Common affairs

The state of design criticism, it could be argued, has never been in better shape. There are the big guns, such as Michael Bierut and Jessica Helfand’s printed compilation of fifteen years of online discourse at the Design Observer with Culture Is Not Always Popular. Likewise, AIGA’s Eye On Design magazine which covers topics interrogated on a given theme, (see previous Field Readings post Thoughts on discussions on criticism). Mike Monteiro’s recent Ruined By Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It, is an accessible takedown of poor design choices and the importance of ethics to design decisions, while Mode of Criticism‘s self-titled publication is a diversely rich academic and theoretical critique of design in a time of neoliberalism.

One publication that caught my eye recently that I wanted to specifically highlight is the House of Common Affairs journal. It comes out of a forum held at the Royal College of Art in London, and moderated by the journal’s editor Paula Minelgaite, that sought to question the relationship between creative practice, current affairs and the way information is communicated to the general public. The journal specifically looks to discuss Fourth Estate utopias.

An image of the House of Common Affairs journal cover

Image © Paula Minelgaite

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A (very) graphic memoir

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Image: courtesy paulsahre.com

I’ve just finished reading Paul Sahre’s autobiography: Two-Dimensional Man: A Graphic Memoir, and it is one of the most untypical graphic design related books I have ever read. ‘Untypical’ because for much of the book Sahre writes about his personal and private life; and graphic design ‘related’ because, at times, his profession seems incidental to the main narrative. For this is no design monograph as he weaves stories about his first car; his family; his relationships; and even his dog Sid, in and out of talking about his graphic design practice. Most powerfully, hanging over the entire book from cover to cover, is Sahre’s relationship with his brother.

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With apologies, (there’s nothing new)

“There’s nothing new in this world…” is a phrase attributed to Harry S Truman on the Brainyquote.com website. In this post-truth world, who knows whether this was actually said by him or not. I do, however, know the content of the phrase itself to be true, post-truth or not.

In June last year I made a book for a project I was working on for my Masters degree. It was called Graphic Interruptions, and it collected together photographs I had taken of items of graphic design that had been visually interrupted in some way, thus affecting their communication potential. I also wrote an essay about it, and the whole thing looked like this:

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Officer scribble

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Scribble cover. Image courtesy of Three&Me.

When you work with someone on a regular basis you tend to get to know them well. You tell each other stories, you share aspects of your life and you get to know their working nuances intimately. But just recently I’ve been spending time with my work colleague, friend and ex-tutor Russell Walker a lot more than I would normally outside of typical ‘office’ working hours. This is because Russell Walker, designer, illustrator and educator of some 30+ years has just published a book of his creative and educational life called Scribble, and I’ve been immersing myself in it.

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They who have no name

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The US and UK book jacket designs for Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. Picture: L—HarperCollins / R—William Heinemann. Source: guardian.com

I’ve written here and elsewhere before about how graphic design is overlooked in favour of other arts disciplines. I’ve come to expect this, so when Will Gompertz—the BBC’s Arts Correspondent—recorded a piece for the Six O’Clock News this week about the Design of the Year Awards at The Design Museum, I wasn’t surprised that the graphic design nominations weren’t mentioned at all.

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Punk philosophy

You could argue the need for yet another publication about punk. The ‘1976 and all that’ narrative has been told so often now that it reads like a dull pantomime with all original relevance of the story bled dry through over telling. There have been some publications in the last few years that have gone beyond this nostalgic rehash, such as 2012’s excellent Punk: An Aesthetic, but recently published The Truth of Revolution, Brother: An Exploration of Punk Philosophy (Situation Press) focusses, as the title says, on an area of the punk phenomenon that has largely been ignored.

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