Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Lost and Found: Critical Voices in New British Design

Rick Poynor

Poynor, R. (1999) Made in Britain: The Ambiguous Image. In N. Barley, S. Coates, M. Field and C. Roux. Lost and Found: Critical Voices in New British Design. London: Birkhauser Verlag AG/The British Council. Pp 28-31

“As both a profession and a form of practice, graphic design is in a state of flux. While the activities it encompasses can be traced back to the invention of writing itself, the term was not coined until the early 1920s and it is only in the postwar years that it became a commonly accepted form of designation amongst designers themselves. It has never reached the point of universal public understanding and lexicographers have been notoriously slow to allow it into the dictionary. Now, perhaps, it is already too late. Graphic design is evolving, mutating, merging with other forms of communication.” (Poynor, p28)

This quote was really useful in linking both the origin of the discipline with its future direction.

“If ‘graphic design’ now strikes some designers and design-watchers as too rigid a term, this is partly because it sounds like a largely technical procedure, but particularly because it fails to suggest the expanded possibilities of contemporary visual culture. Within graphic design, there has been much discussion of these issues in recent years, and British designers, despite a general reluctance to theorise their work, have played a central role in these changes.” (Poynor, p28)

This quote explores the rigidity of graphic design's definition within the digital information age suggesting a re-evaluation of the parameters that defines the discipline to date.

“The fundamental difference from the traditional model is that this is a content supplied by the designers [Jonathan Barnbrook, Tomato or Designers Republic] that is extra to the client’s basic message. The client buys into the designer’s personal vision in the belief that, commercially, this is the right thing for their service or product. If they don’t believe this to be the case then they look for a different designer.” (Poynor, p29)

This quote draws together the practioners Barnbrook, Tomato and Designers Republic into the same conversation.

“Tomato speak of relinquishing the world of fixed meanings. Barnbrook and The Designers Republic use ambiguity to unsettle and provoke. Paul Elliman believes a graphic message can either clarify or confound, so long as it contains a vital animating spirit. Sunbather’s Audiorom extends Tomato’s ideas about processes (…) by allowing viewers to enter the process, interact, and generate their own music and poetry. The desire to offer readers, viewers and users open-ended tools with which to create their own meanings is now pervasive within visual communication. It is a measure of this idea’s growing cultural impact that industrial designers are beginning to think in the same way. In an essay on ‘Design Noir’, Tony Dunne conjectures that in product design the challenging could soon shift “from concerns of physical interaction (passive button pushing), to the potential psychological experiences inherent in the product. The user becomes a protagonist and the designer becomes the co-author of the experience.” This is the approach already taken by Tomato, Anti-Rom, The Designers Republic, Fuel and Sunbather.” (Poynor, p31)

This quote references a range of practioners and commentators that future research can explore.

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