A talk given by The Inquisition at Defuse, on Wednesday 7th November 2012, as part of Designweek in Dublin, Ireland
Nürnburg got ripped to shreds by Bomber Harris’ boys. By how much appears to be open to debate.
The preface to HLA Hart’s publication of his 1961 lecture series on the meeting of law and morality is as prevalent today as it ever was.
There are people out there who pretend to like coffee. Coffee Haters – you have been warned.
False flag, covert ops by Americans against Americans? Sounds crazy, and so it was deemed.
55 years ago Roland Barthes considered the importance of plastic and what it meant, as a substance and a symbol.
Marriage is thought by many to be a fixed rite, one which is immovable and inflexible. The truth is that it has not always seemed so…
The world was shocked when a victim of torture started blinking morse. The story of a US aviator captured in Vietnam.
Earth has had a recent fly past by the mysterious alien probe, 1991 VG. And it’s coming back. We’re screwed. Maybe.
Horace De Vere Cole was the major protagonist and originator of the Dreadnought Hoax. Who was he? What was the Hoax?
Dueling scars, or schmiss, were highly sought after in late nineteenth century Germany.
The reasons behind creation are changing as new techniques lower the barrier for expression. But do these new forms contain messages worth reading?
There is an argument to be made, and answered, that much artifice that comes under the umbrella term of design begins as form awaiting the application of function. For example, a client will usually expect rough drafts before content is finalised. How can this situation arise when the aim of design is to support, promote and communicate a message?
Firstly, the message has changed. Often times with advanced manufacturing and production techniques becoming more available at lower cost the medium has become the message – by that it should be understood that we are discussing the various products of design that have no purpose beyond their own existence – short run letterpress posters of slogans, vinyl cartoon figurines, “crazy” tshirts. The vanity projects abound. Encompassing every possibility from post-modern pastiche to bleeding edge comment design tools have put the means of production into the hands of many. The very fact that many of these items exist is all they are meant to communicate.
No longer is design simply a job with clients. We can all build ivory towers now. With the right idea, the right support network and in the right situation the designer can become his/her own client.
Secondly, in relation to the changing positions in the traditional interplay of form and function, the elephant in the room is web design. The means of expression is too laborious and too specialised to allow a stream of small boutique statements and individually crafted presentations for most, at least outside of social platforms. Imagine the intensive labour if every page on a website were as wildly different and content-specific as can be seen in much magazine design.
Thus we are left with the only option open to us – templated CMSs. These pages end up carrying varying messages on fairly uniform templates, meaning the presentation has differing degrees of relevance to the content. This results in a graphic dissonance when the presentation introduces errata in the message received. Imagine for example how the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico might have read if the story was broken on a site whose templating and approach are designed to discuss comic books. How would this have affected the credibility of the article? How serious might the ecological threat have appeared when hemmed in by a header that had batman soaring and a footer with Yoda instructing Luke in the Jedi ways?
Kurt Schwitters set an early precedent for a crossover between the fields of art and design. However, he altered the language and means by introducing a semiotic discord, creating multi-layered pieces of densely garbled messages. He used montage to remove clear communication, unlike many of the current generation of designers whose vanity projects usually speak in the means of graphic design practice – more often than not in the current in-vogue manner.
Much fuss has been made by superior commentators and on more persuasive platforms than the venerable Inquisition of this vacuous post-modern pastiche.
Behold the art of Helga Steppan. But read the comments on that Helga Steppan link – they expose the truth about this subject being simply an infantle cry for attention in the manner of “I like this colour”.
In art college the first question about an idea’s legitimacy has long been whether it been done before. Unfortunately for Ms Steppan and her acolytes, Portia Munson has been assembling these for years leaving the latter day versions without function.
So, if a collection of objects of homogenous colour were to be made now it’s not art, nor is it design. It’s filing. The most menial office task, recontextualised to appear more like this beautiful cover:
Design books have become style guides to be pilfered. For example, two colour print runs may have been the limits of luxury allowed in a budget 50 years ago, but now they simply represent a style easily replicated digitally. But we can never replicate how stunning this work must have been in its original context.
Consider a double-page spread from Muller-Brockmann’s History of the Poster (pp 126 & 127). We see 3 posters that look very contemporary, very edgy and “now”. Edgy in the sense they may be vanity works, or calling cards, to be admired by other designers and those with the right aesthetic sensibilities. But they are old commercial works. They were made to sell things other than their own style. The products include a cigarette brand, a fountain pen brand and a bargain shop (Jelmoli – Cheap and Good).
The posters are workhorses, not the saturday pony of Daddy’s little princess.
It’s the relentless confusion and deliberate merging of style with substance and form with function that makes us little more then superficial object worshippers, trainspotters. How many more minimalist workspaces, colour-coded object collections, ironically assembled retro homage personal transportation devices (fixies bicycles) or new super-cool-awesome-to-the-max-banging CMS themes do we need before we realise this is not design. These are just peoples’ things. They are not content, not comment. They are functions chosen for their socially acceptable form.
It has long been a concern for those in the design industry that it is little more than a style applied to a message; that this conceptually weakens the practice of design itself along with the very lack of specificity undervaluing the conceptual currency of the presentation. The fear is that design has become, if not always been unknowingly, a business akin to fashion – the application of and development towards exciting and popular ‘looks’. This is not to cheapen the fashion world, whose proponents have long since understood only too well, this business model and the world they inhabit.
Writing in 2003, Kenneth Fitzgerald deplored the lack of profundity, conceptual engagement and substance in graphic design, describing “themes endemic to design; the rationalization of personal indulgence into a societal benefit, that mimesis is comparable to creation, gesture can substitute for action, formal facility proves conceptual acuity and popularity equals profundity.” In essence there remains a vanguard who believe in the dichotomy of good design – the use of strong concepts to convey another message all of whose connotations we are aware of.
Design & Faux Science, Jessica Helfand & William Drenttal, Rant – Emigre No 64, 2003
Introduction to Communication Studies, John Fiske, Routledge, 1990
abc of 20th Century Graphics, Sergio Polano & Pierpaolo Vetta, Electa Architecture, 2003
History of the Poster, Josef & Shizoku Muller-Brockmann, Phaidon, 1971
Playful Type, Ed. Klauten & Hellige, Gestalten, 2008
Note on Copyright
Some of the above images are used without the producer’s permission. They are not taken from the owner’s site – they are already being used elsewhere. If, however, you are the owner and do not wish them to be used just leave a comment below.
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