“AND FLASH GORDON WAS THERE IN SILVER UNDERWEAR”

I may be the only person who dares criticize Eye (“The International Review of Graphic Design”). I don’t know why; there’s a lot to criticize.

The Spring 2008 issue fails to publish my letter about Steven Heller:

To address Steven Heller’s latest self-serving chauvinism (masquerading, yet again, as a provocative question from a deep thinker), it should be obvious why right-wing graphic designers barely exist. Debating a choice of typeface gets in the way of paring down government to its only role, to protect private-property rights (by force if necessary). A discussion of colour and paper-stock choices, (a)symmetry, or legibility gets in the way of necessary efforts to prevent homosexuals and lesbians from marrying and the even more urgent need to shut down abortuaries worldwide (by force if necessary).

In short, there are few nonliberal graphic designers because design is intrinsically liberal. It’s equivocal, discursive, and twee – three things right-wing assholes (British variant: right-wing arseholes) manifestly are not. They are sure of everything and they express it with manly certainty. We’ve got five ways of solving every problem, none of them provably best. All this was discussed a dozen years ago in the wake of Liz McQuiston’s Graphic Agitation; Heller could look it up.

Of more pressing concern is Heller’s latest gesture of contempt for blogs. Heller started out hating design blogs, which, he says, lack credibility (Print, May/June 2004). Then he decided “there are too many blogs. Too many opinions, observations, commentaries, drivel-ings” (Mediabistro, 2007.01.29). He later admitted he “was afraid of blogs… I did fear the fact that blogs would kind of usurp what I was doing” (Be a Design Cast Nº 50, 2008.01.16).

Nonetheless, in his column he forged ahead and quoted four blog commenters without attribution. This is the same Heller who would later rail against bloggers’ reliance on userIDs or nicknames rather than their full Christian or legal names (Design Observer, 2007.12.27). Bloggers live so far beyond the realm of polite society that the world’s most prolific design writer simply effaces their names.

It’s not just that Heller, who now writes a blog himself, is a hypocrite. It’s that he is the most obvious symbol yet of the obsolescence of “classic” design criticism. As an academic irrelevancy with fatal structural flaws, it cannot die out fast enough for those of us who live online. Heller and his editors will be the last to know, of course.

Nor did the Summer 2008 issue publish it. Nor, clearly, will any issue.

  • The Spring volume gives us a long article by John D. Berry. Last year, Berry didn’t bother to practise his introduction of my speech at ATypI, mangling it so badly I had to introduce myself. (I show up prepared.) Anyway, the piece here is about type in architecture. A storied topic, and he mentions the greats of the field. But, to draw a comparison, he’s only talking about display type – Seattle Public Library and suchlike – rather than body copy. It’s all about type as a decorative element in architecture rather than a functional one.

    He kind of gives the game away while trying to deny it: “To a typographer walking through a building… the signage can sometimes appear to be just an afterthought by an architect concerned only with the grand gesture.” But all the illustrations in the article are of gestures so grand they tower over the human form (even over a workman on a catwalk).

    (You may be wondering: Are Paula Scher’s two interchangeable huge-type projects in there? Why did you even bother to ask?)

    You might be surprised to read an endorsement of the use of Verdana for signage. Somehow the extra-wide spacing, giant S, full-width 1, and barred I, J, and j make it “neutral enough, and balanced enough, to work at very large sizes, too.” (It would barely work on a pill bottle.) You want Adobe Garamond for your signage? It’s “peculiar,” but if you must use it, break out the ligatures. But “Times New Roman? Don’t even think about it.”

  • An unpleasant review of typefaces (by five critics) shows that critics need to learn to say a bit more when reviewing typefaces (“This is soft and full of wonder”; “One such foundry is Underware, and Bello makes the most of OpenType Technology”). Furthering the tradition of illegible layouts in design magazines, Eye typesets black Helvetica on tomato-red pages. As only half the pages in the spread are thus, there was a fair standard of comparison right before my eyes and I read only half the article. I won’t suffer for somebody else’s art.

  • A superb service piece by Andrew Haslam, “Physical Display,” explains through photos and cutlines exactly how signage is manufactured using four methods – cut metal, engraved wood and stone, and expanded and routered plastic.

  • Rick Poynor has, at long last, completed his long march toward the Peter Principle, lampooning himself utterly in a two-page review of Chip Kidd’s author photo: “Kidd’s pose, leaning forward on his knees, compresses his trunk, pushing his arm towards us and making his head as big as possible relative to the space occupied by the rest of his body.”

  • The endpapers are the traditional home of confusion, contradiction, and blaring lack of self-awareness of same.

    • Letter from Chris Holtslag: “I love your magazine, but I tried finding stuff on your Web site and I found it very hard indeed. AND HOW CAN I TURN OFF THE ANNOYING SOUNDS[?]” “Er… you can’t. Sorry. The Web site does need some work, so we’ll look into the practicalities of this in addition to many other changes,” John Walters responds.

      Those “other changes” involved buying back the magazine – a matter which now endorses antimatter and includes a blog. (Did you know they already had “a Blogspot”?) I have told Happy Cog twice that Eye needs them, but Eye will be incapable of appreciating that. They’ll hire a theoretician who uses divs, “font tags,” and spans (and Flash).

    • And we have the kind of typographical error classically caused by using an Adobe application (with its errant, nonstandard, off-centre cursor hotpoint) at too low a magnification: “By virtue of his geograpAhical location.” (“Where did I drop the cursor?”)

    • Did you know there’s an encryption error on the cover of Substance? Martin Soames: “[T]he New Alphabet distinguishes between n and m – and u and w – by adding an underscore to the latter character. Writing on Typophile.com about the Joy Division commission…” Oh, dear: Eye is forced to use the Web as original source material.

    • Is Heller in there whining about blogs again? (Like the one he now writes, which lacks RSS but carries a warning in the guise of a title – Daily Heller?) This time, not quite: His psychological depths are more turbulent than usual.

      Heller is unaware, for example, that he argues for the irrelevance of broad-ranging design histories when he writes that “what might be called ‘marginal histories’ are less likely to receive any more serious attention than the occasional article in a graphic-design magazine,” for the unstated reason that such an article won’t be on the Web and will be all but impossible to find.

      “There are many unknown aspects of graphic design worthy of historical notice that get little or no attention because publishers do not see a quantifiable ‘market,’ ” writes the author or coauthor of dozens of histories of marginal design topics. “So it becomes the job of committed scholars and researchers (and fans) to buck the ‘market trend’ and produce works for which the greatest reward is getting the word out.”

      What would those be? Web sites. But Web sites don’t get reviewed in Eye, except as Flash design exercises – unlike the book that is Heller’s ostensible subject (Peter Seitz: Designing a Life, coedited by another design snob, Blauvelt).

      “Who writes the canon?” Heller writes, failing to add “Usually, I do.”

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.08.24 14:12. 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/2008/08/24/eye67/

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