Pentagram alumni Aron Fay is empowering designers and non-designers with Grid App

Former Pentagram designer and FAY studio founder Aron Fay is equipping clients with the tools to create on-brand assets in-house with Grid App. Born out of the ongoing LAB initiative, it uses emerging technologies to protect the longevity of brand identity systems.

The intersection of design and creative technology has long fascinated Aron Fay. For over 15 years, he has been researching how traditional printed media and emerging technologies can create more immersive experiences.

During this time, he became convinced that the future of design does not lie in simply designing logos, printed materials or even websites; instead, he argues that designers can use innovative tools and systems to create new communication methods.

Aron has worked with Michael Bierut at Pentagram, where he became an associate partner. Here, he first became interested in developing generative design systems that leveraged technology to better design the outcome of projects.

Due to the idea of bespoke design tools being incredibly new, it wasn't until he worked on the identity for the MIT Media Lab that Aron fully understood the potential of generative design concepts. Since then, he argues that the benefits of creating bespoke design tools for clients have become apparent.

This led Aron to create Grid App, a web-based generative design tool that allows for fast prototyping of grid-based compositions. Designed to be used by both designers and novices alike, Grid App can seamlessly upload vector files and then be transformed as users wish.

Backed up with randomiser functions, the app allows for a degree of spontaneity as it produces delightfully unexpected results. At the click of a button, Aron says people can achieve high-quality results they might not have conceived manually by using 'standard' designer tools.

"Through this web-based application, users can easily upload vector-based image files and then manipulate them by seamlessly moving, scaling, cropping, rotating, and colouring the uploaded artwork as they desire," Aron tells Creative Boom.

"The app offers the flexibility to adjust grid units individually or simultaneously using its local and global modes. Grid App can also sync with various external inputs and outputs. For example, the app can be synced with a music source, allowing the music's pitch to control various parameters in real time within the app.

"Different scents can be used to influence visual compositions. Real-time visuals can also be interfaced with displays such as an LED matrix or used as an input source with other tech. To date, the Grid App has been used to generate client visuals, translate sound into image, VJ events in real-time, and produce artworks with input from different sensor technologies."

Grid App is currently not open to public use and remains a tool that Aron and the FAY team can use in their own projects. However, he does hope to make it available to others down the line. "We're currently prioritising the design and development of bespoke tools for clients," he explains.

"These projects range from bespoke image-making tools to layout tools, animation tools, amongst others. For anyone reading this, feel free to contact us if you're curious about these tools and what possibilities they can uncover."

The capabilities of Grid App come at an important time. Aron firmly believes that flexible visual identity systems will only become more prevalent going forward as the design landscape continues to change and evolve in multiple directions.

"There was once a time (many, many years ago) when a business might have just needed the design of a logo, which was then applied to letterhead, a business card, and the sign out the front of their shop," he says. "Today, modern brands need to communicate across many platforms and media channels, both physically and digitally, like video, social media, OOH advertising, and so many more.

"With this growing list of channels, there is inherently the need for more flexibility built into brand identity systems because each channel has unique needs and contextual conditions. The tools we build allow our clients autonomy and flexibility to deliver their communications across all these channels visually consistently and much more quickly.

"As communications continue to get faster every day, we're finding that designing user-friendly tools that empower and allow non-designers to create cohesive, branded communications is a huge win."

These channels and tools are all well and good, but as ever, the industry remains crowded and competitive. To stand out from the crowd, Aron maintains that consistency, a genuine voice, and communicating in a visually appropriate manner are the three things brands need to keep in mind if they want to get noticed.

"There is a lot of noise and stimuli constantly vying for our attention — breaking through this is no small feat," he adds. "So when brands communicate, it's important that they're doing so consistently, making their value and voice known, and making sure that they visually look the part.

"The average person today is also a lot more brand savvy than, say, the average person 50 years ago, and because of that, the expectations of what a brand needs to do to stand out has changed greatly."

Equipping brands with the tools to breathe, flex and evolve is a huge priority for Aron. However, he admits that sometimes there is a tricky balance when giving the client a set of rules or guidelines to work with.

"Successful brands are like humans in that they evolve and change over time — so right now, with our client projects, we're working on how we can better provide the tools and resources they need to achieve that right balance," he reveals.

"Through our LAB initiative, we're also investigating how we can create more meaningful, layered and rich ways of communicating in the future. At the core of our curiosity lies a fascination with the idea of cross-pollination, where various sensory elements can be combined to create new ways of communicating.

"For example, think about being on a Zoom call. Through this technology, we can now not only hear but see people in real time as if we were communicating in person. But how can we do better than that? Could you also catch a whiff of the flowers blooming behind the person you're meeting? Picture a safer world where on your mundane drive home, the stop signs you almost forgot to stop at seemingly comes to life, providing you with visual and haptic feedback to alert you.

"We're excited about creating better communication experiences by adding layers of this type of sensory richness to our day-to-day interactions. The goal is to infuse meaning and depth into how we connect, hopefully helping foster a world where communication happens more meaningfully."

Grid App is not the only emerging technology to take the design world and the wider public by storm. AI continues to be a thorny topic, and the full potential of the Metaverse awaits to be seen. With this in mind, though, Aron is not pessimistic about the future of design in the face of various competing emerging technologies. "The world of brand identity design will continue to get increasingly complex by necessity as it becomes harder and harder to break through the noisy communication landscape," he says.

"That said, I'm hopeful that as technology continues to evolve, we'll find useful ways to leverage it so that we can grow and evolve society in a positive way. I hope that will include more human-focused and genuine ways for people to communicate, not just through backlit screens."

As for what excites Aron most about Grid App and his work as a whole, he says that the most gratifying thing is unlocking new worlds for clients to explore that they might not have previously imagined.

"Whether it's designing a new visual identity that helps them better tell their story or a tool that will allow them to quickly generate branded social media posts on a tight timetable — the thing that gets me most excited is seeing the people around us thrive and build their own futures," he concludes.


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