Contents

Trans-substantial Catholics

Watch this. What are the priests doing? Catholic Litmus Test If you are Catholic, then I hope for the sake of your soul you said he is welcoming Christ bodily into the world. If you didn’t you aren’t looking too […]


Poor Hanno

According to the pop-psychologist-pseudo-science writer Malcolm Gladwell in his magnum lite-opus, the Tipping Point we as a species need risk takers. Individuals who are willing to put it all on the line in pursuit of a goal will, if they […]


Intelligence and Happiness?

A while ago, the Inquisition pondered the nature of intelligence, and whether a certain outlook or attendant mental abilities are guides to or from happiness. This has been obliquely in the news of late…


Buried by the Sea

Its odd. Most graveyards in Connemara appear to be near water, if not actually right on the coast. Why? West Galway, or Connemara, has a lot of unused space. Admittedly, much of the land Connemara is industrially and agriculturally useless, […]


Cycling Two Abreast

Cycling two abreast in Ireland is legal, a protected practice, and it is safer.


Indoors / Outdoors (Defuse)

A talk given by The Inquisition at Defuse, on Wednesday 7th November 2012, as part of Designweek in Dublin, Ireland


Nürnburg’s Extra Bombs

Nürnburg got ripped to shreds by Bomber Harris’ boys. By how much appears to be open to debate.


Law & Morality

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.


Foy – The Bodiless Head

A bodiless head is revered as being Saint Foy, who died a cruel death.


Coffee Haters

There are people out there who pretend to like coffee. Coffee Haters – you have been warned.


False Flags 2

False flag, covert ops by Americans against Americans? Sounds crazy, and so it was deemed.


Plastic 55 Years Ago

55 years ago Roland Barthes considered the importance of plastic and what it meant, as a substance and a symbol.


Cesare Borgia’s Party

The Pope, his son and fifty prostitutes – Cesare Borgia’s party.


Marriage – A Potted History

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…


Blinking Morse

The world was shocked when a victim of torture started blinking morse. The story of a US aviator captured in Vietnam.


Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a powerful, expressive linguistic device


The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

Form+Function

The most traditional form of graphic designer art - the undecorated poster that says nothing, cryptically.

The most traditional form of graphic designer art - the undecorated poster that says nothing, cryptically.

Functioning form and forming function. The old modes no longer apply.

The reasons behind creation are changing as new techniques lower the barrier for expression. But do these new forms contain messages worth reading?

Consider form and function as equals

Consider form and function equally - while the lines of this bike retain their elegance the brake maintains functionality. See many hipsters' brakeless fixies and wonder how they stop if the chain slips or breaks or if the rear tyre punctures or loses traction.

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?

Beautiful form but what is the function? If these letters were to be a headline for a lighting company why produce an entire alphabet. This appears to be a vanity investigation project, but has been presented as a finished piece.

Beautiful form but what is the function? If these letters were to be a headline for a lighting company why produce an entire alphabet. This appears to be a vanity investigation project, but has been presented as a finished piece.

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.

The Inquisition's homepage showing both style and content

The Inquisition's homepage showing both style and content


The Inquisition's homepage repurposed to show content but another style. It retains function and the form becomes superfluous.

The Inquisition's homepage repurposed to show content but another style. It retains function and the form becomes superfluous.


The Inquisition's homepage without styling. Although hideous, it is still readable and many would question the need for resource hogging beautifying measures. In this state it does look less the authority the Inquisition is.

The Inquisition's homepage without styling. Although hideous, it is still readable and many would question the need for resource hogging beautifying measures. In this state it does look less the authority the Inquisition undoubtedly is.

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?

Self-initiated work means form and function are born simultaneously

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.

Helga Steppan's collection of things that are black. Wow, who knew there were so many black things?

Helga Steppan's collection of things that are black. Wow, who knew there were so many black things?

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”.

Two decades ago piles of waste in homogenous colours questioned our consumerism.

Two decades ago piles of waste in homogenous colours questioned our consumerism.

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:

Oh, somebody else already had black things.

Oh, somebody else already had black things.

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.

A bicycle designed for racing on a wooden track is out of place on the street.

A bicycle designed for racing on a wooden track is out of place on the street.

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.

Showing how wonderfully designed and selective your workspace is, is a vacuous message.

Showing how wonderfully designed and selective your workspace is, is a vacuous message.

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.

Bibliography
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.

This article was posted by on Saturday, December 4th, 2010 at 19:55.
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