• Mb_2
Graphic Design

Why graphic design?

Guest posted by Michael Bojkowski,

In the third installment of our weekly discussion, Michael Bojkowski questions, Why Graphic Design?

Over the last 5 to 10 years technology has bought us to a stage where we are rapidly disconnecting with previously established ‘died in the wool’ ways of doing things and entering a realm where new ideas, ideals and formats proliferate and nothing replaces anything. You simply get more. Everything is fracturing all over the place — in politics, entertainment, the media… even in the creative industries. Particularly in Graphic Design.

Graphic Design might seem like a relatively young industry compared to say, banking or carpentry or whatever but it’s also become heavily reliant on technology and technology changes so rapidly these days that were all constantly having to play catch up. Sure, there’s a massive dollop of craft involved but it was only a decade and a half ago that us designers were first discovering the Apple Mac and what it was capable of and now you look around and it seems frightfully easy for anyone to pick up a computer and start designing things for themselves. In many aspects, talent has become subservient to technology.

On the plus side this has freed up designers to expand upon their individual areas of interest.

Rick Poynor recently visited Melbourne to deliver a presentation on the subject of ‘Design Thinking’ and the need for designers to reconnect with an audience beyond ‘the client’. In many ways this fractured landscape offers opportunities for creatives to do this more effectively than ever before. This could mean that Graphic Design will need to become a part of the thing and not the thing itself.

In his book ‘Graphic Design: A User’s Manual’, Adrian Shaughnessy mentions that designers wear many hats from account handlers to debt collectors and more. Add to this curators, event organisers, illustrators, photographers, archivists, art directors, media commentators… The list now seems to go on and on and on. Look at creative agencies such as YCN or young creatives such as Kate Moross and our humble hosts It’s Nice That. They may be able to produce Graphic Design of an appropriately high calibre but that’s only really one segment of their kit of parts.

In a world growing steadily more interested in marketing, branding, crowdsourcing, ‘design thinking’, cheap typography and D.I.Y. solutions, many creatives are finding/will find themselves morphing to new, multi-faceted roles. The role of Graphic Design may loose some prominence. Graphic Design may become more of a ‘boutique service’ offered to select clients rather than the all encompassing visual glue it how been touted as for decades. One thing is for sure, it ain’t disappearing anytime soon though we might have to start question exactly what our relationship to Graphic Design is really about.

Well that’s my attempt at looking into the crystal ball. I dunno. Have I just spouted a pile of rubbish? What do you reckon the future holds for Graphic Design?

Michael Bojkowski is a designer and design commentator with a particular interest in editorial design. He has worked with clients as diverse as YCN, The Future Laboratory and Nick Bell Design. Michael also maintains the Linefeed blog (formerly known as Boicozine), runs his own experimental publishing venture known as Press Publish and currently writes for both Grafik and Gym Class magazines. Currently on sabbatical in Melbourne, Australia, he hopes to return to the U.K. sometime next year. www.okinterrupt.net

Comments

12942303789146578 pberrecloth on Mon Oct 5th 2009

The definition of the designer is becoming blurred. The accessibility of technology now means that anyone with a computer and the correct software can become a designer. This has both negative and positive effects: On one hand, poorly-considered, non-disciplined design is now being allowed to flow through into the public consciousness. On the other hand, we are seeing new, forward thinking, unrestricted creative thinking from those who are not restrained by traditional formalities.

It is my belief that craft allows technology to be exploited effectively. Therefore, the continuation of taught craft in our academic institutions is essential to sustaining graphic design as a profession.

I am a graphic design student at Central Saint Martins and this is something which I am very passionate about - so much so that I have chosen to write my dissertation on it.

12942303796698568 btpstudio on Mon Oct 5th 2009

the true profession of GD will continue to be valued by a few, and an even smaller paying few, but, as always judged by all. I personally love it, live it and breath it :)
As you do, strongly believe it will continue to evolve and grow (with technology). The art-form of GD will always remain independent from branding, art direction, crowdsourcing, strategy and so on. Though it is often bundled with these by the multi-faceted designers/studios you mention in your article--of which I confess, I am... yep that's right. Balancing making a living with living, running a studio, and desperately trying to staying creative from client to client. It just aint easy, but loads of fun. Thanks for the midnight read. Catch you soon

1294230380379019 culturesinbetw on Mon Oct 5th 2009

Throughout my time this year and taking the time to breathe in how I've wanted to approach my own projects, I realise that this definition of Graphic Design cannot be so simplified to mean an approach to offering a service or a design solution with a relatively straight-forward outcome. Is Graphic Design purely just about its sum of parts containing imagery, photography, text and typography? We are still reading how great and grandeur the past of the legacy of Graphic Design is great. But I believe it should be savoir faire then being so nostalgic. I'm interested in the now, the daily life we live in now and what we can do. I also realise that why should we keep discussing this essential design area as a facet of its own. In some ways, peering through it makes it look like a ingenue and not as sophisticated as Industrial or Product Design. I think Graphic Design can be more relevant today, making it apart of my life as with everyone else but seeing it in a global context and that it can have and sustain a working relationship with other areas of design and non-design. Contemporary Fashion is made me see Graphic Design with purpose and has informed me much more.

12942303811614847 andrefelipe72 on Mon Oct 5th 2009

Have you guys ever noticed that there is no more the figure of the "great graphic designer"? And that, at the same time, graphic design is everywhere? I think that graphic design in turning into something like a commodity. So, to claim back the position of the individual graphic designer would be just the same to claim back the position of, say, the "oil driller" or the "commercial jet pilot" individuals - even considering their important roles in the society. We're not specials anymore - we've become an ordinary gear in the economy machine, where theorethical idealisms are worthless and vain. So, you guys would better stop complaining, getting to work, doing your jobs, making it worthy. And joining - and enjoying - the real struggle of the free economy.

1294230382169003 chads_eye_view on Mon Oct 5th 2009

At the end of the day, computers don't replace the need for a good idea.

1294230382839392 eblairs on Tue Oct 6th 2009

@chads_eye_view That assumes the client WANTS a good idea. Many of them don't.

12942303836446574 AShakur on Tue Oct 6th 2009

One must always remember Milton Glaser's quote when designing: "Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking. "

12942303843378139 timk_ok on Thu Oct 8th 2009

What is interesting is how specific our roles have become overtime. It wasn't so long ago that designers like Vignelli designed absolutely everything. His opinion was similar to his architect contemporaries who believed they should design everything "from the Spoon to the city". We've since become a lot more concerned about specialising. I think this is partly to do with how complicated our briefs are and how elaborate the implementation process is (I thinking about digital in particular which happens to be my 'specialisation').

And yes, I think it's a lot easier to masquerade as a designer these days with all the tools that are now available to us. Ultimate I believe that good ideas (and intelligent execution) will ultimately be worth more than anything else but it's not for every client. Plenty of clients won't be able to recognize the difference but that's o.k.. I think it's up to us to push ourselves to create more unique and successful work and create our own demand.

Thanks for your article Boji.

12942303852214694 bojkowski on Thu Oct 8th 2009

Hey @pberrecloth, how important do you think it is to be called a 'graphic designer' these days? Are you getting the feeling that fellow students are less interested in being tagged with the one title or that they are slightly bored with the idea of becoming simply a 'designer'?

12942303860675514 bojkowski on Thu Oct 8th 2009

@andrefelipe72 I think I agree that being a 'graphic designer' isn't so special anymore. It's having creative talent and knowing how to let it proliferate that will set designers (whatever) apart.

12942303868073745 bojkowski on Thu Oct 8th 2009

Hey @timk_ok. How goes it? More specific and more fluid at the same time. I mentioned YCN, Ms Moross and ItsNiceThat (BTW congrats on the bursary award ItsNiceThat!) cause they seem to manage to effortlessly juggle a variety of creative roles at the one time. So I reckon the idea that design can be universally useful hasn't died, it's just that the term 'graphic design' has shrunk in comparison to the various endeavours emerging creatives are taking on these days.

Posted by Michael Bojkowski

Most Recent: Graphic Design View Archive

  1. List

    Wilfred van der Weide was once part of Dutch design duo wilfredtimo, whose work we’ve been admirers of since we came across these superheroic graphics in 2012. After several years in each other’s pockets they’ve gone their separate ways, but unlike most breakups, some of the results have been beautiful.

  2. List

    Dutch designer Roosje Klap recently set up an international initiative known as The Design Displacement Group with the intention of approaching modern design in new and unusual ways. Their intention is to “form a group together which creates work as seen from the future. Yes! We time-travel 20 years and look back on today, to understand the discourse of graphic design as it is happening today – with different eyes and speculative future categories.

  3. List

    Belgian designer Corbin Mahieu learned his craft at the prestigious Sint Lucas School of Arts in Ghent, following in the footsteps of a legion of other respected Belgian designers and illustrators. His work is academic in style; specifically focussed on arts projects for the local creative community in Ghent. Although he’s recently completed an internship in London at Zak Group, presumably developing into further spheres of design in the process. Pictured is a beautifully realised catalogue for his alma mater, exploring the facilities and faculty in detail.We’d say he’s definitely one to watch, and hopefully he’s sticking around in London a little longer.

  4. Furnlist

    Berlin-based consultancy D describes itself as a “two-headed quadruped that focuses on graphic design and illustration” that “was born, speaks, thinks, and of course eats Italian.” It’s this heritage and appetite that explains the beautiful identity work the studio has created for Italian furniture design factory Edizione Limitata. We don’t often get excited about catalogues, but this one really is lovely, showing well-shot images of the furniture alongside more playful, painterly illustrations with brushstrokes and doodle-like patterns acting as a lovely contract to the slick imagery of the pieces on sale. It’s great to see the usually rather serious world of furniture given a less stony-faced identity, though the careful use of colour and typography as shown on business cards, stationery and technical sheets still shows Edizione Limitata as very much the high-end Italian operation.

  5. List

    There’s nothing heavy-handed about Seoul-based design studio fnt’s work. It’s like the graphic design equivalent of that little dish of mint-flavoured ice cream you get handed between courses at fancy restaurants to refresh your palette; something about their refined use of thin lines in muted colours on a white background feels newly delicate, when you’ve spent several hours being accosted by great slabs of colour and text that feel like a knock to the head. Maybe it has something to do with the Korean script, introducing a whole new realm of possibilities to the ways they treat typography, or the studio’s willingness to dabble in patterns and geometric shapes in a simple and understated way to jazz up otherwise clean layouts.

  6. List

    Furniture, typefaces, identities and posters, websites, limited edition fashion lines, music packaging and abstract works all exist within the broad practice of Berlin-based designer Till Wiedeck. Under the moniker of HelloMe, he’s been a constant creative force on the contemporary graphic design scene for the past six years, accumulating big-name clients like The New York Times, COS and Warp Records among others. This recent work for German/French art fund Perspektive, is characteristic of Till’s holistic approach to his process, with print collateral, web and all other elements of the identity created by the studio, all united by a bespoke typeface.

  7. List

    It’s all well and good writing about slick, big-client, big-agency graphic design. But once in a while it’s bloody lovely to cast our eyes over a graphic design project that takes itself not-so-seriously. One photographed using Polaroid, and sent to us as if broadcast directly from amidst a 90s Kevin Smith film. The projection questions is the visual identity for Baohaus – a restaurant that takes its name as a smart little play on, er, bauhaus and Bao – the form of Taiwanese food the restaurant specialises in.

  8. List

    Some people may be already winding down for Christmas but not so Rob Gonzalez and Jonathan Quainton, aka Sawdust. They’ve just updated their site with so much new work that we were genuinely spoiled for choice when it came to selecting what to focus on. Great typographic illustrations for_Men’s Health_,_ Wired and The New Republic didn’t make the cut on this occasion; instead we decided to showcase two very different, but equally excellent, print projects.

  9. Listhkagw-1

    It can’t be easy working on a brief set by a client that’s both an art event organised by a non-profit and a big banking firm. How best to balance a slick, serious look with one that shows creative awareness? For The Partners’ branding for the new Bank of China-sponsored Hong Kong Art Gallery Week event, the consultancy cleverly chose to look to a sense of place to inspire its look, which is informed by the area’s hilly topography. The event bring together more than 50 local galleries and museums, who spend ten days opening their spaces up for all, aiming to promote the work of local artists and contemporary Chinese Hong Kong art to the world.

  10. List

    There’s something deliciously tactile about Anne Jordan’s book cover designs. Much of her work unites a very materials-driven approach with clever typography, resulting in work that makes a two-dimensional image feel extraordinarily physical. The designer is based in Rochester, New York, and is also one-half of the duo behind the Walking blog, a rather sweet project in which she and her husband take half an hour a day to make something creative and post it online. However, we wanted to focus on her designs for books; and especially hone in on the way she takes an often oblique title and creates a design that plays off it, frequenly in smart, unexcited ways. Her look for The Woman Who Read Too Much, for instance, plays with cliched images of femininity like hair and curves to render the title less legible; and the look for Kevin McLauhlin’s Poetic Force uses feint lettering and thin-to-breaking-point paper as a backdrop. The choices seem obvious as we write them down but her work is anything but, creating covers that delight and make you think in equal measure.

  11. List-vince-frost-design-your-life-21

    Many a trite fridge magnet, when not busy reminding us how a minute on the lips is a lifetime on the hips, has extolled some wisdom about failure being a good thing, or a reason to try again, or a learning curve or some-such. But that might just be because it’s true. Failure is, indeed, a precursor to learning – something designers are perhaps even more aware of than most. Vince Frost, the former Pentagram designer who founded Frost*Collective, where he holds the post of executive creative director and CEO, is well aware of this, devoting a chapter to failure in the book he launched a few months back, Design Your Life.

  12. List

    When graphic designers discuss working for arts clients, more often than not they tell us about how important it is that an identity or series of exhibition graphics can sit back, being confident enough to let the artwork speak for itself. The real skill lies in doing this while also managing to devise a look that’s instantly recognisable. It’s even better if said look is, in its own way, as beautiful as the artworks it’ll be used to help promote.

  13. Unnamed

    Lyon-based studio Catalogue make the sort of no-nonsense, pared back graphic design that shows that being experimental and forward-thinking needn’t be at the cost of being super slick. Working across projects including identity design, web design and signage, they frequently take on commissions for equally experimental clients – one of which caught our eye in the form of this identity for Saint-Étienne-based musique concrète Festival des Musiques Innovatrices.