The Tyranny of the Tagline
Here are some thoughts from a few magazines on my nightstand right now: This is who we are. This is how we earn it. Solutions for the adaptive enterprise. The right way to invest...
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Barthes on the Ballpoint
"Ballpoint" is an exhibition at London's Pentagram Gallery organized by my partner Angus Hyland and featuring the work of "artists, illustrators and designers invited to make an artwork using only ballpont pen." The participants include Ron Arad, Nicholas Blechman and Christoph Niemann, Paul Davis, Marion Deuchars, Jeff Fisher, Alan Fletcher, Benoit Jacques, Uwe Loesch, and Ian Wright.
The exhibition, which runs through June 25, prompted an interesting note from Dan Hedley. Hedley, who describes himself as having recently completed a Ph.D on "the strategic use of branding in Renaissance literature," pointed out a passage from a 1973 interview with theorist Roland Barthes.
"It would appear from the interview," says Hadley, "that not only is M. Barthes no friend of the ballpoint, but he is rather critical of those who are."
M. Barthes admits, "I have an almost obsessive relation to writing instruments." As his pronouncement goes on to betray, however, this obsessive relation is itself (in Hedley's words) "obsessively particular, and not a little snooty:"
"When felt-tipped pens first appeared in the stores, I bought a lot of them...
The Idealistic Corporation
"Atoms for Peace" poster for General Dynamics, Erik Nitsche, 1959
Last week, fellow Design Observer author Rick Poynor and I had a rare face-to-face meeting at a forum in London sponsored by Creative Review
. The topic was "What is Design For?"
and obviously there was a lot more to the subject than we could handle in one evening.
What kind of work do we do? For whom do we do it? These are the fundamental questions for practicing designers, and it's tempting to reduce the options to a depressingly simple choice: do commercial mainstream work that may have an impact on the mass market, or do what Rick calls "independent" work: projects of a more personal nature that may never extend beyond a small, specialized audience of connoisseurs. In other words: sell out, or resign yourself to marginalization.
But it wasn't always so.
The years following World War II were giddy ones not only for American designers, but for the corporations that employed them. These were the days of "good design is good business," to quote the emblematic business leader of the age, IBM's Thomas J...