher­ent, but could be empha­sized to enhance the expe­ri­ence.

A path on a map can sway the view­er with an impres­sion of the geog­ra­phy. It’s near­ly impos­si­ble to omit how­ev­er, even rivers run a spe­cif­ic course, roads and routes were laid long ago, all of which are some of the sim­plest ways to ensure that ref­er­ence is achieved. Even as cours­es are dis­played on any giv­en map, the course of this par­tic­u­lar jour­ney also brings up a few queries: should the course be pre­cise? what kinds of trav­els should be omit­ted? can a course sim­ply indi­cate a con­nec­tion between point A and point B with­out spec­i­fy­ing the actu­al route? On a GPS this would be dis­as­trous. It is strange to me that it los­es so much val­ue in a scrap book though. Recount­ing a jour­ney in the past has lit­tle to do with the course unless that course is mean­ing­ful to the sto­ry of the jour­ney. When I take a plane from Cincin­nati to Seoul I’m pret­ty inclined to sim­ply draw a straight line between the two, even though I clear­ly know the air­plane I took had a spe­cif­ic course. As I recount a jour­ney for this project, I’ve learned that exact course is less impor­tant than com­mu­ni­cat­ing a pro­gres­sion. I’m remind­ed of the Indi­ana Jones movies where Spiel­berg gives us an translu­cent tran­si­tion map when Indy flies from Nepal to Egypt.

IndianaJones_Travel IndianaJones_Travel2
As in any oth­er form of design, dis­cre­tion is the root of sim­plic­i­ty and com­pre­hen­sion. Dis­cre­tion is the qual­i­ty that ensures mean­ing is com­mu­ni­cat­ed, but need­less or point­less infor­ma­tion is left out. I ques­tioned what cours­es should be rep­re­sent­ed in the sec­tion above; show­ing the path I took point A to point B is impor­tant, but from point A to point A.1 to point A.2 would be tedious. Even Google has a thresh­old for how far in you can zoom to their maps, how detailed a map should be, how many place names should be includ­ed and at what degree of per­spec­tive they are revealed. As I con­sid­er design­ing a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of my jour­ney I have to make choic­es for the view­er about what parts of the jour­ney are unnec­es­sary. This goes for the sub­jec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion as well. A good place to start might be deter­min­ing what parts of the jour­ney were most impor­tant, and maybe the lev­el of com­pre­hen­sion will help steer me if more ele­ments are need­ed to find ref­er­ence.

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