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We’re Not Just Designers

JESSICA APFEL


Designers are Producers “In the traditonal model, the designer tries to interpret what given elements are ‘supposed to do’ together. So what happens with computers (beyond the primitive desktop publishing model)? On the ‘information highway,’ all sorts of things are up for grabs— authorship, how people read, how people gather and generate material for their own purposes.”

Muriel Cooper


As an alternative to “designer as author”, I propose “designer as producer.” Production is a concept embedded in the history of modernism. Avant-garde artists and designers treated the techniques of manufacture not as neutral, transparent means to an end but as devices equipped with cultural meaning and aesthehtic character.

Within the professional context of graphic design, “production” is linked to the preparation of “artwork” for mechanical reproduction, rather than to the intellectual realm of “design.” Production belongs to the physical activity of the base, the factory floor: it is the traditional domain, the stripper, the letterer, the typesetter. The “desktop” revolution that begain in the mid-1980s brought these roles back into the process of design. The proletarianization of design offers designers a new crack at materialism, a chance to reengage the physical aspects of our work. Whereas the term “author,” like “designer,” suggests the cerebal workings of the mind, production priviledges the activity of the body.


Benjamin claimed that to bridge the divide between author and publisher, author and reader, poet and popularizer is a revolutionary act, because it challenges the professional and economic catergories upon which the institutions of “literature” and “art” are erected. Ellen Lupton


The Tools We Use

“...many designers believe that our futures depend on our ability to deliver conceptual solutions; but, ironically, digital technology has driven prodution back into the office, requiring constant attention. Design practice today requires the intellectual power of a think tank and the turnaround capacity of a quickie-printer.� Lorraine Wild


Graphic design was the first profession to be impacted by the introduction of the personal computer in the 1980s; its strategic objective was, after all, “desktop publishing.� More precisely, it transformed and eventually eliminated the work of various productioin artists, photomechanical technicians, keyliners, paste-up artists, typesetters, color separators, and even some printers.

Of course, the computer is not just another tool, nor is it simply a combination of discrete tools, a kind of digital Swiss army knife. Rather, the computer is a meta-tool: it makes other tools.


Of course, the computer is not just another tool, nor is it simply a combination of discrete tools, a kind of digital Swiss army knife. Rather, the computer is a meta-tool: it makes other tools. Andrew Blauvelt


It’s All About Style “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.”” Lorraine Wild


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 subgroups, 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. Lorraine Wild


“We have been often wondering why our shirt became such a popular subject. Our way of designing is actually quite closed and hermetic: we never think in terms of target audiences, we never try to guess what will be popular or not. We just concentrate on the aesthethical/conceptual intergrity of the design itself, and we always try to focus on the inner-logic of the designed object.� Experimental Jetset


“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..� Tibor Kalman


“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.� Joe Duffy


Sources Tool (Or, Post-production for the Graphic Designer) Andrew Blauvelt Tibor Kalman vs. Joe Duffy Revisited Aaron Kenedi Designer as Producer Ellen Lupton Reputations Lorraine Wild.

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