Exhibitions are always political

The bracketing of the Hope To Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008–2018 exhibition at London’s Design Museum is interesting for many reasons. Starting with Shepard Fairey’s Hope campaign for Obama’s 2008 election, and (almost) finishing with Trump’s Make America Great Again baseball cap, these two items showcase how effective vacuous phraseology can be in winning over people’s emotions when asking them to vote on big decisions. Both speak to the human condition of wanting ‘better’, without actually defining what that ‘better’ might be. They leave it for the reader to appropriate the slogans and adapt them to their own set of desires.

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It has to be said the application of such sloganeering adds weight to the message—the words alone didn’t win their respective elections for each candidate. Fairey’s message appealed to the youth vote as much because they were street posters and were run counter (and unendorsed) to the official Democrat campaign; while baseball caps are everyday headgear worn by the everyman and everywoman of America. Each message is targetted precisely, whether strategically intentioned or not. What both tell us though is that logos do not win elections, neither for Obama in 2008 nor Clinton in 2016. As graphic communication devices, logos tend to be overly associated with corporate structures, despite both Obama’s and Clinton’s being applauded by design critics for their aesthetics, symbolism and ‘cleverness’. In thinking that these could help win around floating voters, it strikes me that the audience was ultimately forgotten, unlike with the street posters and baseball caps.

These are just a few of the thoughts I came away with after visiting Hope to Nope with a group of graphic design students the week it opened in April.

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Instant graphic commons

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As I prepare to give the first talk about my Graphic Commons research project next month, I have started a new Instagram feed to host some of my photography. For those that follow my general Instagram account, some of these images will be familiar to you. Over time, older research photographs will give way to new images as the project develops.

To date I haven’t created a dedicated space for these images, but posting to a specific Instagram feed makes sense within my research as I am able to add category hashtags, which helps to focus my thinking around the images, and more widely, where I may go next with this.

If you are new to Field Readings and unfamiliar with what Graphic Commons is all about, then the basic premise is that it is an investigation into how graphic design imposes itself on shared public environments, and the wider impact this has on society. I have posted to Field Readings about it several times in the past and you can catch up with those here, and there are still some Proposing the Graphic Commons pamphlets left if you would like one. They are free, but for a small postage charge—details are available here.

The Guardian is dead, long live The Guardian

Today sees the last copy of The Guardian in its Berliner format.

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What is about to follow will be known by those that come to this blog post after Monday 15 January 2018, when the new look Guardian is launched. But for now, only the new masthead has been revealed in a video teaser.

The teaser, and its corresponding print campaign, demonstrates some interesting references to John Stezaker covering found photographs with white squares, (and Jonathan Barnbrook’s subsequent ‘borrowing’ of this for David Bowie’s The Next Day), see Field Readings’ post Graphic obscura.

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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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McJunk, accentuated

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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.

See the new campaign over on Creative Review’s blog.