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Emigre 64 › Rant

Reviewed/Questioned/Probed by Sam Potts

1.
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.)

2.
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”?)

2a.
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?

3.
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?

3a.
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?

4.
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?

* Click here (Pop-up Window) for further, and more detailed, questions.

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 1794 FILED UNDER Book Club
PUBLISHED ON May.27.2003 BY Armin
WITH 86 COMMENTS
Comments
armin’s comment is:

> Do you agree that design is in a general slump?

I guess it all depends on what the definition of slump is, I for one don't see it. Granted there are no revolutionizing things out there, but to call it a slump might not be right. I consider the dot-com era a slump in graphic design, with generic styles applied to every start-up faster than you could say IPO. Right now, there is better quality design than in the late '90s. I think the slump is in our lifestyle, things are not going as hot as they should be, so we attribute the same feeling to our profession.

>Is criticism (greater analysis and examination of design) a solution?

I do think it's part of the solution, but only one of the many parts to produce "better" design if that is the end goal.

> With this issue, we hope to rekindle the discussion. Does the collection, taken as a whole, fulfill this intention?

Personally, it did. A lot. Even if I disagreed with what was said in Rant I felt energized to do something about it, I felt like there is somebody out there who cares about this shit, and that is encouraging. I haven't been so stirred by anything else in the past 2-3 years as I was by Rant.

More to come later!

On Jun.02.2003 at 11:05 AM
armin’s comment is:

>The "State of Graphic Design" selection, while at least providing some visual examples, is as spotty as any of the written work, showing only that the field is varied and scattered and perhaps unwieldy.

Isn't the "state of graphic design" a visual representation of Rudy's introduction?

Examples:

"It is epitomized by a return to Helvetica" — p.134 (top)

"the obviously computer generated and seemingly-self-mutating-polygon-architectural-3D-photo-collages" — p. 134 (bottom) and p.135 (top)

See? I'm not the only one who thinks those things are stupid.

"high-contrast images reminiscent of Che Guevara's" — p.130 (top)

Not sure where T-26's stuff falls. My first reaction when I saw their work in there was thinking that some old files from 1992 somehow got in the files for Rant. I mean... T26 is not the state of graphic design right now. If it is, I'm going back to Mexico.

On Jun.02.2003 at 12:12 PM
armin’s comment is:

>Are you motivated to read more of these writers, or design writing in general?

I would like Shawn Wolfe to write more, his piece was the one that had the most resonance with me and it was probably the least controversial. his writing style was very refreshing and very honest. And I completely share his view that if anybody needs to obsess about Wrigley's redesign or Burger King or KFC its designers. Who else is supposed to care? Consumers? As long as the chicken is fried they'll eat it, who cares how nicely it's packaged. So, I applaud that he said it out loud.

Am I the only one on the internet today? what the f...

On Jun.02.2003 at 02:55 PM
pnk ’s comment is:

You are not alone, Armin!

I'm waiting to get my loaned-out copy of Rant back before I comment too much, but I will say this: it definitely inspired me to go right out and pick up a copy of A History of Graphic Design. I wanted to get a little more detailed context on Modernism, for one thing... great book, btw.

Whenever I get very busy my abiltiy to look critically at my own work tends to suffer. Rant helped me take a moment and ask myself some challenging questions. Nothing wrong with that!

On Jun.02.2003 at 03:55 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, I'm on, I'm on.

So I haven't finished the book quite yet. Great read so far -- but it's all a little pessimistic if you ask me.

There's a bunch of stuff going through my head, so please excuse the randomness of my responses.

The "Legibility War" -- the term makes me laugh. As Ben Kenobi says, "Your father and I fought together in the great legibility war. He was a great and powerful Jedi." But seriously, deconstructed type is hardly new. Weingart and Armin Hoffman's work is more cryptic than stuff today. To say that Emigre touched off the debate is arguable.

To ask whether or not design is in a slump is useless. Design feeds off of, and reflects mass culture, taste, technology, consumerism, and politics. To examine a slump in design is to examine the condition of culture.

The clash of design in the 80's was touched off by a revolution in the process of design -- the Mac. The clash of young vs old, craft vs computer, etc. pushed criticism to a level that has been unmatched since. But that doesn't necessarily mean that design has become shit. Maybe design has become more uniformed, or mature, or more deep, or more shallow. My answer would be yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Style and substance (concept, ideas) will always be on a pendulum. I see amazing design ideas everyday, but it's also offset by the triumph of style (new UPS logo). It's like music -- it's easy to reminisce and remember how great music used to be when you were in college. But it's because you forgot all of the shit music and only remembered the good stuff. Same with design. We've always had shit -- I don't think there's any more or less emphasis on style vs concept today. There may be more design out there, but the proportions hasn't changed.

One of my favorite passage: Fitzgerald, "Graphic designers are often flavorists of print. The inject a factitious aspect of attraction to achieve the natural. Interest can be synthesized and applied indiscriminately to anything." (p.26) So to me, a slump can be seen as a current love for artificial flavors. As I've always said -- I love Fruit Loops cereal, but not because I think it tastes like real fruit or because I hate real fruit. My love for both is not mutually exclusive.

On Jun.02.2003 at 04:02 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Another thought on experimentation and style. (3a.)

No, there is no design without style. Design needs a visual vehicle. Style is the byproduct of that vehicle. A lack of style itself is a style. Similarly, it's not possible to examine the "New" trend. If you can examine it, then it's no longer "new".

4. Did I learn anything new reading this book?

Though I enjoyed it, Keedy's essay on Modernism made my brain hurt -- I felt like I needed a refresher course in logic.

There's a Mau manifesto that talks about imitation -- that it's worth doing, because you can never truly imitate anything exactly, so if you get close, the difference itself is a source of new thinking. I feel that way about Modernism -- sure Modernism 8.0 (p.71) isn't the old stuff -- but that doesn't mean it's any less relevant.

But I'm not sure if Keedy was criticizing it or not, like I said, I'm still trying to understand his essay...

On Jun.02.2003 at 04:27 PM
Tan’s comment is:

where the hell is everbody today?

On Jun.02.2003 at 04:46 PM
armin’s comment is:

>where the hell is everbody today?

I know! Isn't it weird, I think the phone rang twice at our office and both times it was my wife. Maybe it's part of the design slump we are in.

Back to Rant. Did anybody else find Fitzgerald's comments about Maeda a tad out of place. I'm not the big historian here but to say about Maeda's work: "Rather than announcing new directions, they evince nostalgia." seemed a little strange. The last thing Maeda's work evokes is nostalgia, on the contrary, to me it always feel fresh and distinct but, I'll admit, pretty repetitive. He creates beautiful imagery with the computer that no one else can do, even if they buy Design by Numbers.

>There's a Mau manifesto that talks about imitation -- that it's worth doing

I agree. In college and in my early professional years I did some imitating. No shame. Funny thing is that I was never able to pull it off, instead I ended up developing my own style. Ok, maybe it's not that funny.

The Visitations piece to me seemed pretty inconsequential. They could have been chatting about food recipes and it would have been more enjoyable. Sorry ladies, no disrespect. I just didn't see the whole point of their visit to Europe. In one of the exchanges (p.49) Kali says "And look at how few of the designers we visited were interested in what we were doing or what was happening in the US" First of all, that sounds so pompous. Secondly, maybe they don't give a rats ass what we are doing here, but for some reason Americans are always wary of European design and saying how much better they have it there. I don't know... that whole article was a bit naive. It reminded me of this SNL bit.

On Jun.02.2003 at 06:12 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> but for some reason Americans are always wary of European design and saying how much better they have it there.

I'm not one of those Americans. I think graphic design in Europe is very inconsistent. London is indeed very progressive. Same with Amsterdam, Germany, and Switzerland. But France and Italy seems to be a decade behind. I love the architecture, the fashion, and the industrial designs there, but I didn't really see any graphic design that was more progressive than what's being done in our backyard. Except there's lots more nudity in their advertising...and that's not always such a bad thing.

> The last thing Maeda's work evokes is nostalgia

Don't you remember in the old days, back in Photoshop 3, before layers, when we had to work by saving multiple versions? Or when layered type was permanent? God how I miss those olden days.

On Jun.02.2003 at 06:30 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Hey y'all. I was out meeting clients all day, of all things to be doing with my time. I am hoping that other Speak Up readers are reading and digesting the overly-long questions and will soon come around, but I am fearing that my questions were just too convoluted. My apologies for going off the deep end.

As a remedy, I'd humbly suggest the questions for Visitations (aloofness), Valicaneti (self-condemnation), and Wolfe (newness) as the most approachable topics for discussion. I personally wanted to harangue over Blauvelt, Keedy, and the Faux Science, but it just makes me so mad!!

On Jun.02.2003 at 06:34 PM
Sam’s comment is:

>>Is that happening now?

In answer to my own question, I would say no. There's no great debate going on. It feels as though there's nothing at stake, that one's convictions as a designer aren't being called to task. First Things First, Sagmeister's Things That Touch My Heart, maybe the AIGA Voice conference--I didn't go, so I can't say--these were calls to put some values on the line and act on them. FTF devolved quickly; Sagmeister's talk quickly came to seem like self-gratification for being sensitive; and what ongoing discussion or movement or change has come out of Voice?

I wish that the design profession could use this economic slow time to generate some a strong (I do not say "new") sense of purpose, some sense of strength behind the discussion of design that would flow into the discussion of specific design work. For my money, Cahan & Associates I Am Almost Always Hungry was a real step in this direction. Some thought it was designer porn, or just plain masturbation (maybe that's not mutually exclusive). It takes some time, and most amazingly, it takes a certain way of reading it, to get it, but then you see it's a blueprint. It's not like a regular book at all. It's a different way of talking about design, and really, really fucking smart. And it's a serious description of concept-based design. Which of course should be the antidote to the Legibility Wars except that instead of thinking everyone just started ripping off the lay-outs.

The economy should not be used as an excuse. It's a fucking cop-out. Don't have the money to produce your ideas, or stuck with an unimaginative and cheap client? Then get the fuck back to work and find a better idea! And while you're at it, do a good job even though they don't "deserve" it. Too busy looking for a job--and probably obsessing over your little promo pieces--to be producing any new work or new explorations, or make anything just plain fun? You call yourself a designer?! Too many people are waiting to be offered opportunities (jobs, clients, fame) instead of busting their ass. (I am not talking, by the way, about the Speak Up crowd, per se. That's a self-selecting and thus a more motivated and engaged bunch. But jeez, there are some lazy-ass kids out there.) Not having any idea where design is at is no excuse for lowering your standards.

Phew. Also, I hasten to say, the above paragraph is my own personal great debate that I am waging lately with myself. I don't want to sound like I'm throwing black stones at glass kettles, or black pots at glass houses, or uh, whatever.

On Jun.02.2003 at 07:07 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> contrary to Fitzgerald's intended meaning

No Sam, I think that's exactly what Fitzgerald means. Everything visual begins as flavorless protein, waiting for designers to instill the appropriate taste, style, and content for consumption.

> The late 90s should have had more serious investigations of the power of the new technology.

Yes, the whole technology revolution has been extremely disappointing. I work in a firm that does dual duty (web+print), both equally well. While we truly respect each other -- there is a chasm in both objectives and passion between print designers and interactive designers/developers. It's tough to truly engage each other in anything,

I have a theory as to why: interactive work and technology in general is more impermanent and disposable than print. And that's saying a lot. It's the nature/fault of technology. As soon as something works, it's changed. Technology changes so often, that no one bothers to truly master it or see its beauty. And when there's no value placed in something, there is little passion for it.

And ultimately, I still question the need. I know I'll get shit for saying this, but I still think the the interactive world is filled with work that try to answer questions that were never asked. So while the work can be experimental and progressive -- there's no context, and thus, no one cares. Does my attitude mark me as a stodgy old print designer? Perhaps -- but prove to me that I'm wrong.

You know what I would've loved to read in this book? An essay from a Japanese designer. You want experimentation, take a look at the shit coming from Japan. It's an interesting phenomena. They have a generation of kids raised on technology, force-fed a steady stream of innocuous, mass culture and design, and BLAM! The generation explodes, and out comes some of the weirdest shit you've ever seen in fashion, product (automotive) design, writing, and graphic design. I don't understand most of it. But it's very exciting stuff. This exists all despite Japan's crappy economy, despite their politics, despite all the stuff we're all whining about in our country.

So that brings up another point -- why is this book all written in our (US) perspective? Especially Helfand and Drentell's essay? Just curious.

On Jun.02.2003 at 07:23 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Yeah Tan, but Fitzgerald's language and tone implies a negative view of design, whereas my rephrasing is a literal, pragmatic description. My point was, the man can't even speak neutrally about design--it's like he hates all of it. The whole essay reads this way practically.

On Jun.02.2003 at 08:17 PM
pk’s comment is:

i'm here, just so you know. just finished reading. something longish tomorrow, considering posting something even longer at my own site to attach to this.

On Jun.03.2003 at 12:25 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Sam -- I didn't get so much of that impression the first read through Fitzgerald. But I just read it again, and I can see what you mean.

On Jun.03.2003 at 02:17 AM
brook’s comment is:

a negative or positive tone doesn't really matter. the goal is to be a swift kick in the ass. i think it accomplishes that.

On Jun.03.2003 at 07:56 AM
Eric’s comment is:

sorry to join the fight late, but it took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out how to respond.

i'm only halfway through so i'm not qualified to speak on the whole book but i am upset by two things:

a) the writing from Keedy and FitzGerald is entirely too self important and turgid. It's entirely too posturing to the critical art writing that dominated much of the terrain in that community through the 90s. Thankfully it ultimately failed in fine art. I wish they'd take the cue and write intelligently rather than Intellectually.

b) this grousing about "shock of the new" and the present 'slump'. Forgive me if i'm wrong but isn't more correct that with so many different forms of graphic design in vogue and currently permissible that it is a community of plural voices, which consequentially makes it much more difficult to be the new stylist on the block?

On Jun.03.2003 at 09:54 AM
Tan’s comment is:

> with so many different forms of graphic design in vogue and currently permissible that it is a community of plural voices, which consequentially makes it much more difficult to be the new stylist on the block?

I totally agree. I have this impression that there's much more work being generated today than 15 years ago. Two, three times more work, maybe more if you consider new interactive channels. Given this environment of plurality, defined styles do exist -- but their impact is fleeting. Critical mass is also much more difficult to attain.

On Jun.03.2003 at 10:56 AM
pnk’s comment is:

Tan, you touched upon one thing I keep thinking in relation to Rant; the obvious longing on the part of the authors (if I may paint with a rather broad brush) for cultural and historical significance. There seems to be a great hunger for graphic design to have impact on a scale beyond the day-to-day.

Crtical mass is more dificult to attain. Collectively, the vast amount of work being done probably has much less cultural significance than it might were there a unifying critical philosophy. Is the Bauhaus, for instance, a model we should strive for; something to galvanize an entire discipline either in accord with or in opposition to? I sense a current of frustration running through Rant at the lack of something to be either for or against. Keedy's shots at Cuteism, or the dismissal of "Faux Science" only serve to show how flimsy those gripes are; these are stylistic tics, not Movements! Does it make them any less/more worthy of derision? Not really, but it illustrates that if one is looking for a windmill to joust there are always plenty to be found...

On Jun.03.2003 at 12:58 PM
Eric’s comment is:

in relation to pnk's comments above, and a general sense that i get from the tone of the tome is that there is a definite agenda from the FitzGerald/Keedy camp to imbue some other purpose on to 'design', which for our purposes i believe they mean mostly graphic design though somebody does bring up Eames etc.

i don't mean to step on any toes but is there really room for there to be a meta-design philosophy that conducts the object/viewer relationship?

I can't help but think of the arguments i had over the, at times, nebulous relationship between fine art and illustration.

When i think of somebody like Carson who when he succeeds the work becomes expressionistic and serves the audience with information in a "new" way or when he fails it becomes decorative and doesn't serve the project or the audience. Neither way espouses to divorce 'design' from its relationship to the viewer.

On Jun.03.2003 at 01:39 PM
pk’s comment is:

i got the impression that not a single one of the authors knows much about designing for anything besides print or environment...and i really feel like it's impossible to talk about design's changes over the past decade without talking about the web in particular, video to a slightly lesser scale. it's like they just haven't considered how the creation of work for those media have upped the ante one notch beyond what they can comprehend. i started writing a longer response here. sorry for the self-link, but it's really long already and i'm not done yet.

On Jun.04.2003 at 12:12 AM
armin’s comment is:

>sorry for the self-link, but it's really long already and i'm not done yet.

This was my favorite part: "to summarize: old modernism is a classic not to be fucked with, new modernism is simply inferior and mr. keedy finds himself witty."

While I understand your point about the lack of web topics in Emigre and how web design has affected print design I am kind of glad that Emigre is staying away from it. I would be sad to see Emigre veer into web content as good print (in general) discussions are hard to find. But I agree on the need to acknowledge how the web has affected the way graphic design in general is perceived.

>My point was, the man can't even speak neutrally about design--it's like he hates all of it. The whole essay reads this way practically.

I think he kind of slightly gave props to Vaughan Oliver's Book. But I agree, the whole fitzgerald article was a bundle of anger and resentment.

On Jun.04.2003 at 08:37 AM
Eric’s comment is:

"su (who is currently working as a coder) told me earlier today after commenting in this thread, "i may not know how to do your job well, but you have no fucking clue whatsoever how to do mine." '

ouch. so true.

On Jun.04.2003 at 09:32 AM
pk’s comment is:

my point wasn't so much that the web needed to be discussed as a medium, but that methods of working on the web are specifically what has given rise to some of the issues they point out...everything from the cinematic nature of new work (was that fitzgerald?)—which makes sense because many more people are designing for a screen of some sort—to the way websites can be completely reskinned with little effort. none of this was really possible in the world (print only) they seem to be talking about.

i'm also not sure of vanderlans focus on the so-called legibility wars of the late eighties and early nineties. that was as considered as much of a dark period of design as the current period they're railing against.

the biggest contribution i see in the current period is the relative ease with which form and content can be swapped out. as far as i've seen it's given rise to much more experimentation in true reading spaces than the early nineties ever did.

also, and i hate to say this, but i detected a slight note of fear in some of the essays that older work was becoming invalid now that it's so easy to create formal experimentation formerly labored over. but that's just me.

On Jun.04.2003 at 11:18 AM
Dan’s comment is:

the biggest contribution i see in the current period is the relative ease with which form and content can be swapped out. as far as i've seen it's given rise to much more experimentation in true reading spaces than the early nineties ever did.

One of the big questions I see coming up as a theme throughout Rant is, "Can't graphic design be more than this?" I think we all hope it can, otherwise why are we trying so hard? Why don't we just go home at 5:00 and call it a day?

I hope graphic design can be more than streamlined, easily modified content delivery and clever visual puns "that operate on the conceptual level of knock-knock jokes." (Keedy, p. 65)

The thing that Rant leaves me hanging on is what that could possibly be. Maybe that's why some of these pieces seem so nebulous and abstract... they're trying to hint at something that's on the tip of their tongue, but they can't quite articulate it. Anybody have any thoughts on this?

On Jun.04.2003 at 12:47 PM
Eric’s comment is:

Dan:

that is exactly what i meant when i offered this earlier,

"i don't mean to step on any toes but is there really room for there to be a meta-design philosophy that conducts the object/viewer relationship?

I can't help but think of the arguments i had over the, at times, nebulous relationship between fine art and illustration."

It strikes me that rather than contributing to "good design" there seems to be an agenda towards an epistemological undertaking where design needs to evolve to a new platform.

from my point of view, i think you can, and should, argue against the cute/trendy/bad design without the need to debase the fundaments of the practice.

On Jun.04.2003 at 01:00 PM
Dan’s comment is:

debase the fundaments of the practice

I'm not sure what you mean here... are you saying that you can't ignore the constraints that the real world puts on design, and that making demands of it that can't realistically be played out in everyday client projects is pushing too hard?

I think it's better to overshoot (ideologically, experimentally, ...) and then reign yourself in, rather than to be complacent and rigid within the current state of affairs.

It seems to me that design could be informed and influenced by a more theoretical, critical voice (possibly from academia, but hopefully by designers who wanted to push forward in this area.) It doesn't seem right to say that people who want design to be more than it currently is are "debasing" the practice. Why not let them run wild and see what happens?

On Jun.04.2003 at 01:32 PM
eric’s comment is:

In answer to Dan’s question,

Using Keedy’s fillip use of Modernism 8.0 as a model, I don’t see how this is a constructive or lucid look at the present design community. The retooling of Modernism is a natural and nearly predictable reaction to the illegible typography the preceded it and a format that seemed to dovetail into the awkward meter of online design. It’s not a lack of progress. It simply ‘is’. That this is a vogue and comodifiable expression of design presently shouldn’t be the deciding factor of its quality.

I’m all for multiple voices in the design community. In fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to illustrate a time when you could pursue so many different styles at once. By choosing to pick on popular flavors in design practice, arguments like Keedy and FitzGerald aren’t pursuing how to elevate design. Just because something exhibits minimalist tendencies doesn’t make it bad design.

There should be discourse in the design community. However the idea that academia would offer anything relevant I find highly suspect. The academic railroading of the fine art community in the last 15 years has produced the largest crop of useless, skill-less crap that I can possibly imagine. I’m not wont to suffer that in another guise. For instance, do Helfand and Drenntel really need to bury a poorly formed idea under Hegel, Heidegger and a biologic model? Where does that get you but garbage under the rubric of intelligencia?

On Jun.04.2003 at 07:08 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>It seems to me that design could be informed and influenced by a more theoretical, critical voice (possibly from academia...

Is there such thing as a design academia? That sounds soooo laughable. I've never thought of design as being a profession dependent, much less driven by what the academia says or does.

>There should be discourse in the design community.

What would discourse entail for you? I'm really curious, as I have asked myself this question many times. One of the reasons Speak Up was started was to maybe start some discourse, but I'm not sure if discourse is the correct word to describe what goes on in here. So, I'd be really interested to know what others think "discourse" means in Graphic Design?

On Jun.04.2003 at 08:53 PM
Dan’s comment is:

>There should be discourse in the design community.

To me, this statement is what Rant boils down to. Design is going to keep on progressing, but without discourse there isn't any real thought or clue behind where it is going to end up. I think that there are people who can (and do) contribute to a discussion that helps guide, inspire and challenge designers along the way. And we need more of them. Many more.

Maybe discourse is critical writing and a place to put it up (have you thought of an "Articles" section for Speak Up?). Maybe discourse is experimental, non-client work with a purpose beyond creating something that looks really cool. Seriously investigating some different ways of communicating information or telling stories. Maybe discourse is taking a look at what other people are doing instead of talking about yourself. I have to write loosely about these ideas because I don't know what form they actually take. But I want to figure it out and start doing it. Or start doing it and figure it out along the way.

As much critisism as Mr. FitzGerald has taken here, reading his article made me want to write. I don't know what yet, but it challenged me to put down on paper some of the things that I've got bouncing around in my head. And I consider that a good thing.

On Jun.05.2003 at 12:20 AM
Eric’s comment is:

I think, Armin, that this is where i recommend that we publish the Speak Up book.

On Jun.05.2003 at 08:53 AM
Arturo’s comment is:

Hi guys, here I go joining this a little late.

Just a brief comment: What do you think of RANT's cover? I found it too type-generic, I would expect something more Ranted (sorry if this word doesn't exist in English) judging this magazine-book by the cover is maybe a superficial opinion but then... most of the essays here deal with the relation between contentform and are suppose to entice a more profound analysis on the way design displays and transform content, Do you think the design of RANT achieve that goal? or at least tries to?

On Jun.05.2003 at 12:39 PM
armin’s comment is:

>I think, Armin, that this is where i recommend that we publish the Speak Up book.

That's freaky, this is the second time today that somebody has mentioned a Speak Up book.... scary...

>Maybe discourse is critical writing and a place to put it up (have you thought of an "Articles" section for Speak Up?)

Hot damn! Sam, are you reading this? Yes, we have considered the option of having our own essays. More on that to come. Soon.

>As much critisism as Mr. FitzGerald has taken here, reading his article made me want to write.

Oh yes! I had the exact same reaction. And I think if Rant served for one thing was for this right here: instigating discussions, making people think and question, even pissing people off has been a better response than anything else. Even if I didn't agree with many of the things that were said in Rant, I'm endlessly grateful for the fact that somebody actually criticized our profession instead of the endless pat in the backs we are all accustomed to.

On Jun.05.2003 at 01:35 PM
Rudy VanderLans’s comment is:

First of all let me express my gratitude and mention how flattered I am by the intensity of this discussion (and most discussions on this forum). I don't know where you guys find the time for this, but I'm happy you do, and I appreciate the attention you are paying to Rant. At this point I could say that my work is done, but that would be too easy.

Secondly, I have to tip my hat to Sam on his tremendous "deep" reading of the isssue. Some of it actually goes over my head, but no one should ever be blamed for an extreme effort. Earlier, after I read Sam's very first questions and remarks regarding Rant, I was disappointed and actually was about to post the following message:

"I know Sam's not getting paid for this gig, but can I ask for another moderator? I want somebody who can rip us apart. This guy Sam is a bantam weight, and he's hittin' below the belt (One person in Rant quotes Hegel, and he's rolling his eyes. Very grown up). I agree, there's lots wrong with Rant, but he's looking in all the wrong places. What I found most telling was his use of the word "Whatever" (he wrote it in the margins of Rant twice, per article, he informs us). Talk about the battle cry of a generation. Apathy is a not a form of criticism, you know."

Sam must have ESP, because right before I was about to send that message, his next set of questions ripped us apart. And I agree with much of what he says. He may be a more astute editor than I am. I wish I could comment on every point brought up in this discussion, but that would take me days. I'm a one finger typer. But I'd like to make a few general comments.

First, design may not be dependend on academia, but academia certainly has provided design with much of its formal amunition. Moholy-Nagy, Schmidt and Bayer, who helped define Bauhaus typography, come to mind. Weingart's typographic experiments, which formed the basis for the American New Wave (Greiman, Friedman), were created while he was studying and then teaching at Basel. Carson's work, who is often credited for loosening up the page, especially the work he did for Beach Culture and Ray Gun, seems to me like a carbon copy of the work done at Cranbrook and CalArts in the late 80s. All these formal languages were the result of strong ideological underpinnings which were mostly shed by the time the work was picked up by mainstream design. But those formal manifestations originated in academia. And as "styles" they greatly benefitted commercial graphic design which thrives on the cycling and recycling of styles.

Also, the institutions mentioned above each verbalized their intentions. There were theories developed, which were often the extension of social or political convictions. This, it seems to me, has gone missing almost entirely within graphic design. I have noticed the emergence of very specific design styles, approaches, and all types of graphic mannerisms, but I have been unable to find out why these exist or to what purpose they are used. This is the slump I feel exists within graphic design today.

Another recurring comment was that RANT contained too much negativity and was too critical without offering any solutions. That may have something to do with my brief, which emphasized that the writing should be about what bothered the writers about graphic design at this moment in time, and that it should be in the form of a rant (in an effort to steer away from overly academic essays). Plus, I don't think it's the critics role to come up with solutions. The critic's job is to point out what's wrong. If you want to be showered with awards and read about design's success stories, there's HOW magazine.

Someone mentioned that Rant was trying to hint at something that's on the tip of our tongue, but we can't quite articulate it. I can't speak for the other writers, but to me it feels exactly like that. And by your responses I can tell we're not making ourselves quite clear yet. I do feel that sometimes Speak Up comes quite close to the type of reading that I feel is missing in design, the type of candid conversations I have with my designer friends. But I often lose interest when the issues get overly concerned with the client, profits, brand recognition, target groups... What often goes unquestioned is whether the work is beneficial for people, or the environment, or culture, or graphic designers themselves.

Finally, the idea of publishing a book of the discussions featured at Speak UP has come up. I think that's a great idea. If you can pour Speak Up into book form, or even magazine form, I think you would have something to fill a huge gap in the design publishing market. But it will be tricky. Speak Up's strength is its immediacy, the gut level responses, the rants. These are difficult to harness in book or magazine form. I know, because I tried.

On Jun.05.2003 at 06:41 PM
pk’s comment is:

(responding to arturo)

i thought the design of the cover was perfect. i read it in layers. bottom-most was ornament/titling/authors, all very nicely and politely typeset.

above that is a barcode, as if that idea of commerce has been imposed upon the actual book.

top layer is the coca-cola-ish emigre logo, which reads as a final fuck you. as if emigre's taken the commercial implications of the barcode's violation one step further and trumped it.

but that's just me.

(hey. rudy posted. neat. bet armin's messed himself.)

On Jun.05.2003 at 08:32 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Thanks for your comments, Rudy. Like my notes in the margin of Rant, I'm tempted to respond to every point. A few things, though--

I did not get the sense from your introduction that the writers were invited to write about what "bothered" them. From the opening paragraph and the last one on page 12, I was expecting something more like criticism in the sense of commentary and analysis. You write, "we invited a group of long-time Emigre contributors to rant about the state of graphic design in 2002. The idea was to generate a critique...kick in the knees." What resulted, in my view, was pieces expressing personal opinions that for the most part were not productive as design criticism. To be bothered by something is not the same as being critical of it, especially if you're going to go to the effort of writing about it.

Most of the writers (Fitzgerald, Crisp/Nikitas/Sandhaus, Keedy, Helfand/Drenttel, and Wolfe) weighed in with their personal opinions and gripes about specific designers, books, or techniques/trends/tropes. Frankly, many of these writers' opinions are not so relevant as they once were, which I say with all due respect. And the lack of cited examples, either designers or specific designed pieces, further lessens the claim to criticism.

I would be very interested if there was a deliberate decision made not to name certain designers or pieces when a particular style (say, cuteism, or the faux science) was being discussed. (Leaving aside, of course, Fitzgerald's piece.) Five pages of visual examples in the back hardly covers the ground mentioned in the pieces. It's a fundamental part of criticism in any field to discuss particulars, so why are they missing? Did it just turn out that way?

Also, "whatever" is of course shorthand, as was my noting of it in the questions. I expect everyone here knows that this particular word, with all its inflections, is a discussion-killer. Notably, it's almost never used in the general discussion threads, which at the very least is a sign of the lack of apathy here at Speak Up. And also, the mention of Hegel is particularly annoying not (only) for its pretentiousness, but primarily for the fact that it's an astoundingly inaccurate characterization of Hegel's philosophy of history, and a tautological characterization at that. Damn that paragraph made me mad!

I would also add, when I first saw Emigre I was not a designer. I was an editor (of college English textbooks, of all god-forsaken things) and was horrified and actually angry that text was being mangled in the service of art (which is what I thought it was at the time). The offending issue was #32, the old large format edition, with the typewriter head guy. I thought it was ugly. I now have a copy about 10 feet from my desk on the shelf and love it dearly and understand, I hope, a little bit better why it's both beautiful and important.

Finally, you raise another interesting point--can I get paid for this? Armin? What up with that? A man got to have his wasabi peas!

Again, thanks Rudy. I very much respect the work it takes to get together a book like Rant, and the willingness to participate in this little discussion of it.

It's been a crazy work week for me, but thanks to everyone for the great discussion so far. Please keep checking back--I hope to add more on some other points people made. That is, if Illustrator will stop crashing on me!

--Sam

On Jun.05.2003 at 11:42 PM
Sam’s comment is:

>Maybe discourse is critical writing and a place to put it up (have you thought of an "Articles" section for Speak Up?)

That's what I'm talkin about!

On Jun.05.2003 at 11:43 PM
Arturo’s comment is:

"which reads as a final fuck you. as if emigre's taken the commercial implications of the barcode's violation one step further and trumped it"

Nicely put.. PK ;)

On Jun.06.2003 at 12:05 AM
armin’s comment is:

>bet armin's messed himself.

Good thing I was wearing clean underwear.

> Design Academia

Right after I posted about the design academia being laughable I started thinking about Katherine McCoy, Ed Fella, the Makelas, heck even about Hank RIchardson (Dean) at Portfolio Center. Glad Rudy called me on it. Still, I rarely think of design as an academic driven profession, but I see where the strenghts of it are.

>can I get paid for this? Armin? What up with that? A man got to have his wasabi peas!

I can share some of my peas with you, but that's about it.

On Jun.06.2003 at 09:07 AM
Eric’s comment is:

Re Rudy’s comments.

Most of this was written before I read Sam’s response. I apologize for any duplication.

It’s a fallacy that criticism needs to be negative rather than constructive. A good example of this is Wolfe’s essay which talks about many things seriously but without the didactic phrasing of some of the other essays and it touches all of the same theme of ‘dirge of consumerism’ and what design should be held culpable for.

Re the Academy, Bauhaus grew out of Dadaism and Kandinsky/Malevich Constructivism. You could make the argument that its appeal was a mirror of the market that existed a decade earlier. They co-opted what they liked from the other’s style, or in Keedy-ian parlance: Constructivism 2.0.

What was great about the Bauhaus school was that it was a movement that sought to propel itself forward. It could work against a staid marketplace towards a ‘quantifiable’ utopic vision. There is a vast rift between the ‘ism’ ideologies of the early twentieth century art movements and the anti-aesthetic of current academia. I don’t think that anyone is arguing that there shouldn’t be design education and that there shouldn’t be a constructive voice propelling the profession forward. I just see that as educational rather than Academic.

As covered earlier in this thread, it seems that the current ‘quagmire’ in the design community is more a reflection of the multi-faceted, adaptive and permissive environment which doesn’t foster any formal or constrictrive voice to rebel against.

Most importantly, I found a lot worth reading in Rant even if I didn’t agree with half of it. In fact, it is more valuable as a tool if I am taking up a stick against some of the arguments. Were that I were complacent I think it would have been a phenomenal failure.

So congratulations and keep up the good work.

Ps. Re the cover design. Love it or hate it. I couldn’t hide it on my desk. Everybody walked by picked it up and looked at it and then asked me what the deal was. That sounds like success to me.

On Jun.06.2003 at 10:08 AM
kali’s comment is:

wow!

rudy contacted me and told me there was some lively discussion.

i do not know if you would invite the contributors of RANT to participate but here i am.

just a couple of thoughts:

1. "being pompous" was never my intention regarding my dissappointment in not hearing many questions about us, our institutions, or the states. what i was expressing was my inquiring mind wanting to engage with other inquiring minds. fair?

2. our article was written from a format not unlike what is happening here with this book club. mind you, pulling it all together as one solid, informed, critical, personal piece, was quite a task.

3. to sam: "not so relevant as they once were" ??????? hum??????

note: no defensiveness intended.

On Jun.06.2003 at 11:03 AM
armin’s comment is:

>i do not know if you would invite the contributors of RANT to participate but here i am.

Yeah, I told Rudy about it, so he could alert you of the discussion and get you all to participate.

>what i was expressing was my inquiring mind wanting to engage with other inquiring minds. fair?

Fair enough.

On Jun.06.2003 at 12:07 PM
pk’s comment is:

kali: the textile design exhibit you mentioned. any examples online? really interested in this.

On Jun.06.2003 at 03:38 PM
Kenneth FitzGerald’s comment is:

Hello friends. Thanks for all your comments. I'm usually starved for any sense of how my writing is received so your discussion is a feast of feedback. I'm particularly gratified that people have been inspired to write their own articles because of mine (though I recognize it probably isn't due to admiration). I look forward to reading them.

It's been my conviction not to respond to criticisms of my articles. If I've done my job, the writing should be able to defend itself. If it can't, I deserve what I get. I also wasn't a fan of the pissing contests that marked design discourse in the 90s. However, since I've advocated deeper and broader discussions, it may be my responsibility to stoke a fire I've started. And once us Rant writers were invited to contribute, I feel almost obligated. So, as they say on the radio talk shows, I'll comment then take my answer off the air.

The criticisms of me seem to be on these issues:

I'm too negative.

This is a common complaint in the wake of sharp critiques and one that continues to puzzle me. Essentially, it says that design can't withstand a deep investigation and we must keep standards and expectations low. I obviously reject this view and feel it's the complainers who are the negativists. Specifically, my essay makes many positive statements about design's overall value. I pointedly assert that design has more relevance and potential than fine art or architecture, two disciplines design has traditionally envied and been subordinate to. Yes, my article says design is squandering its opportunity big time. But as far as I can see, there aren't many folks giving design the props I've consistently handed out.

I'm subjective.

Like the complaint above, I think this is pure cop-out. Claiming I'm just exercising my personal opinion is a way to discredit me without having to refute my arguments. Except for John Maeda, no designer received a total dismissal from me. For the two I critiqued the harshest--Bruce Mau and Stefan Sagmeister--I targeting specific aspects of their work or the claims made about it. I also made a number of highly complimentary statements about their talents. True, they were minor notes in a symphony of dischords. But I was deliberately trying to puncture what I consider to be overinflated reputations. If I'm going to be fragged for supposedly operating only on taste, I think the shooter is obligated to at least provide an example of what they consider objective reporting. And my article actually provides a cudgel to beat me with. Early on I cite Rick Poynor as the critic who does it right. If you agree, you can compare and contrast us and provide a concrete demonstration of how my essay is just griping. As it stands, the charge that I'm subjective rests on nothing but someone else's personal opinion. One word for that is irony.

I also couldn't help but notice how the two writers who gave examples--me and Jeff Keedy--got dismissed as taste-mongers, while all the writers who didn't give examples got slammed for abstraction. Sorry, but this is known as "trying to have it both ways" (or "damned if you do, damned if you don't"). It often happens when someone is making up reasons as they go along not to like something--as opposed to having a coherent critical stance (kinda like Bush and why we invaded Iraq). I think there's an powerful argument to be made that I'm everything I'm accused of being. Too bad no one here even attempts to make it.

I don't provide solutions.

I disagree. I think solutions (or courses of action) are at least implicit in every article. They aren't, however, the kind of solutions designers want: bullet-pointed and "practical". My summary of the solution that cuts across all the articles can be expressed in three design-referenced words: Stop Being Sheep.

I think this forum is a solution--if you keep demanding more of yourselves. Crave being asked the tough questions. Be scrupulously honest about what you do and why. Keep turning up the heat. Stop making excuses. Contemplate opinions you've previously dismissed out of hand. Reach into your pocket, your time and your talent to make things happen (and I don't mean another self-promo piece). Gather your thoughts on Rant and send Rudy a letter to the editor (making sure to whack me). Adding articles to this forum would raise the stakes and I hope to see that. Also that Speak Up book you all have been mentioning.

Here it is: designers keep saying they want More. From clients respecting their opinions to work that touches people's hearts. In other words, designers want change. I admit I really don't know what designers should do. I do know this: everything that's been done so far hasn't worked. To get change, you must change.

On Jun.07.2003 at 12:51 AM
Arturo’s comment is:

I'm subjective

For me, that’s exactly the point, I want to read these guys very deep opinions, I don't think RANT's mission was to have the objectivity of a research paper, as a matter of fact that’s what I’m more grateful for, so... keep Ranting ;)

On Jun.09.2003 at 03:34 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Between Eric, Dan, and Prof. Fitzgerald, I have a question about designers "wanting more." I'm not clear on what's the best way to read "more"--it can mean that designers want something more meaningful (expressed in Wolfe's essay most forcefully), or they want something other, as in wanting design to be a practice that's more than fonts and papers and inks and pixels. Blauvelt's essay is a call for something more in the sense of other--a separate type of practice of inventive contextuality. Whether this something other is what Eric calls a "meta-design philosophy," I couldn't say. It's an open question for anyone to tackle.

My personal feeling, as a designer, is that it's a congenital part of being creative to want more in the sense of progress, even newness. The work of making stuff just naturally means after you've made some stuff you want to go on to make more stuff. So the "more" might also mean, maybe, that designers want more projects, more discovery, more styles, more typefaces, more tools, more media, more vocabulary, etc. to work with. Maybe, I don't know. I feel a lot of wanting more in the sense of wanting to do better and better work. I don't feel the need for a logo, or the process of making a logo, to be more culturally or politically or socially meaningful than a good logo basically is. Even the ideas contained in the best logos or annual reports or websites or any kind of design aren't all that meaningful, compared to the really meaningful ideas like democracy, justice, family, medicine, history, and the really complex ways that these ideas are manifest in culture. (I know, I can't help going to the extreme here.) I often wish that there was more matter--ideas, elements, problems, challenges--in certain kinds of design projects, but that's not the same as wanting the work to be a different kind of work.

On Jun.09.2003 at 11:50 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Kali,

I said "many" when I should have said "some." I was thinking, specifically, about Andrew Blauvelt and Jeffrey Keedy (2 out of 8 is not really "many") as writers who had a--how to say this?--a higher profile as writers than they do now. In any case, I didn't mean any personal offense. I honestly don't know if it's by personal choice that Keedy and Blauvelt don't write as much now; it may equally be true that they do and I miss it. I would say that what they generally wrote about--postmodernism in design--is not the high-profile issue it once was.

All the same, thanks for your comment. It's interesting that you compare your piece to Speak Up's format. I'm sure there's a lot of stuff on the web to read about the blog format and what it's doing to writing and conversation. This article by Andrew Sullivan is one I'm going to read as further investigation. Anyone with other recommendations? Is the web the right medium for spontaneous conversation?

(A sidenote to this, what's amazing to me about blogs and even chat rooms is that it's all text. People have to have some verbal ability to operate in this medium and there's been a lot of creativity--the invention of emoticons, for instance--in the way people express themselves in writing. How do you graphic designers and visual specialists feel using the keyboard and not the bursh tool? Fish out of water?)

On Jun.09.2003 at 11:51 PM
Sam’s comment is:

what others think 'discourse' means in graphic design

a meta-design philosophy that conducts the object/viewer relationship

an epistemological undertaking

Arrgh.

This isn't really technically accurate, but I think of discourse in design as the talking about design rather than the design itself. Design work itself is visual, tactile, two- or three dimenisonal, printed or screen-based, photographic, illustrated, typographic, etc. Discourse is verbal. I would not say that design discourse is a meta-discourse, because in the act of talking about design the medium changes from the visual to the verbal. Meta-fiction, by contrast, is fiction that comments on fiction. "Meta-painting" would be painting that comments on painting, most obviously Magritte's "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." The act of interpreting the work has to be in the work itself, otherwise the interpretation is discourse that exists next, above, outisde of, other than the work itself.

Maybe, maybe that piece that said "Helvetica" set in Garamond is a piece of meta-typography. Sorry I can't remember who did it; I think it might have been a t-shirt. It's a nice little mindfuck, as are all things meta-.

A professor of mine in college defined criticism as "relating language to that which is not language." He was talking about literature and the idea that criticism elucidates the emotional and intellectual experience of reading --as well as the ideological, historical, cultural, etc. layers built into a novel. It's a beautful definition because it creates a role for criticism that is more than just explaining and certainly more than criticizing. Which opens the can of worms about discourse and how it relates to opinion, analysis, theory, and/or ranting. Maybe "discourse" is all of these things all at once, the collective total of what's been said and being said--which would make this very sentence itself a meta-sentence, which would mean I should stop now!

On Jun.09.2003 at 11:51 PM
Dan’s comment is:

"wanting more"

This is what I've been mulling over for the last few days. From my point of view, it's not about wanting more new or innovative styles; it's not about wanting to be involved in more types of projects either. It's not even necessarily about wanting more legitimacy for the design profession.

What it comes down to for me is that I believe that in design we hold an incredibly powerful tool in our society/culture. We're reminded over and over that we live in a visual culture. Design is "situated closest to the intersection of culture and commerce, the individual and society" (FitzGerald, p. 32.) Doesn't that make it the most relevant and accessible form of expression? Rudy says in his introduction, "...[W]hat sets graphic design apart from many other professions is how it adds value beyond utility and profits -- how it differentiates and mediates our messages while enriching our visual culture." (p. 11)

Maybe it's a little too First-Things-First-ish, but I guess I want to feel like I make a bigger difference. Sam, you said that even the best-designed logos, ARs, etc aren't all that meaningful. And I quoted Keedy before; he says that most graphic design "thinking" comes down to corny visual puns and Big Ideas that area about as clever as knock-knock jokes. That really jolted me.

I'd love to figure out some way to use design in a truly influential, perspective-shifting way. We all want to change the world, right? But I think that will remain a long-term goal.

Maybe it's FitzGerald who gives us the best hint: you're just one individual but your efforts are important. He says, "The channels of commercial determinism are deeply cut. Redirection requires either a massive exertion of force or constant erosion over years." (p. 31) It doesn't look like Rant is going to mobilize the entire design community toward a massive exertion of force because none of us can agree what needs to change or where we should be heading. So instead, I am responsible to define for myself what I think is most important and change a very small sphere of people who are impacted by the work I do. And in the end, that is more than I started with.

On Jun.10.2003 at 12:29 PM
Eric’s comment is:

Sam, I'm not certain from where you married those comments.  And if

You're responding specifically to me or going off on your own.  However,

Certainly there is a 'discourse' in design where it interrelates to contemporary styles but I meant, for our purposes, the act of designers communicating with each other about the practice.  I think I used it solely as a counterbalance to academia and the tone in Rant.

So far as the paper chase towards meta-design, my intention was to draw

attention to the agenda that is scored early in Rant for design to have some

higher purpose other than a logo fulfilling its role -- that perhaps there

was some greater good that it could perform, or by implication 'should' perform. Or as you put it, "I don't feel the need for a logo, or

the process of making a logo, to be more culturally or politically or

Socially meaningful than a good logo basically is."

.

From FitzGerald's post,"I also couldn't help but notice how the two

writers who gave examples--me and Jeff Keedy--got dismissed as

taste-mongers, while all the writers who didn't give examples

got slammed for abstraction. Sorry, but this is known as "trying to have it

both ways" (or "damned if you do, damned if you don't")."

I'm not certain if this is just styling on his part or is there

really reference above that he has been dismissed as a taste-monger?

That, or his "subjectivity", certainly wasn't a criticism of mine.  Did I miss somebody else's?  Can't we assume that if you're offering an opinion that it is "subjective"?  That being more or less the defining aspect of an

opinion.

And also, "I don't provide solutions.  I disagree. I think solutions (or

courses of action) are at least implicit in every article."

If this were true then why would anybody finish anything?  'I'm

sorry, but I Didn't finish the novel because I thought the last chapter was

implicit?'  I suspect that if you are just handing lashings to designers as

your sole course of rant that there would be no need for solution. However, when you chase design with the complaint that it should have better

aspirants rather than "that promise -- which has gone missing" (p.16) You owe it to your thesis and your audience as to what conclusion they are supposed to draw.

Dan questions, in his post, "I'd love to figure out some way to use design in a truly influential, perspective-shifting way. We all want to change the world, right? But I think that will remain a long-term goal."

In FitzGerald (p.16) it is produced as, "Design might be process but there needs to be product. What have we produced?"

I think we're all on the same page in wanting the world to be a

Better place.  Design is a tool to express Art, to express Politics, to

Express Ecology/Sociology/Economy etc.  However, to misappropriate Marshall MacCulan, the medium is not the message.  The message is the thing that design serves. You the designer are the teleprompter for consumption. You facilitate the transfer of the message.

So far as how to add import to your design contribution take a look at

Wolfe's CV as stated in Rant.  He makes his design work for him and his

beliefs in his free time.  Either through the hyper-consumerist critique of what was Beatkit to his non-profit gestures in Center For a New American Dream.

Work through your ideologies with your full arsenal, only don't make the marketplace the sole scapegoat for your satorial pursuit.

On Jun.10.2003 at 06:26 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

"that piece that said 'Helvetica' set in Garamond is a piece of meta-typography. Sorry I can't remember who did it"

His name is Jack Summerford. I suspect that Keedy would dismiss it as knock-knockoid. The standard dismissal around CalArts ten or twelve years ago was calling something "a one-liner." It always seemed better to me than a no-liner.

On Jun.10.2003 at 06:33 PM
Michael S’s comment is:

I'd love to figure out some way to use design in a truly influential, perspective-shifting way.

Politics? I was talking with a designer that used to work at Phillips and asked him what his long term goals were. His response surprised me - he was interested in changing things through the political system which I found fascinating.

On Jun.10.2003 at 10:31 PM
Shawn Wolfe’s comment is:

"There is a general assumption among many of the essays that graphic design is in a slump."

I sort of said this in my piece, but I think it's important to look at design in the larger context of The Culture. Whether design shapes the culture or the culture shapes design, the two are intimately connected. I think certain individual players (in and out of academia) sometimes set trends and leave their mark, but to me it all seems to be... we all seem to be... part of one large slumping peaking surging stagnating Current. Whether we're inclined to go with the flow or resist it (each to his or her own), whether we're leading the charge or following a lead or just doing a job, we are either a product of our environment, or producers of our environment, or both. I know that sounds like mush. But to say graphic design is in a slump—whether this is true or not—is either unfair or it is nearsighted. The economy is in a slump. Consumer confidence is in the dumper. The peace and prosperity of the '90s (relatively speaking) were fertile ground for all kinds of innovation and volatility and novelty. Everything was given a wide berth. It was a different time. The work, now, of soldiering on ahead through these past few years of fiscal disaster and Bush's reign of terror makes one (possibly) yearn for those seemingly simpler more coherent days of 1999. I think it's not too great of a stretch to say that all this Flatness and Modernism is an outward graphic expression of that yearning. Not to be or get in or out of a slump, but to reconnect with some kind of coherence! To shore up some coherence (even if it's a superficial graphic coherence) to help see us through these incoherent times. It's true we may find ourselves doing this exact same thing even if we were still prosperous and at peace. Accelerating trend cycles, proliferating media, surfaces, messages, virtualities, the sheer stupifying amount of shit everywhere all the time is a raging current that sometimes seems beyond the abilities of one designer, or one team of designers, or a community of designers (or design signatories for that matter!) to navigate or stem or tame. Modernism and Flatness (Tool and Technique) are the first things a body's going to reach for, to beat some quick sense into this senseless mass of confusion, to make things cohere. Or failing that, to make them appear to cohere! Whether the economy continues to flounder and the world becomes further destabilized in the years to come, the accelerating engines of commerce that drive all this trend cycling and stupification are going to keep at it and will overwhelm our attempts to preserve some coherence. Maybe flatness and modernism will prove to be inadequate tools. Quick fixes. But I for one can understand their graphical appeal, for now, and even appreciate the therapeutic effect they have.

On Jun.11.2003 at 02:45 PM
Shawn Wolfe’s comment is:

"Rant - by a bunch of cranky old designers"

BTW - I won't argue the "old" poke. I've been around. Sure.

But for the record, I STARTED OUT CRANKY dagnabbit!!! If anything, I'm less cranky now than I was when I was a twentysomething smartass. Nowadays I'm much more patient and compromising when I need to be, less spiteful and bilious. Able to see (and take) any number of sides of any given argument. Ha ha.

On the other hand, I suppose I am more easily bored nowadays, and unforgiving when I need to be. My bullshit detector is more finely-tuned so I can use it more precisely, with less collateral damage.

On Jun.11.2003 at 04:11 PM
Shawn Wolfe’s comment is:

Sam wrote: "That is, if Illustrator will stop crashing on me!"

Freehand, baby. FREEHAND!!!!

On Jun.11.2003 at 04:20 PM
Shawn Wolfe’s comment is:

Sam wrote: "That is, if Illustrator will stop crashing on me!"

Freehand, baby. FREEHAND!!!!

On Jun.11.2003 at 04:21 PM
Shawn Wolfe’s comment is:

oops!

On Jun.11.2003 at 04:23 PM
armin’s comment is:

>cranky old designers

Rudy started it. I'm just paraphrasing here.

>But I for one can understand their graphical appeal, for now, and even appreciate the therapeutic effect they have.

Hm. That's an interesting view Shawn. I hadn't thought of this cleanliness as a way to better health. There is never any shock or wave of emotions when you see a Cahan Annual Report, I'm sure that's the last thing any IPO driven company wants.

From now on I'm going to start using therapeutic to sell my work at client meetings.

> Freehand, baby. FREEHAND!!!!

Freehand, baby. FREEHAND!!!!

Sam, please use Freehand. You are making Shawn really mad.

On Jun.11.2003 at 04:26 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Why should I use Freehand when InDesign does it all?

Damn! I swore to myself this wouldn't become another software thread!

Thanks for the comments, Shawn.

More TK--till formulating a response to Prof. FitzGerald.

On Jun.12.2003 at 08:37 AM
brook’s comment is:

ok. can i direct this conversation to the future?

how do you want the content/tone/focus of the next (well probably not the very next) issue of emigre to differ from Rant? That is, if you feel it should change. If not, why was this the perfect prescription to revive design (in whatever ways?)

On Jun.12.2003 at 08:54 AM
Rudy’s comment is:

Where are the designers who align themselves, through their work, with their ideologies? The discussions on Speak Up often rage about the big political issues of today, such as media consolidation, corporate scandals, American imperialism, war, the environment, etc. Opinions galore about important issues. But they always seem to be separate from the work that designers create. Speak Up gives us lengthy discussions about the changing of the UPS logo, without a single voice asking whether the new UPS identity will generate a better use of resources. Instead it’s all about surface and service.

Why is no one willing to ask the tough questions? The United States has by far the largest market for graphic designers, yet it produces only a handful of design magazines that are nearly indistinguishable from one another, and all seem to exist mostly as vehicles to sell ads to big business.

This is a sad state of affairs. This is the slump I speak off.

And while I respect Shawn, I find it difficult to believe that this “Flatness and Modernism” he refers to is anything more than just another easy to copy trick that makes designers look “cool” instantly.

If you think these times are incoherent, just wait until things get really bad. Better yet, let’s not wait. If you think there’s much wrong in the world, let’s do something about it, let’s not “yearn” for simpler times. The only way to beat the “accelerating engines of commerce that drive all this trend cycling and stupification (Wolfe)” is to step outside of it, to go against the grain, and to say NO once in a while. Let your voice be heard, don’t be sheep (FitzGerald). Shawn showed us how with Beatkit.

(Did I just sound a bit too much like Kalle Lasn?)

On Jun.12.2003 at 01:41 PM
armin’s comment is:

>Speak Up gives us lengthy discussions about the changing of the UPS logo, without a single voice asking whether the new UPS identity will generate a better use of resources. Instead it’s all about surface and service.

That's a challenge we can start taking on, now that the readership is here it could be time to take it up a notch in some instances. I wouldn't want to scare people away if we moved too much in that direction you mention Rudy, as not all passersby are looking to get involved in such tough discussions. I'm not knocking on anybody, I'm just saying.

>Why is no one willing to ask the tough questions?

Maybe of fear that there won't be answers?

>This is the slump I speak off.

I agree, magazines today are nothing more than entertaining to look at. You see the pretty pictures, you see some paper promos (you have to, actually) and learn who are the hippest firms of the moment. It's really not a bad thing, but they are ignoring the more important aspects of graphic design. The magazines don't see the need to delve into these topics because they are doing good with their current content so why change that? That could also scare away advertisers, and then what? Then we won't even have those magazines. i.e. Critique.

>say NO once in a while.

No to what? This all comes back to whoever said that we have the solution on the tip of our tongues but we just can't verbalize it. Say no to clients? To my mom? See? that's one of the problems, we are not sure what we are challenging, are we challenging Modernism 8.0? Cleanliness? Europeans? I'm in a position, as far as graphic design goes, where I need to meet a clients' request, if they ask for a nice clean corporate brochure would I say no, I want to do a kick-ass experimental brochure? I don't think so, we get fired and we lose money. So, in my work life (for now) I feel like I can't do much. Defeatist? Maybe. Realistic? Totally.

>Did I just sound a bit too much like Kalle Lasn?

Just missed it by a little. If you had mentioned McDonalds or something you would have been right up... I mean down there.

On Jun.12.2003 at 02:24 PM
Shawn Wolfe’s comment is:

I don't think I was recommending that anyone yearn for any particular good old days, nor was I suggesting that Flatness and Modernism are a best or preferred means of moving ahead. I was only trying to account for their obvious and widespread appeal at this particular point in time. Admittedly they are cool/fashionable. Easily copied? What isn't? (Ideas! And ideas can be realized in any number of ways. Even with limited palettes and vocabularies. Might as well be Flatness and Modernism, for the sake of argument. And, to that extent, who cares? Let the baby have his ball.)

I'm just thinking, in the grand scheme of things, apart from whether or not the Flatness and Modernism are regressive (functional stupidity is the psychological term for it), they must be symptomatic of something other than just a desire to look "cool". I think the mutating marketplace and the proliferation of personal computers and armchair designers over the past 20 years (I include a lot of practicing professionals in this category, i.e. hacks to whom a career in graphic design may never have occured were it not for the easy access to tools and techniques that the Mac made possible, now impacting the course of design history) ( has resulted in what looks and feels like an untended jungle of weeds, ugly fruit, thistles, etc.

All I'm trying to do is account for this return to Flatness and Modernism, as a quick means of stamping out the incoherence. Or to clean off the grunge. It's like graphic Lysol. Or graphic DDT.

I don't know. Maybe all it is is a cheap easy means to look cool. (What the hell else is new?!?!) But I suspect there is more to it, whether witless designers intend there to be or not. It's like, why can't Eminem ever smile, ever?? Sure, he wants to look cool. But what's with the joyless no-smile sullen hard ass "attitude" that has taken over popular culture? Eminem's sullen mug just typifies some larger phenomenon, or movement, or current. It's a stylistic and emotional straightjacket, but it's fashion, baby. And somewhere along the line fashion is a reaction to something happening in the world outside of design.

As far as "cool" goes, the most effective way to be cool is to annoy the preceding generation. Often this is done by leap-frogging back to styles and isms of the generation preceding the preceding generation. Like that swing dancing trend of a few years ago, and now Modernism. Ha ha ha.

This too will pass.

On Jun.12.2003 at 03:14 PM
Shawn Wolfe’s comment is:

BTW -- maybe it's been said, but before anyone gets too excited one way or the other about the evils of Modernism 8.0, let's not forget that it is Nostalgia, nothing more.

To everything, Return Return Return.

There is a season, Return Return Return.

:D

On Jun.12.2003 at 04:16 PM
armin’s comment is:

> It's like, why can't Eminem* ever smile, ever??

So last night I was watching The Pulse on Fox, in the end they had a piece of Bill O'Reilly ( dissin' Eminem for 5 minutes straight. He also said that rap will be dead in 10 years. My first thought was "What a complete old fart-ass, speaking out of his close-minded old white guy mentality ass" I even felt it was a racist comment (but that doesn't matter for the point I'm trying to get to.)

What I'm trying to point out is the Generation Gap between the old guard and us, young designers. In some instances of Rant, I felt like they were blaming all the problems of graphic design on us kids, and how much better it was when these writers were in their prime. Do you (Rudy, Fitzgerald, Keedy, Wolfe) think young designers are the problem? Wasn't it the same when you were young and Vignelli (he will always be old guard, even when he was five he was probably old guard) was knocking on your efforts — or lack thereof?

* You know you are making headway in design discourse when Eminem becomes part of it.

On Jun.13.2003 at 09:23 AM
brook’s comment is:

I think the most obvious thing I can point out there is: They are the ones writing. Who are the young up-and-coming design authors and critics?

On Jun.13.2003 at 02:01 PM
Andrew Shurtz’s comment is:

Rudy said:

"Why is no one willing to ask the tough questions? The United States has by far the largest market for graphic designers, yet it produces only a handful of design magazines that are nearly indistinguishable from one another, and all seem to exist mostly as vehicles to sell ads to big business."

The main problem I have with the design mag status quo is the tendency to display page upon page of design samples completely removed from their original context, which immediately reduces everything to a "what looks coolest?" contest.

On top of that, my experience as a recent graduate of a fairly typical design school makes me think that most schools aren't really in the business of teaching any real design ideas per se, but instead have mostly devoted their resources to training students about job interviews and "getting their portfolios ready", which winds up creating a bunch of professional, money-hungry young people who see design as just the application of whatever style looks cool to whatever crap is given to them...

On Jun.13.2003 at 03:09 PM
armin’s comment is:

>They are the ones writing.

Why is that? 'Cause they got the grayest hair? More experience? That alone doesn't make a good writer or critic. Not a personal attack on you Brook but, are you writing? Or are you interested in writing?

>Who are the young up-and-coming design authors and critics?

You, me, Sam, Tan (although he is getting older,) PK, everybody here has the intelligence, resources and balls necessary to be up-and-coming. So let's not use "They are the ones writing" as an excuse, because we have the same possibilities they do. Again, nothing personal Brook.

On Jun.13.2003 at 03:17 PM
Shawn Wolfe’s comment is:

"In some instances of Rant, I felt like they were blaming all the problems of graphic design on us kids, and how much better it was when these writers were in their prime. Do you (Rudy, Fitzgerald, Keedy, Wolfe) think young designers are the problem?"

No way have I blamed anything on up-and-comers. Or on old cranks for that matter. Age doesn't... er, scratch that... shouldn't have shit to do with shit, IMHAFO.

Sometimes experience isn't all it's cracked up to be. Or talent for that matter. (Have you ever heard anyone use the word "facile" as a compliment??) I think it's counterproductive to get caught up in this generation gap stuff. Should we all remove our driver's licenses and check to see who is how old before we proceed any further? I think Rudy railing against coolness (cheap, easy, for its own sake) is valid. Or my own scepticism as to any inherent virtue in newness qua newness. I think that is valid and worthwhile, as a line of inquiry or criticism or whatever.

Of course there is such a thing as a Generation Gap that can be seen and assessed, in all walks of life. But it's never an ironclad measure of anything. I feel old enough and young enough—for now—to play both sides of this, if that's what we want to do. In defense of old dried-out farts (i.e. anyone over 27) I have to say that this culture places way too much value, market value, on youth. This phenomenon we can blame on the Baby Boom Generation. Youth Culture as such was born with them. And now we've had half a century to manipulate perceptions and snowball it to the point where today we are sexualizing children openly on the Disney Channel (of all places.)(The Olsen Twins anybody?)

But it's okay. We're just "celebrating youth".

There are seasoned yet inept idiots out there for whom decades in the business have granted them no special wisdom or mastery. Just as there are plenty of fresh unspoiled young guns out there who couldn't break a rule or think outside of the box if their life depended on it.

Ha!

"Breaking Rules" another Boomer Frankenstein that's been promoted to a high virtue, beyond all doubt or suspicion. When was the last time you heard someone say "He doesn't play by the rules" or "Her work breaks all the rules" and mean it as a criticism? Rules are BAD, haven't you heard???

How infantile. What rules? What rules are left??

Slavishly prostrating oneself at the Alter of Youth is a rule if you ask me. (Hey, I'm down on one knee every day. I oughta know!)

Not playing by the rules. THAT'S a rule if you ask me. (If you want to be cool, play by THAT rule, bub!) Other than that, what rules or conventions are left?

When I went off on Wrigleys' "newness for newness' sake" and the like, I thought I was calling bullshit on corporate blindness. After all, they (young, old, who cares) are the ones greenlighting the bad facelife. It's their baby. "Moving To The Numbers" is what they call it in the board rooms. "Youthify it!" Does that make it better? No. Why should it? Or I guess you could ask, "Depends on your criteria, gramps."

On Jun.13.2003 at 09:00 PM
Shawn Wolfe’s comment is:

ah.... facelift

not "facelife"

weird

On Jun.13.2003 at 10:06 PM
eric’s comment is:

I don't know where Shawn was going wth chewing gum blah blah blah

"Disney Channel (of all places.)(The Olsen Twins anybody?) "

but Ariel was HOT!

On Jun.13.2003 at 10:13 PM
Kenneth FitzGerald’s comment is:

Do you (Rudy, Fitzgerald, Keedy, Wolfe) think young designers are the problem?

No. My article was aimed at a mindset held by designers of all ages. The specific designers I named and alluded to are all established. If I was calling anyone(s) out, it was the new "old guard" (say from Abbott Miller at Pentagram to Elliott Earls at Cranbrook) to prove they are any different from those they succeeded.

Perhaps I'm in denial but I have trouble seeing myself as old guard. I can't deny my grey hair (since I was 21) or my age now (42) but I've only been writing since 1996 and paying any attention to design since 1991. But I suppose that's a few generations now. And it's flattering to be grouped with Rudy, Jeff and Shawn but I'm not remotely in their league. It's arguable if I'm even a designer. Young designers shouldn't be stereotyped by their elders and versa vice. Such broad brushstroking is yet another diversion to keep people from noticing you're not saying anything substantive.

That, or his "subjectivity", certainly wasn't a criticism of mine. Did I miss somebody else's? Can't we assume that if you're offering an opinion that it is "subjective"?

This:

>Quietude, Kenneth Fitzgerald

Unbearable. A bad start. Insert your own personal opinions on any designers or designer's books here.a) the writing from Keedy and FitzGerald is entirely too self importantMost of the writers (Fitzgerald, Crisp/Nikitas/Sandhaus, Keedy, Helfand/Drenttel, and Wolfe) weighed in with their personal opinions and gripesIf this were true then why would anybody finish anything? 'I'm

sorry, but I Didn't finish the novel because I thought the last chapter was

implicit?' I suspect that if you are just handing lashings to designers as

your sole course of rant that there would be no need for solution. However, when you chase design with the complaint that it should have better

aspirants rather than "that promise -- which has gone missing" (p.16) You owe it to your thesis and your audience as to what conclusion they are supposed to draw.

I don't read novels for "solutions" so I can't speak to that point, only be baffled by it. Otherwise, this seems in line with my comment about designers wanting "bullet points." But to provide an example, an implicit solution I see in both the Keedy and Helfand/Drenttel articles is "don't adopt methods of formal representation (styles) uncriticially."

I don't know how I could have been more explicit in my article as I called for the development of independent critics for design, for designers overall to have a hightened critical sensibility, and more. And to allow readers to evaluate what I meant by a "hightened critical sensibility" I provided examples of such, my own, for people to have a concrete example from which to judge.

On Jun.14.2003 at 10:35 PM
eric’s comment is:

“From this discussion overall, I'm at loss to know how people distinguish between a "personal opinion" and a "critical opinion." From what I've read here, the difference seems to rest on whether or not I reached the conclusion the reader wanted. My personal opinion of Stefan Sagmeister is that he's a very talented and sincere designer. My critical evaluation can be read in "Quietude"--which is, in my mind, entirely consistent with my personal opinion.” -KFG

Part of the problem is in discussing your essay in Rant vs. the sound bite quality of this forum is that in trying to quickly express ideas about the book, we have to submit to bullet points or in my case that muddled analogy.

You mention, above, not wanting to offer solutions and perhaps instead open up the critique on design. However for me that perspective has been more clearly illustrated in your comments here that what I interpreted from the article. I’ll try this again tomorrow after I’ve gone over your essay another time.

I mentioned earlier to Sam that I was concerned over having the authors participate in this forum as it changed the conversation from talking about the book into a point/counter point discussion.

I’m truly honored to have this kind of interaction with the Rant authors. (I hope Shawn knows I was kidding about the gum.) At the same time I feel a little forlorn that it’s lost some of its innocence.

On Jun.14.2003 at 11:21 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Thanks for the reference, Gunnar. I'd agree it's pretty much a one-liner, but wouldn't say that's such a bad thing. Some might say the same thing of Magritte's work.

On Jun.15.2003 at 11:02 PM
Sam’s comment is:

"My Brain Hurts" -- a late rely

As said earlier, my expectation going into Rant, based on Rudy's first sentence ['...I felt it was time for Emigre to return to publishing design criticism and theory."] was that I would be reading critical essays. By this, I mean essays based on observation, supported by examples, and constructed to make a specific case. I'm starting to feel now that I took Rudy's introduction the wrong way. Reading later that Rudy's brief "emphasized that the writing should be about what bothered the writers about graphic design at this moment in time" puts a retroactive spin on the collection, makes the pieces seem more instinctive than reflective. Valicenti's piece comes more into line than it had been.

I'm frankly a lot more confused now, not as a designer but as a reader. (There's a school of writing that would say this is good, that confusion is a valid goal of writing--these are the kind of people who make things like this.) "Rant" started in my mind as a book of design criticism, but now has changed into much more of a magazine of personal opinion. Fine, so be it. (Nothing wrong with opinion--it's 90% of what you find here on Speak Up.) A personal opinion can be anything; a critical opinion is no less an opinion, but it is supported with evidence. Which leads me to Kenneth's point:

"From this discussion overall, I'm at loss to know how people distinguish between a "personal opinion" and a "critical opinion." From what I've read here, the difference seems to rest on whether or not I reached the conclusion the reader wanted."

I would say, Kenneth (if I may, taking a cue from Rudy to use first names), that the conclusions you reached--which actually you start your piece with--about design being in a slump certainly seem to be shared by a lot of people writing here, myself included to a certain extent. So I take it you mean the conclusions about specific designers and their books, but I don't get the sense this is what others are taking issue with since we haven't gotten into specifics of those books that deeply. (In my first list of topics, I chose to avoid the designer monographs portion of "Quietude" because "Rant" itself was the focus, and because I wasn't sure if we'd be able to get very much in depth on the other books.)

But I stand by my initial point, as stated "Unbearable. A bad start. Insert your own personal opinions on any designers or designer's books here." I'm embrarrassed by the tone, it's unnecessarily nasty. In light of what I'm going to say below, I would have deon better to focus on the other portions of the piece. But some further evidence for what I wrote:

For one thing, you hardly quote more than a phrase from any of the books you discuss. There's 2 quotations from Sagmeister of any length. As a result, if your reader hasn't read these books themselves, they're left with just your gloss on the books and the work--a gloss with an agende as you say above: "I was deliberately trying to puncture what I consider to be overinflated reputations." (I started to cite specific sentences of what I read as personal rather than critical opinions, but it's a very overidulgent use of space here, I think, and I've already overindulged but plenty.)

Secondly, and this is the main thing and I'm sorry to drone on, but the middle section (p. 20-30) doesn't seem to really build on or connect to the first section (p.16-20) or the last section (p. 30-32). In fact, if one skips the section from "Our current quaalude interlude" to "audience it deserves," the piece is a lot more focused, insofar as the topic of discussion is the general state of design (which again, many share your view).

I realize that in the first section you discuss the state of design criticism, but the piece goes from Trace to Eye to "design has no heritage of or belief in criticism" [personally I don't disagree, by the way] to "sympathetic insiders are tapped" (at which point you're referring to the books to be discussed, though the topic of designer monographs hasn't been introduced). So when we get to "it's arguable that many of these books are undeserved" we have only allusions to what "these" books are. This allusive style of writing confused and frustrated me, which motivated my nasty comment.

It also seemed, without a bridge between the beginning section and the "book review" section, there was no clear reason why you discussed the books you did. Any design monographs would have sufficed if your thesis was the glut of design monographs--more would have even been better--but once you go into each book, the threads that link them to each other and to the earlier section of the article are lost. Why not the Paul Rand book, or Paula Scher's, or David Carson's, etc.? Without knowing why you picked the books you did, and what was to be gained from looking at them together as a group, this section felt all the more like personal rather than critical opinion.

Fianlly, I hope it wasn't me who said you don't provide solutions. Solutions are never as good as the questions and discussions. I love what you say about about Stop Being Sheep. Totally right. It's a daily battle to know, though, if one is a sheep or not. I hope the only way to end up not a sheep is to just keep asking.

Well I don't know if that makes it any clearer. But thank you, Kenneth, for contributing and especially for being spirited.

On Jun.15.2003 at 11:07 PM
Sam’s comment is:

I hope that this is not tedious and small for the general readers. It just occurred to me, though, that in addition to writing about design, there are a lot of issues in reading about design. Designers have loads of built-in conceptions about design that get triggered and scratched and stroked and pierced as they read about design and maybe aren't even aware of it. Yes? No? Bueller? Bueller?

On Jun.15.2003 at 11:07 PM
Sam’s comment is:

I'd also like to add something (shorter) regarding what I said earler about the negativity in "Quietude"--as conveyed by "factitious aspect" (always a slur) sentence. Here's another example of how design gets characterized negatively (by which I mean to say, how I read Kenneth's motivations in characterizing design, which goes to the overall sense I had of the piece) I added interpretations [in brackets] inside the quote to show where the negativity shows most clearly :

"Recent design monographs reveal what the field values. Also on view are themes endemic to design: the rationalization [ie, reason or cause] of personal indulgence [publishing a book is personal indulgence? Shame on you, William Faulkner!] into a societal benefit [books, those relics of dubious societal benefit indeed], that mimesis is comparable to creation [this can't mean that reproduction in a monograph is comparable to the original creation of design piece; so it must mean that mimesis (design) is second-fiddle to creation (art), but I'm not clear], gesture can substitute for action [if we're talking about writing and publishing a book, then gesture and the action are the same, or at least have the same result: a book], formal facility [aka, talent] proves conceptual acuity [aka, brains],and popularity equals profundity [well it's just too early to tell; the jury's still out on pretty much the whole recent half-century]."

Here's another way of saying describing the values of the design field, without the axe to grind:

Also on view are themes inherent and central to design: the application of personal vision to social [and commercial] needs, the creative appropriation of any form or message [to serve that vision], thought and imagination converted into action and product, formal invention borne of imaginative inspiration, and populism.

As a designer, personally I hope that design is more of how I phrased it, but I fear that design is more of how Kenneth originally phrased it. It's a creative profession compromised creatively by its own professionalism (in the work-for-pay sense).

On Jun.15.2003 at 11:07 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Eric--

I love it when the 4th wall comes down--I inevitably loose track of what's happening onstage because hey, lookit that, it's the wizard! and he's just another regular folk like the rest of us!

On Jun.15.2003 at 11:08 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Shawn, you just keep it up. Thanks for so much extra thought and words.

On Jun.15.2003 at 11:10 PM
brook’s comment is:

>They are the ones writing.

Why is that? 'Cause they got the grayest hair? More experience? That alone doesn't make a good writer or critic. Not a personal attack on you Brook but, are you writing? Or are you interested in writing?

Armin-- I think you are reading too much into what I said. I mean nothing more than that they are literally the ones who are writing now. That says nothing of any of our abilities. We could and should be doing the same damn thing. So yeah. Just do it.®

On Jun.16.2003 at 08:08 AM
Eric’s comment is:

Re Quietude.

To a great extent, I agree with Sam. The disconnect between the sort of existential quandary of the first two pages vs. the monograph discussion is where I got caught up and why I married this essay so heavily to Keedy’s.

I’m not hung up on “solutions” per se (Sam, that was a criticism of mine) but I felt that those questions posed at the beginning of the article were the bigger picture for KFG and that I essentially got lost when he switched out of that mode into the monograph critique. I didn’t feel those questions were investigated through the exposition.

My opinion is now too colored by this discussion for me to read the article independantly.

Curse You Sam and your fourth wall.

On Jun.16.2003 at 10:05 AM
Sam’s comment is:

Hee hee hee. Don't curse me--it's the postmodern condition! Thanks to el hombre himself.

On Jun.16.2003 at 11:20 AM
Shawn Wolfe’s comment is:

Shawn, you just keep it up. Thanks for so much extra thought and words.

No prob Sam. I'll keep lurking for now. Most enjoyable!

On Jun.16.2003 at 12:21 PM
Kenneth FitzGerald’s comment is:

[publishing a book is personal indulgence? Shame on you, William Faulkner!]

I think I heard of that book. Faulkner took a sampling of texts from a wide variety of his other writings, sprinkled it with new anecdotes about himself, plus lauditory interjections from a book reviewer--and called it a novel! I think it was called A Faulty Analogy.

On Jun.19.2003 at 09:42 AM
Sarah B’s comment is:

Silly old me started to read to posts before I have picked up my copy of "Rant"...I am so completely amazed that so many people are so involved in this....so, I am going to stop reading the posts...and start reading the book....and then, spend 5 or 6 hours on the posts!! This site ROCKS!!!

On Aug.11.2003 at 03:37 PM
Jason A. Tselentis’s comment is:

I’ve read Rant twice. When I first got the issue over spring, I thumbed through it only to be disappointed by its jaded voice. This was a myopic viewing, but needless to say, I put it aside and went to my most recent issues of ID, Metropolis, Communication Arts, and Eye. I found I was able to enjoy them while sitting on my sun deck or toilet. My spirit was lifted and my mind was saved from any critical thought; I had just completed a hectic quarter of grad school and needed to unwind a bit.

Who needed Literature for Designers? Rant sat at the bottom of my summer-reading pile with its depressing tone protected by other books and manuscripts with a more joyful mood. I didn’t have the energy to reconcile Rant’s call to arms. Now, summer is over and a new school year is beginning. I must forge fresh ideas and produce visual work in preparation for thesis. I completed my summer reading, except for Rant. After returning the other titles to the library, I reread Rant from start to finish, and saw things in a different light.

Rant challenges the role of designers. Are we merely servants? Blauvelt’s article calls this to mind. When I entered the design workforce over 10 years ago during my first undergraduate internship, my mentor told me, “Whether we like it or not, design is not about authority… or art or creativity. It’s about service. You’re giving people something they want. You’re answering their needs.” At the time, I could see her point. While service is only one part for design to play in our society, it’s the one most graduates will play after leaving school. It’s the role I played because that’s what I was taught to do by my modernist professor. Furthermore, I also had student loans to pay off and a massive Visa bill looming over my head. I was at the mercy of circumstance.

When I left school with a BFA, I hit the ground running by producing logos, websites, stationery systems, animations, and annual reports. I was conscious of the bottom line for my own good and the client. I learned the hottest software just to snag a new job and paycheck---everybody wanted something done in Flash. I won a website bid solely on my ability to animate a client’s logo. They had not even seen my portfolio, nor had I ever done a website.

Who cared? Design was my bet friend. Forging my own style or stealing others created new opportunities left and right. Paychecks were rolling in. But over time, I felt empty. I had no investment (other than time) in the work I was doing, nor was I mindful of any reason to take on a project besides financial gain. That emptiness drew me back to school. I craved self-reflection and what Blauvelt calls inventive contextuality.

To say the least, I have been pushed to self-reflection during graduate school. I am questioning design, the role I play in its development, and my own practice. Maybe the biggest question looming in Rant is, “Where do we go from here?” With we being the discipline of design, I don’t know that I can address something so massive. But I can reflect on how I got here and where I can go through inventive contextuality.

Inventive contextuality places value on not only the creative product but also what claim one has in its manifestation and effect. Such critical design---or critical practice---is being a conscious designer. It’s about pushing the limits (to paraphrase a statement Blauvelt used from Design Noir). It’s about self-analysis, questioning who or what you are responsible to and why you or your design has an impact on society, culture, or design at large.

After reading Rant critically, I realize that I have so many problems and questions in my own head, that I am hard pressed to solve them for others. Why should I design? Should I design because it’s a marketable trade? Should I design because I know how to use Photoshop and Illustrator? Should I design to solve problems for other people? I don’t have the answers yet. And frankly I like the questions better than answers. Questions pose challenges, answers yield complacency.

In nine months, I will leave behind the personal research and self-reflection of graduate school. I am confident that I will not be complacent. The days of lonely servitude and problem solving are done; process, context, and ideology are of equal importance. I am confident that I will continue to question. There is more to design than the veneer of form.

On Sep.30.2003 at 09:17 PM