HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVE HIM

Yes, that is what John L. Walters, the editor of the grandest graphic-design magazine, Eye, actually says:

Few novels have made use of graphic design for background or context, let alone made their central character a designer. And while you could probably dredge up a number of obscure works featuring heroes (or antiheroes) who earn their living making posters or Web sites (though “Web designer” is often a codeword for “unwashed loser”), I[’d] bet very few of them actually weave a graphic design brief into the plotline.

What’s the context? A review of Chip Kidd’s The Learners. (The editor himself handles the A-list work.)

Does it seem like a slur delivered out of context? Of course – but that’s how fervently the antediluvian John L. Walters hates you, the present, and the future. He’ll stick that in wherever he gets a spare line – and when you run a magazine, you’ve got all the spare lines you need.

Just a quick recap for denialists

I am essentially the only person making the claim that traditional graphic-design criticism is no longer needed and, in retrospect, possibly never was. It took the Web – which permits anyone to express an opinion and also permits designers to create what photographers and painters have always been able to create, personal work – to make the uselessness of Poynoric or Hellerian design criticism obvious.

The seeds of futility were sown long ago – at least as far back as 1988, when young designer Neville Brody received the first of but two books of turgid critical analysis. But now the degree of futility is obvious, even if you think only I can see it.

Graphic design, as a utilitarian and workaday medium, is unamenable to turgid analysis. Fundamentally, design either works or it doesn’t. It isn’t diamonds, it’s cubic zirconia.

In the olden days, graphic design used to be done by fat old working-class jobbers. Derrida and Baudrillard never specced the Sears catalogue, a business card, or a tampon package. I resent having their theories, or something that aspires to them, wielded against designers as if they were remotely applicable.

I am essentially the only person making this case. Nonetheless, I am being and will continue to be proven right. Blog-hating Steven Heller now writes one. Even Eye has a blog, where my comments are immediately deleted. There may always be a call for beautifully printed design examples; there is clearly very little call for tortuously written design critiques. It’s just that this news hasn’t made its way from the brontosaurus’s tail to its avocado-sized brain.

Let me put it to you this way: With your free RSS reader and a range of free design blogs at hand, is each new issue of Eye really worth £17?

Eye 68

‘Eye’ cover The ironic thing is that the current Eye (Summer 2008, Nº 68) explicitly thinks outside of its own box. It accepts there is a certain canon in graphic design, barely acknowledging that such a canon wouldn’t exist without turgid criticism rewritten with minor changes decade after decade. Where does that writing appear?

Walters, the editor of a magazine that established and is part of the canon, has the gall to state that “the Internet ensures that blurred versions of these histories and images will continue to be repeated and recycled.” Canons are about the past, not the future; I’ve been looking at the same Russian Constructivist layouts in books since I was a teenager.

(The great Rick Poynor argues that repetition, not worth, assures a place in the canon. He’s careful to isolate himself from that tawdry impulse by insisting the example he uses – Allen Hori’s “Typography as Discourse” poster – really is important. Well, it has to be – Rick Poynor said so.)

In stretching beyond the canon, Walters canvassed writers outside his usual stable of overexposed theoreticians. The results are strong – and could easily have been presented online. In fact, the segments in “Beyond the Canon” are blog postings – with, I guess, illustrations that aren’t quite as “blurred” as they otherwise would be.

(Actually, framegrabs from Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 – offered up by Michael Worthington as a non-obvious exemplar of the film-title œuvre – look so blurry they must have come from an old VHS tape.)

The collection is ironic and self-referential in a way an arrogant Walters doesn’t even understand.

  • Steve Rigley’s piece on 17th-century chapbooks noted: “The printed quality… was often poor, partly due to the choice of paper but also to the length of the print run, which greatly exceeded that of the works of fine literature more familiar to design students.” Design students are exposed to a canon that has no bearing on real-world design. (Why aren’t American pundits attacking this “elite” – along with all the others they decry and also belong to?)

  • Theory ruins design, Usual Suspect Nick Bell tells us in his piece about Ko Sliggers’s collage work: In the ’80s and ’90s, collage “was extremely popular and it was a time when hordes of graphic designers, myself included, were at pains to make design apparent in their work – resulting in much that was earnestly complex and overwrought.”

  • An emissary from the future, Khoi Vinh (yes), visits the dead-tree press to review the dead-tree version of Stefan Bucher’s monster series.

    If nothing else, though, 100 Days of Monsters proves that the shortcomings of transcription do not diminish the original event. The book is not unattractive, and it is useful, at least, as document of a robust conversation, the likes of which we can continue to expect as digital media evolves…. Unfortunately , it really only serves as evidence that something really interesting happened somewhere else. Namely, the Web.

I have to quibble with Stuart McKee’s nomination of a multi-referential drag poster by Todd Trexler, which seems to be there as some kind of freestanding homosexualist equality campaign. (Graphic designers really aren’t gay, we’re reassured: This segment takes up a page and a half, but Heller gets three pages to praise Playboy.) It gives McKee the chance to use the word genderfuck (unhelpfully hyphenated and quoted), but it’s the weakest segment in the series.

Ironically, McKee’s piece is presented on the same page as a pæan to Open University, which, “while the rest of the industry still seems to be coming to terms with accessibility, [has offered it] as a core feature of OU materials since Day 1.”

I⁷knew Beijiong when it was Euros 55

For a magazine that insists up and down that you can’t have design criticism without editors, this issue could sure use some editing.

  • Elizabeth Resnick simply misdescribes a poster by Jacqueline Casey; the photo in her article shows it isn’t anything like she says it is.

  • As a bonus, the grande dame of the design press still cannot copy-edit itself. The improbable typo “I⁷knew” is right there on page 90. Apparently the capital of China is Beijiong. They still haven’t figured out that the euro has its own symbol, hence a book cannot be priced at “Euros 55,” which sounds like a program that lets Baby Boomers buy a timeshare in Ibiza.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.09.05 13:27. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2008/09/05/eye68/

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