Jess ♥s Type


You're all taking Midterms, and here I am, just starting class...

I will never, ever, ever complain about Parsons being unorganized again. (This is clearly a lie and you cannot hold me to it. I live to complain) I've begun class here at UAL, and I don't even have a schedule yet.  

They're given me a vague idea that there will be one session that meets at 10AM on Monday and Wednesday for the next five weeks, but no inkling about how long each day will run. Then electives will be on Friday, but probably not this Friday, and we haven't even chosen them yet...what, do they just allow unlimited amounts of people into class at once? I'm trying to go with the flow. But it all feels simultaneously like highschool and what I imagine grad school might be like. And it's frustrating. Doesn't anyone need to plan ahead? 

On the otherhand, the curricula, if it ever actually begins, sounds breathtaking and far beyond anything that Parsons could offer. We work almost exclusively in real world projects with current design professionals throughout London. Busy work is limited and independent study paramount. That one class I'm 95% sure I actually have is an intensive self-branding workshop, at the end of which, we'll come out with a name, logo, business card, suite of stationary and website. So I can look like a full professional, not just some kid with a CV. It's so very geared towards making us look professional that I wonder if they've had any time to actually teach design, though in this age, really if you don't come out of high school with a working knowledge of the Adobe Creative Suite and a slew on typefaces you live and die for, how are you getting into these art schools anyway? However it works, I'm excited to see what the Brits are capable of.    

One of my fellow exchange students is also from Parsons--the other a very friendly face from FIT who happens to live across the street from me back home...small flipping world, isn't it? I got lost Wednesday morning with the girl from Parsons, whipping around until my American accent and deer-in-the-headlights look brought one teacher out of the woodworking to direct us to the vague "upper casket space" we had been asked to go to in one ersatz welcome email. And there we found Nigel, tutor of the first years who we met last week. And he ushered us around the corner and up a flight of stairs to the most secretive, unmmarked space in the whole damn campus to the front of the room and introduced us as Visiting Americans to a round of applause. 

At least they applauded, and looked somewhat welcoming, before Nigel ran away and left us to find our seats. See what I mean about high school?  

Then today, Thursday, we had our first lecture. Real college lecture, 150 people to a room, one tutor, and it was another Welcome class, only this time, Welcome to Theory. Cue bleach-blonde, fake tanned, v-necked leader of the program to pop in, and Nigel to stand by his side and crack a joke and the second year tutor to still be left conspicuously absent.  Our original tutor was taken violently ill last week and will be out all month. They're still trying to figure out who will replace him. Only one teacher? Can you say high school... 

Our lecturer--Christopher Wilson--he's new, so it won't just be me getting used to him, but he getting used to us, opened with a read-off-the page sigh-not-this-again style of lecturing, a bit of dry wit sprinkled in, aren't the British just delightful? He casually mentions Michigan--do the British youth have a working knowledge of American geography? Because I certainly do not know anything about British or European geography, that's for sure. And I was rolling my eyes doodling in the corner of my notebook: until he starts talking about Ernst Bettler. 

Bare with me here. Christopher Wilson is also a kind of radical design journalist--wants to speak with an air of criticism, not just your run of the mill sycophant, yadda yadda yadda, but this expose on Ernst Bettler, he tells us, is what he's most known for. Not, this is my biggest accomplishment, just, what I'm best known for. Humility goes a long way with the jealous obsessive design student who wants to be you so bad, but also can't bear to know that others have succeeded where she might, in the future, fail. It's a cynical, not so flowers-and-daisies worldview, but it keeps me fighting, so hey-- 

Ernst Bettler was a culture-jammer. A guerrilla advertisement technique used to subvert media culture and let society in on the secrets of big business. In 1954, he was approached by a pharmaceutical company, Pfäfferli+Huber, who in the days of the concentration camps, tested their unapproved drugs on Nazi victims. Class act, yeah?

Bettler took on the client anyway, and designed a series of four posters. Separately, they look innocuous enough.  Look closer, and each poster is a giant letter. So you can understand it, here's the A (the only surviving poster of the set). The other three were N Z and I. Bettler was smart. He showed the client all of the posters separately. But put them together? Which is how he ensured they were hung about the town, and what do they spell? 

Pfäfferli+Huber was defunct before the end of the month. 

And our lecturer was the first person to report on this forty seven years later, in 2001. 

The story gets picked up by several other publications, including AdBusters: Design Anarchy, who calls Bettler's poster campaign the greatest example of culture-jamming in design history. There is also several page spread in Michael Johnson's Problem Solved, a modern design compendium. Wilson has proof too, scans of the articles, and a little tongue-in-cheek vibe as he's going through this.

The design campaign was brilliant, after all, it is culture-jamming at it's finest. "It's also completely fake. I made it up." Wilson says next, "Ernst Bettler doesn't even exist." 

Now I'm in the middle of copying down Michael Johnson's name in my notebook so I can give a look at his book when the lecturer drops this on the room. There's nervous giggling and dumbfounded looks abound. Wait, he's serious? 

Wilson's going on, "And it just goes to show you how poorly researched design journalism is when idiots like Michael Johnson write about this in their books without even questioning it. If it was the greatest example of culture-jamming in history, why wouldn't anyone have heard of it before I reported on it in 2001?"  

But they way he unfolded the whole thing with us, like a master storyteller. I was right there with all the idiots. A small inkling of why hasn't this ever been mentioned before, but I mostly ignored it. I'm an American after all, ignorance is practically tattooed across my forehead. And only for it to just be--It's all fake. He made it up.  

These are the kinds of designers they got to teach me. Note reading lectures aside, I'm sold. I am so sold.  

But for the love of god, can you please just give me a schedule already?  

I have things to do and places to see and an acute case of carpal tunnel from teaching myself Copperplate calligraphy because I come home at night to a single dorm room in a flat full of ghosts and I am so desperately bored I just want to learn. That is, on the nights I convince myself it won't be the end of my existence to spend £10 on two pints of beer at a local pub--because I should spend all my time there. Pub culture is amazing! Oli took me to this cafe on Brick Lane where people bring their laptops to work like a coffee shop vibe, only they sell beer too and why don't we have that in America--we are doing so many things wrong. 

Also considering taking out all of my money from the nearest ATM before the exchange rate tanks due to governmental closures. Good lord, America, get your act together, I have so many things to buy. (Since I'm apparently never going to be assigned homework. Who would have thought that would be the one thing I'd miss the most about home?) 

Please oh please oh please let the orientation finally end so I can get down to business. I want to meet some genuine real British students and gossip about typefaces and kerning with fellow humans again. I need my people! 

Jessica GrisctiComment