Self-Portrait, 1976The New Plasmatic
It’s that time of the year. Everyone has left town and all I feel like doing is riding my bike in the Hollywood Hills. To make matters worse, the economy is in the dumps with no light at the end of tunnel except for the few aliens who live near or on Wall Street. Portfolio time!
Redesigning one’s portfolio is the designer’s alternative to therapy. It involves hard decisions. You are both patient and therapist. You must revisit the past and plan for the future. Most of us just end up repackaging the past, the wrapper being the only novelty. We convince ourselves that a new set of clothes will do the trick. Wishing for good luck or to nullify a promise, we cross our fingers and send the “New Me” out into the world. Superstition and deceit are now our best allies. We convince ourselves that this is it. Everyone will be so impressed by your new outfit. Even if they scrutinize the past, one look at the New Me will convince them that it was the client not the designer who was responsible for such or such project’s mediocre outcome. Lying to one’s therapist (yourself) is not wanting to know or admit something about one’s self. Telling the truth out loud makes denial impossible and we wouldn’t want that, would we?
Ever wondered how a Chinese restaurant could possibly deliver on a mile-high menu with only one cook in the kitchen? Answer: same ingredients, many combinations. I suspect some restaurants deal in permutations too, where the ingredients for two dishes are the same but listed in a different order. When starting out, every project counts. But the longer you survive in this business, and hopefully the more projects you and your bank account have to show for it, the more children you will have to cull. There is a tipping point where the quality of the portfolio starts to suffer. Too many projects and it becomes difficult for the intended audience to discern who you really are and what you stand for… First and foremost, the portfolio should demonstrate a design philosophy. It is your vision of the world. So, how on earth does one with over twenty years experience in as many disciplines re-invent himself without coming across as a complete fraud?
Plasmatic Concepts is a loose collaborative of designers from many fields. It is spearheaded by David Hartwell, a graphic designer, and architect Sarah Lorenzen. We believe in speciation, not specialization. It’s a hard sell. Most professionals, including our clients, have a tendency to gravitate toward a specialty. It is a natural instinct. One may remember who got bronze in the 100m dash but certainly not who won gold in decathlon. One could argue the decathlete is a more complete athlete who never excels in any individual discipline. We would tend to agree if design was defined only by the dexterity and applied skills of the designer. As thinkers, specialization is to us both counter-intuitive and counter-productive. Specialization makes sense if the client has framed the problem before calling the designer. We often are all too happy to be employed to question the logic driving the plot. We fail as designer. We fail the client.
We become clients ourselves when designing our own portfolio. We must question the purpose, logic and goals of the endeavor before laying down the first scribble. We must also accept the hard truth(s) that may arise in the process. Careful research and honesty is paramount. Impatience and desire to please push designers to use research as a crutch to justify a sexy outcome that satisfies the stylist in them. One cannot tackle a design problem with a stylist’s agenda. By doing so, we are putting ourselves ahead of both the problem and the client.
A dilemma has been with us ever since we founded Plasmatic. The same thinking process that unites all good designers brought us together. But is also tearing us apart. A multi-displinary design approach still makes total sense to us though it has been and still is a tough sell to an outside world in love with specialization. Who wants a general practitioner when you can get an expert? After many portfolio iterations we realized it wasn’t the quality nor the diversity of our work that was problematic. Rather, we were trying too hard to homogenize all of our past work into one neat container rather than embracing our diversity and latitude of thought. What if the container, the portfolio, was the embodiment of that thought process? What if instead of trying to come up with a fortress of perfection we opened ourselves up to criticism? What if instead of only showing our own work we welcomed and promoted our friends’ work? What if a current or future client got to see and read what we did in our spare time? Would it matter to that same client if he knew I almost got “tagged” by a rattlesnake the last time I went mounting biking? I think it would. It would certainly make the next meeting more interesting. The weather and traffic would stop being the default ice breakers. Business is all about relationships. We believe the more someone knows about us, the thinkers, the people and what makes us tick, the better.
This is the first issue of Plasmatic.info As such, it still looks a lot like a traditional portfolio where most of the content is old news, at least to us. But the engine is in place and ready to receive your comments and participation. Peruse the site. Praise us or destroy us. As we grow, we hope to convince fresh faces to contribute to the site. Articles by and about street photographer Adam Wiseman from Mexico City and product designer Michael Neumayr of Los Angeles are in the pipeline. We hope to write about many subjects and many people, not just the ones that have a check attached to them. We hope that this site will serve you as much as we hope it will serve us.