The grid system. The A-format of paper. Capitalism. Just some of the systems that graphic design operates in and often reproduces. In the fifth issue of the Modes of Criticism journal (2019), editor and designer Franciso Laranjo and other writers take apart “Design Systems” to trace the ideologies that shape the practice. From revealing Japanese design’s historical belief in “cultural supremacy” to exploring alternative values and practices to capitalism’s exploitative nature, the collection offers much food for thought about the systems we live in and where they have led us to today.
#ADesignLibrary spotlights lesser known design books, and invites public access to my personal collection of titles that focuses on Singapore architecture and design, Asian design, everyday design, critical and speculative design as well as design theory and philosophy. I welcome inquiries and physical loans.
Curiosity for what graphic design could be was the catalyst that first brought Currency together in 2012. Like many young designers, the Singaporean duo were connected by what they saw online. While their contemporaries picked up visual languages like modernist graphic design, Melvin Tan and Darius Ou were attracted to the emerging critical graphic design movement, led by the likes of David Rudnick and Eric Hu. Their shared interests sparked a Facebook conversation between the two students while they studied at different design schools, which eventually evolved into the ad-hoc collaboration of two freelance designers who come together as Currency as and when projects require.
➜ Read the full story in AIGA’s Eye on Design
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.
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”.
IMAGE: CRITICAL GRAPHIC DESIGN
Written for Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi’s Cultural Theory class at D-Crit in response to “Architecture, Capitalism and Criticality” by Ole W. Fischer