Ten leading lights from the creative world on their “moment” of the decade
As we got ready to say goodbye to 2019, we asked ten luminaries from the creative industry to select their moment of the decade. Unsurprisingly, the list they sent back was dominated by politics and protest.
This year, as you’ve presumably already spotted, we’re not only saying goodbye to 2019; we’re also bidding a (perhaps not-so-fond) farewell to a decade: the 2010s. To mark that fact, we asked ten luminaries from the creative world to tell us about a particular creative moment that summed up their decade or else a piece of creative work that felt truly seminal.
Unsurprisingly, the list that came back was dominated by politics. Echoing a shift in society more broadly over the past ten years, the creative industries have become altogether more outspoken, more shaped by activism and protest, and simply angrier. The creative moments chosen by our selected contributors therefore include a 2015 magazine cover depicting 35 of the women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault; a crowdfunded billboard campaign revealing the hypocrisy of UK politicians for all to see; and a set of pink seesaws straddling the US-Mexico border, which became a symbol of compassion and humanity across a structure defined by division.
Yet a decade is a long time and, clearly, not everything has been doom and gloom since 2010. So, among the seminal moments below, you’ll also find the much-maligned but actually quite successful identity for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games by Wolff Olins; the invention of Instagram (whatever your thoughts on the platform, it’s hard to dispute its influence on creativity over the past ten years); as well as a rumination on the joy of reading, even in a post-Kindle world.
Anyway, that’s enough from us. Read on for our illustrious contributors’ thoughts on their key moments of 2010-19.
1. Liza Enebeis, Creative director of Studio Dumbar
The Women’s March of 2017
The first day of Donald Trump’s presidency, the largest single-day demonstration in US history took place, with the goal to advocate legislation and policies regarding human rights and other issues, including women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, the environment, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, workers’ rights and tolerance. The “mother of marches” changed our lives permanently, opening up our eyes. It highlighted truths that were not just someone else’s problems or another country’s problem that we could shrug off till the next news wave. It created a collective awareness and responsibility worldwide.
These truths used the power of creativity and craft to communicate. Millions of hand-crafted placards filled with strong crafted statements with personalities. And even though we were all familiar with the graphic language used, this time we listened. It’s not always the power of originality that makes messages most effective, but the timing. Since then, our conversations have changed, our way of working has changed, our way of seeing has changed.
“Hope not Grope.”
2. Adrian Shaughnessy, Senior tutor in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art and founding partner in publishing company Unit Editions
Led By Donkeys’ billboard campaign
The second decade of the 21st century has been one big mess of political turmoil. Populism, isolationism and extreme nationalism – not to mention mass disillusionment with politicians and political parties – have emerged to challenge the liberal values that many of us thought were here to stay. What’s design’s role in this? The design world is famously apolitical. Some critics go as far as to accuse designers of conservatism – they see a discipline so embedded in capitalism that it dares not bite the hand that feeds it. Yes, there have always been designers willing to use design to take a stand against the forces of oppression, but as we’ve seen with Trump and Brexit, populism has been more adept at using the techniques of design and advertising to pump out its message – mainly through the misuse of social media. And it seems that the only way to counter these forces is to also use design and the techniques of visual communication.
There have been numberless examples of exciting visual design over the past decade. But I can’t help thinking that the stuff that matters is the stuff that stands up to political bullies backed by vampiric venture capitalists. Which is why I’ve plumped for the billboard campaign run by Led By Donkeys as my design of the decade. Set up to expose the “thermonuclear hypocrisy” of our leaders, it uses crowdfunded billboards to post the contradictory utterances of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove and others. Did it change anyone’s vote? Who can say? But it proved that not everyone buys the lies, and that design can have a vital role in countering those lies.
3. Kira Pollack, Deputy editor of Vanity Fair
New York Magazine’s “Cosby: The Women” issue
New York Magazine’s “Cosby: The Women” (July 27-August 9 2015) was one of the most influential covers of the decade. Amanda Demme photographed 35 of Bill Cosby’s accusers: each in her own chair, posture straight, hands in lap, face and eyes to camera. The directness of collective expression, coupled with the sheer number of women, took my breath away. A stark black and white approach ensured there were no distractions, allowing the focus to be on the power of the group. The language was duly spare: a small headline at the bottom right corner and a simple, tiny year placed under each woman’s feet, in chronological order by year of her alleged assault. The cover line sits next to an empty chair, which symbolised all of Bill Cosby’s other accusers who were unable to be photographed.
At the time that this cover was published, Bill Cosby had not yet gone to trial and it was two years before the Harvey Weinstein story broke. The power of this single image, impeccably art directed and conceived, played a critical role in the #metoo movement. These brave women sitting silent, yet defiant, on the cover of New York Magazine paved the way for so many others to come forward. Bravo to Jody Quon, Thomas Alberty and Adam Moss for their bold genius.
4. Mona Chalabi, Data editor of The Guardian US
Jenny Holzer’s light projections
Creativity is all about doing things within constraints. Jenny’s constraint is that you can’t vandalise a building, and so she says, “Fuck you, I’m going to project light onto it.” That to me is so inspiring, because I think I would have stopped there – I would have said, “I can’t touch your building, what else can I do?” But she found a way around it.
I also think it brings together so many other things about the past decade. For instance, her work is so Instagrammable and people are sharing it. One thing that makes it shareable is that you can relate to the things she’s saying without having to explicitly say so. So, say, for example, she puts something up about sexual harassment, if you post it, because you yourself have experienced sexual harassment, you don’t have to come forward and say, “This is what happened to me.” You can post it and the job is kind of done for you, which can be quite powerful for people who don’t want to or can’t articulate their own experiences. I also love that she put her words on trucks and drove them around, taking the art to the places where it needed to be. Vigil [pictured above, from 2019] particularly is so powerful, the idea of amplifying other people’s voices.
It’s interesting to me because it is just words – even the typography isn’t particularly creative and there’s no imagery. There’s so much public art that is saying really powerful things but is quite ugly, so it’s difficult to look at, but because things are quite ugly now, there’s more of a justification for ugly art. Jenny’s work is not trying to be pretty.
5. Margaret Calvert, Graphic designer
London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games identity and opening ceremony
It’s rarely that a nation gets the opportunity to celebrate its creativity and organisational skills in a global context, in support of athleticism. But the 2012 Olympics was just such an occasion, which would include several moments of “total exhilaration” in terms of what this nation is capable of, whilst united in its endeavour to involve as many participants as possible. All seemed impossible at the time – but by some magic, it all came together in the end, despite the initial shock of seeing the “ugly” but not inappropriate design of Wolff Olin’s logo and overall identity. The identity proved to work in the end, despite its apparent lack of aesthetic quality – simply because it was consistently applied, with conviction, until accepted as a new norm. To its credit, by appealing to the young, the designers chose not to follow the usual predictability of past Olympic logos.
The best moment for me, apart from the Queen being escorted by 007 to the opening ceremony, was the lighting of Thomas Heatherwick’s truly amazing cauldron, with Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s brilliant Olympic torch, leaving us a legacy to follow, by celebrating the three Olympic values of “respect, excellence and friendship” which I find truly inspirational.
6. Akinola Davies, Director
Childish Gambino’s This is America
The This is America video came like a shot to the arm, riding off the wave of Donald Glover’s Golden Globe wins for Atlanta and Grammy award for Redbone. The video was also a further testament to the synergy and brilliance of the working relationship between Glover and his long-time collaborator, Hiro Murai.
Choreographed by the award-winning and outstanding Sherri Silver, the video triggered a huge run of “this is ….” parody videos globally, solidifying it as a seminal body of work. Let’s face it, you’ve hit the big time when people around the world are racking up views copying the exact aesthetic of your work. However, Gambino’s ability to leverage his celebrity, Murai and Silver’s abilities to frame the art, within the complex sociopolitical context of the time, all showcase the power of the music video.
Lest we forget that the video dropped on May 5 2018, a few months after “shitholegate” (I’m referring here to the American president’s offensive remarks about a collection of developing countries) and a string of mass shootings in the US. It was not so much that the video was revolutionary (which it was), but that it was a stylised portrait of an America in need of a reality check.
Personally, watching something that is a brilliantly made reflection of the time is very inspiring. It’s an affirming victory for when a collaborative moment comes together, when all the stars align.
7. Malika Favre, Illustrator
Jean Jullien’s Peace for Paris symbol
I still remember clearly the day Jean put the “Peace for Paris” symbol on social media, right after the attacks. I was actually in Paris that day, having landed there a few hours before. Like everyone, I was shocked, scared, saddened and stunned. I remember feeling proud of him, when he released that powerful symbol on social media. It was a beautiful idea. So simple and sad, but yet full of hope and strength, almost a symbol of resistance.
It summed up what we all felt that day and brought people together. I remember receiving emails from journalists and magazines in the following days, asking me for a visual reaction to the event and I just couldn’t do it. I was just too close to it, physically and emotionally, and Jean had said it all. It made me realise the power of such images and how important these are in times of crisis. Images sometimes speak louder than a thousand words and this was a prime example of how much of a positive impact a single image can have.
8. Gail Anderson, Chair of the BFA Advertising and Design departments at the School of Visual Arts, designer and writer
A decade of print
New York City mailboxes are notoriously tight, which is problematic for the magazine enthusiast (please don’t bend that Vanity Fair, my good mail person!). But over the course of the past decade, it’s been – dare I say – increasingly easy to pull those rolled-up periodicals out of that tiny Apartment 3E box in my lobby. And at this point, there are probably more LL Bean catalogues in my mailbox than there are magazines. Yikes.
My dear Fred Woodward, the most highly respected editorial designer of the second half of the 20th century, retired to the California desert. New York Magazine got off the weekly treadmill. Condé Nast became the subject of snippy articles, as the era of excess officially ended. What’s a reader to do? Is print actually dead, as just about everyone predicted at the beginning of the decade?
I dunno. Maybe things aren’t looking great these days, but OMG, as the kids say. Look at anything Richard Turley is doing, look at Deb Bishop’s New York Times special sections, and all of the quirky niche publications with the glum models and understated typography. There’s some pretty cool stuff going on – and it lives in the print world!
And strangely enough, this cranky old magazine gal has adapted to “consuming information” differently, too. The whole magazine-on-an-iPad thing wasn’t for me, but I’m not above thumbing through a New Yorker article on my phone. Go figure. Perhaps the way we read is changing, but we’re reading, and that counts for a lot. We want our factoids updated minute-to-minute, but even old fogies like me are learning to wrap their grey-haired domes around new ways of reading what we love. And it’s not such a bad thing. I’m feeling very 21st century these days.
9. Yuri Suzuki, Sound designer and partner at Pentagram
Teeter Totter Wall by studio Rael San Fratello
As we approach the end of the decade, it can sometimes feel that despite being better connected than ever, culturally, we are becoming more divided. One of the most talked-about physical embodiments of feeling like this is Donald Trump’s infamous wall, a massive reinforcement of the border between the US and Mexico designed to keep migrants out. The wall forms part of Trump’s “zero tolerance” programme, which also included separating migrant children from their parents and detaining them in horrific conditions.
At times, when we feel powerless to stop bad things happening, sometimes it’s the small interventions that can make a difference. These little acts of defiance have a way of making us remember that, on balance, we share more similarities than differences. One remarkable example is the Teeter Totter Wall – despite only being in place for just 30 minutes in July this year, it made a statement that lasted so much longer. The idea of Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello of Architecture studio Rael San Fratello, the installation featured three pink seesaws, which straddled both sides of a section of the wall in California.
It allowed children (and adults) on both sides of the border to play together and was described by Real as “an event filled with joy, excitement, and togetherness”. It’s an amazing example of a simple idea put into action, despite all the odds. Playful, sculptural and poignant, it’s a project that you can’t forget in a hurry.
10. David McKendrick, Co-founder of B.A.M, and Pam of Pamstagram
The founding of Instagram
Earlier this year, we sat down with David McKendrick of studio B.A.M and Pam Mason, the then-manager of the Barbican’s launderette and a typographic muse for David. Starting an Instagram account, @pamstagram, to share Pam’s intricately detailed posters for customers, it gained quite a following. As Instagram has raised both the awareness of Pam’s typeface, and since then a charity collection with Supreme, David has interviewed Pam about the impact of the platform.
David: So Pam, we’re going to talk about Instagram today, and I think we should talk about Instagram as we look at it. Look, you just got another follower! Where did that come from! So you’ve got 2,110 in total. What do you think of Instagram in general, do you like it?
Pam: Yeah, it’s alright.
David: Do you like the fact that people like your pictures?
David: What do you think of 359 people liking that picture?
Pam: I can’t see what they like about it really.
David: Well, they like it because it’s you, it’s your typeface.
Pam: But I can’t understand why people want a pair of socks with PAM on it!
David: Because your drawings are really fantastic, and people really like your drawings and want to follow them. You’ve got a bit of a fanbase, Pam. You’re also not following anyone other than Persil, because you’re not interested in seeing what other people are up to.
Pam: No, because I don’t know how to do it and I don’t have anything like that on my phone.
David: What kind of phone have you got?
Pam: Just a normal one. I couldn’t work one of those phones even if I tried. Don’t forget I’m an old age pensioner now!
David: Well, you’re an old age pensioner but you’re on Instagram and you’ve got 2,110 followers. How many pensioners do you think have 2,110 followers! Have you been recognised yet, has anyone said, ‘Are you PAM?’
Pam: Only one person, who used to come in to the launderette. He said, ‘Are you Pam?’ So I said yes and he said you’re on the Insta, whatever you call the bloody thing.
David: Why do you think so many people are hooked on Instagram?
Pam: I haven’t got a clue.
David: Should we keep Pamstagram going now you’ve finished at the launderette?
Pam: Well, it depends what we can do, what writing I can do.
David: Maybe next year we could do another T-shirt and make some more money for charity.
Pam: Give me a ring and let me know. If you want me to write anything down I will.
David: What’s so interesting about Pamstagram is that we’ve managed to make £325 for Shelter.
Pam: That’s good.
David: Just doing your typeface on a pair of socks. It’s good. So in many ways Instagram is quite good?
Pam: If it helps people.
David: That’s you, Pam. That’s you putting your art to use! You can see why so many people like what you’re doing?
Pam: Don’t see why, it’s just writing. Writing in different ways with different colours.
David: Anything else you wanna say about Pamstagram?
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