In my final year thesis project, I tackled the challenge of expressing the work of sociologist Jean Baudrillard through a stand-alone design piece.
Though I’ve always been passionate about sociology and philosophy, I was unfamiliar with Baudrillard heading into this year. I stumbled upon his writing in an internet exploration of culture and media, and was immediately struck by the depth and radical nature of his thinking. The difficulty in this project soon become obvious, as I had to figure out a way to express these extremely complex and abstract concepts through design.
The difficulty in this project soon become obvious, as I had to figure out a way to express these extremely complex and abstract concepts through design.
Baudrillard wrote extensively on his theory of “hyperreality”, which he used to describe the current state of contemporary western culture. Baudrillard believed that this hyperreal world in which we currently reside has become so distorted by media and advertising that “real meaning” has been lost.
As Baudrillard’s writing effectively critiques reality, I brainstormed a number of design objects which hope to objectively depict reality. Avenues I considered included maps, dictionaries, material biographies, and finally, news media. As someone with a passion for print and type-setting, I eventually chose to design a newspaper.
In his writing, Baudrillard lists a number of ways in which “real meaning” might be rediscovered in media. He advocates processes which dissolve boundaries of time, place, and economic standing. As newspapers, especially those that deal with finance, typically cater to the middle/upper-class, I considered how a newspaper designed for the less-privileged might look.
One way I expressed this thinking in the Business section was by replacing the stock reports, which typically appear along the top of the page, with casino slot machine results. As poorer people without money to invest are unlikely to be interested in stock reports (and perhaps wouldn’t even know what to make of them— I know I don’t) I used the slot machine symbols to allude to the idea that were they to invest, they’d largely be playing with house money, with the odds stacked against them.
Ironically, in the quest to rediscover meaning, Baudrillard encouraged practices and symbols which disrupt meaning, and at times might appear entirely meaningless. For reference, one might consider the principles of ‘pataphysics. Accordingly, some of the images and juxtapositions in the newspaper might refer to nothing at all, or are used for the purposes of intentionally confusing readers into making unlikely connections.