GDE720 - Week 5

GDE720 – Week 5 : Research

I’m excited for this week – we’re looking at critical communication and how written communication is intertwined with design. Why so many Graphic designs are also writers. Take Adrian shaughnessy who left Intro Design Studio to begin writing and lecturing in design – It’s really interesting to find out what makes an artist or graphic designer want to write about visual culture. Are they separate to Illustrators as mentioned in the lecture? For me, graphic design and art has also been intertwined, Graphic Designers became illustrators, artists became illustrators.

BUT, this week we’re looking into tone of voice and the manner in which we alter our vocabulary, our punctuation, and, importantly, the design of our work. Personally, in Graphic Design, I’ve come across a number of books written by designers that just don’t make sense – their use of jargon and technical vernacular not necessary for just telling someone how to layout a grid for writing an editorial piece. I perhaps feel sometimes these authors feel they need to use overly-academic vocabulary to just give their ego a little massage. It’s not needed, it’s complicated and it doesn’t make for an easy nor educational read. And then, on the other hand, we have Craig Oldham….

This is the kind of writing and designing combination that I love – he’s so straight to the point, he writes what he thinks but ensure that clarity and understanding is at the forefront of his work.

As each century has progressed, we’ve seen such dramatic shifts in population, education, wealth, technology – so much so the tracking of these shifts occurs in manifestos, where the “big brains” of the time feel it necessary to tell others how to do their work or how to write in line with these new changes. I get it, futurism, minimalism, post-impressionism, Bauhaus, Dada and more… these were all HUGE shifts in the art and literary worlds and I guess someone somewhere needed to write down the “rules” for creating works within these movements. But should we all just stick with what’s “in” at the time and why do they feel the need to write these manifestos? What makes them the leaders in these movements? I feel my questions here have still not been answered or perhaps I’m being too pigheaded and need to realise that without these movements or manifestos, we’d be in a pretty stale position right now.

It’s also, I suppose, a really fascinating insight into how one movement or shift transtioned into the next one – take Vorticism as so wonderfully demonstrated with Blast magazine. Many artists found Marinetti’s ego (the guy who wrote the manifesto on Futurism) unbearable, their frustrations at being linked to this movement without their go ahead resulted in “a determined band of miscellaneous anti-futurists” creating a bold, bright and vibrant new movement. Interestingly, this manifesto starts with a list – A list of rules so fervently written like a call to arms! Sadly, when WWI hit, a number of the artists involved with this movement passed away and BLAST magazine and the movement entered the history archives.

It’s a vital part of our history, it’s a movement which led to many others, it’s a call to others to not accept this proposal from someone else and break free from the mould. But still, history has shown that these manifestos are still being written, we’re still being told how to fit in and how to work within the confines set by someone else.

Take, for example the Die Neve Typographie by Tschichold, the modernist manifesto for modern design, the standardisation for Graphic design, with standardised paper sizes, simplicity and legibility. But is this too structured? Is this too constrictive? Did this directly impact the “objective Graphic Design” borne in the 50s, simple, sober, really quite basic stuff?

Of course, if you’re creating an identity, you need to make sure it’s universal across all platforms and all types of publishing, we know that! And back in the day, these guidelines were created in book form. Shaughnessy took these and created a beautiful collection of all the design manifestos, demonstrating their intricacies in a whole new light.

Personally, I find that graphic designers tend to have written books purely to show off their own work or demonstrate how amazing they are, which is fine, I’m all for that – as long as it has genuine insights, and an air of objectivity that actually helps. What I can’t face reading are the me, me, me books. The ones that act as helpful, how to guides, disguising the fact that the writing is purely just a self-penned, egotistical boost for the designer. We need manifestos, even if just to join the history archives of other movements in the past, we need to know why things changed, why things happened and why we design like we do today.

I LOVED listening to Anna and Brit – they use writing in a wholly different way, something I’ve not come across before. Their use of “visual writing” to define a new meaning, taking someone’s favourite book and carving out a whole new story, for example! In the literary world, this is enough to send someone to purgatory… Carving up a book?!?!? But it works, the reader has a whole new sense of reading a story – but on the other hand, is it necessary. I get that it’s an artistic feature and something new and exciting, but as a lot of their audience responded, it’s weird, why have they done that? The tactility is there and it’s a fun this to create but would anyoen buy it as a book? No. Because no one wants to read that way, they’d rather just read an exciting story in the normal way. So I suppose you end up with two sides of the coin – is it just art or is it a book? Where’s the line and how can you blend the two?

I fear my research and writing this week has taken me off the intended path of “tone of voice”, but I wanted to really understand the designers who write, why they write and, really, what content is involved?

My style of writing is relaxed, it’s informal and perhaps sometimes it’s not so eloquently written. However, I can proudly state I’ll never feel the need to inject unnecessary jargon or excessive use of erudite vernacular. Those that do, that’s fine, I’ll just never finish the first paragraph, but there’ll be hundreds out there that will love the work you do. It’s personal preference, first and foremost.

I guess I also am left with the question we started with – why do designers write? Is it to boost their egos or make them feel good? Is it to genuinely help others? Or is it just to say they’ve published something, it looks pretty and on someone’s book shelf it makes a statement…?


TOC (2011) Anna Gerber and Britt Iverson, Visual Editions: Part Revolution, Part Reinvention, Part Making it Up Along the Way, [online video].

 It’s Nice That (2015) Nicer Tuesdays: Craig Oldham on Books[online video]. Available at Nicer Tuesdays: Craig Oldham on Books

Element Talks (2017) Adrian Shaughnessy  The graphic designer as writer, editor and publisher, [online video]. Available at Adrian Shaughnessy – The graphic designer as writer, editor and publisher

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