Bill's Blog

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3 December 2012

Today's topic: Technique or Technology?

I was recently reminded by Mr. Richard Bauer (of Flowers by Bauers) about a number of similarities in our training and work experience. There are certainly similar creative threads running through our respective career paths, but that wasn't what Richard was talking about, not exactly, rather, he was reflecting on how technology has forever changed the way one learns their craft. Richard understands the difference between old school and new school. He was trained, as was I, in the ways of old school, however he applies his craft and exists in a world where new school has more than a casual foothold on everyday life, both on and off the job. He articulated how the building blocks of learning have changed, highlighting a reliance on technology, specifically, a dependency on computers. I concurred.

Whether with snapdragons, bakers fern, daisies and carnations or with pen and ink, charcoal, pencil or pastels, Richard and I agreed that a fundamental distinction between old and new school design is that old school is more about learning a technique, less about understanding a technology.

Technique: A way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure, skill or ability in a particular field, or a skillful or efficient way of doing or achieving something.

Technology: The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry, machinery and equipment developed from such scientific knowledge, the branch of knowledge dealing with engineering or applied sciences.

Because computer technologies have essentially reinvented the way many of us think, the distinction between technique and technology remains interesting to me, primarily due to how often one is mistaken for the other or becomes the other, not literally of course, for if that were to happen there would be no point in having more than a single word or phrase to describe, define or classify each... especially if they are truly one in the same, but they aren't.

We've agreed that technique and technology aren't one in the same by giving each a unique name. While you and I weren't consulted about the actual terms of this agreement, we accede to it by either remaining silent after we learn about it, or more likely, we accede or agree with it by participating in its continuation through use. Calling a color green, for instance, doesn't make it green. What makes it green is our agreement to call it green. Whether the agreement is over introduction of a new word like "Internet" or adaptation of an existing word like "Web" we agree through our participation.

And while there are often exceptions to a rule, exceptions aren't rules. They have no weight apart from the rules which they modify or refine. Take salt, as a for instance. Call it salt or call it sodium chloride, its physical properties remain unchanged. Likewise, fuel comes in a variety of shapes or forms, however we aren't prepared to remove words like gasoline, wood, kerosene, propane, etc. from our vocabulary simply because "fuel" is an adequate substitution.

All of this is to make a key distinction between technique and technology. Journalism 101 teaches that for a complete news story, one has to consider or satisfy the Five Ws... the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. "Technique" is the "What" while "Technology is the How" in the example which follows, commonly known as the Halo Effect.

The Halo Effect. What's that then? A technique I learned about during my time at Maryland Institute, but a principle I was taught in my late teens by Mr. Glenn Grove at North Harford High School. "Find a line, lose a line," is how he described it, his way of permitting aspiring artists to break free of depicting form with uniform and solid outlines. Outlining has its place but makes for very two dimensional art. It belongs in blueprints and technical drawings where form definition is first and foremost however it isn't always necessary elsewhere.

Flowers by bauers Logo (Color)

In Flowers by Bauers' logo the Halo Effect is present twice over. Work your way down the left side of the pink snapdragon and you'll see the effect in use. The band of white which separates the pink stalk from the yellow stalk effectively informs your brain that the pink stalk is in front of the yellow stalk. Further down the pink stalk we find that the "Flowers by Bauers" script is in front of both snapdragon stalks... but not really, after all, this is a 2 dimensional design.

The Halo Effect is a technique that can be applied manually or digitally, but no matter how it is applied, it remains a technique. Many if not most digital effects mimic manual techniques like the Halo Effect and while computer generated effects are often instantaneous, it doesn't matter how adept or fast one is at a particular technique, manually or digitally, what matters is whether the technique gets the job done, does it work? Therein lies the crux of this blog entry.

No amount of technological skill can fool the eye or convince the brain when the underlying principle of a given technique is misunderstood and consequently misapplied. To me that's the real difference between old and new school graphics, between manual and digital design. Learning the old school way meant understanding why a visual technique worked before you mastered its use. New school design requires you to first master pieces of technology (a.k.a. computers and software) which permit seemingly endless options or effects without necessarily understanding how or why they work.

It's the difference between having spell check at the tips of your fingers (running inside your head as you type) vs. running your computer's spellchecker (after you type).

To be continued...


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