Reviewed/Questioned/Probed by Sam Potts
There is a general assumption among many of the essays that graphic design is in a slump.
Blauvelt writes, “It is no wonder that graphic design today feels like a vast formless body able to absorb any blows delivered to it, lacking coherency and increasingly dispersed. This absence of a critical mass or resistant body is at the heart of the current malaise.” (p.38)
VanderLans speculates “Maybe the reason we are in a creative and economic slump is due in part to a lack of any serious or sustained criticism when it mattered most, when we were flying high.” (p. 11)
Do you agree that design is in a general slump? Does a creative slump equate with an economic slump, or are the causes, effects, and remedies of each are so different? Is criticism (greater analysis and examination of design) a solution? Do the writers in Rant view design this way because their particular critical era has passed? (Rick Valicenti’s interview here on Speak Up by patrick king provides a contrasting view on the state of design, one less inclined toward the “slump” view.)
VanderLans’s stated purpose is “to generate a critique of today’s design scene, a provocation of sorts, a passionate kick in the knees. The Legibility Wars of the 90s exposed the intentions and ambitions of graphic designers with widely divergent viewpoints. … With this issue, we hope to rekindle the discussion.” Does the collection, taken as a whole, fulfill this intention? What contemporary problems and questions are raised, or is the collection provocation for provocation’s sake? (And does he mean actually “kick in the ass” instead of “knees”?)
Is it still relevant to debate the Legibility Wars? These issues were somewhat overrun by the new media rush of the mid- to late-90s, when focus shifted to new technology, new business models, new markets, and different (I won’t say “new”) aesthetics. Is there an actual need to reopen the debate about legibility, experimentation as it was practiced in the early 90s, and postmodernism? The answer may not necessarily be no, but why? What’s to be gained by reviving the debate?
Style is discussed by various writers in various contexts. Often in the pieces, visual styles are referred to without naming the designers who create them. Does it makes sense to talk abut design styles without talking about specific designers, or at least a few iconic exemplars of a style? For example, what makes more sense: “a retro-fifties heavy-black-outline smoothly-drawn but layered-with-acontemporary-edge style” or “a Charles S. Anderson style”? Does this mean that style = personality?
Designers today seem to want to talk about ideas more than style, but should style still be as important as a topic of discussion and analysis?
Take for starters this line from The Cheese Monkeys: “Not that Design can’t have … a look, a style—in fact it has to, even if the style is ‘no style’—but by definition, Design must always be in the service of solving a problem, or it’s not Design.”
This is almost certainly an ideological statement by Kidd, and the italic emphasis he puts on the word ‘style’ is like a signal of his awareness that that very word is a critical and provocative.
Is there design without style? Does it actually matter to separate ideas and style? Why is it that today’s designers known for “idea work” (such as Sagmeister, Victore, Nieman, Cahan, Mau, Kidd) have very identifiable visual styles?
Did you learn anything new from reading this book? Was your perspective on the state of design changed, widened, unchanged, confirmed, or not addressed? Are you motivated to read more of these writers, or design writing in general?
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