Made by Sky White:
Cross-Pollinating at the Intersection of Art & Design

Tell us a little about yourself — what you’re doing now and how you got here.

My name is Sky White and I’m a Designer at argodesign. I was raised by a family of artists so I was always surrounded by paint, color, images, sculptures, and art materials. I didn’t realize it at the time but those early sensory experiences had a significant influence on my identity and career path. Initially, experimenting in digital art was a way of simultaneously rebelling against and conforming to a family tradition. As I became increasingly interested in symbols and visual communication, I eventually discovered the design world, which lent itself to my conflicted feelings about art as a potential path. In theory, design could be both useful and idealistic, expressive and constrained, strategic and compulsive.

How did those conflicts manifest in your work?

Studying design within a fine art context intensified my interest in contradictions and exploring the boundaries and intersections between art and design. My approach typically involves following a rigid and systematic process in order to achieve an ultimately playful result.

For example:

A machine with a purely experiential function
A toy that models an urban fabric
A street sign lacking self-confidence
A typeface for feeling and building rather than reading and writing

Most of these projects were explorations in the sensory and communicative potential of inanimate objects. After spending some time working as a designer in the consumer product industry, I became more interested in the way images and graphics create a contextual world for products to be appreciated. With my most recent project, Fun Co., I wanted to utilize this technique in a more subversive way by creating a speculative ad campaign for a fictional company.

“We expect art to be shocking and extreme. Critical design needs to be closer to the everyday; that’s where its power to disturb lies.”
Dunne & Raby

Some of the conceptual themes I was thinking about while developing the project were: the relationship between physical and psychological escapism, the increasingly invasive nature of technology and entertainment, and virtual media’s potential effect on the environment. The challenge then became crafting an object, brand, and art direction that could allude to those themes.

Fun Co. was exhibited as part of an exhibition called Renew Me, a design show about energy & the environment during NYCxDesign week. While speculating potential ramifications of future media and entertainment, I started to explore the idea that as the virtual frontier becomes increasingly rich and immersive, our current physical world is likely to continually degrade. When creating the images, I worked with photographer Rob Chron to experiment with different lighting techniques that would capture a toxic environment that the user escapes through the technology being advertised. The physical features of the headset also visually indicate potential environmental hazards of the proposed reality.

There’s a multitude of different motivations and methods one might have for accessing an alternate reality. The process of creating a fictional brand and product gave me the opportunity to mix and match escape methods while drawing comparisons. For example, growing up in a community heavily impacted by the opioid epidemic made me question peoples’ various motivations and susceptibilities towards painkillers as an escape mechanism. Ultimately they appeared to be effective in pacifying some larger dissatisfaction or pain. Contemporary media consumption behaviors seems to appeal to a similar desire, whether it be binge-watching, cell phone addiction, or social media fame-chasing.

As the nature of media and technology becomes increasingly invasive, it also has greater potential to affect our mental and physical structure. Phones went from the communal living room to the pocket, entertainment went from a social gathering ritual to a highly personal experience, and now we’re considering surgically installing brain-computer interfaces… Whether the mental health ramifications of these invasive technologies are closer to numbness, loneliness, schizophrenia or something else entirely isn’t clear, but I wanted to embed some of that ambivalence into the Fun Co. images.

Similar to the ways in which technology is becoming more physically invasive, my experience working in visual communication design has made me increasingly aware of how companies use images and graphics to permeate public thought. Regardless of their content, advertisements are meant to influence choice, often by depicting a more idealized version of reality enhanced by a new product or technology. With Fun Co., designing a fake campaign became a way of complicating that otherwise simple intention. The resulting images are somewhere in-between an advertisement and a PSA, incorporating darker themes into an otherwise optimistic genre.

Where do you anticipate taking this in your work at argo?

Most of the skills and processes I used in producing this project I’ve learned in professional practice. Moving forward I’m looking to continue to build parallel practices of applied and speculative design with the intention of having the two inform each other. Because design is inextricably tied to the advancement of technology, the field is in a constant state of change, providing new opportunities for critique, speculation, and tangible progression. One of the things that initially attracted me to argodesign was its ability to excel in the simultaneous pursuit of client and concept work. Being part of a team that is highly experienced and knowledgeable in the industry, but also willing to think freely and creatively about the future of design and technology, has been an ideal environment to develop a parallel practice.

Fun Co. Credits:
Photographer: Rob Chron
Production Assistant: Morgan Kranston
Models: Courtney Stone, Jason Barrera

Want more of the argomade designer profile series? Check out these articles made by: Laura Seargeant Richardson | Matthew Santone | Ian MacDowell | Hayes Urban | Michael Shea | Martha Fierro | Carol Monk| Camille Woods

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