This Saturday, October 22, the Walker Art Center will open Graphic Design: Now in Production (GD:NIP), a joint exhibition with the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. This is the first major exhibition on the field of graphic design since the Walker’s seminal 1989 exhibition Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History curated by Mildred Friedman and the Cooper-Hewitt’s 1996 survey Mixing Messages: Graphic Design in Contemporary Culture, curated by Ellen Lupton. For GD:NIP the Walker’s Andrew Blauvelt and the Cooper-Hewitt’s Ellen Lupton have teamed up to showcase the current state of graphic design: “Expanding from a specialized profession to a widely deployed tool. With the rise of user-generated content and new creative software, along with innovations in publishing and distribution systems, people outside the field are mobilizing the techniques and processes of design to create and publish visual media.” Brand New is honored to be part of this exhibition in a number of ways.
GD:NIP is organized by practice, covering Books, Branding, Information Design, Magazines, Posters, Title Design, and Typography. While Andrew and Ellen acted as head curators they thought it would be an interesting idea to bring in a few guest curators for some of the sections. They turned to a set of professionals that makes complete sense: bloggers. And by “makes complete sense” I mean it makes absolutely no sense. In a good way: Neither of the invited were professional curators, but by virtue of blogging non-stop about a specific subject for a number of years we all had a default, accrued knowledge that a typical curator may have lacked. Bryony and I were invited to help curate the Branding section, Jeremy Leslie of MagCulture to curate magazines, and Ian Albinson of Art of the Title to curate Title Design. We all first gathered in December of 2010 to figure out what our contributions would be and from there it was a process of elimination of what would work in a museum setting and then seeing who actually wanted to participate.
Some of our contributions to the Branding section included Christophe Szpajdel, The Dark Lord of Logos; Chris Doyle’s hilarious identity guidelines; the Google Doodles; the crash and fall of the BP logo; and a few other things that complemented Andrew and Ellen’s overall vision for the Branding section and the show in general.
Andrew and Ellen also thought that Brand New itself should be included in the exhibition as it has served as a forum to observe how identity and branding have evolved. For our big wall we chose a some key redesigns from the past few years that represent a combination of interesting changes and well-known brands that a larger public would recognize. Each project is accompanied by two or three contrasting comments from our Brand New commenters and features an analog voting system where the museum’s visitors can put a chip in to vote in favor for the before or after.
Lastly, we contributed an essay and matrix to the exhibition’s catalog — which is loosely inspired by the busy layouts of the Whole Earth Catalog — that is an attempt at establishing the relationship between brands and how those affect the engagement of their users. The basic premise of the matrix is that brands and their impact are local at one extreme and global at the other and they are the “property” of conglomerates at one extreme and individuals at the other, with all the various industries and manifestations of products, services, and organizations spread throughout. The essay further explains the specific examples shown in the matrix. Guess you’ll have to buy it to find out.
This was a great project to work on and to learn from Andrew and Ellen what it takes to put on a show of this magnitude. I’ll be heading to Minneapolis this Friday for the exhibition’s opening at the Walker. There is a series of events tied to the opening — including a Pecha Kucha-ish round of presentations on Saturday, where I’ll highlight some of the most interesting developments in identity over the last few years — so if you are in town see if you can make it. And if you are in New York, the Cooper-Hewitt will get its turn with the exhibition starting June 2, 2012 at Governor’s Island.