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Mike Dempsey on visual culture

~ While Alistair is away cycling the length of Great Britain, we've invited twenty disgustingly talented people to each write a post for our blog. Today's post is by the brilliant graphic designer Mike Dempsey, who has done a ridiculous amount of incredible design during his life, and now runs Studio Dempsey. ~

Hmmm, visual culture. Something we, in this funny old business of design, are submerged in. We see stuff when others don’t. It’s what we do. It’s what we love. But somehow in this increasing digital age, our visual dexterity is being diverted…

Have you noticed how many people walk straight out into the road or onto a zebra crossing without looking because they are texting or chatting on their mobile? Or others having half engaged conversations with friends because they are too distracted by their emails or texts? Maybe you haven’t, because it’s exactly what you are doing right now reading this?

Yes, we’ve all got one and spend more time looking at it than our surroundings. SMS, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube, and I’m sure many more new kids on the block, have taken us over like those big pea-poddy things in ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’.

As wonderful as these innovations are, they come at a price. And it’s not just financial. They deprive us from being in the ‘here and now’. For a so-called ‘visually aware’ community we are losing our sight and the protocol of real social interaction.

Digital has accelerated our world. Freddie Mercury’s, ‘…I want it all, and I want it now’ is a reality. Bookshops, music stores, fashion outlets and many more are closing down in favour of virtual shopping; and the recent demise of Design Week has brought it closer to home.

Many years ago I conducted a workshop in order to help Royal Mail discover how they could improve the accessibility of their stamps for the partially sighted and blind community. The meeting was held at the Royal National Institute for the Blind in a rather bland room in the basement. As I watched this small group with their heighted tactile sensitivity navigating perforations, size, shape and Braille, all in minute detail, I suddenly realised that I was the only person in the room with something very precious. My sight. And that day in that soulless basement has stayed with me, and I never undervalue the gift I have. I look everywhere and anywhere and resist being mesmerised by that irritating, but necessary, little gadget that we all carry around.

So slow down, put your phone away and look around you. And engage with those passing moments. They can be a joy to behold…

Like this…

Or this…

Or even Alfred Hitchcock on the 38 bus. And what is he up to?…

If you need a primer to get into the zone of the beauty of our world, take in Terrence Malick’s stunningly shot The Tree of Life photographed by the brilliant cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki – a man who truly uses his gift…

Take a look here:


~ Alistair is raising money for Cancer Research UK during his ride - please wander over to his Just Giving page and donate a little cash. ~

Mike Dempsey

posted: 6 September 2011
categories: Film | Technology
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