Robert L. Peters

31 October 2009

A day at the (world’s largest) flea market…






Beijing, China

Saturday’s the best day to ply the thousands of stalls of the infamous and somewhat chaotic Panjiayuan market (“Dirt Market” in Chinese) on the Third Ring Road, a “must-experience” destination we’d been told, for flea market aficianados, history buffs, junk collectors and the likes of us. As promised, Panjiayuan was chock-a-block with beads, bangles, books, jade, jewelry, Mao and Cultural Revolution memorabilia, Ming pottery, Yixing teapots, Tibetan souvenirs, silk galore, traditional crafts, and junk of every kind and description.

I scored a few Qing Dynasty brass water pipes (don’t ask me why), antique tools, and miscellaneous gift items, while Ev picked out some beautiful old celadon beads and some cute little teapots—we both acquired some additional Chinese seals and blanks (I had purchased some hardened chisels for carving seals earlier in the week at CAFA so that we could give this a go ourselves once back in Canada).

30 October 2009

798 艺术区 [art zone]







Beijing, China

We spent a delightful (though unbelievably smoggy) day today wandering serendipitously through the myriad alleys and galleries of 798 Art Zone (aka the Dashanzi Art District), an avant-garde artist community thriving in and amongst 50-year old decommissioned military factory buildings—a combination of contemporary art, architecture, and alternative creative expression that has evolved into a truly unique cultural concept. Certainly not the China I encountered on earlier visits only a few years ago…

29 October 2009

Time to play tourist…







Beijing, China

Today Ev and I linked up with about a dozen other Icograda delegates from various countries for a full-day guided outing (by means of a mini-van commandeered by our unstoppable guide ‘Sally’) to the north of the city, taking in a portion of the Ming Tombs (where 13 Ming Dynasty emperors are buried); lunch (replete with rigorous “everything you need to know about jade” instruction) at a government-owned jade factory; and then an afternoon ascending a portion of the Great Wall of China (Badaling section) along with several thousand others. The weather was outstanding (though a bit hazy for good photos) and we felt fortunate to take in this outstanding experience in the good company of friends. A fine day we won’t soon forget…

Photos: The ubiquitous security, here at the entrance of one of the tomb buildings; a photo of Mao at the very same spot taken the year I was born (notice the same tree to the right); Sally with yellow flag in hand trying to rally our troupe of designers (a bit like herding cats) in the Ming Tomb courtyard; a skilled jade carver (without proper eye, mouth, or ear protection)—Ev and I each ended up acquiring custom-carved seals featuring our respective initials; Ev on the Great Wall (alongside my good friend Gediminas Lasas from Lithuania); yes, it’s crowded at the top—and according to Chairman Mao, once you’ve been to the very top of the wall you can truly be called a “hero.”

28 October 2009

Busy, busy, busy in Beijing…






Beijing, China

My first scheduled dinner engagement, (followed immediately by another late meeting), began a mere two hours after we arrived here from Canada last Friday… what with the 23rd Icograda General Assembly on the following two days, and then three consecutive days of the 2009 Icograda World Design Congress, the past week has been somewhat of a blur. While I’ve been busy with formal daytime activities, Ev has been out “touristing” and exploring the city on her own… then meeting up with me again at assorted venues for late-day show openings, dinners, receptions, exhibitions, and other design-related evening activities. Never a dull moment…

Photos: Ev and I at an evening opening (thanks for the photo, Halim); the remarkable Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) where the last two days of the Congress took place; a piece of quirky student work; Ev posing with a cast of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker at CAFA; Ev’s auto-portrait at the Forbidden City.

(View tons more photos of the Icograda-related events in Beijing on friends Mark & Andrea Busse’s flickr site here).


27 October 2009

Congratulations to the ADAA winners!



Beijing, China

I had the privilege yesterday, together with Icograda President Russell Kennedy of Australia, of emceeing the 2009 Adobe Design Achievement Awards (at the National Centre for the Performing Arts). This year the program received a record-breaking number of submissions totaling more than 3,300 from students in 37 countries. Congratulations to the finalists in all 12 categories and to the winners!

26 October 2009

Icograda President’s Award



Beijing, China

I was honored today to receive the Icograda President’s Award from outgoing Icograda President Don Ryun Chang of Korea. The presentation took place at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (the ultra-modern opera house also known as “The Egg”) here in Beijing, with an audience of several thousand present for the opening day of the Xin: Icograda World Design Congress 2009. It was a bit bizarre (and somewhat overwhelming) to mount the huge stage while an exhibit of photos compiled by Don played on the massive screen.

Beginning in 1970, the Icograda President’s Award has been presented on a biennial basis by the Icograda President. The award honors an outstanding contribution to the work of Icograda.

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(This just in—Don has provided me with his award presentation transcript):

“Before we start the Adobe Design Achievement Awards, I have the pleasure of announcing the second 2009 Icograda President’s Award and it gives me great pleasure to introduce Rob Peters and to recognize his many contributions—from his distinguished stewardship of our council during his term as President and board member, to his numerous published articles featured in important design publications, but today especially his significant role in nurturing and promoting design in China and Asia.

Raised and schooled in Europe, Robert was educated in Switzerland, Germany, and England. He is a graphic designer, communications strategist, and principal of CIRCLE, an award-winning design consultancy he co-founded in 1976. Robert is active internationally as a design practitioner, advisor, juror and lecturer.

Following the 1991 Icograda World Design Congress in Montreal, Rob was designated as the GDC’s official delegate and liaison, representing Canada to Icograda General Assemblies in Glasgow in 1993, Porto (Portugal) in 1995, Punta del Este (Uruguay) in 1997 (where I first met him), and Sydney in 1999 where he was elected to the Icograda board for a six-year term from 1999 to 2005, serving as President from 2001 to 2003. Significant achievements during Peters’ six years on the Icograda board include: development of our first content-rich portal, rejuvenation of the network ‘Friends of Icograda,’ launch of both the Icograda Design Education Network and the Icograda Design Media Network, co-organization of Icograda congresses in Seoul (‘Oullim’ 2000), Johannesburg, South Africa (‘Continental Shift’ 2001), and as President of our Council in Nagoya, Japan (‘VISUALOGUE’ 2003—with some 3700 delegates from 49 countries in attendance, the world’s largest ever congress of graphic designers). Rob also served as official liaison between Icograda and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as well as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from 2001 to 2005.

Peters joined the board of the international humanitarian organization Design for the World (DW) in 2000 and was appointed as a Vice President in 2002; in 2004 he was named an Honorary Member of the Brno Biennale Association; he was also a member of the founding executive of the International Design Alliance (IDA) from 2003 to 2005.

For nearly 30 years, Robert has lived in a low-energy, passive-solar house he designed and built in the woods east of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He is an avid climber (rocks, ice, mountains) and he enjoys nature and human-powered outdoor pursuits. His interests include art, architecture, photography, visual language, and travel, and he has written many important articles for prominent design publications such as Communication Arts (like the memorable article that introduced Chinese design to many readers all over the world).

Rob has been a great role model, a friend to me over the years, and he has given me great advice—it is a special honor for me to recognize his achievements here in China today.

It gives me sincere pleasure to present the 2009 Icograda President’s Award to Robert L. Peters.”

Herbert Matter… the movie.


Zürich, Switzerland

I heard from Reto Carduff of PiXiU films this week about the soon-to-be-released movie on the great graphic designer Herbert Matter… I’m very much looking forward to seeing it when it launches in early 2010.

See more of the inspiring collage work (like the poster above) of Cristiana Couceiro here.

25 October 2009

Why Stevie Wonder Doesn’t Learn By Reading

Scanned Image 2

Have you ever considered how some people say they learn quicker by reading than audio? Have you ever considered Stevie’s plight?

Ah, but that’s not the question. The question is: can Stevie learn faster than you? Well, I wish it were a pat answer, but it’s not. It depends on various factors including how active your brain is, aging etc. But the brain obviously doesn’t care.

It will choose any pattern that’s available to it. In fact the interesting thing about babies is that they only learn through sound. In fact, they’re at the mercy of sound. You can literally cause problems with a child’s brain with crazy sounds. And then before they’re two, they can distinguish stuff you and I can’t see at all. Every child—yes every child—even a six month old baby can tell the difference between twins. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Put twins in front of a six month old.

Two patterns emerge. Pattern one: The child will show a preference for one of the twins. Pattern two: The child will keep being able to identify the correct twin.

Do what you want. Mix the twins around. Do whatever you please. The child will recognise the right twin, even as you struggle. But forget twins. Children recognise the difference between two puppies, raccoons, monkeys—it doesn’t matter. You may find this amazing, but there’s documented proof, there’s video on this phenomenon.

Children learn pattern recognition. Then they learn that certain patterns are useless. We don’t need to learn how to recognise raccoons any more. And recognising twins is nice, but not crucial. Recognising his/her parent’s face is critical. And recognising the sound. So these patterns are not just highly formed, but the brain actually has a storage area especially for faces. Your brain stores it in the area called the fusiform gyrus. Some people e.g. chess players have actually hijacked this section of their brain to remember entire chess games the way you and I remember faces.

The brain doesn’t care what you and I think. It doesn’t care. It doesn’t care that you think that you are smarter or not. Given the fact that your genes are not mutated, or you don’t have a certain section of your brain damaged, etc. it will process data like data. It doesn’t care if it’s sound data, or visual data or any data. It will just recognise the pattern and it will remain frustrated till it learns the pattern.

This is why we can’t draw. We think it’s some special skill. But kids under five don’t know they can’t draw. They just don’t know. So they draw.

Try this again. Go to a three year old. Give him/her a crayon and a sheet of paper. Then watch what happens next. Try this with a three year old, a five year old, a four year old. The results are exactly the same. Every one of them draws. And that’s because their brain has a clear pattern recognition factor. It says: Hey buddy. That’s a nice red crayon. You can eat it, or you can draw with it. But seeing it’s not on a plate and tasted a bit yucky the last time you ate it (pattern recognition), how about we draw with it? Besides mum gets all excited when you draw (pattern recognition) and gets all bulgy eyed when you eat the crayon (pattern recognition).

This child will forget how to learn to draw by the time she/he is about five. She will not be able to tell one twin from another by the time she/he is three. She will definitely not be able to tell between one raccoon and another (though it can be re-learned later).

But why do we lose these skills? We lose them because: 1) We don’t need them. They’re not critical. 2) We follow our parents’ lead (we follow what makes them happy).

This is why we grow up with preferences of reading, drawing, music etc. A family where there’s music all day has um, musicians. And no it doesn’t matter that they don’t turn up at Carnegie Hall. They grow up with a language (pattern recognition) of music. A family that has artists, will learn to draw (everyone in my family draws, except my dad). A family that is in the circus will have kids doing stuff that would give you a heart attack as a non-circus parent.

“A certain way.” That certain way is first defined by our need to recognise patterns and survive. But once we get steered into reading, listening to music, writing, etc. we make that way “our certain way”. There’s less fear in “our certain way.” Less chance to make mistakes. That doesn’t mean you won’t get an opera singer from a family of artists. And it doesn’t mean that you won’t get an artist from a family of opera singers.

But it certainly means that the pattern must exist to understand it. And once you understand it, your brain decodes it. It doesn’t care what you think.

It just decodes. Encodes. And then if it’s important, it remembers the pattern.

And of course we call that pattern “talent.” When we play that pattern over and over again, it becomes our talent. We learn to decode it in a certain way. And replay it in a certain way.

And we wait for the applause. Talented people usually do. It spurs them on to replaying the same pattern again, and again, and again. So that the applause never ends.

Find additional links at, the source of this post, here.

(Thanks to Bob Roach for the link).


24 October 2009

Domestic Goddess…



Winnipeg Beach, Manitoba

More people have expressed interest in the quirky assemblage weathervanes that I’ve been making—so I thought I’d post the latest. Domestic Goddess (a tongue-in-cheek composition dedicated to Ev’s alleged culinary prowess) now graces the top of a wooden pole in front of her ceramics studio.

This piece invokes the heroic narrative of “harnessing the domestic beast” and comprises a large chromed-copper kettle, an old wooden kitchen shelf shaped as a wing (adorned with sheet copper, spoons, and knives), metal shoe-trees as secondary wings, serving forks as tail feathers, a railing banister with a wood-fired ceramic arrowhead as a directional pointer, a ceramic dragon-head (chained to the kettle with ball-chain from vertical blinds with a brass lock)—all topped with a found copper and brass angel figurine (perhaps a Christmas ornament from a former time) brandishing a brass trident. Bearings from an old roller-skate wheel provide friction-free swiveling action.

21 October 2009

HRH Prince Philip on Graphic Design…


London, (September, 1964)

During the past weeks I’ve been doing some preparation for the 23rd biennial Icograda General Assembly taking place this weekend in Beijing, China (in conjunction with Xin, the Icograda World Design Congress). In the process, this lovely typewritten note crossed my desk, written by His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, issued on the occasion of the very first Icograda Congress held in Zürich, Switzerland, some 45 years ago…

I’ve heard rumour that China’s “paramount leader” Hu Jintao may show up at this Icograda Congress in Beijing to give an address to the thousands of graphic designers assembled for the occasion (that would be way cool, no?)… though I’m not holding my breath. Nonetheless, many of us actively involved in the profession of visual communication design still care about “improving standards” around the world, and these biennial events provide a suitable occasion for exchange and further development of best practices… for what that’s worth.


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