Critical Design As Style

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The history of “critical architecture” degenerating into a style can also be found in the emerging field of “critical graphic design.” This satirical poster is just one of many found on the Tumblr, “Critical Graphic Design”, which calls out the emergence of a style found in many contemporary ‘critical’ graphic design work.

One reference this poster makes is the work of Dutch graphic design group Metahaven, whom have become known for projects that investigate the relationship between contemporary politics with the language of branding and visual identity. Metahaven’s self-initiated work often comes in the form of researched essays whose discussion and concepts lead to radical-looking poster and exhibition designs. They often appropriate and riff off the corporate aesthetics created in Microsoft WordArt or Powerpoint, a kind of ‘anti-graphic design’ look that other designers have latched on because it looks ’critikool’, as one observer has pointed out.

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IMAGE: METAHAVEN

As Fischer points out, such self-reference becomes inappropriate outside established ‘critical’ themes. Many graphic designers who have adopted the look of ‘critical’ graphic design work do it for stylistic purposes rather than conceptual. Moreover, there are also limits to the kind of “academic criticism” done by Metahaven as history has shown that “critical gestures have quickly been internalized, commodified and recycled for niche products or marketing strategies”. 

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IMAGE: CRITICAL GRAPHIC DESIGN

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Written for Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi’s
 Cultural Theory class at D-Crit in response to “Architecture, Capitalism and Criticality” by Ole W. Fischer

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