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Comments (23) Posted 12.11.11 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Rick Poynor

Another Design Voice Falls Silent



Illustration by ok interrupt from Grafik no. 193, 2011

In its latest issue, the British magazine Grafik has put together the most wide-ranging feature about design criticism — 14 pages — so far published in a graphic design magazine. It’s another welcome sign that the new design criticism courses at the School of Visual Arts in New York, the London College of Communication, and the Royal College of Art in London are making an impact.

I have just re-joined the RCA as Visiting Professor in Design Criticism and Research Methods, and I was planning to write a post responding to this special feature when the news broke on December 5 that Grafik had abruptly ceased publishing — its second demise after closing in 2010 and then rising from the ashes in February this year. Nothing could highlight more glaringly the precarious position of design publishing and criticism today. For the feature, the editors interviewed 11 figures with some sort of stake in design criticism. I have selected some quotations from the interviews that raise key issues and added some thoughts of my own. This post now also becomes an unanticipated tribute to yet another lost platform for design writing.


Excerpts from “Critical Voices,” Grafik no. 193, 2011

There’s a grim irony in the fact that design has finally got its first serious influx of specially trained critics at the point when writers across the board are struggling in the face of dwindling fees, shrinking editorial budgets and a dearth of in-house opportunities, particularly in the design press. The demise of Design Week earlier this year is just the latest in a string of closures that’s seen printed creative publishing shrink alarmingly in recent years; indeed, if I’d been writing this article a year ago, Grafik too would have been on the obituaries list. — Introduction by Grafik’s editors

There it is. Irony upon irony. As they say, grim.

I have very little patience for criticism these days. Either do the work or shut up. Critique with action, not words. Words are so twentieth century. [. . .] There may be a few people that still enjoy reading that kind of stuff, but I think for the most part design criticism (at least in graphic design) is dead, and that’s not saying much as it never really lived much. Armin Vit, co-founder of Brand New

Can this be the same Armin Vit who created Speak Up, one of the most vital platforms for design discussion around seven or eight years ago (as he makes sure to remind us)? Vit’s is the briefest, most offhand contribution to Grafik. He sounds like he couldn’t give a damn and his dismissive remarks are symptomatic of a widely held and, for many now, unmourned assumption that the culture of the word is in irreversible decline. Such a belief must have profound implications for writers, writing, publishers and committed readers. There are naturally many exceptions, but graphic designers were always, it can hardly be denied, a group with little commitment to serious reading, and everything about contemporary culture reinforces and validates that enduring reluctance. Sad, regrettable but inescapable. Vit is at least half right. Writing focused on visual culture that includes aspects of graphic design might still have a place, and design in the broader sense looks secure as a subject for critical comment. “Graphic design criticism” as a free-standing genre appears to be fading fast.

We’re at an odd juncture. Early on in the days of blogs, it was easy to be critical” as many people chose to hide behind a pseudonym. At the same time, the democracy of digital engagement pretty much levelled us all to the same playing field, and that led to a kind of parity that basically nullified criticism: there was this long period when nobody was critical, ever. In our view, to be a critic, you have to have an opinion founded in something other than subjective opinion, but it also means you have to be bold, willing to stake your ground and hold to it. William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand, co-founders of Design Observer

I’m intrigued by the “nobody was critical, ever” observation: I’d like to know the dates for that. It has always been possible to rise above the supposed “parity” of the playing field if a writer has something considered and urgent to say. And it still is possible. But it will take some guts. That remains the central challenge for emerging writers: do they have the stomach for what the job should entail? Or is “criticism” being discreetly reconstrued, as it takes its place in the academy, as something more genteel, careerist, risk-free and fundamentally unchallenging?

At a time when everybody is a critic, it is more urgent than ever to ask what criticism is for. Teal Triggs, course director of the Design Writing Criticism MA, London College of Communication

If everyone really were a critic — the popular phrase is surely ironic in origin — we wouldn’t need criticism as a consciously constructed discipline. Everyone would already be a deeply informed, highly reflective thinker able to render their thoughts in scintillating language. There would indeed be parity. Nevertheless, the purpose of criticism is the core question we must answer and I would love to hear what Teal Triggs thinks criticism is for. This quotation is her concluding sentence and she doesn’t say. If any LCC students or graduates are reading, please seize the opportunity of the comment box and let us know. Every student of design criticism should be able to answer this question.

Criticism certainly depends on design but it’s not its sole job to service design, nor even to be its social conscience. Design can be taken as the point of departure for a critique aimed at society and the world. And this is where things get really interesting in my opinion, and where it’s possible to bring both design and design criticism into mainstream public debates.Alice Twemlow, chair of the Design Criticism MFA, School of Visual Arts

A critique aimed at society and the world. This is one of the most powerful possible answers to the question, “What is design criticism for?” As I have argued elsewhere, a social criticism of design is one of the most crucial tasks for design writing, but this kind of intervention remains a rarity. Why should this be the case when there is so much out there to critique? I hope that the design writing courses will address this challenge, but let’s not underestimate the hazardousness of biting the hand of the industry that feeds you at a time when there is less bread to go around. It will require fiercely held convictions and a strong sense of critical purpose to enter the fray.

[T]here’s another kind of criticism — classical criticism rather than the newspaper variety — that doesn’t seek to change events but to find meaning in them. This search for meaning is more compelling. At its height it raises the work of criticism above mere commentary on an event and into the event itself. I see this as a creative act distinct from the social act of crusading criticism.Justin McGuirk, design critic, The Guardian

Justin McGuirk is one of the most trenchant contributors to the Grafik special feature. As a former editor of Icon who writes about architecture and design, he knows what he is talking about. Refusing to accept that words have had their day, McGuirk would like to see long essays about architecture and design of 5,000 to 10,000 words and he is developing a publishing program for the Strelka Institute in Moscow that he hopes will facilitate writing with the expansiveness of the New York Review of Books or London Review of Books. Certainly we need new outlets for more discursive and even literary forms of writing, and for architecture some do exist — Harvard Design Magazine, Log, and DO’s Places — but where (other than non-paying, peer-reviewed academic journals) are the outlets for long-form design essays? McGuirk used to publish occasional 3,000-word essays at Icon, but the magazine appears to have given up on even this modest length of essay. Meanwhile, even dedicated readers often struggle with long texts presented on screen.

As design criticism is relatively youthful in comparison to architecture, art, film or theatre criticism, independent publishers are in a position [to] create new territories and modes of writing in which design criticism can operate.Andrew Slatter, design educator

Is the next generation interested in reading about their profession? On the one hand, I see many hopeful signs. The flourishing of independent publishing among publishers and artists indicates that there is a real interest in writing and producing texts. It’s not clear, however, what sort of market these texts have or how much dialogue they succeed in instigating. Some of the books I pick up feel as if they were created as artifacts and evidence rather than as reading material.Ellen Lupton, design educator and author

Easy to pronounce that independent publishers are in a position to create “new territories and modes of writing,” but where is this happening and what kinds of audience does the writing engage? Ellen Lupton’s cautious assessment is more to the point. As self-publishers, graphic designers tend to be more committed to design processes and material form than to the excellence of the written content. I can’t see a venture such as It’s Nice That as an advance in terms of content, writing and criticism on more established publications (though in the current climate we should cherish any publisher able to hang in there). Unit Editions and Occasional Papers — to give two more British examples — are fine projects, though neither is focused on providing a platform for critical writing. Robin Kinross’s independent Hyphen Press remains a benchmark for editorial quality, but again the development of critical writing is not its primary goal. Somewhere out there, there could be emerging forums for inventive new modes of design criticism. If you are aware of any, then let us know.

You can learn a lot by editing other writers, and by being edited, but this is often not understood, either in the “post my rant” world of blogging, or the “publish my thesis” zone of academia.John Walters, editor of Eye

For me, this insight remains a fundamental truism of ambitious writing and publishing, though it’s one that designer-writers often resist. I’ll end with a point that bears repeating. For sure, we need more committed design critics, but we also require experienced and knowledgeable editors, who see editing itself as an act of criticism and are able to create imaginative, sympathetic and flexible platforms for critical writing. I hope that graduates of the new design criticism courses will think seriously about the creative and cultural possibilities of editing and publishing and will find ways to build viable new spaces for design writing. There can be no advance in design writing and no new readership without these outlets. As design publications continue to founder, this is a massive practical, financial and intellectual challenge for the next generation of design writers and critics.


See also:
What Is This Thing Called Graphic Design Criticism? (1995)
The Time for Being Against
Where Are the Design Critics?
The Death of the Critic
The House That Design Journalism Built 

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Comments (23)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Ok, as a currently enrolled student in the LCC Design Writing Criticism program, I'll bite.

I read criticism for the same reasons I read literature and narrative journalism (like what you find in The New Yorker). But I should first clarify that this does not mean I read everything that is written today under the banner “criticism.” I don’t read (or write) criticism with the intent that it is going to change the world. I do read (and write) criticism with the thought that it may help me understand my own values, that it may provide a vocabulary to thoughts that have been milling around in my head, and that it may get me to rethink assumptions or introduce me to ideas that I had never before conceived. I even read (and write) criticism for my own entertainment.

Do I think criticism is going to produce better graphic designers? I doubt it. I don’t believe there is a direct line of import between criticism and its impact on architecture (except perhaps if you are Prince Charles http://bit.ly/u4PBbg), and I don’t expect to see any link develop between criticism and graphic design (recall “Cult of the Ugly” anyone?). But Prince Charles and Steven Heller did get us thinking about our world even if architects and graphic designers continued to make the same kinds of work. And more importantly, they helped us see our world laid before us in words.

Language matters in literature. And the best writers craft their thoughts with the intent that writing is a form of design practice. Words handled by some of the best—Rick Poynor, Kenneth FitzGerald, Lorraine Wild, Jeff Keedy, Mark Wigley, and Alan Colquhoun, to name a few personal favourites—can provide insight and entertainment. As designed pieces, works these writers stand on their own. I can return to an essay written by Keedy or Colquhoun over and over again, and still find fresh insight into what I am doing and thinking now. And that, to me, is what design criticism is for.
David Cabianca
12.12.11 at 12:57

Armin Vit, while his words maybe harsh, is on to something if not exactly correct. Actions give words a bit more meaning and heart. Just look at the articles on Design Observer nowadays--where have the real designers (Heller, Bierut) gone? Their writing carried the most knowledge because they were doing the work. Experience carries weight. I suspect that designers are now hunkering down and trying to figure out new ways to work in the era that has come upon us.

As far as the others promoting a more free-form, 5000 word, all encompassing critique, I would question whether they are really advocating reaching the public or their own self-indulgence. Or maybe they are just trying to sell a new program. I think it is more important to use a focused perspective to reach a bigger audience.

I do agree that we need to find new outlets for this conversation; while DO seems to lost focus, jumping from subject to subject without any clear editorial focus, I hope that the next generation of designers, after they have figured out how to survive in this new era, will start a new conversation.
Danny B.
12.12.11 at 02:32

To expand Alice's claim even further, criticism can be seen not just as something circumscribed by writing but rather the entire machinery and process by which the meaning of works is determined. This notion was suggested to me most clearly by Jacques Rancière, in—among other places—this interview with Naked Punch: http://www.nakedpunch.com/articles/48. (By "regimes" he means something similar to Foucault's "regimes of truth," or the social encoding of essential beliefs, values, etc. but relative to art forms.)

"Regimes are not separated from one another by thunderclaps or by a clash of cymbals. A regime is not a radical historical irruption that would annul another regime. The birth of 'literature' as a new historical regime of art took place without a single manifesto, without an institution of new rules. And it took place by reinventing a tradition: the Romantics reinvented the Greek tragedy, against its Classical domestication. They set out to mobilize Rabelais, Cervantes and Shakespeare against the norms of the poetic arts and the distinction of genres. Art critics mobilize the Venetian colour, the Dutch chiaroscuro or the village scenes of Flanders against norms of the Beautiful inherited from Raphael's drawing technique and Poussin's composition. They create a vision of the painting as gesture of the artist and the metamorphosis of matter, thus an 'abstract' vision that precedes by a long stretch abstract painting proper. There is thus a mutation in the regime of perception that lends a non-figurative visibility to figurative paintings. A regime is thus an articulation of materials, forms of perception and categories of interpretation that are not contemporaneous. This articulation never defines a necessary structure. There are possibilities that define new emergences, but there is no limit that would render impossible certain forms of art. And art forms themselves are very often a mixture of several logics. This is what I have attended to with regards to film: it was considered, by the authors of 1910s–1920s manifestoes, as the art of light and movement that would cast into oblivion the old narrative art of stories and characters. Yet film did no less than reinstate the art of stories and characters precisely at the point when literature was discarding it. And it settled in the position of a mixed art in which the logic of history and that of the visible ceaselessly intertwine, unite or separate themselves from one another."

The work of writers, curators, and designers themselves can be seen as various modes by which to explore the interwoven "logics" (as he puts it) of any given form, including works of design. For that—and other reasons—perhaps it would be best to be wary of circumscribing or specializing design criticism as apart from other forms of criticism.

In discussing the emergence of the concept of "art" that was not circumscribed by material or genre that happened in the late-18th century, Rancière suggests criticism invariably gets tangled up in its subject once its subject is not strictly definable. When the material distinctions disappear, every work, including criticism, must also navigate its contemporary idiom, or "regime."

"Art becomes a specific reality when the objective criteria defining the inclusion of a given practice within a defined art form, or enabling the assessment of the quality of works pertaining to this art form, disappear. The consequence is not the establishment of a body of almighty judges. The consequence, rather, is that, as Mallarmé upheld, the works must 'prove themselves', that is to say they must propose singular formulas of this power that is henceforth unbound by norms. Further, this results in a multiplication of formulas, a multiplication of exchanges between art and its other. Criticism itself then becomes a sort of supplementary art more than an instance of normative judgement."

Or perhaps normative judgment is only one relatively minor aspect of the critic's job of work. The suggestion is that criticism at its best—to borrow a phrase from R.P. Blackmur—has the ability to "add to the stock of available reality."
zbs
12.12.11 at 02:57

I am a student in the D-Crit department at the SVA. I write design criticism with the aspiration that it will improve how designers operate by reminding them that their work has important social, political and economic consequences. Written criticism alone cannot succeed in this goal. It will also require more critical design conferences, public debate and a more holistic design education. My view may sound overly idealistic, but even with the losses that the practices suffers every day like the demise of Graphik, I am not ready to be pessimistic about our field just yet.

To Cabianca's point, I agree that there is a need for great prose in design criticism and that it can be an important form of literature, but I don't see how great writing and "changing the world" is mutually exclusive.

Epstein, while writing from so-called "real designers" like Bierut and Heller is valuable, I believe writers from outside the field play an even more important role because of their ability to oppose the work of designers with less of a concern of cutting professional or social ties. The design industry is incredibly insular, and it needs writers like Rick Poynor and Alexandra Lange who can really challenge the industry while also bringing their ideas to a more general audience.
annakealey
12.12.11 at 03:00

zbs, above, does a remarkable job expounding on why criticism--be it of design, literature or sausagemaking--is important to the initiated in their chosen fields, from practitioner on down to peanut gallery. We can (and should) advance the state of the art with erudition and analysis. It also bears mentioning that criticism is important for its ability to draw everybody else into thinking more often and more deeply about the works of man we're surrounded by. To fascinate, amuse, or enrage those not walled in to their fiefdoms is a lofty goal, but a worthy one.
DMM
12.12.11 at 04:29

This would make an interesting documentary (Mr. Hustwit – listening?). But you should include Steven Heller and Alice Rawsthorn in the discussion, too. I mean – what the hell? Right?

VR/
Joe Moran
12.12.11 at 08:29

"What is design criticism for?" It is for both the pleasure and the utility of reflecting on the world we live in – particularly, in "design criticism," the world of graphic design. We do this because we like to think about things, to get new insight, to make connections. The deeper the thinking, and the clearer the writing, the better.

David Cabianca: "And the best writers craft their thoughts with the intent that writing is a form of design practice." Nicely put.
John D. Berry
12.12.11 at 09:10

In answer to Rick's question: 'Easy to pronounce that independent publishers are in a position to create “new territories and modes of writing,” but where is this happening and what kinds of audience does the writing engage?'

I can support my statement with two examples of publications that were conceived as part of the Design Writing Criticism course at London College of Communication. My fellow alumnus Johannes Reponen has successfully launched Address: Journal for Fashion Writing and Criticism and I am in the process of soliciting contributors for my second issue of The Everyday Experiment: Sampling the design, the queer and the politics in the Everyday.

The audience for Address is explicit through its title (and I would leave it to Johannes to elaborate on this). The Everyday Experiment has a diverse audience, but has a specific intention; to create a space for the under-represented voices in design discourse, namely LGBTQ people and Women. While I do not ask for personal details from my online customers, I am not in a position to say 'who' my readers are, but the fact that there is a space for alternative design discourse, and that the publication is being purchased, is a legitimate enough reason for its existence.

In making an 'easy to pronounce' – as Rick puts it – statement , I believe that being able to support my views with examples illustrates the position that I took in Grafik, that "being critical doesn't mean you have to be negative, it's about having an opinion and taking a position, it's about being confident".
Andrew Slatter
12.13.11 at 07:57

Thanks everyone for these comments.

David, historically many designers viewed criticism as a tool for educating better designers. See, for instance, Massimo Vignelli’s famous “Call for Criticism” (1983). This is not, for me, the most interesting aspect of criticism, but many would still see professional improvement as a key purpose. When you talk about gleaning fresh insight from design writing, though, it sounds like you are engaged in a process that could indeed have positive implications for your own design work.

It doesn’t surprise me that designers like the idea of writing as a form of design practice. But if we go along with that, we might then say that anything at all that is crafted and shaped is by extension “designed.” At that point design as a distinctive specialism we might be prepared to pay for begins to disappear into a generalized notion of shaping and making that touches many areas of human activity. Design becomes something we might all be able to do, or at least get involved in.

J. Epstein, I don’t see why you assume that longer writing equates to self-indulgence. Writers, like designers, seek to improve and develop by tackling new challenges. For many writers, that will mean longer, more ambitious forms of writing. This writing will still need to hold and reward the reader’s attention. No one is suggesting that all texts need to be long.

zbs, it’s certainly not my wish to segregate design criticism from other forms of criticism. I don’t know anyone who is committed to the idea of design criticism who seeks to do this; on the contrary, the design writing courses are at pains to address criticism in the widest terms. Nevertheless, if design criticism is to advance, then its practitioners will need to be aware of its history, purposes and the aspects of design that distinguish it from other objects of critical study.

Andrew, thanks for those examples. It’s good to hear about outcomes from the writing courses. I hope they will be carried forward. For those who want to follow up, here are the links:

The Everyday Experiment

Address

Incidentally, as Grafik closed last week, a new British design magazine, Disegno, was being launched. The editor, Johanna Agerman Ross, used to be an editor at Icon. I have yet to see a copy so can’t comment on its content.
Rick Poynor
12.13.11 at 01:11

Thanks for posting the URL's Rick, much appreciated.
Andrew Slatter
12.13.11 at 05:20

The issue at the heart of this discussion is the difference between regarding design as a discipline and a profession. Disciplines desire and support critical literatures, professions don't. Professionals want to hear only from other professionals and have no patience for critical writing. I have no quarrel with them. I do take exception when figures avow a desire for a bold, opinionated, and engagingly articulated literature yet insist that its terms be constrained so that celebrated practitioners' opinions trump all and the tone remain celebratory.

In this way, I commend Armin Vit for his honesty. However, I do have an addendum to one of his comments. I'd say we now have the worst of both worlds: little or no design criticism and even less "critiques with making." Funny how that works out.
Kenneth FitzGerald
12.13.11 at 11:13

I can think of only two reasons for design criticism:

1) Because writing is part of an engaged life.

2) To keep design (both profession AND discipline) honest.

Thanks Ken. Cheers Rick.
david stairs
12.14.11 at 12:14

Mr. Poynor, I would like to openly wonder if part of the problem you (and all the rest of us design critics) are having is not in someway attributed to the general assumption that design criticism can only practiced in written form?

By accepting this facility of practice we as critics place limitations on ourselves and the effectiveness of what it is that we do. While I appreciate written design criticism's ability to build context, substance and reflection in long form. I also find this value in other formats such as in collaboration on a design team, or in creating platforms for public engagement.

In the D-Crit program students are taught to look, listen, speak, write, read, research and make. The written word is a tool we all learn use, and a fabulous one at that - but it is not the only instrument in our practice. In the last two years since I graduated from the program, I have found the most success in the moments where I have allowed the substance of critical thought to be expressed in trans-disciplinary abundance.

And so with the assumption of how we practice criticism aside, perhaps the role of design criticism can be more freely understood to in the terms of substance we provide rather than the tools we use.
Amelia Black
12.15.11 at 03:19

" ...graphic designers were always, it can hardly be denied, a group with little commitment to serious reading ..." Excuse me? I have never assumed this. I am a voracious and eclectic reader and serious designers need to be serious readers AND writers. But not necessarily about design. So I am somewhat in agreement with Armin. Read other things, history, science, good newspapers, Persian poetry, etc. Bring the world outside design writing into your design thinking. That's what makes for a mature designer. After one's student days reading design writing should taper off.
Howard Stein
12.16.11 at 12:15

An interesting debate. As an art critic relatively new to design criticism and writing, a few comments.

First, I don't see why design criticism should be limited to writing, writing is just an extension that should be useful to us as it is a shared idiom (I have just tracked back and see recent comments say something similar)

Criticism is an attitude that can be trained and grounded and have practical tools that go beyond crafting a text. When I have taught design analysis and criticism (Eina, Barcelona) I often offer students the possibility of creating a critical prototype, a design creation with critical verve. Since much of innovative design purports to address a current conundrum or paradigm and vary it, improve it, undermine it, it is implicitly critical. This possibility of including praxis as a critical exercise would save part of what Armin Vit addresses, however unnecessarily cavalier his tone.

Second, the challenge for critical design writing is the same for other realms of action and knowledge. Traditional investigative journalism relying on joint research and expertise is also under attack by economic and technological change. Who will pay for it if the formula of ads in newspapers paying for well-stocked investigative departments is slipping? Criticism as something that you will not be paid for, unless you are locked into the academy and do it as part of your "salary", is an imaginable future.

Could that be perilous for society? The alarms have been sounded for decades. I don't know if it is any compensation, but it seems to me that we need to continue to develop informal collectives and platforms, however poor in resources, so that those committed to critical practice can continue and be heard.

One place we need to see more engagement are museums and cultural centres. Critical design culture is a long way from critical art culture in this respect, though funnily enough many design professionals are clueless about the gap. And yes, that means public and private funding and a committment to seeing cultural institutions for places where critical limits can be explored.

JS
Jeffrey Swartz
12.16.11 at 06:23

Amelia (and Jeffrey), it’s not actually my assumption that design criticism can only be practiced in written form. When I was editor of Eye and also in my book projects, and even here in this blog, I have always taken the view that the selection, sequencing and sizing of visual images was a fundamental part of critical practice, and that this is something that design writers should take more seriously. (If that’s not obvious from the work, then maybe that already tells us something about the limitations of less explicit forms of critical practice.) I also see my projects as a curator and my activities as a lecturer as directly related to my concerns as a writer.

I’m aware that all the design writing courses, not least D-Crit, are putting a lot of stress on exploring diverse outlets for critical thinking about design, such as curating, live events, podcasts, radio and filmmaking — Alice Twemlow talks about this in her interview in Grafik. It’s right that students should be exposed to all these potential outlets and if it proves possible to extend design dicussion into other forms of engagement with the public that can only be a good thing. You talk very generally, though, Amelia (“trans-disciplinary abundance”) and don’t say what these projects are that you are engaged in.

However, I do believe that writing must remain the bedrock of any kind of criticism, including design criticism. Non-printed media can depend just as strongly on the quality of their scripts. Writing is thinking. When you write you are confronted with the vagueness and imprecision, the emotional biases and unexamined assumptions, of your thoughts. Now you have to examine these ideas carefully, root out the flaws and contradictions, muster your research and structure your arguments, and find the right language to express exactly what you are trying to communicate. Writers often say that they write to discover that they think. When people claim that words are passé, they are saying that thought itself is passé. No one who thinks clearly can take this seriously for a moment.

Howard, you twisted my point by omitting the first part of that sentence, where I say, “There are naturally many exceptions.” If I didn’t think there were designers committed to reading, why would I have spent so much time writing for designers, or for that matter writing this blog? Even though it has long been said that “designers don’t read,” I have preferred to assume that many love to read. Nevertheless, I have met many design students over the years who tell me they don’t read much, as well as big-name designers who rarely open a book. It’s odd that you then end your comment by suggesting that designers should give up reading about design after they graduate. If artists or architects were to say such a thing, we might wonder just how seriously they took their chosen discipline.
Rick Poynor
12.16.11 at 06:40

Something’s in the air. News of this new book, Writing Design: Words and Objects, arrived in my inbox within seconds of finishing the last comment.

Looks very interesting and has a final section titled, “Showing as Telling — On Design Beyond Text.”
Rick Poynor
12.16.11 at 06:54

Information of possible interest:

Communication Research Institute
- 'Publications' section http://www.communication.org.au
- Their blog http://www.communication.org.au/modules/wordpress/

Information Design Journal
Published by John Benjamins Publishing, Amsterdam.
http://benjamins.com/#catalog/journals/idj

PhD-Design list
List for the discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design.
http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/phd-design.html

Typography papers
Published by Hyphen Press, London.
http://www.hyphenpress.co.uk
User design
12.16.11 at 09:08

I can't help being suspicious about the fad of "critical designing" (I suppose) or simply critiquing by means other than writing. It would be one thing if there was active, appreciated critical writing going on—especially supported by the design profession. My skepticism arises when even before establishing a critical form (writing) that's existed for centuries and has had demonstrated impact and relevance in other disciplines, people advocate running away from it. It smacks of the Reagan-era dodge of calling ketchup a vegetable. Somehow we're quickly back where graphic designers want to be—making graphic design...and not reading.

That said, I acknowledge that making can be a critical form. I'm thinking of "visual essays," a form I've indulged in (but have largely abandoned as it's even tougher to get those published than writing, if you can believe it). Those of us with a memory might harken back to the mid-90s "Mouthpiece" issues of Emigre that featured a range of critical design work. The derision that was meted out by the design profession for those attempts only heighten my skepticism that what I'm seeing is less an expansion but an evasion.
Kenneth FitzGerald
12.17.11 at 10:22

Maybe we should be wary of winding ourselves too tightly into ourselves. Contrary to some statements above, I see more writing and reading than ever ... on everything. So if we loosen the knots, watch carefully as our profession, like most others undergoes change, perhaps the market will indeed decide, and we can relax into the freedom of new forms. This is an exciting time of redefinition of design and so should it be for the criticism.
Howard Stein
12.17.11 at 12:14

UPDATE

News now emerges that the London College of Communication's Design Writing Criticism MA, the first of the new writing courses (by a whisker), is likely to close.

What an amazingly shortsighted and retrograde decision by LCC's management this would be if it were to happen just when the course is beginning to establish itself. Instead of turning its back on a bold initiative that should be a source of pride, LCC should continue to refine the course and put every effort into promoting it internationally.

For more information, see this report by a course graduate and a current student on the Eye Blog.

There is an online petition. If you believe in the need to develop critical writing about design, please sign it.
Rick Poynor
12.21.11 at 02:14

The last comment and linked article do not explain why the LCC program is being shut down. What was the thinking behind its closure? Was it a lack of interested students, employers or something else?
Sam Stone
12.22.11 at 02:15

Sam, good question but I don't have an answer. I would guess it's to do with student numbers, which appear to be lower than planned. I'm sure that's rectifiable. SVA and the RCA are doing well so far.

Can someone connected with LCC expand on that?
Rick Poynor
12.23.11 at 05:46



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Rick Poynor is a writer, critic, lecturer and curator, specialising in design, media, photography and visual culture. He founded Eye, co-founded Design Observer, and contributes columns to Eye and Print. His latest book is Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design.
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