While we have embraced fashion and architecture as the worthy subjects of blockbuster exhibitions, and watched their representation soar from the frivolous and inconsequential, to the sublime and utterly spectacular; graphic design remains, well, a little flat in the public consciousness.
Graphic design, like its peers, is an essential means of expressing – and transforming – our place in the world. And yet, as Olly Wainwright wrote in his recent article for The Guardian, we hear little about graphic design in the press, and see comparatively little of it represented within our public institutions to which we flock at weekends. Even the V&A – the world’s greatest museum of art and design, so the bold tag line goes – gives graphic design a back seat in favour of the clothes, music, buildings and furniture that it highlights as having shaped our lives. The Barbican and the Design Museum happily bring us The World of Charles and Ray Eames and 50 Years of British Road Signs respectively this autumn – yet I can’t help but feel graphic design isn’t getting the exposure, and the criticism, it deserves.
Easily dismissed as the mundane, we encounter it at every turn – road signs, newspapers, food packaging, maps – but there is beauty to be found in the everyday and this is the world graphic design willingly inhabits. It is hidden in plain sight. One of the things I have always loved about graphic design (there are many) – and why I chose to work in this industry despite not being a designer myself – is the innate usefulness of the discipline and its limitless reach. It can, and it does, do anything we want it to; tell any story, paint any picture, accomplish any task. It is anything but flat and can be done a disservice when shown only as such. As design critic Stephen Bayley points out, we should be “taking ordinary things seriously”.
When the beloved Kemistry Gallery closed its doors late last year, the absence of galleries small and large exclusively showcasing graphic design in this city and beyond was felt more keenly than ever. Luckily, with plans afoot for Kemistry’s development of a National Centre for Graphic Design, the ball is rolling again, and dn&co – the design and branding agency I work for as an account director – is joining the ongoing conversation around how we curate, champion and question the role of graphic design.
It seemed only natural when we moved studio in December last year (from Wigmore Street, W1 to a three floor warehouse just off Bermondsey Street, SE1) that we take the opportunity to open the doors to our friends within the design industry and to anyone else that might be interested. Ground Floor Space is a new graphic design gallery for London. For our inaugural exhibition during London Design Festival this September, we invited 25 of London’s top design studios to each map London as they see it for an exhibition titled Co-ordinates.
Through exhibiting graphic design in small, even informal ways, we can help to reveal and explore the rhythms of studio culture. Transparency around the design process, advocating the strategic over the aesthetic, and eradicating the myth that some of us are creative and some are not – these ideas are integral to giving graphic design the recognition it deserves on the public agenda. Graphic design should be rooted firmly in the normal – or the ‘super normal’ to quote Jasper Morrison – and that’s just fine. Small galleries showcasing graphic design are essential to the fabric of the cultural city – for the design community and for everyone else. You stumble across it, you learn something you didn’t know before and you begin to understand your part in it.