Aaron Nieh’s poster design for the 2017 Golden Pin Concept Awards can seem confusing when viewed from a distance. Onlookers may wonder why it is peeling off of the wall or whether it is padded underneath. On closer inspection it becomes clear that the surface is actually flat. It is precisely these exacting but seemingly unintentional design details which create the spark that ignites viewers’ curiosity without their even being aware of it.
An Unusual Poster
Nieh points out that when the organizer, Taiwan Design Center first invited him, they showed him award-winning posters from past years and then asked him to design a completely new campaign poster that would reflect the recent changes and give the awards a brand new image.
The desire for something new was clear, but where to begin? Nieh believes any genuine change in poster design requires a focus on copywriting, because “while it may not be difficult to create a beautiful design, without well-written copy it is nothing more than just a pretty advertisement.” To come up with something completely new and refreshing, Nieh decided to depart from traditional norms of copywriting and forge a path to a new approach.
The copy on Nieh’s poster does not mention anything about the design awards. Instead, he selected attentiongrabbing keywords to pull in art and design workers and students alike. Apart from the unusual form of the poster, his punchy tagline “You are a Conjunction” was the perfect hook for viewers. “You” connect different generations in the same way that a conjunction joins two clauses.
When “You are a Conjunction”
“Designing a poster for an award ultimately means the focus should be on the entrants themselves,” says Nieh, “When I was brainstorming ideas for the poster’s copy, it occurred to me that the Golden Pin Concept Award participants and ultimately the final winner must have some very distinctive personality traits.” Nieh speculates that they probably perceive things quite differently from ordinary people. They are gifted and willing to try anything—in short, they are a little crazy.
Every era has boasted its cadre of nonconformists who shocked polite society; Nieh, too, is a believer that change comes from the complete subversion of tradition. For example, Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, Fountain, was perceived as the work of a madman when it was first shown, but it ultimately overthrew norms and definitions of art. Juicy Salif, a citrus squeezer created by Philippe Starck, was another work that surpassed people’s imaginings.
▲ The second edition is based on Philippe Starck and Marcel Duchamp’s classic works to highlight the spirit of the copy.
Marcel Duchamp and Philippe Starck remain influential figures in art and design history because their works are seen as classic even now. This fact inspired Nieh to the realization that their works serve as conjunctions: their impact has acted as a connector between past with present, and possibly even the future, sketching out a significant historical arc.
Missions of Being a Conjunction
This analogy between conjunction and designer unlocks new possibilities. As far as Nieh is concerned, design workers are a bridge connecting clients with consumers. Of course, anyone who lives and maintains relationships in society is a link in the community, but for a designer, the task is slightly different.
“Once you’re involved in the design industry, you become a link between different groups.” Nieh says that as a link, it is not enough for designers just to deliver services to clients and provide product options for consumers; they need to be more ambitious, aspire to make something unique, and in doing so, transform those that they are connecting.
Nieh’s point of view is illustrated by his engagement in public issues, such as the full page advertisement he designed and placed in the New York Times in support of the Sunflower Student Movement. Nevertheless, a broader context is required to better interpret and understand Nieh’s rationale for this year’s poster design.
▲ The set of commemorative stamps designed for the inauguration of the president and vice president.
Nieh believes designers shoulder a social responsibility in their designs. Products made for political or social issues, or even the general public, have an underlying effect on consumer and market preferences. Therefore, it is important to educate consumers about the difference between what merely looks good and what actually makes sense.
Nieh has a strong conviction that designers should be involved in social issues. In recent years, he has attempted to shake Taiwanese society’s perceptual framework of design and aesthetics with his work. The design he created exclusively for the chewing gum peddled by street vendors is a classic example of this effort. The poster he designed for Golden Pin Concept Awards 2017 too challenges our expectation of how posters should look.
The Secret Lies in the Details
All of Nieh’s designs are topical to arouse discussion, perhaps due to his own fame and media endorsements. The staying power of the “Aaron Nieh style” that the public has been talking about over the past few years might also be attributed to this phenomenon. Initially, Nieh felt a lot of pressure from public comments and feedback and continually strove to change and improve himself, but now he feels more comfortable being talked about and handles it with greater ease.
Nieh indicates that designers have their own preferences and thus make different decisions. Every creation in the so-called Aaron Nieh style is a design that has grown out of Nieh’s own tastes and aesthetics, and of course his poster design for the Golden Pin Concept Award 2017 is no exception.Every element of the poster, whether color, shape, word arrangement, or the entire visual layout, is carefully thought out, and Nieh himself likes and feels happy with the choices he has made.
When asked about his own favorite conjunction, Nieh pauses, then grabs a pen and draws two dotted lines of equal width on the paper and says, “A conjunction I like very much is a longer em dash.” He gets excited as he starts explaining it. He often uses two combined dashes to create a longer em dash. But the problem is that a tiny space is left in between when typing in a Word document. To eliminate that space, Nieh uses a function in Pages to adjust the spacing between texts. Setting the space to a negative value connects the two dashes together.
Asked why he bothers with such trivial, time-consuming matters, he responds, “Semicolons look hideous to me, and I think they’re also old-fashioned and dull. They need to be changed to look different.” The longer em dash is his alternative. He also uses “+” and “/” in place of “and” and “or”. Throughout the interview, he speaks of even the smallest details in a very serious and engaged manner, giving a glimpse of where the motivation for Nieh’s style comes from, and the inspiration that underlies his every exceptional design.