design theories an e-book reader
compiled by nicole durocher
featuring texts which explore the changing nature of design
contents first things first second and third; 1964 and 2004 manifestos [various authors]
reprint: tibor kalman vs. joe duffy [from print magazine]
graphic design theory? 34 [helen armstrong] aiga packaging 1972 36 jurorâ€™s statements [various authors] the great wheel of style/lorraine wild interviewed by laurie sandhaus [from eye magazine]
5 and third ?
TIBOR KALMAN VS. JOE DUFFY REVISITED By: Aaron Kenedi | April 6, 2011 [Editor’s note: Twenty-one years ago to the month, Print hosted a spirited debate in its New York offices between two of design’s biggest names, Joe Duffy and Tibor Kalman. The pair’s sit down has become legendary in the industry and many people still talk about it to this day. We thought it would be interesting to re-run it a generation later with some added thoughts at the end by Steven Heller (who moderated the talk) and Martin Fox, Print’s editor at the time.]
“Oppositions: Tibor Kalman First in a series vs. of Print debates” Joe Duffy What is the ultimate goal of design? A satisfied client? A better product? An enlightened society? A cleaner environment? Ideally, graphic designers should be able to achieve all of these things without compromising artistic and moral integrity. But in a real and imperfect world, they often have to forgo every end but client satisfaction simply to continue working. For many, the question is not whether the designer’s role should be redefined, but how it can change to meet the often conflicting needs of client, ego, and society. To explore this issue of ways and means, we invited Tibor Kalman, director of the New York City design firm M&Co, and Joe Duffy, head of the Duffy Design Group in Minneapolis, to participate in the first of a series of Print-sponsored debates that will appear in these pages from time to time. The series is called “Oppositions.” Our choice of opponents seemed appropriate given their notorious differences in philosophy and style. Kalman has built his 11-year-old business on flamboyant, “conceptual” design, including a video for the New Wave music group Talking Heads, graphics for Restaurant Florent in New York, and signage and collateral material for Red Square, a real-estate development on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (Fig. 1). In general, M&Co.’s projects are charged with an effort to raise consciousness as well as move merchandise. They often lean toward the sophisticated fringes of urban culture (literally so, in the case of Red Square), and challenge people to think about the product, not merely to consume it. Duffy, on the other hand, is associated with an impeccably rendered graphic style that is more decorative than conceptual, yet canny nonetheless. In its five years of existence, the Duffy Group has forged a look that combines rustic simplicity with high-toned elegance, generating packages and identities that appeal to a broad consumer market, Its work on such products as Classico pasta sauce, French Paper, and Ralph Lauren’s Chaps line of clothing (Fig. 2) has earned the compliment (in design terms) of flagrant imitation, and the ultimate reward (in business terms) of a buyout offer from the Michael Peters Group, a design/marketing firm based in London. Less than a year ago, the Duffy and Peters Groups merged, catapulting Duffy into the international corporate arena.
A series of events resulting from this merger offered a more immediate justification for bringing Duffy and Kalman together. As reported in the January/February issue of Print, Duffy came under fire at last October’s AIGA conference for a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal that promoted the services of the Duffy/Peters Groups to corporate CEOs. Kalman, along with sociologist Stuart Ewan and designer Neville Brody, cited the ad as suggestive of a nefarious collaboration between design and big business. In his address to the conference, which was reprinted in these pages, Kalman urged designers to be “bad”—to refuse to abet clients who promote substandard products or champion mediocre design. While Duffy was singled out for neither of these activities, he was clearly used as an example of a distressingly “good” designer who contributed to the debasement of the designer’s role. Conference organizers arranged an impromptu debate to give Duffy the opportunity to respond, but it satisfied neither participants nor audience. So, in an effort to explore the issue that led to this encounter, and open them up to a larger audience, we invited Duffy and Kalman to our offices ast December to resume the dialogue. Steven Heller, art director at the New York Times and a contributing editor to Print, acted as moderator. Also present were Print’s editor, Martin Fox; managing editor, Carol Stevens; associate editor, Julie Lasky; and two cassette recorders that stoically taped the twohour proceedings. Guidelines for the debate were kept to a minimum. Heller posed most of the questions, though the opponents were invited to direct questions to each other, which they frequently did. There were no time limits; each participant was free to speak (or shout) until he was interrupted. All comments were considered “for the record,” and the resulting transcript was edited for length and clarity. As the final transcript shows, the spirit of candor was left intact; and if Duffy and Kalman did not exactly bask in warmth, they did cast a great deal of light. – Julie Lasky
HELLER: Both of you run design firms; both of your firms are known for distinctive points of view or styles. You, Tibor, seem to have a problem with certain business practices of the Duffy/Peters Groups. And you, Joe, not necessarily at odds with M&Co.’s business style, have been challenged to defend your current business priorities and approach-an approach that has put you and your group in the limelight. As a kind of precis to acquaint the reader with your points of view, tell us why you are in the business and what kind of business or social ethic you try to live up to and how it’s reflected in the work you do. First, Tibor. KALMAN: I’m in the business by accident, and it always seemed an okay thing to do. So far, anyway. The business may change in such a way that, at some point, I won’t want to be in it. As to the ethics of our practice, I think the simplest way to sum it up is that we’re interested in art before money. We’re interested in exploring the possibilities for design as a cultural force. We’re not uninterested in making money; like everyone else, we like to live in decent apartments and take taxis and stuff like that. But I think that my overall worry about the design business is whether as a group we are becoming overly influenced by money and professional success, and whether that’s impinging on our ability to criticize our clients and make an impact on the world and as a group influence culture. HELLER: Joe? DUFFY: Well, I’m in the business because I love design. First and foremost. I started out in fine arts, and the idea of combining art and commerce for a career intrigued me. I feel there are tremendous opportunities in design. I’m concerned about the future of the business, as is Tibor. The reason I’m in it and enthusiastic about it is that I think I can make a difference and work to improve the business rather than see it succumb to the concerns Tibor has. As far as my practice and its ethics are concerned, I think the most important aspect of our work in the five years we’ve been in business is that we don’t do work we’re not proud of; we do not work for people who won’t allow us to do good work. And I think that ethically one of the biggest problems design faces is that the people who are capable of doing great design have two standards: one for clients that allow them to do good work and another for clients that will pay the freight, so to speak. I think that’s wrong, and I guess I’m most proud of not succumbing to that attraction. KALMAN: Can I respond to that? HELLER: Go ahead. KALMAN: Joe, you said that you’re interested in combining art and commerce; then there was a pause, and then you said, “for a career.” You said that there was a tremendous opportunity in this business for you, and that you want to make a difference in this business, and that you want to improve the business. Seems to me that’s a lot of talk about business and careers and opportunities, although you said you’re mostly interested in design. DUFFY: When I said opportunities, I didn’t qualify those opportunities as financial rewards or anything’ else. There are tremendous opportunities to do good. One example is that, as designers, we can help clean up the environment. I think we can do a better job in that regard. We can clarify communication in this country; design is in a very sorry state, and I think that as designers—
KALMAN: When you say design is in a sorry state, is that an esthetic judgment? Or is that a business judgment? DUFFY: Both. All you have to do is open a newspaper or magazine, or drive down the street for that matter, to see that we’re bombarded by terrible design. KALMAN: Like ugly design? What’s bad design? DUFFY: Bad design on many different levels. And I think there are opportunities to improve it. KALMAN: You mean to make everything look better? DUFFY: To communicate better, work better, not pollute the environment. KALMAN: The environment’s an issue we should dispense with right away, because there’s probably no disagreement between us on it. DUFFY: Well, there might be disagreement as to what we’re doing about it. We can talk all we want; our actions are what really define our approaches. HELLER: I think we can come back to the environment in another context later, but you, Tibor, had a point about career. KALMAN: Well, what I’m taking you to be saying, Joe, is that opportunity really comes from the fact that things in America are not as attractively designed as they could be. You also see tremendous opportunities for improving the business of how design is conducted, which I agree with. But I don’t agree with the esthetic issue because I think it has a lot to do with elitism-designers thinking they have better ideas about what things should look like than ordinary human beings. You also said that one of your problems was that a lot of firms seem to have two standards, and I guess I want to defend us. I think that we at M&Co. grew up having two standards. We’ve been in business 11 years, and in the first live or six or seven years, we applied one standard to corporate work, where we saw that it was very frustrating to do anything nice, or anything that we believed in. But we also wanted to survive as a studio, so, like advertising agencies, we took direction from our clients and produced work that was miserable. HELLER: Does that mean you took on corporations whose products didn’t appeal to you? KALMAN: Oh, yes. We took on complete garbage. We were doing all kinds of other projects that we were losing our shirts on: cultural projects, record covers, freebies, pro bono, and so on. For a very long time, the two standards were the only way in which we could both survive and be capable of doing the kind of work we thought a lot of our small clients deserved, in spite of their cruddy budgets. I think that’s okay and I think a lot of people have to get started that way. DUFFY: When did you stop doing that kind of work? KALMAN: I think, formally, neither you nor I have ever stopped doing that kind of work. I don’t know if anyone can ever fully stop.
I think that even mediocre design is a cultural force. When design is good, it celebrates the intelligence of the audience. When itâ€™s mediocre, it insults that intelligence. It deals with limited, perverse, and convenient frames of reference that will entice a client to buy the product, as opposed to dealing with education, for example. Can a commercial project be educational? I think the answer is yes. Can a brochure for a hospital be informational? Yes, because a certain amount of that space can be devoted to making people understand how a hospital works and what it does. [Tibor Kalman]
You missed the point in the [Wall Street Journal] ad: Sometimes packaging or brand identity is the only difference. I believe that packaging can improve the product; I believe that a brand identity can improve the product. [Joe Duffy]
DUFFY: I don’t do that kind of work. KALMAN: I think that if you think you don’t, you’re mistaken. HELLER: Joe, is the double standard that Tibor’s talking about something you had at the beginning with the Duffy Group? DUFFY: No. KALMAN: Have you guys ever done projects that you’re not proud of? DUFFY: No. Some projects have been less successful than others. There are some that I’m not as proud of, but it’s always been because of my inability to do the best possible job; it’s never been forced upon me by a client. I think the people who succumb to those pressures are the problem in design because the situation feeds on itself. The corporate giants in America feel they can bully designers and tell them exactly what to do and treat them as suppliers rather than partners or innovators. And I think that you and others who practice design that way hurt the business of design. KALMAN: I don’t think you have to worry about me. I don’t practice the business of design that way. The point that I didn’t finish before about the double standard was that in the first few years in the business, we did a lot of fairly funky projects, both morally and esthetically. And as we got better known and better able to sell our work, we began to combine the two standards so that, to some extent, they overlap significantly. Now we can actually make money on projects we believe in. DUFFY: And you no longer work for people who force you to do work you’re not satisfied with? KALMAN: Pretty much almost never. I’ve done stuff that I’m not satisfied with the same way you’re not satisfied— DUFFY: But you’ve said very recently that you’ve done work for The Limited and other corporate clients where you try as hard as you can to do good work but give up and just deposit the check. KALMAN: That’s a pretty broad paraphrase of what I’ve said. DUFFY: Well, I can give you the exact quote. It was at the  Walker [Art Center lecture series in Minneapolis]. Someone asked, “Did you ever do capabilities brochures?” and you responded, “Yeah, what I haven’t shown you tonight is that we do some boring stuff that buys me suits. And you know we try in every instance to make those as good as possible, and then we give up and just deposit the check …. We did the annual report for The Limited for the last few years. Phew, I said it. So we do those kinds of projects and we kind of take a Robin Hood approach, taking money from the rich bastards and giving it to poor, defenseless clients who let us do whatever we want.” KALMAN: Great. I’d love to let that stand. What happened with us is that we did Limited annual reports up until the last one and I don’t think we’re going to end up doing [the next] one. I’m fairly proud of the first one we did [Fig. 3]; I think it was pretty good-looking, pretty smart, pretty honest. The company had had a banner year, so we did an oversize book printed in Japan with inserts and stuff like that. It was sort of a razzmatazz annual report. The second year, the company had a really miserable year, and we did the whole project on uncoated stock with serious, aggressive photography of the executives. And the third Limited report we did was sort of wishy-washy. But the fact of it is that as design projects, they were all line. I defend them. I think they were as good-looking as any of your work and better-looking than most annual reports.
HELLER: Let’s go back to the reason for your debate at the AIGA conference. It had to do with the full-page advertisement the Duffy/Peters Groups placed in the Wall Street Journal. At the conference, Stuart Ewen, Neville Brody, and Tibor all cited this key passage in the ad as part of their critiques on contemporary design: “Good design … can be the most profitable way to spend a marketing budget. lt can be the quickest way to build a new brand or to save an old one. It can make your product disappear off the shelf, instead of disappearing into it. And as more and more competitive products become more and more alike, a good package can become a packaged good’s best if not only point of difference.” Before I ask Tibor to comment on that, I’d like to know from Joe why this ad was placed and what the motive was for that approach. DUFFY: The main reason was to speak to an audience that I think has pretty much ignored design in this country. I think that we really need to deal with a higher level of management in large companies in order to do good design. We were speaking to that audience in a language we felt they could relate to and understand. HELLER: What’s so offensive about the ad, Tibor? KALMAN: I don’t disagree with Joe about the fact that we have to speak to a higher level of management about good design; it’s something that I’ve spoken about and written about a lot. One of the simplistic examples I’ve used is that when companies had a person at the top who actually talked to you about the product- about more than just the numbers-it was in an era in which the quality of design was higher. There was essentially direct contact between the entrepreneur and the designer. The de- signer was some weird flake who lived down the street in somebody’s attic and was called a commercial artist. So I agree with Joe. Our most successful work has been when we could deal with the boss. DUFFY: Yeah, and you don’t deal with the boss by sending out some cute three-dimensional design piece. The only way you speak is through their levels of communication. HELLER: I think there’s an interesting point here. In talking about cute three-dimensional pieces, Joe, you’re obviously referring to the Christmas promotions M&Co. sends out (Figs. 4, 5). DUFFY: No, I’m not. I’m guilty of it myself. I’ve learned by my mistakes in this regard. In fact, the first thing that we sent out when we opened the studio was this printed piece that was beautiful, real nice (Figs. 6, 7). The clients we needed to talk to didn’t like it; they ignored it. The Wall Street Journal ad was a vital attempt to break through to that audience. HELLER: So again, Tibor, what is so offensive about that ad given that that was the purpose and you agree with the purpose? KALMAN: Nothing was really offensive about the ad. I think it was completely fine. I think that Joe should advertise his services. It’s smart of him to try to reach a higher level of management when he talks about design. It’s terrific that he tries to get business and tries to grow-all those things. I don’t see anything wrong with them. DUFFY: If the ad was fine, if you agree with it— KALMAN: No, I don’t agree with it. I only agree that it was fine for you to do. DUFFY: Okay, if it was fine for us to do, why did you point to it in a summary of everything that’s wrong with design? You went on and on about the problems designers have and how deceptive design is, and then as a summary, you pointed to our ad and said, “And look at what these people are saying.” I don’t care what Stuart Ewen says; he’s not a designer. But Tibor Kalman, a designer I respect, props us up as the enemy. You were chairman of the AIGA national conference, and you didn’t give me an opportunity to at least present my side of the story, knowing full well-or, at least you should have known full well- that l was going to be there. I think that is unconscionable.
KALMAN: I think you’re overreacting. And I think you’re responding completely emotionally. DUFFY: It’s not emotional, Tibor, How could you do that? Are you telling me that you presented our business philosophy in a positive way? KALMAN: I wasn’t attempting to present your business philosophy. I was talking about what is, in my opinion, the state of design and the state of how designers are behaving with clients. I cited a passage from your ad as an example of one of the problems with design. You weren’t the summary of the talk; you were somewhere in the middle. DUFFY: But what bothered you about the passage? KALMAN: I was saddened by the fact that graphic designers have kind of gotten down to this issue of having to help distinguish Diet 7-Up from Diet Sprite. DUFFY: Well, that’s the other thing that bothered me because you used the ad as an example, and then you showed someone else’s work as a visualization. KALMAN: And what did I say? I said: “They didn’t design these cans.” Get the tape. DUFFY: Why didn’t you use the work we referred to in the ad? We weren’t referring to 7-Up and Sprite. KALMAN: Because I chose not to. I was not worried about being fair to you. I was just worried about making a point. DUFFY: Good. I’m glad you admit that. HELLER: I’d like to get back to Tibor’s unhappiness with design and to raise the point that in the 1930s, the era in which you’re saying there were entrepreneurs and commercial artists who served those entrepreneurs well, there was also a Great Depression and a lack of buying in America. In order to boost consumerism, designers were brought into the picture; and, as Stuart Ewen said in his talk [at the AIGA conference], something called “forced obsolescence” was invented so that products could move and the economy could get back on its feet. Isn’t that the nature of design? And isn’t that what designers are still here for, even though we live in a basically prosperous time? KALMAN: I am saddened by the idea that our role in this society, as graphic designers in the 1990s, is relegated to finding different ways to knock off other people’s designs the same way manufacturers knock off other people’s products. DUFFY: But that’s not what the Duffy Group’s about. You missed the point in the ad: Sometimes packaging or brand identity is the only difference. I believe that packaging can improve the product; I believe that a brand identity can improve the product. HELLER: How can it do that? I mean if Ragu tastes the same as Classico tomato sauce, how does the packaging improve it? DUFFY: Let’s say the package would be saved and reused, like Classico’s is (Fig. 8). People use it after the product is gone. They put it on their shelves. They store coffee in it. That is an example of where the package becomes part of the product.
DUFFY: Definitely. Also, packaging that is environmentally friendly obviously can improve a product. KALMAN: What’s the difference between your spaghetti sauce and any other spaghetti sauce that comes in a glass jar with a screw-on top, in terms of reusability? DUFFY: The package is one that people like to save because it’s well-designed. KALMAN: And they throw the Ragu jar away? Isn’t the difference in those packages structurally the label? DUFFY: No, it’s the actual glass as well. The Classico is like a Mason jar, so it can be used for other purposes. KALMAN: The Ragu jar can’t be used for other purposes? DUFFY: It could be, but people are less likely to save it. KALMAN: How do we know that? DUFFY: Research. Look it up. MARTIN FOX: But even if people do save the jars, how does that make the product itself—the actual sauce—superior? DUFFY: The package itself is part of the product. It’s not just what’s in the container; it’s everything that’s part of it. If the package is better, for any number of reasons, the product is better. KALMAN: I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s the big lie of marketing. DUFFY: Okay, let me give you another example: Shell Oil. The Michael Peters Group did research, and after looking at the product found out that Shell Oil was missing an opportunity in terms of shipping it. Because they were using tin cans, they were shipping a lot of airspace between the containers in the shipping carton. The Peters Group designed something that eliminated 80 percent of that air, and so the company saved millions of dollars (Fig. 9). KALMAN: What was the new material? DUFFY: A plastic that was made out of the oil Shell sells. KALMAN: So the Peters Group took a tin can and replaced it with a plastic container? I’m not sure what the environmental impact of something like that would be. DUFFY: It’s much improved. KALMAN: I’m not an expert, but it sounds to me the opposite; it seems that the percentage of tin being recycled is much greater than the percentage of plastic. But I’m not sure. I would question the whole issue. And packaging as part of the product really bugs me. That whole philosophy is something I have trouble with. HELLER: What’s wrong with it? KALMAN: I think it’s a lie. I think packages are liars; that’s what they do. DUFFY: I couldn’t agree more. Some packaging lies, and that’s one of the problems we have in our profession. KALMAN: Some of your packaging lies, too.
DUFFY: Like what? KALMAN: The fake nostalgia thing is kind of a lie. I think the reason people do fake nostalgia in packaging is because marketers and researchers have convinced us-and it’s probably true-that good old-fashioned homemade spaghetti sauce is better than computer-aided-design spaghetti sauce. DUFFY: So you don’t do any design that has nostalgia? KALMAN: No, I’m not saying that. To me, the lie in these old-time folksy graphics is that the spaghetti sauce is any better. The lie is in getting people to believe: “Oh, this is an old- fashioned label. This company must have been around for a hundred years. This must be an old-fashioned recipe that uses all-natural ingredients just like my mama used to do.” HELLER: But couldn’t you just cross that off to being clever? KALMAN: I think there’s a kind of cynicism to it. The fact is that Joe’s spaghetti sauce is being made the same way that the other spaghetti sauce is being made, for the most part. And for it to have a fake-old label would have people think either that the company has been around for a long time, or that the recipe is a long-ago recipe. DUFFY: Neither is true. The label is meant to look like an Italian recipe because that’s what it is. The client came out with spaghetti sauces that are based on recipes from different regions in Italy. One comes from Sicily, another comes from Abruzzi, and so on. Those graphics represent the specific ingredients and areas of Italy. It’s not a lie. KALMAN: I think it’s misleading. I’m sure there are chinks in our armor in this area, too, and I don’t want to focus the attack on Joe, but to me the issue is that graphic design is frequently used as a tool to lie, including a lot of my work and a lot of Joe’s work, and that bugs me. I mean, doesn’t it make you a little crazy? Do you sleep okay about that? DUFFY: Yes. I have no problems because I don’t think it’s lying. KALMAN: What do you think it is then? DUFFY: Communicating. KALMAN: Communicating a lie, though. It’s not communicating the truth. DUFFY: I just explained the Classico labels, and I feel very good about them communicating what the product is all about. HELLER: Joe, in terms of the studio’s style that you had when Chuck Anderson was with you, the nostalgic overtones, why did you choose that style of work? DUFFY: Well, it’s a situation where the style or the focus or the look of the work is based on what we feel needs to be communicated. And it just so happened that many clients came to us with a product or a service that related to something that was nostalgic. Or at least we felt that was the best way to communicate that personality or service. KALMAN: But they’re all nostalgic. DUFFY: There’s a pattern. KALMAN: I think that most people’s perception of your work is that a very large majority of it is nostalgic. You hardly ever use Helvetica, I would guess. Or Univers. What I’m after is: Why nostalgia? What does nostalgia provide as an entree point to any of your clients, or to all of your clients as a group, that makes it so desirable?
DUFFY: I think you have to take specific cases, like the Classico example, which I explained. KALMAN: Old-style tomato sauce just like the good old days. And what about the ice cream? DUFFY: [Sonny’s] ice cream is a product that is hand-packed by a father-and-son operation in Minneapolis. And they do it just the way they used to do it back in the ’30s (Fig. 10). KALMAN: And what about the French Paper Stuff? DUFFY: French paper is a mill in Niles, Michigan, that is probably the smallest paper mill in the States. They are about as down-home and nostalgic as you can possibly get in the paper industry (Fig. 11). KALMAN: So you’re saying that there’s a logical reason for all of these pieces to have a nostalgic— DUFFY: Yes. HELLER: Now let’s talk about your obsession with vernacular, Tibor. I mean, basically we’re talking about two different fonris of vernacular, except Joe is reaching back into a certain area of the ’30s and ’20s and teens. KALMAN: Yeah, well, I think that if you look through every single piece of work that M&Co. ever did, you’ll find out of thousands of projects in the last 10 years only two or three that look vernacular, where we succumb to the idea of actually knocking off stuff. My identification with vernacular has always been about really respecting the vernacular process. I respect the authority of it, I respect the simplicity of it, I respect the naturalness of it-sort of like health food. It’s like design without all of this process and theory. DUFFY: It’s honest. KALMAN: Yeah, I think so. There’s a lot of vernacular in your work, too. DUFFY: Definitely. KALMAN: And that to me is what’s important. Designers have become so professionalized and such pawns to the client and big business that they’ve had to develop all of these defenses about what it is to just have a great idea and do it. Or not even have a great idea, but just do it, the way in the Caribbean some guy will take a black roller and write this 9-foot G-A-S on the side of a brick building. HELLER: If someone came to either of you with a portfolio with a few pages of G-A-S or, let’s say, something that is quite vernacular-pinball art-would you hire that person? KALMAN: I’d laugh him out of the room. HELLER: Where’s the honesty then? Aren’t you appropriating something from someone you wouldn’t hire in a million years? KALMAN: What I’m appropriating is a process as opposed to a look, okay? And the process is how to think about something in a clear and uncomplex and unfiltered and uneducated way. HELLER: Joe, are you giving us a process or a look or both? DUFFY: Both. It’s a look, but it’s based on communicating the idea that the product has to offer.
HELLER: When the Duffy Group began, did you think that you needed a house style, as Push Pin ultimately arrived at a house style? DUFFY: The word style has always bugged me, but we really felt, starting out, that we needed to focus on not trying to be all things to all people, as many designers do. We also wanted to establish a design approach that would be identifiable and would establish our credentials. HELLER: What is the difference between M&Co. and Joe Duffy, given what we’ve just talked about in’ terms of style and approach? KALMAN: In my opinion, this is a pure esthetic pow-pow, but I think those guys have a style and we have a process. Their style may come out of a process-that’s okay with me-but what we have constantly tried to do, and I think succeeded at, is not let our pieces look very much alike but to focus instead on design as an accidental process in which pieces come out looking all kinds of different ways. Often you can’t tell it’s us. DUFFY: And sometimes that’s because of what the clients make you do. KALMAN: Hardly. Not these days. HELLER: Joe, the difference between Duffy and— DUFFY: I really don’t know enough about M&Co.’s work; I’ve seen the products, the watches, the gadgets and whatnot. HELLER: Given what you know— KALMAN: Make it up. DUFFY: Let me talk about the similarities first, because I believe that we both have looked backwards nostalgically. KALMAN: Not consciously on our part. DUFFY: I’m giving my view of how our work is different or alike, and I think in many instances, M&Co.’s work, to me anyway, looks nostalgic. I think that’s a similarity. On the other hand, we do work that is packaging or literature or identity. The very areas we practice in-the disciplines of design-are obviously different. KALMAN: If you consider our work nostalgic, I don’t think you’re looking at it very carefully and I don’t think you’ve seen a good range of it. DUFFY: Well, I think that I’ve seen Russian Constructivist; I’ve seen vernacular— KALMAN: When have you seen Russian Constructivist? DUFFY: In one of your annual reports for The Limited. There are certainly influences there. I think that the work you did for—what’s the cable channel, Showtime?—has a somewhat Constructivist influence. KALMAN: I think there are instances of nostalgia in our work. DUFFY: Like clip art, old engravings for the restaurant-I forget the name— HELLER: Florent (Fig. 12).
KALMAN: We used neither clip art nor old engravings for— DUFFY: That to me looked nostalgic. The old Bell logo— KALMAN: The old Bell logo is used as a reference for— DUFFY: And that’s not nostalgic? KALMAN: No. DUFFY: That’s not from the past? KALMAN: Well, certainly it’s from the past, but how it’s used is the question. What the effect of it is. You see, I think your problem looking at our work, and maybe at your own work, is that you’re confusing the idea of knocking off something from the past and making it look like it happened 50 years ago in Italy with using the values and the elements that are from the past-and that are good from the past-in a new way. And that’s the difference between your nostalgia and my nostalgia. DUFFY: You’re wrong because we use things from the past for the very same purpose as you do-to communicate. To get an idea across. KALMAN: But you don’t do anything new with them is what I’m saying. DUFFY: We do something very new: We put it in a whole new context. We don’t just take something and put it down and print it. HELLER: I really would like to end this issue by having the last word, and that is: What Tibor did with Café Florent took the forms of the diner and brought them into the 1980s; it’s perfectly appropriate. And what Joe did with Classico or some of the books I’ve seen is take old forms and give them new color and new life-reviving history in a positive way. This issue may come up again, but I think we should put it to rest because there’s another important issue that comes out of Tibor’s talk at the AIGA conference, and I think Joe should respond to it as well. And that has to do with subversion and Tibor’s whole discussion about being bad. What do you mean? Can you really subvert a client into doing something the client does not wish to do or into producing a product that he or she isn’t geared to produce? KALMAN: I believe that the design process as it now works is sometimes not very good and I think it’s something Joe and I agree on more than we disagree. The responsibility for design is passed down to a very low level in the company, and the whole process sucks in a lot of cases. There are a few enlightened companies where the people in charge really know how important designers are, get involved, and so on. But for the vast majority of cases, you can’t go near the big guys when it comes to these issues. And what I meant by subverting the design process is, first of all, trying to subvert that sort of pecking order in which design happens. HELLER: Which means going straight to the boss? KALMAN: That’s one way. Another way is not being willing to just have somebody hand you a pile of manuscript and making it look nice; you can reject the manuscript, saying, “This is garbage; it has to be completely rewritten. This isn’t your problem; you have a different problem. ” Those are the kinds of issues that I’m interested in. HELLER: Do you think subversion is the right word though?
KALMAN: Well, I think it’s an effective word in a talk. HELLER: So now that we’re among friends, what word would you use? KALMAN: Subversion. We’re still talking, right? I think the design process does need to be subverted. What do you think, Joe? DUFFY: I’d agree with that. KALMAN: See? Another subversive. DUFFY: I think what we lack in our profession is respect from people who really need our help the most-not only respect, but understanding. The people who can really make the decisions in terms of using design for good purposes are people who haven’t a clue as to what we do. They don’t listen to us. This is a generalization, but the problem is that, with large companies, we usually have to deal with people who are on lower rungs of the ladder; and by the time they nibble away at our work all the way up, it no longer translates. HELLER: Have you worked with the top guy? DUFFY: Yes. HELLER: What’s happened in those cases? DUFFY: Decisions got made more quickly; it’s either “Yes, I like it; let’s go with it” or— KALMAN: I think a lot more chances get taken. DUFFY: They’re people who aren’t concerned with covering their ass. They’re willing to take risks. HELLER: Give me a specific example of going into the CEO. What did you give? And what did you get in return? DUFFY: I’ve already used the example of Classico; we dealt with the president of the company, who was great to work with. He was in on all the meetings and he really enjoyed the design process. He came up with a lot of the ideas in both naming the product and deciding which graphic direction we should take. There was no chipping away at the concept as it went through the ranks to get to the boss. There was no second-guessing and concern for one’s position rather than for doing the best possible design. JULIE LASKY: What I want to ask Joe is, How can you in the packaging process actually sit down and have some influence on a product like Classico? Do you feel you can say, “I think there should be more flavor here; the sauce isn’t tomatoey enough”? DUFFY: Sure. In fact, with Classico, first round, we gained their respect because they realized that our packaging had an awful lot to do with selling their product. They came out with four new flavors this last year, and we were involved with the taste-testing and giving our opinions about how we should flavor something. I think that’s an example of first of all gaining some respect and then being involved in the product as well as what surrounds the product. HELLER: Tibor, when you talk about being bad, you’re talking about helping to recreate the product you’re asked to work on. Is that correct? KALMAN: Well, yeah. One of the ways that you subvert the design process is you say, “Come back to me when you have a good product.” The client says, “What do you mean? We have a perfectly good product,” and you talk about why they don’t. HELLER: Have you done this?
KALMAN: We attempt it on every single project we work on. We hire the writers for 95 per cent of the material that we design. We think through the marketing issues, and that’s another area where designers have to be involved because, otherwise, they’re picking typefaces and colors. HELLER: Are you saying basically that as long as the marketing is in your hands, it’s okay? If it’s in somebody else’s hands and you’re being given the solution, in a sense, then it’s bad? KALMAN: What I’m saying is that if the marketing is in someone else’s hands, your role is incidental, minimal, and is unlikely to have any kind of impact on the product or the design and certainly not the world. If the marketing is in your hands, then I think you’re going to fail a lot, but I think there can still be a real synergy between the marketing, the environment, and the design. HELLER: Have you succeeded at that? KALMAN: We’ve succeeded at that consistently. HELLER: Give me one example. The specifics are important because essentially what you said at the AIGA conference can be construed as, “Do as I do, not as you do,” and therefore I think it’s important to know what you’ve done. (A long pause.) KALMAN: I’m just trying to pick something where it’s transparent what we’ve done, so bear with me for a second, okay? HELLER: Pick one. KALMAN: I’m sorry, there are all kinds of things that are confidential and things that are not coming out yet. Let the record show that I’m twiddling my thumbs. FOX: Steve, do you have anything in mind? HELLER: What I think of perhaps is the video for [musician David] Byrne. It may not be high-end corporate, but it’s something that Tibor had some role in. KALMAN: This is a video we did for Talking Heads called “(Nothing but) Flowers” [Fig. 13]. The strategies involved were that the video had to be made on very little money. The song was difficult to film: It’s about fast food and the future and trees, and it exists as a sort of person in the future lamenting about the past. The ordinary rock-video thing to do would have been to dress up the band in McDonald’s outfits and shoot it at a fast-food place, and that would have been funny. Instead, we got the lyrics to do what they’re supposed to do in a song: In a song you hear lyrics and you hear music; and on television, you see lyrics and hear music. So what we did was simply animate the lyrics and put them over a very simple composite of the band. HELLER: But this was your idea, right? KALMAN: Yeah. HELLER: What I’m getting at is that the bottom line to being subversive, being bad, is having ideas. KALMAN: Having ideas and making them make sense on the marketing level. Designers are just not taught that very much, not the people I see coming out of the schools these days. And they don’t think it’s their job or-the most astounding thing of all to me-they think that the manuscript is the manuscript.
DUFFY: And the typeface is the typeface. . KALMAN: And I think the product, the name, the language, the graphics, the production, and the media are inextricably entwined; and if you’re not dealing with them as a global issue, then you’re not dealing with anything. What’s happened is that with the enormous growth of companies and markets, and the unwillingness of big business to take risks, the designer’s job is becoming narrower and narrower. And that’s what I was talking about when I made the criticism of the ad. Our job comes down to knocking off the Coke can for Pepsi, or the Pepsi can for Coke. It’s astounding how much these competing items look alike. I mean, what’s the difference between Coke and Pepsi? Between Hertz and Avis? Lee and Levi’s? Nothing. HELLER: I would like to go to something that was said in the opening remarks: One of the problems people talk about today is that design has become overly professional, where we follow the commands of the corporate ruling class. Joe, you have just merged with a multinational design group. Some people might even say you were bought by this group. Is that a fair term? DUFFY: Yeah. HELLER: Has this purchase affected the way you practice design in a negative way? Or a positive way? DUFFY: It hasn’t in a negative way. It’s only been six months, so I can only rely on that frame of reference, but some positive things have happened. The most significant is that we have been able to get in and talk to the people who are closer to the top, as I mentioned earlier. HELLER: But you said that you would only take jobs from the people who would allow you to do quality work. Does this still hold true? Can you still be that picky and choosy when someone is governing your destiny? DUFFY: So far, and I’m not about to compromise our principles. I don’t care if it’s for Procter & Gamble or General Mills or whoever. If they won’t allow us to do good work, then we won’t work for them. KALMAN: How can you afford to do that, though? Don’t you have to grow? DUFFY: I’ve been doing it for five years. HELLER: You sold your business because you also need more of a financial base, right? DUFFY: I sold the business because large companies do not want to deal with a 10-person operation based in Minneapolis. They consider us a boutique. If we are part of a multinational organization that deals in a number of different disciplines-that has experts in a number of areas they feel we need experts in-they will listen to us; they will give us work. And companies like that have given us work since we joined the Michael Peters Group. People who would not even talk to us before. KALMAN: Who do they want to talk to? DUFFY: People they feel will communicate with them on a business level, people who can become partners in that marketing process you were referring to. They don’t think-and in my estimation, they’re right-that the small design firms have the marketing expertise to accomplish what they want to accomplish. KALMAN: But don’t you have to grow? Don’t these buyout deals demand that you meet certain-quotas of growth? DUFFY: No. I want to grow. I plan to grow. And if I work for bigger companies on bigger projects, I certainly will grow. That is the intent. But no one is saying, “You have to reach such-and- such a level at such-and-such a time.”
KALMAN: But doesn’t that have to do with your compensation for the company? DUFFY: Sure, but I put our work before compensation-my compensation, anyway. I’m not going to do bad work. HELLER: Tibor, you’re a small firm— KALMAN: Not so small; we have two big offices. HELLER: Do you consider yourself a boutique? KALMAN: Yes, but I think that big corporations are completely comfortable with boutique-type firms. DUFFY: Which ones that you work for? KALMAN: Knoll International. Chiat/Day, MTV Networks… HELLER: Do you now pick and choose your clients the way Joe picks and chooses his? KALMAN: Yes, of course, to the extent that we turn down a lot of work. That’s how one picks and chooses: You turn down certain kinds of work cold; with other kinds of work, you go through the design process, you see that it’s a disaster, you take a walk. We probably turn down almost as much work as we accept. HELLER: Do you have an interest in being bought out? KALMAN: Yes, but let me tell you what it is. The frustration to me is that M&Co. has to make money, which is a drag. What I’d like to do is suggest that Michael Peters buy M&Co. and allow it to lose $2 million a year. Maybe it could grow a little bit over time, but I’d like to be able to lose $2 million a year, and anyone that wants to let us do that, our company is for sale. HELLER: And what will you do during that grace period? KALMAN: Not a grace period! We want that forever; we want heaven on earth. What will we do? We’ll spend a lot more time working on the projects that we really love and the projects that don’t have adequate funds to be done as well as we think they deserve to be done: working for museums, artists, music groups, political organizations. FOX: But isn’t that avoiding the whole issue basically by saying, “Great, let us work for all the nice peripheral groups”? KALMAN: It’s avoiding the issue, but the question Steve just asked me is, “Who would you sell to? And on what terms?” HELLER: So the answer is that you wouldn’t sell. KALMAN: I don’t know. Maybe I could fiind a deal like that. HELLER: The question then becomes-and from what I gather, Joe is actually addressing this-When you say that you’re opposed to the Sprite and 7-Up cans, isn’t there room for better work in those areas? Isn’t there a need for better-looking things in the mainstream? KALMAN: Frankly, I think designers decrying the esthetic decline of America is a boring issue. I would hate to live in a country in which everything is well designed. HELLER: Would you, Joe? DUFFY: No, I wouldn’t hate that. I guess it depends on who considers it well-designed.
KALMAN: Would you like to live in a country where you designed everything? DUFFY: Definitely not. I wouldn’t even want to live in a city where I designed everything. KALMAN: Much less a house. DUFFY: Or a room. CAROL STEVENS: Are there no lucrative jobs that are fulfilling, satisfying? DUFFY: I don’t want to give the impression that we’ve never worked for large companies, because we do. We’ve worked with Timex, Porsche, and others for whom We’ve done very fulfilling work. I’m very proud of it. I think it’s really good design, and it has also experienced marketing success, and that’s the challenge for me. I think there are a number of opportunities out there to do good work for large companies. STEVENS: Tibor? KALMAN: Well, I think there is lucrative work where you can do very good design. But it’s a lot rarer than most people admit. And I think no matter how successful you are as a graphic design company, the one thing you sorely lack-and this is something Milton Glaser has told me-is good clients. And if Milton Glaser has trouble finding good clients, God help the typical design firm in America. I think that’s part of the reason people accede to a lot of mediocrity. They’ve got to get the project out; they’ve got to pay the rent. And it’s a very sad, hard struggle. I think there are a few heroes in that struggle: Art Chantry, Tom Bonauro, Rick Valicenti-people who are not taking the route of least resistance and most money, people who are staying independent and not seeing design as a business or as a career or as an opportunity but who are lighting to return design to the idea of art and making it part of culture. DUFFY: That’s where we disagree most— KALMAN: Definitely. You think design is a business and I think it’s an art. HELLER: Tibor, you used a term that I’ve heard bandied about recently, and I’d really like you and Joe to address it. The term is “cultural force. ” Now, once it’s agreed that a certain mediocrity tends to govern mainstream design, how can design be a cultural force? KALMAN: I think that even mediocre design is a cultural force. When design is good, it celebrates the intelligence of the audience. When it’s mediocre, it insults that intelligence. It deals with limited, perverse, and convenient frames of reference that will entice a client to buy the product, as opposed to dealing with education, for example. Can a commercial project be educational? I think the answer is yes. Can a brochure for a hospital be informational? Yes, because a certain amount of that space can be devoted to making people understand how a hospital works and what it does. HELLER: Well, a hospital brochure in one thing; that’s intended to be informational. KALMAN: Then let’s talk about a real-estate project. In a real-estate project, you can address issues of architecture and architectural context, of neighborhood and neighborhood context, of history, and so on. The brochure can be used as an educational device that will deal with issues that are broader than how many square feet or what type of dishwasher an apartment has. I think that’s one of the things we, and a lot of designers in America, struggle with. Unfortunately, a lot of other designers don’t give it their attention: They don’t want to put that many hours into it; they don’t want to think about it too hard; they don’t want to break the client’s chops; they don’t want to take a chance that they’ll lose the project. DUFFY: I think design definitely is a cultural force. As Tibor mentioned, even bad or mediocre design. It causes people to do things, or it gives people perceptions or ideas about products or about how to get from point A to point B in the case of signage, for instance.
KALMAN: Or why. That’s the part that’s usually missing. DUFFY: Right. And design should be educational, not just in terms of explaining how a hospital works but in terms of explaining a product. How to use it. Or why it’s better than another product. I think that’s valid. KALMAN: But you see, Joe, that’s the lie. That’s the lie of The Wall Street Journal ad, too, and that’s the line that you used in San Antonio when we had our stupid debate: that your ad informs people. DUFFY: We’re talking about design. KALMAN: Yeah, but you’re saying that it explains the product. Explaining the product is selling the product, and to confuse that with making an impact on the culture is a lie, and don’t tell yourself that one. DUFFY: If you explain how a hospital works, to use your example, are you not selling the services of that hospital? Or of a real-estate project, if you explain its history or why someone should live there? You’re not selling it? KALMAN: I didn’t talk about any of those things. If you go back to what I said, it was about creating a context for the product and dealing with that context. If we can spend some of our budget educating about the context, as opposed to the product, then we might be able to teach someone something. We might be able to use private funds for public good. But if all We’re doing is merely explaining the product, then we haven’t done that. HELLER I hate to go back to the Classico sauce, but… KALMAN: Your question is, How would M&Co. have handled the Classico sauce to avoid its being purely nostalgic and have it make an impact on the culture? HELLER: Wait a minute, let me put it in my own words: Okay, Tibor, how would you have handled the Classico sauce? KALMAN: I think that if it was about Italy, it could have taught Italian. It could have been a geography lesson. It could have been a history lesson. Also, all packages should begin to deal with political and environmental issues; they should do more to encourage people to recycle-show them other uses for the product so that it doesn’t just have to go into the garbage. The downside, of course, is that all of that takes more label space, and therefore we have to use a larger piece of paper and more glue and kill more trees. But these things can be done. If you give me an hour, I’ll come up with 10 better ideas. HELLER: Is this what designers should be doing now, from the lowest level to the highest: thinking about these aspects of the problem? ls that what you’re saying? KALMAN: I guess I am. DUFFY: And I would agree with it. I think, as designers, we have to strive to do more and not just be decorators; we have to do things that would educate. With Classico, we certainly didn’t give a geography lesson, but we talked about a region in Italy where that particular product came from. There’s only so much you can do on a package, and I think what we have to strive for is gaining the respect from companies that make products like that so that we can sit in earlier on and help improve the product as well as the package. We’re not going to do that unless they feel that we have our marketing act together and that we can help them sell it. That’s what design is in many respects: We have to sell. Otherwise, why not be involved in fine art, Tibor? Imean, if you’re so against the selling aspect of design, and if you want to do things that will allow you to lose $2 million a year, why don’t you just do it for art’s sake? KALMAN: I’m not interested in being an artist.
HELLER: Then what do you mean by the “marriage of art and design”?
FOX: Or that design should be an art? KALMAN: Design should be practiced more like an art form. Right now, it’s going in the opposite direction, becoming too professional and analytical, not intuitive enough. HELLER: Does that mean that design should be a matter of individual expression? KALMAN: I think that design needs individual expression to be meaningful. And individual expression has to be honest and not cynical. HELLER: Isn’t the work of the Duffy Group well crafted, imaginatively put together, colorful, and pleasing? And isn’t there M&Co. work which falls under that same category? And wou1dn’t you say that’s what the art is in the design process? KALMAN: I think that’s the visual part of it, but art exists on other levels besides what something looks like: lt also deals with the intellectual process of absorbing the work, or the intellectual process of enjoying it, or how it was created-like conceptual art and other kinds of things. HELLER: Enjoyment is a very good word here; as Joe says, the Classico product is enjoyed by people because, for some reason, it appeals to an esthetic sense. KALMAN: We like to do some work that makes people’s eyes hurt. HELLER: ls that appropriate? KALMAN I don’t think the whole thing is about enjoyment and making things pretty. I think if you’re in business, that’s certainly what you do, but if you regard what you do to an extent as an art, and I want to be very careful… I’m not an artist; I don’t know anything about art, and I don’t want to be out there on that branch, either. What we do, we’re in a business. And we run it as a business. DUFFY: But isn’t part of a business to sell through design? KALMAN: I know you’ve been dying to ask me that question, and my answer is that that’s what you get paid for. DUFFY: But is it wrong that design is at least partially about selling? KALMAN: Isn’t it entirely about selling? DUFFY: Okay, is it wrong that it’s entirely about selling? KALMAN: No, that’s not wrong. It’s what designers do with it that’s wrong. HELLER: That confuses me. I want to go to the next question, and this has to do with something I know both of you have done projects for, and that is AIDS. Joe has done posters for benefits (Fig. 14). And Tibor recently did a card for something. that ID magazine was putting together to help support Diffa [Design Industries Foundation for AIDS] (Fig. 15). And I raise this point because it relates to appropriateness, it relates to art, it relates to social consciousness. KALMAN: That’s not fair, because actually the designer and the copyrighter on the card is Alexander Brebner. HELLER: Okay, but it was an M&Co. project. The cards were essentially designed to be like UNICEF cards, to sell to people to raise money for an organization that is supporting AIDS research. Five or six other designers were asked to do something, and essentially the brief was to make a pretty card that would sell to a general market. The M&Co. solution was a stark commentary on the issue itself. And my question is, Is it appropriate to take the problem and express yourself in that manner, which is to make the eyes sore, as you said?
KALMAN: Well, that card is intended to make the emotions sore, not the eyes. And it’s a very good example of the difference between the way my group and Joe’s group might handle a project. Yes, we could have made this pretty scene with flowers-something that looks like a greeting card. But we wanted to create a political statement about AIDS because we think that if you are going to do a project for Diffa and not deal with AIDS, you might as well just send them a check. We wanted to come up with a solution that took away the idea that AIDS is only gay people or poor people or IV drug users or little black children and get across the idea that AIDS is about all of us. So we did a very simple card, which just said in capital letters: “THEM=US.” We were very careful to make a political statement that no one could disagree with. But if in the context of talking about AIDS, you were to say, “THEM = US,” that’s something George Bush could not call radical bullshit. And a young gay person could send it home to his parents with the message, “Hi, Mom, I’m gay. I wanted you to know.” We wanted it to be on that level. On the other hand, we were also asked to do a project for “Edible Architecture,” which is a show that Steelcase Design Partnership sponsored this past fall. They had asked for 25 or 30 designers and architects to do pieces like a cake of a building to raise money for Diffa. We made a proposal for a project which we managed to find the funding for, but they refused to put it into the show because it was not a building-because it dealt with AIDS. They said, “Why don’t you do a homeless person in a box?” And we said, “No, that’s not what AIDS is about. Let’s really talk about what AIDS is about, and let’s see whether what you guys are doing is getting publicity for Steelcase Design Partnership or raising money for AIDS.” Now, the problem with all of this is that if we had made a really pretty card, maybe a lot more people would have bought a pretty card, and that would have raised money for Diffa. Or if we had made another beautiful, nice, stupid Empire State Building cake, that would have raised more money for Diffa. We ended up not doing the “Edible Architecture” project because they refused to accept our piece. HELLER: Is that an issue of political rightness or egotism? KALMAN: Fuck you, Steve. That’s my answer to that. It’s an issue of political rightness. And I think that’s a bullshit question. DUFFY: But if you agree to take on a project where the purpose is to raise money for what you consider a worthy cause, why would you disagree with doing something that would raise some money? KALMAN: Because I don’t think that money is enough. I think education is just as important as money, and there are a lot more people with a lot more money than me. I’m better off making my contribution educational, and the cause is better off, too. DUFFY: If the client comes to me as a designer to create something that will make money for what I consider a worthy cause, then I’m going to do the best possible job. HELLER: So you wouldn’t rewrite the brief? DUFFY: Not unless I felt that I could do the job better in a different way. I don’t find fault with the client saying, “We’re going to refuse your work because it doesn’t address what we’re trying to do. ” KALMAN: Steve, what was that question? Were you really asking whether I believe politically in what I’m saying or whether I’m just trying to do a project that will get us a lot of notoriety? Is that the question? HELLER: No. The question is: How much of that is ego and how much is political rightness in your ethic? How much of it is ethical, moral–whatever you want to call it? KALMAN: It’s all ethical, political, and moral.
HELLER: Well, that’s the question. And the question goes to Joe as well. Is sticking to that brief an ethical/moral decision? If you came up with an alternative project that you felt was more appropriate for the client’s needs, would you or would you not continue with the job? DUFFY: Well, it’s really hard to say, not being given the specific job, but if I feel that the client is right in asking me to do something that will sell in order to benefit that particular cause, I’ll go along with it. That doesn’t mean I won’t challenge him and say, “Why don’t I try it this way instead, because I think it’ll work better?” We do it all the time, and I think we have to. We can’t just sit back and say, “Tell us how to do it.” KALMAN: This “Edible Architecture” thing is a good example of what Steve is talking about. Our project was a life sized Ronald Reagan cake with Reagan wearing boxer shorts, and that was all he was wearing, and he was looking a bit like a cadaver. We planned to take all of the comments he had made about AIDS over the course of his eight years of administration, which are considerable, and write them on the cake with frosting in script, so it was completely edible. That’s what our project was because we feel, and I think you probably feel, that a lot of what happened in this country about AIDS was disgusting and could have been dealt with a lot better, a lot earlier, with a lot more people’s lives saved-a lot of my friends’ and I’m sure a lot of your friends’ lives saved. Our piece was angry. And Michael Graves’s piece was little triangular-shaped cookies that were sold at Bloomingdale’s. And Milton Glaser’s piece was a thing with a pear-a pear cake or something. And everybody was going around making these cute little things. The reason we were doing ours was because we knew that all the coverage of this project would become political coverage because of this goddamn body in the middle of this room. HELLER: I’d like to end this with one question that we essentially started with. Now that you’ve both had your say, are the differences between your points of view the same? Are you any closer? DUFFY: As I mentioned earlier, I have respect for Tibor Kalman and for M&Co. ‘s work. I think they’ve done many good things. As I also mentioned earlier, I have a problem with any designer—but particularly one who has a position of influence in our business—having double standards, doing work for people who tell them what to do, in order to make money and to finance work they want to do for clients that don’t have the power to tell them what to do. And I think Tibor has been guilty of that.
HELLER: Tibor? KALMAN: Well, this is not a jury trial, so I won’t bother to repeat my answer to your double-standard thing. If it stays in [the printed version of this debate], I’l1 just ask people to please go back a few pages and find the discussion. Let me say that one of the things that’s going to have to happen if design is to get any better over the next few years is that people are going to have to be criticized-including myself-and be ready to stand up to criticism and defend what they do. The more public one becomes, the more we are criticized, and that criticism is a very good thing for this industry. DUFFY: My concern is not the criticism, because I appreciate that, and I’ll stand up to that. But I want to be given the opportunity to stand up to it, and I think my whole problem with AIGA San Antonio was that I did not have the opportunity to present my side of the argument. KALMAN: But that’s what the next conference is for, Joe. The next conference is for you to attack me. DUFFY: You miss the obvious. If I have something to say that is negative toward you, then I’ll say it so that you can respond to it. You didn’t give me that opportunity at all. I don’t think it’s fair. KALMAN: I did say it in front of you. I think you said you were in the audience. And I would have welcomed you standing up right at that moment and interrupting the speech. DUFFY: I don’t think it’s fair to— KALMAN: Life ain’t fair, you know. I don’t think that we can have a polite forum for criticism in everything we do. And I think this issue of fair and unfair and opportunity to respond is bullshit. I think what really distinguishes us is that, with all due respect, and don’t take it personally-I think the political issue is more important than the personal issue–you’re a Reagan-era yuppie and I am, unfortunately, a ’60s radical. And I think the difference between us is precisely that: You see this as a good opportunity, a nice career, a chance to make a killing. And I see this as a business that affects people’s lives and affects people’s brains. DUFFY: I think you’re completely wrong. I have not worked for people in order to just make money, as you have, so for you to accuse me of being in this business to make a killing is absurd. HELLER: Let’s end it on that happy note.
FURTHER THOUGHTS BY STEVEN HELLER AND MARTY FOX The Tibor/Duffy Debate (a.k.a. Tibor Kalman v. Joe Duffy) in Print (March/April, 1991) was triggered by a 1989 advertisement in the Wall Street Journal announcing the merger of the Duffy Design Group as the American arm of the Michael Peters Group, an international ID firm. To this day, I recall seeing the ad, but not what it said. Michael Peters is quoted saying “This deal brings together the best creative talents on two continents. Joe Duffy and his celebrated design team are redefining the art of design and innovation…” A number of designers took umbrage that Duffy was enabling the so-called engulf and devour ethos of the Eighties and in the ad using the language of shark-business. While large corporate identity and branding companies existed (i.e. Landor, Unimark, etc.), Duffy was perceived as a boutique firm with a distinctive creative style – more or less harmless. But this advertisement signaled that graphic design was entering murky “sell-out” waters. During the ’70s and ’80s many design studios looked more like law firms, with principals wearing Brooks Brothers suits. But this ad was a different kind of line in the sand. And Tibor Kalman, fresh from a campaign he mounted against ESPRIT’s Doug and Susie Thompkins for selling out to mammon, was hunting for bear. He found it at the AIGA National Conference in San Antonio, which he co-chaired with Milton Glaser. The conference was called “Dangerous Ideas” and critiques against the design field’s fragile relationship with commerce were paramount. I recall sitting in the audience of one of the many panel discussions on professional practices, when I was grabbed by an excited Neville Brody who breathlessly said, “Tibor has challenged Joe Duffy to a debate and he wants you to moderate.” When I arrived at the mirrored meeting room—a veritable Texas Versailles —there was already a large crowd of onlookers gathered in a predatory circle. Pacing in the middle, like two cocks, Tibor pounced on a somewhat dazed-looking Joe, shooting off accusations and insults regarding the ad, merger and Duffy’s work. Joe attempted to duck and jab as best he could, but Tibor was in his element. When it seemed that Joe was out for the count, Michael Beirut came to his rhetorical aid and challenged some of Tibor’s assumptions (though I cannot remember the substance). The outcome was unclear, but in prize-fight style, Tibor left the “ring” waving a victory salute. Everyone believed he had won (though they were not sure what he won). The event, however, became the instant talk of the design world. And when word got back to Marty Fox, editor of Print, I convinced him to schedule a formal debate in the magazine’s offices. I was moderator again. This time Joe came prepared to do battle and Tibor, who lived by his wits, was not as prepared with the facts. Joe held his own, and maybe even scored a few technical knockouts. In the end, the one virtue of the debate (which launched other point and counterpoints at Print), was that heretofore unchallenged design practices were not simply taken for granted but viewed from an ethical and moral lens. I don’t believe there was a clear winner, but I still feel the design field won because the taboo against head-on criticism was busted, perhaps for the first time. –Steven Heller
The Kalman/Duffy “debate” ambles around the question of whether a graphic designer’s job is to give the client what he says he wants or what the designer knows he needs. Of course, it’s not usually seen as that stark a choice; designers will always rationalize that they stamp their mark of quality even on commissions that restrict their creative opportunities. But Kalman, the bad boy of design, won’t let his confrere off the hook so easily. He takes a hard line in the exchange: standards must be rigorously upheld; no weakening, even if it means losing the assignment. He seems openly contemptuous of Duffy, whom he appears to accuse of sacrificing principle to get the client to sign off on a job. Duffy denies this; if he doesn’t always work at his highest level, he maintains, it’s not because the client has stifled him, but because of his own failure to measure up creatively to the task at hand. Duffy bridles at Kalman’s holier-than-thou stance and essentially calls him out for being a hypocrite, for practicing himself what he rails against others for doing, i.e., taking on commissions during the course of his career that required and received less than inspired solutions. Duffy insists that he’s turned down commissions, too, if they went against his principles. While it isn’t easy to reject a commission, he says, a designer has to do this if it impinges on his integrity. So the hard-liner, Tibor, admits he has occasionally retreated from lofty principle, while the supposedly willing compromiser, Joe, has in fact held fast to his standards when push came to shove, with citations of lost commissions to prove it. Tibor seems to revel in his self-proclaimed role as the bad boy of design, all the while painting Joe as a kind of appeaser, overly eager to satisfy potential clients. But in the course of the exchanges between them, a role reversal takes place, with eqch of them occupying to some extent the other’s position. By the end of the debate they don’t seem that far apart. Viewed from a distance, The Tibor Kalman/Joe Duffy debate seems to be just one more round in the age-old conflict of Art vs. Commerce. –Marty Fox
GRAPHIC DESIGN THEORY?
and inspire others to read and write more. Working on a recent book project got me thinking about a range of issues that face the profession today. Theory can help us address them.
Article by Helen Armstrong September 29, 2009
Design increasingly lives in the actions of its users
Graphic design has often looked to architecture as an intellectual model. We long to infuse our work with the same kind of dense theoretical knowledge and the same kind of broad ranging, legendary critiques. But we’re not architects. We’re graphic designers. Our role is less defined. We cross between print and web, 2-D and 3-D. Our work is easier to produce and more ephemeral. This fluidity, coupled with a discipline-wide pragmatic streak, makes it difficult to establish a defined body of graphic design theory. Or does it? Graphic designers have written about the ideas behind their work since the inception of the profession. Consider F. T. Marinetti, László Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Josef Müller-Brockman, Karl Gerstner, Katherine McCoy, Jan van Toorn and, more recently, Jessica Helfand, Dmitri Siegel and Kenya Hara. This body of work is small compared to architecture and fine arts, but it is passionate and smart. Texts about graphic design fall under different categories of “theory.” Some analyze the process of making. Think Bauhaus experiments, methodologies that fall under the umbrella of International Typographic Style, and contemporary explorations labeled “design research.” Some texts examine the ideas behind the visual work. Authors “read” designs or design texts and put them into a wider historical/cultural context. And some apply outside theoretical discourses to the field of graphic design—deconstruction, semiotics, gender studies. Many seminal texts, of course, blur such categorizations. Through my research I work to emphasize the value of our own theoretical base
Think Flickr, Facebook, Etsy, Lulu, Threadless and the multitude of blogs. Users approach software and the web with the expectation of filling in their own content and shaping their own visual identities—often with guidance from prepackaged forms. Dmitri Siegel calls this phenomenon “the templated mind.” Designers are grappling with their own place in this DIY phenomenon. Creativity is no longer the sole territory of a separate “creative class.” Designers can lead this new participatory culture by developing frameworks that enable others to create; doing so, however, means allowing our once-specialized skills to become more widespread and accessible. That transfer of knowledge is threatening to some, liberating to others.
Technology alters our aesthetics even as we struggle against it Designers everywhere strive to create unique visual voices despite the prevalence of stock photography and the monolithic hold of Adobe Creative Suite. Simultaneously, as noted by design and media critic Lev Manovich, specific techniques, artistic languages, and vocabularies previously isolated within individual professions are being imported and exported across software applications and professions. This new common language of hybridity and “remixability,” through which most visual artists now work, is unlike anything seen before. Technology has irreversibly changed our sense of aesthetics, giving us both more power and less.
We should encourage collaboration and communal experience What’s the good of multi-touch technology if we don’t want to sit down together? Collaboration and community fuel world-changing design solutions. Despite our connections online, many people are experiencing a growing sense of personal isolation. How can we, as designers, combat that isolation with projects that
foster community? Media activist Kalle Lasn has warned designers: “We have lost our plot. Our story line. We have lost our soul.” Producing work that fosters real connections may be one way of getting that soul back.
We all write more today than we did 15 years ago
Blogs, emails, Twitter-we communicate with many more people through text than through speech. If grammar imparts order and structure to our thoughts, then this increase in writing brings value to our society and our discipline. Design authorship, an issue debated by influential figures like Michael Rock, Ellen Lupton and Jessica Helfand over the course of the last decade, foregrounded the active relationship between text and image and between a discipline and its discourse. The expansion of written communication makes possible thoughtful contributions to the larger discourse of design by a wider slice of the graphic design population.
The central metaphor of our current society is the network
Even if we don’t all understand the computer codes that run the back end of our digital age, we can comprehend the networked structure of our day and design to meet it. Avant-garde artists at the beginning of the last century, including F. T. Marinetti, László Moholy-Nagy and Aleksandr Rodchenko, were adept at activating their own networks: newspapers, magazines, lectures and written correspondence. Recently, I heard lectures by Emily Pilloton of Project H and Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity, two young designers who are creating opportunities, locally and around the world, for designers to improve basic human living conditions. The connectivity of the web is critical to their success. Efficient networks for spreading change and prosperity are already in place. We just have to grasp them. Designers in the early 20th century rose to the challenges of their societies. We too can take on the complexities of our time, the rising millennium. Delving into our theoretical base equips us to address critical material problems in the world and our discipline.
AIGA PACKAGING 1972 JUROR’S STATEMENTS
THE GREAT WHEEL OF STYLE LORRAINE WILD
Reputations: Lorraine Wild LORRAINE WILD INTERVIEWED BY LOUISE SANDHOUSE EYE MAGAZINE SUMMER 2000 In a Los Angeles neighbourhood, behind a typical 1920s “Spanoid” bungalow, is a one-car garage wired with four phone lines. It is in this “electronic cottage” that Lorraine Wild (and her associates) do something on par with inventing the future while constantly facing the veracities of everyday life. Charles Ray or the Museum of Modern Art one moment; a wild menage of two-year-olds the next. This place reflects what it means to Wild to have an interesting career shaped by a meaningful life and vice-versa. And it is from here, in the late hours of the day, that Lorraine, only a few blocks from Louise, emails her replies to this interview.
Wild is the designer of over 70 notable books and exhibition catalogues on architecture, art, photography and other cultural topics. After graduating from the Cranbrook Academy of Art with a BFA in Graphic Design in 1976, she moved to New York where she worked at Vignelli Associates. While in New York she became increasingly interested in American design between the wars. Her research eventually led her to graduate studies at Yale University where she received her MFA degree in Graphic Design in 1982.
work. It is somewhat of an anti-office in that it’s not about giving oneself over entirely to maintaining the overhead of the contemporary corporate standard of design production. The space is configured to the work that I want to do. Perhaps it has to do with my upbringing in Detroit, where garages are often the site of great creativity (both automotive and musical), or the influence of my teacher, Paul Rand, who worked out of his kitchen for years. LS: Can you explain how you design?
Following Yale, Wild taught at the University of Houston, while continuing to write and beginning to design books. In 1985 she became Director of the Graphic Design Program at California Institute of the Arts (she stepped down from the position in 1992, but still teaches there). She was a founding partner of the Los Angeles design firm ReVerb (see Eye no. 14, vol. 4 Autumn 1994), who were recognised with a Chrysler Award for Innovation in Design in 1995, but left the following year to start her own practice. In 1998, she was the subject of an exhibition “Lorraine Wild: Selections for the Permanent Collection” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her work has received numerous honours: many AIGA “50 Books” awards, citations from the American Association of Museums, the American Institute of Architecture; and she was in the first group of designers to be recognised in ID magazine’s “Top 40” list, in 1993. Wild has continued to produce extensive writings and lectures that have been influential in shaping contemporary dialogues and debates concerning graphic design, writing for publications such as Emigre, Frieze and Eye. She has served on the national board of the AIGA and the STA (Society of Typographic Arts, now American Center for Design). Wild currently juggles teaching, writing, lecturing and running a thriving design studio with being a parent to her young daughter, Ana Xiao-Fei Wild Kaliski. Louise Sandhaus: People know you as an educator, writer, historian and practitioner – probably in that order. Is that how you see yourself? Lorraine Wild: I think of myself as a designer first, and I always have. I’m a designer who teaches and writes. LS: Kathy McCoy once referred to you as Lorraine Wild Industries – it was a poke at your numerous involvements at any given moment. Yet you just work in the garage behind your house. LW: There’s something very comfortable and productive about the garage. Being there has as much to do with adjusting myself to the realities of being the parent of a very young child as it does to the analysis of what is – and isn’t – necessary for the production of interesting
LW: My design process has changed over time. I used to do more research and now I’m more intuitive. I’ve gotten better at understanding the materials that I am given to work with by writers, editors, curators, artists and architects, etc. I have always been conscientious about knowing the material, but now I’ve accumulated a library in my head which helps me read the larger context that surrounds the subject I’m about to work with. (I’m speaking very specifically about books here.) And I cannot underestimate the importance of my design associates and our exchanges of ideas as we produce the work. Design is hard, but it does become a more comfortable activity with repetition. I don’t know if it is even visible to anyone else, but in my work I am often trying to make a very functional thing, but also to come up with a solution that possesses some sort of ineffable quality, or “soul.” This means devising a formal response to the content that comes out of a real appreciation for the subject, with some subtlety, I hope. While I try not to be too obviously “formal,” I am always trying to create an overt visual narrative to pull the reader toward the content. To me, building those narratives is both an editing and a design process. LS: So the visual narrative is a level of interpretation you add, and one that allows for additional meaning or understandings of the book’s subject-matter: form and content in a pas de deux. This might explain why books in which you’ve had a hand seem greater than the sum of their parts – I guess it’s the quality you refer to as “soul.” Can you give an example of a project where this approach was particularly successful? LW: A recent book is Height of Fashion. Lisa Eisner and Roman Alonso (my partners in publishing company Greybull Press) and I sent out letters to several hundred people asking them to submit a photograph of themselves at the point in their lives when they thought they looked fabulous. And that is all the book as made up of, with identifying captions and a few quotes. Sequencing the images was the problem, and there were a hundred legitimate ways to solve it. But in the
end I had to choose to tell a story with those pictures: in this case it’s a wobbly narrative between what is conventionally beautiful and what is strange. The push and pull between those two extremes drives the book forward: you need to keep turning the pages. LS: What else differentiates your work from traditional book design? LW: There are ways of designing perfectly competent, even beautiful books where the visual design relates to the subject only tenuously. That kind of book design is driven by the tradition of books. I was never that interested in (or even that knowledgeable about) the traditions or conventions of “fine printing” – my Modernist upbringing made me much more interested in extremes of both art and industry. I only design books that I think are worth the work, and I accept the restrictions of the marketplace so that the books can be accessible to the public. I’m always interested in good typography and good printing, but what constitutes good design is – to me – always in flux. There are no two characteristics about the books I design that are the same (except for the paper), which is why I find most of the “authoritative” books on book design to be so curious. So many of them seem to centre on proportional voodoo or typographic formulae that are applicable in general, but which bypass the specific. And which subjects are best served by that? I’m almost only interested in the specific. On the other hand, I guess there is always a point in one’s career where a little proportional voodoo can’t hurt.
The Charles Ray book is a good example. I looked at the books that had already been published about him, and it was clear that none of them adequately represented the very thing that he works with, which is scale. I brought this analysis to the curator, the artist, and the publication director at MOCA, [the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles] and they agreed with my initial idea that we should make a large-format book. I also proposed that the design of the page would be driven by the use of a badly proportioned text block – one that is too small for its page. Ray accepted that idea but we then spent a lot of time tinkering with how subtle that mis-fit would be, and I know that the book is better for all the back-and-forth that we went through, at his insistence, on that one aspect. LS: Given that you are known as a book designer, do you feel cramped by that definition? LW: Of course I’m capable of many other things, and it’s frustrating that we now work in a time when the notion of what kind of designer can handle what kind of projects is so incredibly rigid. The fact that my practice is small, in this business climate, means that I get cut out of a lot of interesting larger work. My strategy to keep involved in other types of projects is by working in partnership with other designers who have larger practices or who have niches that are different to my own. Last year, for instance, I collaborated with William Drenttel on an identity study for the Museum of Modern Art: I learnt so much from both him and the client in the course of that project. It’s my version of continuing education. LS: Where do you see your practice going?
I’m completely conscious of how anachronistic “book design” sounds. As we say in LA, it is “so not” Web design. Yet – the challenge to old media by new media throws everything about print into high relief. One has to have really good reasons for producing more print: the functional and aesthetic issues are all the more critical and alive. LS: You’ve done several projects with artists and architects that are more like collaborations than autonomous design experiences. For example, for twelve years you have been working closely with Tom Mayne of [architects] Morphosis, resulting in some exceptional books. How does the process work in these situations? LW: In the artists’ or architects’ monographs, even though I’m the designer, my sympathies are with them. At the onset of these projects I try to make clear that my design agenda for the project cannot be that different from theirs: I’m there to translate their ideas into print, and however I do that has to feel as though it has come up through the work, (or through the collaborative process of designing the book) rather than seeming imposed from the outside.
LW: I’m always trying to expand my involvement in the projects that I am commissioned to design at earlier stages. Through my association with Greybull Press I have a chance to initiate book titles, and that’s great. And then there are the temporary partnerships with other designers. But in the long run, you cannot avoid the issue of how you want to shape your work in relation to the existing market, and in relation to one’s own ideals of aesthetic, intellectual, and/or financial independence. As exciting as the large office/overheated business climate/ corporate design practice model is, it doesn’t work very well for women who are or would like to be mothers, or anyone who would like to have a life, for that matter. I have to build something that is much more flexible and collaborative, even familial. The associates in my office, the clients we work with, and the exchange of ideas that circulates among us is all the more critical to that ongoing practice. LS: How does that compare to the direction in which you see graphic design going as a profession?
LW: Well, obviously, a lot of designers are happy to participate much more fully in the corporate model of practice – I’m a bit of a drop-out, comparatively. The only time I begin to feel “out of it” is when I think about how drastically the landscape of the graphic design has changed since I began to participate in it in the mid-1970s. Back then, all designers seemed to be middle-aged men, in New York, Chicago or the West Coast, who sort of all knew of each other and who generally supported an ideal of something called “good design” that was never fully articulated. Now the number of people who practice graphic design (whether or not they call it that) has increased hugely. The field is geographically diverse, pluralistic, democratic . . . not so ingrown. We are told that the business world now realises that we are essential and that there is strength in numbers. But that has come at a price: a fracturing of the design community into sub-groups, like narrowly focused chat rooms, with little general dialogue or agreement on common goals or anything so antiquated as “good design.” It’s probably abstract to younger designers, but I find it a bit disorienting. Everybody’s doing it, but nobody’s home. LS: Despite the demands of your practice, you still teach. As a graduate put the question: “With the obvious lack of financial incentive, what are the consistent rewards of teaching that allow you to maintain your enthusiasm?” LW: My reasons are selfish, especially in the face of that de-centred, quasi-profession I describe. School creates a community of teachers and students who have agreed, at least during the hours that they share, to dig into the process of design much more deeply than can ever be accommodated within the world of practice. It is a very satisfying counterpoint to the rigours of everyday production. My colleagues are constantly challenging, and students expose me to things that I would never see otherwise. I would even call it a luxury, except that it requires too much work. Implicitly, teaching design is somewhat political, in that we continuously insist that graphic design is a significant social and cultural activity, with a history and a future that goes beyond the current dictates. There are more than enough designers servicing that quotidian reality. I serve it as well, since school does provide a measure of “R&D”, but in a way (when it is done right), that not only serves the state of the art but also takes a longer view, becoming more experimental, analytical, predictive and more intelligent than the marketplace has necessarily bargained for. LS: In an early article in the ACD Journal, you laid out significant principles of undergraduate design education as follows: “History has shown us that the best graphic design is synthetic – it is the work that makes
imaginative connections between different disciplines or modes of thought that we always admire. If we expect a student to ‘make form a meaningful thing’ then the student has to understand, in the first place, the importance of meaning, and secondly, the means by which meaning is conveyed. Finally students must see themselves within the historical continuum of visual and verbal communicators.” Has anything changed in your thinking (or in the cultural conditions of practice) that would make you change or amend these ideals? LW: That was written pre-digital and pre-new media. I think it is now all the more relevant and desperately necessary. LS: As a historian in the 1980s you challenged the motivations behind contemporary visual form of the time. Your provocations opened the way for a revolution in graphic design – what became the strategies and visual languages associated with postmodernism, which then became “Cranbrook,” “CalArts” and “David Carson” styles. New stylistic conventions were not the objective, but where it seemed to end up. And now nobody seems to know what to do except run in the opposite direction: neo-Modernism. Where are we now? LW: First of all, let me pay my allegiance to form. I love form, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad: if I didn’t, I couldn’t function as a designer. And one of the things I love about form is how once someone invents something that is visually interesting, other people pick it up and it becomes a style. It is chic for graphic designers to say that they abhor style, but that is one of the bigger shibboleths of design. Style – the invention of it, its proliferation to the point that it becomes cliché, its death and its inevitable revival – is a sign that design is alive over time. I have invented a chart called the “Great Wheel of Style” (or the “Life Cycle” or “Tao” of style) to try to describe this relentlessness: it’s amazing that designers think they can avoid it! So it was no surprise to me that when younger designers started challenging some of the more ossified aspects of Modernist practice (aesthetic and pedagogical) in the 1980s, that we would also create a visual corollary to the new ideas. (The other obvious impetus behind that new visual style was the enthusiasm over new technology.) And of course the academic visual experiments of the late 1980s and early 1990s took the path (how could they not?) of moving first from the connection to that profound questioning of design, and then to being understood as a symbol of that questioning, and then to being accepted as an “alternative” style, and then finally to mass commercial usage, which of course has led to its stylistic demise. (This is shorthand for a much more nuanced story that some future historian will have fun unravelling.)
At CalArts in the mid-1990s we watched our students emulate the postmodern stylistic trajectory. It was then we knew it was time, not only to question the style, but to incorporate – in the teaching of typography, for instance – a reconsideration of the historical development of visuality as a vehicle for understanding design. You can only do that if, embracing postmodern relativity, you don’t really believe in the veracity of an any one style, but instead look for some flexible combination of form (ok, really interesting form, whatever that is) and structure driven by concept in order to assess whether or not a design has any power. And, now, that renewed commitment to visuality and communication in the teaching of design may ultimately be the most important thinking to have come out of the stylistic gyrations of the past fifteen years. As to that neo-Modernism you refer to, I believe Time’s winged chariot is busily pursuing that one right now! Actually, I have a completely different theory regarding the revival of tiny-Helvetica-on-a-grid. It is the only style efficient enough to deal with the fact that designers have capitulated to the demands by clients that all design can be done in one day. Or, more darkly, it is the only style that is efficient enough to allow designers to work more profitably despite the pressure of competitive fees. So neo-Modernist style is the ultimate signifier of design as a pure service profession. Despite its intentions, the Swiss style of the 1950s was an elite aesthetic gesture: who could have predicted that by 2000 it would become practically Darwinian?
the eye and the experiential knowledge of both watching and making films to be able to judge what’s “right” for the moment. This is where I see an admittedly utopian parallel with design. (If only designers could produce work as interesting.) LS: I marvel at your ability to write in much the same way that you design, with qualities of observation and points of view that are translated into lively narratives, including personal anecdote. LW: Writing is torture for me, but I’ve forced myself to do it anyway. I felt that it was the best vehicle I had to try to record the experiences I have had as a designer during what I knew were remarkable times. And I knew from my design history research that some of the rarest documents are those of designers speaking in the first person. Alvin Lustig’s essays were models for me, in that you could sense him using writing as a way of reflecting on his experience and figuring out where he stood. I have been conscious all along of writing for some reader in the future who might be interested in hearing what it was like to be working during these strange years when everything changed. I’ve come to realise that it is not so much history that I’m so interested in, as it is a continuum of design practice – how it shifts around, yet how it stays exactly the same. First published in Eye no. 36 vol. 9, 2000
LS: How can we find an appropriate form for our times? (Or is this a Modernist question?) LW: I was reading an interview with Martin Scorsese recently (“The Man Who Forgets Nothing” by Mark Singer, The New Yorker, 27 March 2000) where he states that he can never really assess whether or not his own work is good, he can only judge if it is right. And the interviewer asks him “Why isn’t ‘right’ synonymous with ‘good?’” and Scorsese goes on to define his ultimate criteria as “Will it communicate to other people? Will it communicate to other people when the culture’s changed? Will it speak to a different culture?” I was fascinated by this exchange because Scorsese, in my mind, is a great formalist, and yet his primary focus is the desire to engage an audience. So, Kundun cannot be Casino, because they are different stories – and they have vastly different visual styles – but it is the intelligence behind his formal or structural choices and the way they convey narrative that is consistent, and not the forms themselves. And the artist part of Scorsese can’t really know if the formal choices are good for all time: but he certainly has both
Inspirations: Graphic Design on Exhibit
Forms of Inquiry: The Architecture of Critical Graphic Design presents a group of contemporary, international graphic designers who base their work in critical investigation. The exhibition features works that have originated as self-propelled inquiry, either professional or personal, and have been developed into a myriad of media and forms. The exhibition expands as its travels, continually emphasizing local research and sites for exchange.
Some Images from the Exhibit with statements by the designers regarding their projects
Billboard Building NORM for the Architectural Association “Our inquiry investigates billboards as what we would call “large-scale-building-sizedgraphic-design.” Billboards are one of the few surfaces that are both architectural and graphic.”
Parangolé Manuel Raeder
The Overlook Radim Peško
“Parangolé* is a series of works by the brazilian artist Helio Oiticica (Rio de Janeiro, 1937 — 1980) which part of it is, is a costume (partly banner) that only becomes a piece of art, once it’s woren preferably whilst dancing. I have been interested in in Oiticica’s Parangolé* as flexible architectural elements, this can be compared to the way markets circuses and other ephemeral architectural devices function, in the sense that they don’t just have one way of use but they are open to improvisation and constant change.”
“This inquiry is concerned with architectural spaces intended for relaxation, leisure and isolation. As an example, the selected images are of the mountainside chalet hotel featured in Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, based on the horror novel by Stephen King.”
design theories an e-book reader final thoughts
WHAT DO THE WORKS SHOWN HERE HAVE IN COMMON? THE DESIGNERS AND AUTHORS ENCOURAGE US IMPLORE US TO SEE THE BOX AND THEN GET OUTSIDE IT WORK OUTSIDE IT TO HELP THE BOX GROW IN SHORT TO DESIGN WITH OUR CONSCIENCE AND NOT IN SPITE OF IT 44
THIS EBOOK WAS COMPILED AND DESIGNED BY NICOLE DUROCHER PARSONS THE NEW SCHOOL FOR DESIGN SPRING 2014 INSTRUCTOR ANDREW SCHURTZCRITICAL CURRENTS IN CONTEMPORARY GRAPHIC DESIGN