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Questions for Ellen Lupton

I feel bad asking for personal help again, but… I’ll be conducting an interview with Ellen Lupton (Design/Writing/Research, Mixing Messages, Skin) tomorrow and was wondering what the community here might want to ask her? In my humble opinion she is one of the leading design critics of our time and I’m extrremely excited by the opportunity. However, coming fresh out of University, I was hoping that others here who have more experience in the field might be able to flesh out some of my questions. Thanks.

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PUBLISHED ON Feb.12.2003 BY Kevin
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

Post some of your questions so people can help flesh them out.

On Feb.12.2003 at 01:11 PM
Kevin’s comment is:

Oops, of course:

How do you reconcile your role as a curator, designer and educator? In what ways does one feed the other?

In Design Dialogues you argue for the primacy of cultural literacy in Design Education. How would you define cultural literacy? What sorts of curriculum changes have you introduced at MIA to encourage cultural literacy in young designers?

What things did you value most in your own education?

What do you see as the major challenges for design education in the future?

A combination of technology and the growth of technical trade schools have in a sense democratised the practice of design. Everybody is a graphic designer, everybody is a web designer. In Mixing Messages you have

written about the positive impact of this trend on typographic practice -- Do you think the same thing can be said for the discipline generally?

One of the responses to this on the part of professional Design associations has been to introduce system of accreditation for the graphic design profession. This has been met with mixed responses here in Canada, what are your feelings on the subject?

Just to start... There are other questions about the role of social engagement, the invisibility of women despite their enormous contributions, and questions about design authorship.

thanks again.

On Feb.12.2003 at 01:27 PM
Michael S’s comment is:

I'd be interested in reading about the questions she's asking herself these days.

On Feb.12.2003 at 01:48 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Do the Inside the Actor's Studio thing and ask her what her favorite cuss word is.

On Feb.12.2003 at 01:53 PM
Armin’s comment is:

My approach to interviews is to scrap off any questions that HOW, CA or DiK would ask, not that there is anything wrong with those questions, but they already cover the basics. How many times can one get asked "who are your biggest influences?." So, as you are currently doing, look for the more interesting questions. Like "what's your favorite cuss word.? : )

On Feb.12.2003 at 02:46 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Kevin, great topic--I hope this is helpful (though I seem to have confused myself in writing this):

I'm not sure how best to formulate this, but I am interested how it happened that design has taken much of its critical vocabluary from literary and cultural theory rather than art theory. The origins of Deconstruction, to take a recent example, are in philosophy (first), then the principles were spread to cover literary theory and critical theory. Soon after, design (among a ton of other fields) got in on the act, at least as far as borrowing the terms used in Deconstruction. Now it's all pretty watered-down and it can mean almost anything to 'deconstruct' something. (Quote-marks being the ultimate sign of a deconstructivist comment--little joke...er, oh, hmm, was my head always this egg-shaped?)

My point is, why did design, a visual profession, borrow a critical vocabulary from a literary field rather than a visual and/or artistic one? It would seem to me that what critical insights one might get from talking about painting would be more transferable to design than what one could say about a literary work or a sociocultural problem or a polticial moment. And yet I feel like design has such a vague formalist vocabulary. The closest we get are the various systems of type classification. These systems are great and complicated, and obsessive, but even if you did have all the categories straight in your mind, how would that inform actuaily design practice? (How theory and practive interrelate is always a problem, I recognize.)

My own observation, which is really uninformed is that Deconstruction was so fucking hot for a moment there that it was simply uncool and/or old-fart-like not to apply deconstructive terms to design.

So Deconstruction is one example. Your first question about cultural literacy is another. Cultural Literacy (for a while in the mid to late 80s this issue was huge) grew out of the Culture Wars (so-called) that primarily revolved around the Humanities. I am completely in favor of cultural literacy, but my point is, design seems to have adopted a critical vocabulary that is not interested in art-related questions, theories, or ideas. And yet design has more in common with painting and drawing than it does with literature or philosophy.

By art-related questions (leaving aside yesterday's discussion) I mean how design coincides with visual traditions of form, production, and aesthetics in general. There is very little formalism in design thinking, it seems to me (I may be entirely wrong), whereas within the field of art history (and literary history, and musical, etc), formalism is a supremely useful form of critical examination.

Another question, slightly related:

Someone recently mentioned learning more theory in the the discussion about design education. Perhaps you could ask her to explain what design theory is. I honestly cannot imagine what such a term might mean. What is an example of design theory? (Somehow relating David Carson to Deconstruction don't count!)

Sorry to ramble. I studied a lot of literary theory in college and have always failed to understand what theory had to do with design. Then again, I used to wonder what it had to do with literature. What a mess.

On Feb.12.2003 at 03:57 PM
Kevin’s comment is:

Thanks Sam, I'm heading out for a bit but I'll be back with some of the other directions I'm thinking of taking the interview. Other pertinent questions anybody?

On Feb.12.2003 at 04:06 PM
KM’s comment is:

I would agree with Armin - find out her favorite cuss word! In the ADC Young Guns 3 Annual, the artists were asked questions like "What makes you tick?," What's your favorite object?" and "favorite cuss word?" I really enjoyed the answers. It's hard to fire back a text book answer with questions like those!

On Feb.12.2003 at 04:26 PM
Kevin’s comment is:

Not sure about the cuss word thing... I'd like something absurd not stupid(no offense). We were thinking, if you were a book, how would you be bound?

Thanks, Sam, your comments were really helpful. I've got the questions pretty well formulated. I'm meeting her tomorrow, I'll let everyone know how it goes.

On Feb.12.2003 at 09:01 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

We were thinking, if you were a book, how would you be bound?

Sounds like one of them awful job interview questions you hear about... ;o)

On Feb.12.2003 at 11:07 PM
benfRank’s comment is:

those questions are "bound" to return some good answers...

On Feb.13.2003 at 02:34 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>I'd like something absurd not stupid(no offense)

I was being sarcastic.

>those questions are "bound" to return some good answers...

Ben pulled it off better than I did.

On Feb.13.2003 at 08:26 AM
pnk’s comment is:

How about a question that's a little challenging? Something along the lines of "does being an authority in a field that most people care little or nothing about ever get you down?"

I truly wonder this about academics sometimes...

On Feb.13.2003 at 09:53 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>"does being an authority in a field that most people care little or nothing about ever get you down?"

I have asked myself that question since I started Speak Up. Why am I doing this? Does anybody else care (besides us regulars here)? are we making a difference?

I don't mean to get all deep and shit, but why do try so hard?

I can only say that I love it, and that's why I do it.

On Feb.13.2003 at 10:36 AM
Jon’s comment is:

why do try so hard?

It's worth it because it helps pull us together as a community with shared goals. Nothing exists in a vacuum (besides lint and some cat litter). I enjoy hearing other perspectives on the business that we are in. As I gain insight from others, I hope others will gain insight from what I share. I'd much rather be involved in this than off reading an academic discourse on design theory. Booo-ring.

On Feb.13.2003 at 11:06 AM
Kevin’s comment is:

To play devil's advocate Jon, isn't academic discourse another perspective on the business that we are in? She is as much a practioner as she is a writer and a curator.

On Feb.13.2003 at 12:19 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>It's worth it because it helps pull us together as a community with shared goals.

: ) I can sleep ok tonight now. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one.

On Feb.13.2003 at 08:45 PM
jon’s comment is:

academic discourse

I didn't say it wasn't valid; I'm just not as interested in it. Not that my worldview can't always be broadened, but I don't have any existential crisis towards what I do for a living. I'm convinced of design's value, and I see it as my mission to convince my clients of that, one at a time. Information that can help me do that better is always of high value.

On Feb.13.2003 at 10:59 PM