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Design Equals Writing
Or, a Rough Reaction to the Quiet Excitement Generated by the Publication of David Barringer’s American Mutt
Guest Editorial by James Reeves

I recently finished David Barringer’s American Mutt Barks in the Yard. By page ten, I knew I was reading the sort of thing that would become a touchstone for me. Here’s why: a few weeks ago I was in the process of drafting a somewhat grumpy letter to Emigre due to a vague yet undeniable frustration that has been developing while reading recent episodes of design criticism. Here is how my letter began:

For a discipline that, in its most idealistic moments, seeks to “nurture authentic individual voices” (to use Lorraine Wild’s excellent phrase) there is surprisingly little of this in its writing. I have become frustrated by the tendency to criticize the whole profession rather than its parts. There is too much we-speak (“we must”, “we have a responsibility to”, “we should begin”, etc.). The new dialogue that is emerging around design is exciting, but it is becoming shrill. Instead, tell me a story. Make it personal. Use the word “I” and serve up some personal opinions, hopes, memoirs, etc. If design is (ideally) about creating a distinct and meaningful space, its writing should seek to do the same…

Then I received American Mutt in the mail and the above rant was promptly abandoned. Barringer’s book is exactly what I’d been looking for and I hope to see more of it. Now, whether or not I agree with him isn’t my concern here; I am interested in the form and tone of his piece — it is the move towards personal narrative that interests me. Unlike much of design writing, Barringer’s investigation originates from a specifically defined and engaging personal relationship with graphic design, and it’s rare to read something so intimate yet wide-swinging, so punchy and big. You can tell he’s having fun with his opinions and, more importantly, asking questions to which he does not already know the answers — an avalanche of all kinds of questions concerning education, aesthetics, economics, and everything else.

At first I was baffled by the lack of discussion surrounding American Mutt. I expected this book to cause an absolute stir online, especially among those folks who enjoy taking writers like Mr. Keedy apart. Now, it should be noted that I am only gauging discussion frequency via the occasional Google search, so hopefully animated conversations are taking place in classrooms, cafes, and cubicles. American Mutt certainly sparked discussion among those I know who’ve read it, and these conversations also tended to emphasize its form and voice rather than specific arguments. Perhaps the book is too sprawling and all-inclusive for it to be effectively organized and summarized for a traditional review.

In attempting to write about American Mutt here, I find that I am steeped in its mood and personality, yet if I try to look directly at the thing so that I may pin it down, it disappears. This is fine by me. It’s nice to simply feel close to another designer’s psyche as it identifies and tackles all of the disparate and unexpected issues that keep designers up at night. American Mutt demonstrates the value of bringing one’s experience to the table when discussing any discipline (it reminds me of a design version of Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian, which leans on Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet for its form). For the purposes of discussion, Barringer’s book would certainly benefit from a tighter, more organized structure, yet that would spoil the effect — its off-the-cuff expansiveness provides a valuable framework for considering the unexplored possibilities when it comes to writing about design.

I assigned the first thirty or so pages to my History of Design Literature in Education class at Pratt as an example of the sense of personality, passion, and play that writing about design can and should possess. The link between writing and design is inexplicably overlooked in design education. Given the amount of energy that is devoted to defining and defending graphic design, I wonder if the discipline would be better served if the term “design” were used in the same way in which we use “writing”: as an individual skill determined largely by voice and context rather than a fixed term for a profession. The notion of writing accommodates personal memoirs, copy for a toaster manual, esoteric literary fiction, academic papers, shopping lists, investigative reporting, etc. — why can’t graphic design be just as accessible and flexible? Writing is verbal communication; graphic design is visual communication.

Perhaps much of the current hand-wringing about the ‘state of graphic design’ has to do with the fact that our vocabulary isn’t quite right. Many critiques about design are often so broad that they quickly degrade into stock critiques of technology, capitalism, and anti-intellectualism. Rather than continuing to describe graphic design in the abstract as if it equally applies to all personal, social, and commercial efforts, we need more storytellers whose disparate experiences can test, affirm, and challenge each reader’s own relationship with the visual world. Today’s technology provides unprecedented access to image-making and consumption, and this is exciting yet incredibly challenging for a profession that has always struggled to define itself. The only cost of entry is access to a computer, so really, who isn’t a designer nowadays? And now that more and more designers are authoring their own content, the once convenient walls between designer/artist/writer are becoming increasingly unhinged … this is why the idea of approaching design the same way a writer approaches text sounds right to me.

And this is why I was thrilled to see an entire issue of Emigre devoted to one writer’s complex and meandering relationship with design. Rather than collecting the usual vague statements to be passed down from anonymous hands, Barringer’s book possesses a wonderful sense of pulling back the curtain, looking under the hood, etc. that goes a long way towards shoring up the ongoing discussion of what design ought be: noisy, chaotic, and personal.

James Reeves is the co-founder of Red Antenna, a design collective based in Brooklyn. He teaches in the Art & Design Education department at the Pratt Institute and is currently putting together his notes for a project about the political impact of graphic design. Under the Kinosport moniker, he creates coarse agitprop & makes sweeping statements about design, education, Condoleeza Rice, and mass transit.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON May.10.2005 BY Speak Up
Robynne Raye’s comment is:

Thanks for making me curious, I just ordered "American Mutt".

On May.10.2005 at 11:43 AM
Ben Hagon’s comment is:

James, I finished American Mutt a couple of weeks ago and greatly enjoyed it.

His tone and passion are inspiring, and at times his opinion is painfully accurate (I am thinking of such excerpts as his scathing comments on how we think we are immune from advertising: brilliant).

However it is so sprawling, and disparate, that it is hard to critique it. And in some ways difficult to remember much of what he is banging on about.

I commend both he and Emigre for trying. Especially Barringer himself; baring ones soul so public is incredibly brave, but perhaps with a touch more structure his contribution could have been more signifcant.

On May.10.2005 at 01:45 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> these conversations also tended to emphasize its form and voice rather than specific arguments

I have had the same experience, the first reaction most people have had to the book is in regards to the voice. It does indicate that design writing lacks, for lack of a better word, oomph. Oomph doesn't necessarily make things better, more compeling or more accurate but it displays a vested emotion in any given subject. I doubt many topics within graphic design could be continually tackled in such a voice. After a while it would be a matter of "Please shut the hell up, I get it, you are passionate about it."

American Mutt is arresting surely and I am equally surprised at the lack of dialog around it in blogs — mainly Speak Up, Design Observer and… — but at the same time, I'm not. Emigre, as it is, was, or will have been, was hard enough to dissect so this instance was even more of a stretch for the profession. Plus, let's not forget that by all uncertified standards Barringer is an "outsider" (no offense whatsoever meant); FItzGerald's Buzz Kill in Emigre 67 states how eager we are to dismiss outsider critique… So I think many odd elements gathered in issue 68 of Emigre that just, kinda, somehow made designers go, "Fuck it, whatever". (Just making random assumptions here, apologies beforehand).

In regards to the actual content of American Mutt my main complaint would be that many times arguments about design got mixed a lot with advertising. I found that to be distracting because it felt, at least personally, that it was addresing concerns that didn't relate to the actual profession of graphic design.

Aside from that, Emigre 68 is almost as important as Emigre 64, Rant.

On May.10.2005 at 02:32 PM
Dylan’s comment is:

Well, I'm curious, too. Especially since the writing in Emigre turned me off a long, long time ago. And I haven't been interested since. So maybe this Mutt will change my thinking.

On May.10.2005 at 02:39 PM
David Barringer’s comment is:

I did worry that my criticism of ads would overshadow the instances in which I discuss book covers, packaging, tshirts, graphs, logos, icons, posters, magazines, websites, etc. My reaction to ads has to do with both the designer's perspective on them as well as the consumer's reception of them. As a designer, I often FEEL like I'm advertising/promoting/prettifying whether or not what I'm designing is technically an "ad" per se. In other words, the meaning of advertising for me functions both in an objective taxonomic sense (what ad people would categorize as an ad) and in a subjective qualitative sense (as a verb, basically, meaning I advertise myself/client in a website, poster, author photo, etc., which requires that I attend to the face of reality with the rhetorical equivalents of rouge, eyeliner, and softbox lighting).

The print ads I used as launching pads for flights of criticism sincerely inspired in me such reactions, and despite and/or because of the categorical overlaps between ads proper and graphic design in general, I felt that the risk of muddying distinctions was worth the effort to understand my own cognitive processing of these messages within the commercial context.

I also feel that as a consumer/reader/audience, I really could care less how the industry distinguishes among ads, print collateral, self-promotional materials, packaging, rock posters, book covers, etc. The fact is they're all graphic messages in a commercial context, and we receive them all jumbled up, from every direction, all day and night long, and certainly with no categorical subtitles ("This is an ad," "This is the back of a cereal box," "This is a movie featuring characters from a children's video game," etc.) because the interested parties don't care if we make these distinctions or not as long as we read on, show up, subscribe, tune in, slide our cards through, and click "Submit."

And, finally, I think the ad and media industries are working daily to blur these very distinctions, making movies into feature ads, ads into mini-movies, magazines into catalogs, catalogs into magazines, brands into tshirts, websites into online stores, forever seeking formal expression for the "value-add," etc. Flip through Gear, Stuff, Vitals, Oprah Magazine; channel-surf through the shopping channels and music videos and reality-tv renovation shows; walk with me down the aisles of the grocery store, toy store, Target and Costco; and try to tell me where the design stops and the ad begins.

Now, the claim that I'm just being a grumpy hostile Adbusters stick in the mud only goes so far. I'm not interested in whether someone thinks I'm pro-ad or anti-ad. Could care less. What's important is how we as consumers/audience/market/readers/viewers, etc., receive and read and understand these messages precisely because they all come to us in the commercial context. There's nothing at all inherently wrong with that. At the same time, you can't wish it away simply by resolving out of sheer exhaustion to tough it out, deal with it, suck it up, and, like a tortured action hero, taunt the bad guys with your best Stallone impersonation, "That all yuh got?"

At some point, you have to find ways to deal with it, to process this stuff, and to make judgments in your best interests, according to your own best guesses as to your true desires. As a graphic designer, I contribute my own marks on the wall, my own voice to the raucous, and, knowing what I know, I realize I have to try to make my marks count, my voice sound genuine, at least to myself, because, whether or not you call the end product an ad or a design or a work of art, I know I am bound to fail more often than not.

On May.10.2005 at 04:24 PM
sam r’s comment is:

I just read "Myths of the Self-Taught Designer: The first Conversation between Ego and the Devil" by David Barringer on the AIGA site:


Worth reading. The guy can write.

On May.10.2005 at 08:19 PM
Kenneth FitzGerald’s comment is:

And the Buzz goes on. Unsatisfied with decades of design writing overwhelmingly comprised of personal anecdote, James Reeves is but the latest enlistee in the battle to roll back what little real criticism exists in design.

Reeves puts new spin on the usual strategies but the result is the same. Front and center is the (as cited by Armin) purge of non-designers. As they are incapable of those "specifically defined and engaging personal relationship(s) with graphic design" their commentary is rendered illegitimate.

Then there is the insider, goes-without-saying nature of the article, which supports the status quo. Reeves fails to specifically cite a single example of writing he terms "the tendency to criticize the whole profession rather than its parts, " "we-speak," "hand-wringing," "usual vague statements to be passed down from anonymous hands," etc. Without concrete examples of the writing/writers he means, we have no way to test the validity of his comments. (In this context, it's rather ironic to cite Christopher Hitchens, someone who never shies away from naming names). If you can't/won't point directly at what you mean, you're not engaged in criticism—just saying stuff.

But substance doesn't matter: "I find that I am steeped in its mood and personality, yet if I try to look directly at the thing so that I may pin it down, it disappears. This is fine by me." "conversations also tended to emphasize its form and voice rather than specific arguments." Here is an unapologetic embrace of what designers regularly complain is a slur: a fascination with surface and style irrespective of meaning and utility.

Barringer is an engaging writer (though in need of an editor) and Rudy was typically brave to publish the essay. However, it was ultimately frustrating that when it came to the details—what distinguishes criticism from maundering—it fell apart.

I was delighted to see myself come in for (what appears to be, I'm not quite sure) criticism in the essay but puzzled at the point Barringer seemed to be making. I'd love a definition of what a "Designer with a capital D" is as all the meanings I can conjure are at wide variance with my reality (I do less design than David Eggers nor have any stature in the field for it). In addition, I'm the only person I know to ever make the criticism I did about McSweeney's. As to design's attention to Eggers, he was on the speaker list for the 2002 VOICE AIGA conference and selected for the last National Design Triennial. Those are pretty high-profile endorsements from the field.

And, rather than being "bitter," (bitter about someone's design? I hope I have more of life than that) my take on Eggers' work is exactly the same as Barringer's. Apart from design wanting to jump on Eggers' Buzz bandwagon, I don't get what the big deal is.

By nurturing a false dichotomy in design writing (passionate/engaged vs. theoretical/distanced), Reeves's article keeps the curtains firmly drawn, the hood clamped shut—not just for the public, but designers too. Barringer's essay was, essentially, a bonding exercise. The unexplored possibilities of design writing are specificity, rigor, inclusion, and (yes) contrarianism.

If you enjoy hearing something so much, it may be a lullaby.

On May.11.2005 at 02:09 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Emigre 68 is almost as important as Emigre 64, Rant.

I think it's premature to suggest either of these issues as important. Sure, both of them make interesting reads, but so what? How do these transcend all other written materials directed towards design today? Let's take a look back in a couple decades to see if they made any real influence/difference.

On May.11.2005 at 09:33 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

I find myself leaning toward Kenneth FitzGerald's point of view.

There seems to be a huge desire amongst design professionals to strangle theoretical discussion at birth.

I can see the need for personal, experience-based dicussion, but certainly not as a direct replacement of distanced, theotetical dicussion.

The sort of personal, experience-based discussion James Reeves calls for (written by designers for designers) is useful in helping designers to learn from other designers (and, I suppose, in helping non-designers to become designers), but that's really as far as it can go.

From a wider cultural point of view, design criticism must be approached from the outside looking in - an educated, but objective viewpoint.

Imagine for a second if fine art criticism was only conducted by artists for other artists, or if literary criticism was only conducted by novelists for other novelists.

Critics play an important role: they tease out the cultural significance of the things we produce - significane that authors, designers and producers don't necessarily intend or even notice.

I can understand why designers want to learn from other designers, this goes without saying. But this isn't criticism; it's just chatting, just buzz.

On May.12.2005 at 05:46 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Note to self: Call Michael S. on May 11, 2025 to discuss Emigre's Rant.

On May.12.2005 at 10:20 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Contrarianism, Kenneth, has a long tradition in graphic design by sheer creative effort - not by acceptance, because gadflies are always disliked for raising thorny questions. There are worse things, though, as evidenced by the Status Quo and its cliches - both visual and verbal. As though paralyzed by their own Coolness.

I don't see the supposed "personal vs theoretical" dichotomy as very important anyway. Any insights generated from both directions open the lid and let some fresh air into the box. Design is a box when it's discussed. It's a kite when it's used, yes? Both work. The benefit is the progress of ideas discussed and the new associations made when designers are open about just talking, thinking and arguing.

Let's check back in 2025, as Armin notes and see if any of this was really important. By then we'll probably all be eating Soilent Green and advertising design will be done by Artificial Intelligence machines anyway.

On May.12.2005 at 11:20 AM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Armin - sounds like a plan, till 2025...

On May.12.2005 at 11:43 AM
allison’s comment is:

" By then we'll probably all be eating Soilent Green and..."

The movie title is actually spelled Soylent Green, not "Soilent". But funny because Pesky Illustrator's spelling makes almost MORE sense (based on the movie's plot) than the correct spelling.

One reason I even noticed (for my fellow word-nerds out there... ) is that I've always thought the movie's title should have been "ZOYLENT green" after the very-green grass species Zoysia. But that probably looked/sounded a bit Russian/Communist... a definite no-no in 1973.

On May.12.2005 at 12:25 PM
sam r’s comment is:

I once read someone say ��I agree that it works in practice. But how can we be certain that it will work in theory?’’

Isn't that the way graphic design really works? We do things, then we figure out why they function?

On May.12.2005 at 12:46 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

I think this discussion is important. Design is all about understanding and then acting upon the newfound knowledge.

If criticism is tossed aside, we're missing a trick - possibly the trick.

But we'll never acheive any sort of useful criticism if we stay within our comfortably imposed boudaries.

The benefit is the progress of ideas discussed and the new associations made when designers are open about just talking, thinking and arguing.

What about the new associations made when all people are allowed to talk, think and argue about design?

On May.12.2005 at 03:22 PM
allison’s comment is:

Even with its pragmatic considerations, I sense that Graphic Design has matured enough to handle all forms of critical conversation… from the complimentary, to the academic, to the critical. It’s time to believe the validity of our cumulative practice, to believe that Graphic Design is strong enough to engage in a robust discourse about itself.

On May.12.2005 at 04:22 PM
Candy Chang’s comment is:

I think somewhere along this thread some interesting ideas have become plucked and warped into something else. Maybe it's just the nature of blog discussions and responding to responses that easily make way for the telephone game. This can be fun in itself, but I think the main point has been warbled so much that we're all seemingly fighting for something that no one was fighting against.

To me, Fitzgerald seems to have misconstrued Reeves' piece into an either/or battle between personal vs theoretical writing. I think what he and David Barringer are both encouraging are more variety of forms in design writing, not a replacement of one with another. 'American Mutt' is a consciously unedited, fist-on-the-wall-honest stream of consciousness and it reminded me of how open and exciting design writing can be. Perhaps it's unfair to Barringer that the response to his book is mostly about the lack of response to his book or about style, but both of these issues are already a lot to consider.

Armin mentioned the "outsider" theory as a possible reason for lack of response to 'American Mutt' and Fitzgerald also says something about how non-designers' "commentary is rendered illegitimate." I don't know if that was meant in cynical jest, but this idea has bothered me. I never considered Barringer an outsider and I can't imagine paying more respect to a lukewarm undergrad student who is just going through the motions vs a self-taught person who is ferociously questioning the discipline.

I hope more people talk about design as freely as music, where anyone with an interest can speak their passionate mind without being asked to flash a degree. More than ever, design is becoming everyone's discipline and everyone ought to be well-versed in the foundations of design in the same way as writing and proper grammar. And if design writing is open and accessible to everyone who is questiong or is beginning to question design, won't that mean one less ugly CD mix cover or "Lost Dog" sign we all have to bear?

I like Speak Up, where people can read and discuss and get excited about design. So why does this place often feel so taut and cantankerous? Maybe I took it the wrong way, but Fitzgerald's comment really blew the open discussion to the ground and the "here we go again" attitude is detrimental to everyone else who wants to talk about things but refrain in fear of being barked at for even considering what was already considered 10 years ago. I'd like to think that we're all writing and reading here because we want to learn from each other and try out/ work through our own thoughts and ideas. I know I haven't said much beyond "hooray for more design writing," but I thought some initial ideas needed to be straightened before we moved on.

On May.12.2005 at 05:37 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

There is too much we-speak (“we must”, “we have a responsibility to”, “we should begin”, etc.).

Rather than continuing to describe graphic design in the abstract as if it equally applies to all personal, social, and commercial efforts, WE need more storytellers whose disparate experiences can test, affirm, and challenge each reader’s own relationship with the visual world.

I'm not arguing against variety in design writing - quite the opposite. I read Reeves's article as an attempt to belittle one particular approach to design writing.

I believe that design should be discussed in the abstract as if it equally applies to all personal, social, and commercial efforts.

Of course we also need personal, passionate opinion.

Perhaps to describe this as 'buzz' does it a huge disservice, somehow suggesting it isn't important.

The important thing is that we (yes we) approach design writing from a variety of different standpoints.

One of these standpoints says that personal, passionate debate is vital, and that distanced, theoretical criticism is just bull.

Another standpoint says that distanced, theoretical criticism is vital, and that personal, passionate debate is just buzz.

Perhaps the bullshitters should buzz more, and the buzzers should bullshit more.

Now there's a conclusion!

On May.12.2005 at 07:31 PM
Greg’s comment is:

Rather than join in the debate that is seeming to ensue here, (“You’re wrong!” “No, you’re wrong!”), let me tell you about the parts of this editorial that really made me think.

There is too much we-speak (“we must”, “we have a responsibility to”, “we should begin”, etc.).

This seems true, to me at least. You can’t read a post about design theory here at Speak Up, anyway, without hearing what we all must do to fix design, from at least four different standpoints. I’m in the middle of Looking Closer Four, and the book is full of essays on design that do exactly that - tell us what’s wrong with “us” and what “we” must do to fix it. (It doesn't help that I just finished the “manifestos” section.) There is a place for that; everyone has their opinion, and they should be heard. But it is getting a little old. Maybe we could be convinced by personal example, rather than by rousing declaratives.

It’s true that mostly, this essay is written as a form of gigantic “we” statement in and of itself. But it seems to serve a purpose. It reminds me of an email I got once, about how people should stop sending forwarded emails (“if you don’t send this to seven people, you’ll have bad luck,” and that sort of thing) but in order to get the message out, you had to forward the email to everyone you knew.

Given the amount of energy that is devoted to defining and defending graphic design, I wonder if the discipline would be better served if the term “design” were used in the same way in which we use “writing”: as an individual skill determined largely by voice and context rather than a fixed term for a profession.

The above statement meant to me that, rather than a collection of voices all speaking as one, design is in fact a cacaphony as loud as the New York Stock Exchange. Design writing could try to reflect this a bit more. Maybe people outside of design would embrace it more if they didn't believe that it only said one thing.

The only cost of entry is access to a computer, so really, who isn’t a designer nowadays?

Armin wrote an essay a while back about people who called themselves graphic designers without really knowing if they were or not (a gross oversimplification, sorry Armin). I still agree with that. But I also agree with the above statement, and I realize that they are at odds with each other. People are increasingly designing their own things, and I wonder why that is. Word processing software did nothing to the writing industry, because what being a writer means, to a person who isn’t one, is that a person can weave a tapestry about a thing, be it fiction or non, and make it believable. Essentially, a writer is valuable for his brain, not his ability to use Microsoft Word. Imagine if graphic design were viewed the same way. I can attest to the fact that to a majority, it is not - just try your luck on the open job market, as I have, and you’ll quickly find out that your ability to use Indesign or Photoshop far outstrips any personal or creative insights you might have. Approaching graphic design as an author, rather than a worker, may just make a great stride towards getting people to value our industry.

On May.13.2005 at 09:07 AM
Rick Poynor’s comment is:

It might not be true that American Mutt has been overlooked by the press. It takes a while for magazine coverage to appear. I have reviewed it for I.D.'s next issue and that's the main reason I didn't bring it up on Design Observer.

I understand the spirit of Candy's complaint -- blogs should be about participation and learning --- but these discussions of design criticism are incredibly circular. It's not long since Gunnar Swanson's SU post where the same issues about the (supposed) lack of criticism came up. In fact, there is plenty of it, for those who are interested, and magazines, as well as blogs, are crying out for good writers. Only a lack of ambition holds design criticism back.

On May.14.2005 at 02:48 PM
Dale Sattler’s comment is:

I agree that design criticism is available to those who want to find it. What seems to be the argument here is that what is available is not really the right type of criticism which is subjective. The dialogue surrounding this post indicates to me that design is not without the ability for self reflection. The suggestion that criticism can only attain critical value in a particular academic referenced form debases all other voices with something to say about design. In reference to Greg's post above I think that design is cacophony of voices, which fundamentally makes it the vital discipline that it is. I think a plurality of critical design writing forms will push design forward further than retrenching to insular academic discourse.

On May.14.2005 at 06:54 PM
Candy Chang’s comment is:

I think James brings up a very interesting perspective with the design/writing analogy. It has made me wonder why I have thought of the graphic designer as a client-serving professional, rather than, more simply, a visually-eloquent person. Perhaps it was the way graphic design was introduced to me, perhaps it was some near-sightedness on my part. When I finished design school and first entered the job world, I was frustrated with lackluster content and waited for the Righteous Project to come my way. After a long period of whining, I realized how silly this was. Who was stopping me from creating my own satisfying content? Eventually, I co-founded a record label and started an online store. Now I lay out articles for The New York Times, work on my own “art” projects for exhibits and competitions, and look forward to combining my graphic designer self with a masters in urban planning to become some kind of graphic urban designer planner artist monster.

It took me awhile to understand that I was not somehow fleeing the purpose of design education by choosing these other routes over client-based design. It makes perfect sense that designers create their own line of products or venture into art exhibits, just as writers write their own novels. Design is essentially about expressing yourself visually, so a designer with some ideas of their own... But why have I thought of these as departures from graphic design, rather than a natural category of? Is there no closer term than “entrepreneur” and “artist” to connect them to the design world that they still belong to? Shouldn’t these roles be different kinds of designers as equally as the client-serving designer (which is a ginormous category in itself)? Maybe I’m just splitting hairs, but I have a hard time answering “what do you do” with a succinct answer.

The writing analogy reminds me of Steven Heller and Lita Talarico's "Designer as Author" MFA program at SVA. This is exactly what I am championing — pushing the traditional service-oriented attitude to include an empowering and nebulous category that seems to deserve its own title(s). I don’t doubt that I’ve only begun to think about things that have been thought of before, in the same way that the previous discussion on design writing has mirrored others. I think I misinterpreted previous comments as discussion-quashing rather than good-spirited challenges, and I would very much like to be pointed to recommended books, articles, threads and people that reveal more on the subject. I just hope that all discussions, as repetitive as they may be, are still encouraged to be discussed by different groups of people in different contexts.

On May.16.2005 at 07:25 PM
Frank’s comment is:

There is too much we-speak (“we must”, “we have a responsibility to”, “we should begin”, etc.).

I'm guilty .

The only cost of entry is access to a computer, so really, who isn’t a designer nowadays?

I'm caught.

WE need more storytellers whose disparate experiences can test, affirm, and challenge each reader’s own relationship with the visual world.

I agree.

Well said James.

On May.18.2005 at 08:53 AM
josh’s comment is:

how can you write a book like that and be so bad at graphic design? comon look at his web site.. i don't intend to be mean but his design looks like the prospectus they give you when you go out of the subway

On Jul.31.2005 at 06:15 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Josh, with so little voices in graphic design, I'll take a passionate one with a questionable portfolio any day of the week — except Wednesdays.

On Aug.01.2005 at 08:51 AM
Josh’s comment is:

Armin, i don't understand the meaning of you post.. I'm not from an english speaking country so i juste need maybe another way of writing your idea so i can get it, thanks in advance

On Aug.01.2005 at 10:46 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Josh, sorry...

Barringer may not be the best designer on the planet but he has a deep interest in design and writes well about it. There aren't many designers — or writers for that matter — that can write in an engaging manner about design so it is great to see him take a chance.

We have had discussions about this… Does a writer about design need to be a good designer? Preferably, but it's not necessary.

If he started critiquing design aesthetics, then I agree that it would be harder to take his contributions without hesitation.

On Aug.01.2005 at 11:18 AM
Josh’s comment is:

yes i agree. after posting my comment i thought about this and told myself my comment didn't bring anything...

but i was surprised when i looked at Barringer's work.. I told myself how can you be passionnate enough to write a book on graphic design and not be so good at designing and creating... it's a question i've been asking myself... does the time we spend reading and discussing about theory isn't time we loose taking our pencils and try to understand what we're making and how to make it better

On Aug.01.2005 at 03:47 PM