This text was first published as a pamphlet of the same name in August 2017. It is republished here for the first time online. Copies of the original pamphlet, as a numbered limited edition of 300, are still available on request. Please get in contact if you would like a copy.
This essay introduces the term Graphic Commons as an identifier with which to discuss graphic design within shared public environments. It sets out why a new linguistic term in contemporary graphic design discourse is required, and situates this as part of wider discussions surrounding urbanism and social responsibility.
Much has changed since Henri Lefebvre’s 1974 declaration that: “…there is no architectural or urbanistic criticism on a par with the criticism of art, literature, music and theatre.” (1991, p92) Some 43 years later urbanism is studied in renowned academic centres such as University College London’s UrbanLab. However, graphic design as a discipline is often overlooked as part of ongoing critical urban dialogues. While anti-advertising rhetoric is in rude health within academic, design and political circles, advertising remains its focus. Although a critique of advertising is an important aspect of the Graphic Commons, and therefore appropriate to discuss under the term’s usage, this proposal considers a much wider remit of study. As Lefebvre stated: “There would certainly seem to be a need for such a criticism… We are talking, after all, of the setting in which we live.” (1991, p92)
Recently I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel to Bucharest, Romania, for work. The trip was so that I could attend an art and design education fair and to talk at a couple of high schools about our courses. This was my first such recruitment trip abroad, and I’m told you often only get to see a city from a car window and in the evening before flying back the next day. Thankfully though, because of the timings of our itinerary, I managed to get a little time to myself to wander the city and soak up Bucharest’s visual culture.
This was my first visit to Eastern Europe, and one, given the timing of the trip, that was over-shadowed by Brexit. Our host, locals and delegates from other countries all had an opinion, with none of them positive. The majority of Romanians I spoke to about it, (and Romania isn’t a country afraid of change, it could be argued), all thought Britain was putting itself in a ridiculous position.
One of the things that struck me about Bucharest from the outset, was that it is a country that is happy to wear its history on its sleeve—it is there in plain sight for everyone to see. Our hotel was very close to Revolution Square, the site of the uprising that saw Nicolae Ceaușescu toppled from power nearly 30 years ago.
Monuments to these tumultuous times have seen better days, and the local anarchists appear to show little respect for those that lost their lives fighting against the dictator. Some locals said the current government is the most corrupt in 100 years, so it appears a struggle continues. Given we were a week away from national celebrations of 100 years of independence for Romania, this is some claim given their more recent history. Continue reading →
I recently wrote a review about the design and illustration of Chris Packham’s A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife and I’m honoured that Eye magazine have published it on their blog. You can read the review here.
Harry Woodgate‘s illustrations for the manifesto are stunning. Thanks to Harry, and to Chris, for allowing Eye to use his work.
Although my McJunk project has been on hiatus for a while, I do occasionally post the odd example to Instagram. Believing that one person’s litter in the gutter is another person’s advert glaring from a billboard—because regardless of context, any representation of the McDonald’s logo reinforces brand recognition—I never thought that the company would sanction a marketing campaign that made a focus of its own litter. But in this post-irony world how wrong I appear to have been, as a new campaign for the restaurant chain proves.
Alongside others commenting online, I can draw clear parallels between TWBA\Paris’s poster campaign for the fast food chain and the discarded litter I often see strewn about my neighbourhood. The adverts use a simple colour palette and beautifully shot photography of McDonald’s food packaging with no food visible, bar a few crumbs. These tiny morsels, in such a minimal setting, only accentuate the sense that the packaging has been discarded after the product has been consumed.
Vector illustration and chunky lower case type make for the new look reductive graphics adorning McDonald’s take away packaging. Created by Leo Burnett design agancy in Chicago, (I’m currently unsure if this packaging has made it to the UK yet), it appears to be another opportunity missed.
Scrutinising an Innocent drink carton several weeks ago I noticed that it was recyclable “in certain areas” and that I was to check with my local authority to see if it could be recycled in my area. I didn’t of course, not looking forward to either an elongated phone call being passed through various different departments or trawling through an impenetrable menu system on my local council website. I therefore forgot all about it and sent the package merrily onto landfill. To be fair, I had previously checked several years ago whether I could recycle this sort of packaging in Ipswich and finding out that I couldn’t, I didn’t hold out much hope that this would have changed.
Then when walking to work one morning last week I found myself confronted with a large graphic on the side of a bin lorry telling me that I could now recycle orange juice cartons in my blue bin. I was astounded for two reasons: firstly I was surprised that my local council was actually quite advanced; and secondly that this information was bought to me and that I didn’t have to hunt it out.