Graphic design searches its soul
In the most recent issue of the pathbreaking graphics magazine Emigre (Spring 1995) a cluster of articles more or less defines the graphics revolution as a generational battle. In one corner: youthful, computerized postmodernists who love crowded, quirky pages and Mac-generated, mixed-up type fonts. In the other, designers still wedded to the clarity and cleanliness of modernist design, which has been the norm of mainstream graphic-shop practice for seventy years. For aggressive postmods like type designer Jefferey Keedy, modernism's claim to universal human values and its heritage of rationalism (expressed in design as clear, legible space and use of a handful of lucid type faces) is a dead weight. While modernists dismiss the newer, rawer graphics as nihilistic and merely trendy, for Keedy the new graphic order expresses the age's preference for 'specificity and complexity' -- it's an image of our multicultural, multi-subjective world.
Many thoughtful designers see this battle for the soul of design -- really a battle over profound social values--as an opportunity for graphic design to come out of the studio and into the world. In the same issue of EMIGRE, Putch Tu urges designers to get to know the style experts out on the street -- people like the punker-bikers in her favorite San Francisco country-western bar. Writing in Eye (Vol 12, No. 3, 1994), Edward McDonald suggests that it's time for design to stop being the handmaiden of the corporation and the younger brother of 'fine' art and step forward as a liberal art in its own right, with its own unique perspective on art and social change. And Frances Butler suggests, in the AIGA Journal (Vol. 13, No. 1, 1995), that through incongruity and discontinuity, designers are registering changes more profound than merely social ones -- they're charting the final demise of 'linear structure in thought' and the rise of a graphic order that operates the way the brain does: via discontinuity, juxtaposition, metaphor, and 'wild' association.
Dan Friedman, Radical Modernism (Yale University Press, $65).
Fuse (Cutting-edge British typographical magazine, with fonts by Jefferey Keedy and others)