“I want to urge you very strongly to travel as much as you can, and to evolve yourself as an internationalist. It's as important a part of your education as a radical as the reading of any book.”
― Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
This article is a short three parts essay that illustrates my personal experience travelling as a design student, and my findings on how travelling shapes the mind of a creative professional. The first part refers to my individual background, the second narrates an imaginary case study, and the third part brings thoughts to a conclusion.
1 · Leaving The Shire
At the early age of 17 years old I embarked on a creative journey. I decided that I would go to college to become a Graphic Designer, since this subject appealed to me and provided the opportunity of travelling while working from a distance. Soon after I started my design education, my itch to leave my native land of Mar del Plata, Argentina, became irresistible. So I ended up getting a restaurant job in Park City, Utah – home of the Sundance Film Festival.
From then on, I managed to study in Argentina, while travelling back to the US to explore the American culture and make some money. Then, exactly two years ago today, I started documenting my travels (and my tattoos) in a series of self-portraits that I call “Barefoot Travelling”.
Once I finally got my college degree, bussing tables in the States got old. So I went to Europe to backpack for what I planned would be three (and ended up being nine) months. My travels went on and on, volunteering at hostels, helping out at bars for a couple of Euros, getting a European girlfriend (now my wife), and freelancing a bit.
However, the important thing is that since my journey began, I made the most out of every trip as an opportunity to grow as a designer.
2 · The Foreign Beer Paradigm
As I dove deeper and deeper into my career, so did my so-called “artistic sensibility”. (But hey! That’s a real thing. Once you devote all your time to making a profession out of your creative talents, you start noticing things that you used to take for granted. Like bad kerning on a billboard, or the difference between Arial and Helvetica.) My adventures provided me with the opportunity to exploit this sixth sense that creatives have.
Imagine this scenario: every now and then you go to the grocery store, you get to the beer aisle, you see the same logos, on the same labels, on the same bottles, over and over again. You’ve tried all the beers your neighbourhood’s grocery store has to offer and you know which ones you like, and which ones you don’t (regardless of the quality-price ratio).
Now. You decide to take a well-earned vacation and you go to some small town in eastern Europe, where your great-grandfather was born. This trip exposes you to a new, unknown, scary, yet intriguing culture. You encounter a different language, maybe even a different alphabet. After arriving from a 30 hours trip with too many connections in too many airports that look too much alike, you decide to celebrate with a cold beer. So you go to the liquor store that is conveniently located two blocks from the hotel. You find yourself in the beer aisle. First you check the price range. Then you start inspecting the labels of the ones that are affordable yet transpire the local culture. Now you notice that everything is written in fucking cyrillic letters that you’ve never seen before. You begin to wonder how that first letter is pronounced, and then you wonder how it’s hand-written. You analyse the basic shape of that letterform, breaking it down to the basic elements that make it a distinctive glyph. Now you realise that you’ve been standing in the aisle for 17 minutes, analysing which soothing alcoholic beverage you’re gonna choose based on its typeface.
This example clearly depicts something that everybody who has travelled abroad or has a creative career (or both) can relate to. We tend to examine our environment, and if that environment is previously unknown to us, we have much more information to process. Of course, everybody does this, not only creatives. But, if your profession relies on visual information, you’re gonna pay much more attention to the visual aspect of said environment. (I remember when I decided to design my own typeface, I started reading so much about type design. I became obsessed with thoroughly scanning every visual detail of each letterform of the signs that caught my eye on the street – to the point that I would get headaches from the overwhelming tidal wave of visual information that I took for granted or which went unnoticed before.)
3 · What It All Comes Down To
I believe that any person with artistic sensibility or a design education can feel overwhelmed by the amount of visual information they analyse on a daily basis. And the volume of visual data is clearly higher in a foreign context. Of course, how much attention a designer is going to pay to these matters depends on the commitment that he has to his career, and how much use he would make of it.
We are exposed to a plethora of visual stimuli from the moment we’re born until we die. Each one of these images affects us consciously and subconsciously and finally inspires us at the moment of creation. The more design techniques we see and analyse, the more options we have in our arsenal of possible design techniques to use in our next project.
Being immersed in a pool of previously unknown cultural imagery provides a vast resource of inspiration and knowledge for any designer or professional creative. This is why travelling is of major importance for the creative development of any individual. ~
Edited by Alexander Catterall
I was originally introduced to Hitchens by an article called “‘Viaja lo más que puedas’ y otros consejos de Christopher Hitchens” written by Valentín Muro. I found the article so informative and inspiring that I ended up buying a copy of Hitchen's "Letters to a young contrarian", and later on it inspired me to write this very essay.
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