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Ke e dy
T his es s ay was bas ed on lec tures pres ented at FU SE 9 8 , San Franc is c o, M ay 2 8 , and T he A I G A N ational Student D es ign C onferenc e, C alA rts , J une 1 4 , 1 9 9 8 . I t was firs t publis hed in 1 9 9 8 in Emigre 4 7 .
Any discussion of postm ode rnism m ust be pre ce de d by at le ast a provisional de finition of m ode rnism . First the re is m ode rnism with a capital "M," which de signate s a style and ide ology and that is not re stricte d to a spe cific historical m om e nt or ge ographical location. Mode rnist de signe rs from the Bauhaus in Ge rm any, the De Style in Holland, and C onstructivism in R ussia, share e sse ntially the sam e Mode rnist ide ology as de signe rs lik e Paul R and, Massim o Vigne lli, and Eric Spie k e rm ann. Its prim ary te ne t is that the articulation of form should always be de rive d from the program m atic dictate s of the obje ct be ing de signe d. In short, form follows function. Mode rnism was for the m ost part form e d in art schools, whe re the pe dagogical strate gie s we re de ve lope d that continue to this day in de sign schools. It is a form alist, rationalist, visual language that can be applie d to a wide range of circum stance s. All k inds of claim s can and have be e n m ade in an e ffort to k e e p Mode rnism e te rnally re le vant and ne w. The contradiction of be ing constant, ye t always ne w, has gre at appe al for graphic de signe rs, whose work is so e phe m e ral. The n the re is the m ode rn, with a sm all "m ." It is ofte n confuse d with Mode rnism with a big M, but be ing a m ode rn de signe r sim ply m e ans be ing de dicate d to work ing in a way that is conte m porary and innovative , re gardle ss of what your particular stylistic or ide ological bias m ay be . Mode rn de signe rs who we re not ne ce ssarily Mode rnist would include de signe rs lik e Milton Glase r, C harle s and R ay Eam e s, and Tadanori Yok oo. W ith all the confusion in the se e arly days of form ulating the ore tical paradigm s, it is unde rstandable why som e de signe rs have give n up trying to conne ct the ir practice to conte m porary the ory. By the tim e postm ode rnism cam e along, m any de signe rs we re quite happy to dism iss it as a tre ndy fad or irre le vant ram bling, and be done with it. That is e x actly why I think it is im portant to e x am ine som e of the conne ctions be twe e n the postm ode rn condition and graphic de sign. Although the re has always be e n som e confusion about what postm ode rnism is, the m ost obvious fe ature is that it is a re action (not re je ction), to the e stablishe d form s of high Mode rnism . The se cond m ost prom ine nt fe ature of postm ode rnism is the e rasing of the boundarie s be twe e n high culture and pop culture . But probably the m ost conte ste d fe ature is that of "the ore tical discourse ," whe re the ory was no longe r confine d to philosophy, but incorporate d history, social the ory, political scie nce , and m any othe r are as of study, including de sign the ory. Postm ode rnism is not a de scription of a style ; it is the te rm for the e ra of late capitalism starting afte r the 1940's and re alize d in the 1960's with ne o-colonialism , the gre e n re volution, com pute rization and e le ctronic inform ation. Postm ode rnism didn't have m uch im pact on graphic de sign until the m iddle of the 1980s. Initially, m any de signe rs thought it was just undiscipline d se lf-indulge nce . A hodge podge of style s, with no unifying ide als or form al vocabularie s, dre am e d up by stude nts in the ne w graduate program s. But in fact it was a ne w way of think ing about de sign, one that instigate d a ne w way of de signing. De signe rs be gan to re alize that as m e diators of culture , the y could no longe r hide be hind the "proble m s" the y we re "solving." O ne could de scribe this shift as a younge r ge ne ration of de signe rs sim ply indulging the ir e gos and re fusing to be transpare nt (lik e a crystal goble t). O r you could say the y we re ack nowle dging the ir unique position in the culture , one that could have any num be r of political or ide ological age ndas. The ve rnacular, high and low culture , pop culture , nostalgia, parody, irony, pastiche , de construction, and the anti-ae sthe tic re pre se nt som e of the ide as that have com e out of the 80s and inform e d de sign practice and the ory of the 90s. Afte r the 80s de signe rs m ay still choose to be anonym ous, but the y will ne ve r again be conside re d invisible . W e are part of the m e ssage in the m e dia. In the postm ode rn e ra we are not just m e diators of inform ation, but individuals who think cre ative ly and visually about our culture . Although Jan Tschichold has be e n ce le brate d as an e arly propone nt of m ode rnist asym m e tric typography, de signe rs have incre asingly com e to re spe ct his e arlie r calligraphic and latte r classical
O n the othe r hand. Anothe r im portant pre cursor to postm ode rnism was W . In 1993. But I ne ve r thought of it as be ing ille gible . In fact. he was absolute ly com m itte d to be ing a m ode rn de signe r. I calle d the type face Bondage Bold. A point that was so succe ssfully m ade . distre sse d and fracture d. He was a tire le ss e x pe rim e nte r with form . ne w and old. Most type face s are logically syste m atic. In the postm ode rn e ra. and it is se lfconsciously crude and anti-ae sthe tic in re action to the slick ne ss of Mode rnism . it was "ugly. a de signe r who translate d traditional value s and ae sthe tics into a m ode rn se nsibility. it was finally re le ase d on an unsuspe cting public in 1991. Tschichold's body of work is an im portant pre ce de nt for today's postm ode rn typography in that it re pre se nts dive rsity in ide ology and style . At the tim e I had be e n using the Am e rican highway Gothic type face in m y de sign work that I cut and paste d from a highway signage m anual. in te rm s of style . form alist conce rns of late Mode rnism . Afte r adding a re gular we ight. and ne w te chnology. Tschichold was ce le brate d as a Mode rnist typographe r. and changing the nam e to Ke e dy Sans. be com e ve ry blurry. R udy Vande rLans saw it in som e of m y work and wante d to se ll it through Em igre . Dwiggins. or e ve n difficult to re ad. if you se e a fe w le tte rs you can pre tty m uch gue ss what the re st of the font will look lik e . Ke e dy Sans was still able to cause a bit of controve rsy am ong graphic de signe rs. The ne w ae sthe tic was im pure . I wante d a type face that would willfully contradict those e x pe ctations. history. It has only be e n in re ce nt ye ars that discussions of Tschichold and Dwiggins have e x pande d to include the full scope and plurality of the ir work . That is be cause the postm ode rn conte x t has e ncourage d dive rsity and com ple x ity. I have ne ve r be e n ve ry inte re ste d in pushing the lim its of le gibility for its own sak e . has. It was a typically postm ode rn strate gy for a work to call atte ntion to the flaws and artifice of its own construction. In 1989 I de signe d a type face to use in m y de sign work for e x pe rim e ntal arts organizations lik e Los Ange le s C onte m porary Ex hibitions and C alArts. Absolute clarity. m ost of the form al m anne rism s of the late 80s have continue d to pre dom inate throughout the 90s. So I was think ing about Ak zide nz-Grote sk Black . The initial re action to Ke e dy Sans was that it was too idiosyncratic. good and bad. A. It's hard to im agine that k ind of re action to a type de sign today. I think it is a ve ry postm ode rn type face in that it include d "high" and "low" ve rnacular quotation. I wante d to e x plore the com ple x possibilitie s that lie som e whe re in be twe e n and atte m pt to do som e thing original or at le ast unique . Dwiggins ne ve r e m brace d the Mode rnist m ove m e nt nor was he de ifie d by it. It was one that range d from craft-base d calligraphy and m achine -age m ode rnism to ne oclassicism . Howe ve r. But now it's no longe r an ide ologically re le vant.now it's just the m ost popular com m e rcial style . and it was starting to be a popular type face for m usic and youth-orie nte d audie nce s. or e ve n ne w style . Anothe r ve rnacular influe nce was the "f" from the Fiat logo. lik e so m any line s in graphic de sign today. Although Dwiggins's and Tschichold's work se e m s to have little in com m on. I de signe d Ke e dy Sans as a "use r. who took inspiration for his work from e aste rn culture s. Its popularity slowly . O ve rall I wante d a type face that was sim ilar to C oope r Black . norm alizing the spacing. Dwiggins has always be e n re pre se nte d as a traditional de signe r in spite of the innovative and e x pe rim e ntal nature of m ost of his work . e x tre m e ly bold with a strong idiosyncratic pe rsonality. that pre tty m uch e ve rything was allowe d in the profe ssionalize d fie ld of graphic de sign. Unlik e Tschichold. be cause I lik e d W olfgang W e ingart's typography. or e x tre m e distortion. and from the n on typography would include the chaotic and circuitous as options in its le x icon of style s. it was im portant that I m ix e d in high de sign source s as we ll. which downplaye d his m ore substantial body of de sign and writing base d on traditional and classical ide as. is too sim plistic a goal. But I was not only quoting low ve rnacular source s." hard to re ad. chaotic. In the late 80s. the line dividing m ode rn and classical. which was som e what e x otic in Am e rica. and give n us a critical distance to asse ss Mode rnism and its ram ifications. the re is a sim ilarity in how the ir work was initially m isre pre se nte d." It was a re action to the narrow. an anti-ae sthe tic im pulse e m e rge d in opposition to the canon of Mode rnist "good de sign. I gue ss nobody re ally care s any m ore . and it is ground that has alre ady be e n we ll cove re d. and too we ird to be ve ry use ful.work ." sim ply base d on a vague ide a of a type face that I had not ye t se e n but wante d to use in m y graphic de sign. It stak e d a large r claim to the culture and e x pande d the e x pre ssive possibilitie s in de sign. irre gular and crude . cle aning up the drawings (with Zuzana Lick o's guidance ).
only le d to what is curre ntly re fe rre d to as the ugly." O ne of the re asons Jan Tschichold we nt back to traditional ce nte r ax is typography was be cause whe n it was done by le ss sk ille d de signe rs. Although the se book s are fun to look at. we ird. he thought it re sulte d in le ss offe nsive work than whe n the m ore de m anding asym m e trical m ode rnist typography was poorly done . de bate . laye re d. Eight ye ars late r. Afte r the 60s. m ak ing that type of qualitative judgm e nt difficult at be st. which put e ve ry k id from Tole do to Tok yo in the sam e baggy pants and t-shirt. adve rtising was ne ve r the sam e . and qualitative analysis. Now the avant-garde only consists of te chnological m aste ry: who is using the coole st bit of code or ge tting the m ost out of the ir HTML this we e k . from the late 80s. Now e ve ryone wants to be "the m an. Now it's just anothe r de corative type style ." so all this ne w work has just be com e "m ore grist for the publishing m ill. cultural critique . W hat I had hope d would be an ide ological victory ove r the tyranny of style m onge ring. m uch le ss canonize d. Fortunate ly. form al and conce ptual innovations only slow down com m e rcial acce ssibility. typography of the postm ode rn e ra has not up to this point be e n cle arly articulate d. by 1995 it was starting to look pre tty le gible and tam e com pare d to othe r ne w type face s on the m ark e t. it m ay have done m ore dam age than good to the prom otion of typography as a sophisticate d or discrim inating craft. and e nte rtainm e nt-orie nte d. That is be cause m ost de signe rs did not want anything to challe nge the ir continuity with a de sign canon the y had so re ce ntly constructe d. O nly now the re is little opposition and no re sistance to what is an e m pty stylistic cliché . postm ode rn de sign of the 90s. This situation has le d som e de signe rs to sim ply dism issing it all as garbage . The y have no inte re st in "se parating the whe at from the chaff. criticism . Eve ntually e ve n the big boys in the corporate world we re no longe r put off by m y typographic antics. som e critical and historical ide as are still be ing disse m inate d. graphic de signe rs we re le ss succe ssful at using re sistance as a ve hicle for changing attitude s in the ir profe ssion in the 80s. Now m ost graphic de signe rs ne e d re sults fast. The y include anything and e ve rything e x ce pt critical. This ne w cornucopia of type book s is not the re sult of a sudde n re naissance in typography." a conce it alm ost no one can afford anym ore . By com parison. That is why ultim ate ly the strate gie s of re sistance to Mode rnist dogm a and the critique of the status quo. criticism and the ory has m anage d to ge t publishe d in . The "official style of the hip and cool" will probably be with us for som e tim e . one am ong m any. R e sistance is not futile . Nowadays that se e m s to be all a de signe r can e x pe ct from the ir work . Ironically. I still think it is an inte re sting type face ." W hat is le ft of an avant-garde in graphic de sign isn't about re sistance . The re have ne ve r be e n as m any book s publishe d on conte m porary typography as in the past fe w ye ars. Unlik e traditional or Mode rnist typography. The y e x ploit an e ndle ss supply of ne w. Som e de sign history. The adve rtising world co-opte d our de sire for re sistance and has be e n re fining it in pop culture since the 60s. Its willful contradictions are only what is e x pe cte d in de sign today. de constructe d. R e sisting m ainstre am pop banality is an outdate d attitude that only a fe w de signe rs of m y ge ne ration worry about anym ore . that's why it's a sham e that now it signifie s little m ore than the banality of nove lty. you would be hard pre sse d to find any significant discussion. It is hard for a ge ne ration raise d in a suppose dly "alte rnative " youth culture . in spite of the sm alle r financial re wards. to be lie ve that re le vant form s of e x pre ssion can e ve n e x ist outside of pop culture . The only thing that the de sign e stablishm e nt in the 80s was inte re ste d in re sisting was ne w ide as. but the re sult of the publishing industry's ability to re cognize and de ve lop a com m e rcial m ark e t. on a m uch sm alle r scale . chaotic. the re has ne ve r be e n le ss of a conse nsus as to what is of inte re st or value in typography. or e x pe rim e nting with m e aning. cutting e dge de sign tale nt to se ll the sam e old stuff. as it is e asy to do and little has be e n done to e stablish any standard of quality. in spite of all the se ne w type book s. de volve d into a one -style -fits-all com m e rcial signifie r for e ve rything that is youth. or e ve n e x planation in m ost of the m . or confrontational de sign. To this day ad age ncie s are full of m iddle -age d "cre ative dire ctors" who talk and dre ss lik e twe nty ye arolds. it is no longe r conside re d an ille gible . grunge . sports. It was the e nd of the m e n in the gray flanne l suits. inform ative . alte rnative .but consiste ntly gre w. Today's young de signe rs don't worry about se lling out. Eve n though the curre nt publishing craze m ay be he lpful as se lf-prom otion for a fe w de signe rs and a de sign aid for the cre ative ly challe nge d. re sistance is a ve ry succe ssful adve rtising strate gy. or having to work for "the m an. and Ke e dy Sans m ade its way into the m ainstre am world of corporate com m e rcialism by 1997.
industrial de sign.are we just gre asing the whe e ls of capitalism with style and taste ? If graphic de signe rs play a m ajor role in building the bridge to the twe nty-first ce ntury. the history of type de sign in te rm s of the five fam ilie s of type : O ldstyle . and art. But it was the adve rtising industry that ultim ate ly won the partne rship with m ulti-national corporations. Egyptian. to com pre he nd this ide ological shift. afte r the de ath of the author. But now it se e m s that the te chnology has e clipse d its raison d'etre and it e x ists outside of any the ore tical critique . It was an ide a about language . and the Inte rne t cre ate gre ate r aware ne ss and re spe ct for graphic de sign." Although intuition is a satisfactory e x planation for a five -ye ar-old's crayon abstractions. historical graphic de sign is value d as nostalgic e phe m e ra. At this juncture in its history. e ve n though som e how the old consum e rs do. e ducation. shorte ne d our de adline s. Just be cause think ing about de sign isn't a popular activity doe sn't m e an it isn't an im portant one . and C onte m porary. Intuition is a ge ne ric te rm for a pe rce ptive insight that is arrive d at without using a rational proce ss. the n we could re instate history. and continue to be taught. it's a bit we ak for de scribing the com pute r-graphic-m ultinational-im pe rialism that is re shaping our global culture . Graphic de signe rs are caught up in a m e dia stre am that is ve ry wide and fast. e ducation and curre nt practice as our ce nte r for critical re fle ction. it should com e as no surprise that conte m porary de sign discourse is also out of sync with that of archite cture . But the unwillingne ss of graphic de signe rs to re cognize the ir inde bte dne ss to history. the ne w m e dia has not ye t de ve lope d a ne w the ore tical paradigm .it's all a m atte r of "intuition. But m aybe this tim e we should stop and ask : "Doe s the Inte rne t love graphic de sign?" Pe rhaps the Inte rne t will sim ply co-opt graphic de sign. Maybe graphic de sign will ce ase to e x ist as a discre e t practice and just be com e anothe r se t of options on the m e nu. the ne w buzzword is a fam iliar old standby from gram m ar school art classe s . Maybe we should le ave "instincts" and "intuition" to our furry frie nds. all de signe rs have be e n. Transitional. it disconne cts type de sign from our ge ne ral cultural history. Graphic de signe rs love d the ne w inte rnational corporate culture . As such. For e x am ple . te le vision graphics. incorporating it into its ope rating syste m . For m ost non-de signe rs. This is due large ly to its short life -span and its disposable ubiquity. or e ve n a ne w le x icon. and inspiration. is unde rstandable in the se postm ode rn tim e s. will the y be re cognize d for the ir e fforts? Do you re m e m be r type se tte rs? Graphic de sign's e phe m e ral nature has practically disqualifie d it from se rious conside ration as an im portant cultural practice . graphic de signe rs are n't buying it.lik e fire love s wood. and at the e nd of history. and ultim ate ly re duce d our fe e s. have to be dictate d by the com m e rcial m ark e tplace .re ce nt ye ars. gave us the additional re sponsibility of type se tting and pre -pre ss. but not ve ry de e p. while conte m porary de sign is vie we d as som e tim e s am using. It is a way of saying "e ducate d gue ss" without de fining the e ducation of the "gue sse r. but that doe s not m e an that our value s and ide als. W ill the e ve n m ore e phe m e ral and ubiquitous m e dia of film title s. discourse . C uriously. graphic de sign practice ne e ds a m ore rigorous and re sponsible discourse . or the lack of the m . and the ir pe e rs is not. or at le ast inde scribable ." That one 's source of inspiration could be unk nowable . and ne w things love graphic de signe rs . This nine te e nth ce ntury te rm inology de vise d by type founde rs is com ple te ly out of sync with pe riod classifications use d in the hum anitie s. but com pare d to the picture book s. But it took away a lot of our low e nd proje cts. The ofte n quote d cliché is that the ne w m e dia re quire s ne w rule s and the old assum ptions do not apply. Give n this type of foundation. Now graphic de signe rs love the ne w Inte rne t. The n graphic de signe rs love d the ne w de sk top publishing. or will such fam iliarity only bre e d conte m pt? Ne w m e dia is a practical e m bodim e nt of the the ore tical paradigm e stablishe d by poststructuralism . lite rature . To go faste r you m ust be . Mode rn. The only way to navigate in it is to go faste r or slowe r than the stre am . The ore tical and conce ptual discourse in graphic de sign has always be e n a bit naive com pare d to olde r m ore e stablishe d cultural practice s. Graphic de sign is not ge ne rally acce pte d as having the cultural significance of othe r le ss e phe m e ral form s of de sign lik e archite cture . Graphic de signe rs love ne w things. and e ve n fashion. O r is graphic de sign just a lubricant that k e e ps e ve rything on the info highway m oving . but m ostly annoying. Ironically. adve rtising. The practice of graphic de sign has from the be ginning be e n inte rtwine d with pop com m e rcialism . com m unication and m e aning be fore it was e ve r a te chnology.
Dwiggins : On the Hundredth Annivers ary of his Birth . 1998. 1 9 9 4 . Steven H eller and D K H olland. Jan Ts chichold: a Life in Typography . G eorge P . Looking Clos er: Critical Writings on Graphic Des ign . P rivately P rinted for Friends of H ermann P uters c hein. it's an ide a about the tim e we are living in. Looking Clos er 2: Critical Writings on Graphic Des ign . and e ve n the ne w m e dia will be com e the old m e dia. But ine vitably the cutting e dge will ge t dull. a tim e that is full of com ple x itie s. A t T he I nkwell P res s . te chnology. 1 9 9 2 . Steven H eller and D K H olland. Booth. Theory. and the ne x t wave will be lik e all the pre vious wave s. and what and why we think about it. A llworth P res s . How we com m unicate says a lot about who we are . T he U nivers ity of C hic ago pres s . and de sign e ntre pre ne urs. whe re graphic de signe rs can have the autonom y to se t the ir own course . M anc hes ter U nivers ity P res s . Silvio G aggi. It is an unwie ldy and trouble som e paradigm . Criticis m. U nivers ity of P enns ylvania P res s . N ew Y ork. and possibilitie s. Maybe now it is tim e to dive be low all the hype and sound bite s of the adve rtising industrie s m e dia stre am . M ic hael Bierut. Look ing at m uch of today's graphic de sign one would have to conclude that graphic de signe rs are twe lve -ye ar-olds with an atte ntion de ficit disorde r. A llworth P res s . 1 9 9 0 . Keedy is a des igner. This e le ctronic De ja-vu-doo is ge tting old. pastiche . From Text to Hypertext: Decentering the Subj ect in Fiction. T he U nivers ity of C hic ago pres s . P aul J obling and D avid C rowley. Des ign Culture: An Anthology of Writing from the AI GA Journal of Graphic Des ign . e ve n if it m e ans swim m ing against the curre nt now and the n.C libborn E ditions . and educ ator who lives in L os A ngeles . E llen M azur T homas . we have be e n chasing afte r the ne w and the ne x t to sustain e x cite m e nt and asse rt our growing re le vance in the world. H yphen P res s . P hiladelphia. 1 9 9 7 . 1 9 8 0 . Ruari M c L ean. Graphic de signe rs are pre dispose d to going faste r or slowe r according to the ir e x pe rie nce and inclination. N ew Y ork. The n the only thing le ft will be the graphic de sign. 1 9 9 7 . L andow. Y ale U nivers ity P res s . Ric k P oynor. N ew Y ork. and Electronic Media. the Vis ual Arts . de sign consultants. again. m e dia dire ctors. a constantly m utating digital collage m achine . A llworth P res s . M r. 1 9 9 7 . C hic ago and L ondon.A. Postm ode rnism isn't a style . V ic tor M argolin.at the fore front of te chnology and fashion. T he J ohn H opkins U nivers ity P res s . C hic ago and L ondon. O r m ore pre cise ly. Robin Kinros s . 1 9 9 6 . Ultim ate ly what we are le ft with is a fe e ling of aggravate d and ironic nostalgia. 1 9 9 2 . Film. and critical the ory could be use ful to graphic de signe rs if the y could ge t be yond think ing about the ir work in te rm s of form al cate gorie s. Des ign Dis cours e: His tory. L ondon. To go slowe r you ne e d an unde rstanding of conte x t through history and the ory. Howe ve r. and de corate d with spe cial e ffe cts. contradictions. Counterculture. 1 9 9 7 . but m ostly the y are ge tting swe pt along in the curre nts of pop m e diocrity. fille d with a bunch of old "sam ple d" parts from the past. and the Ris e of Hip Cons umeris m. 1 9 8 9 . and m e dia. Unfortunate ly m ost graphic de signe rs are curre ntly not up to the challe nge . William D renttel. Bibliography A Tribute To W. In the postm ode rn e ra. m ulticulturalism . Blac kwell. P rinc eton A rc hitec tural P res s . The Condition of Pos tmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. D avid H arvey. M anc hes ter and N ew Y ork. e ditor/authors. as inform ation archite cts. . De signe rs today are re pre se nting our pre se nt e ra as if the y we re using a k ale idoscope to do it. The Origins of Graphic Des ign in America. writer. 1 9 9 7 . William D renttel. Graphic Des ign: Reproduction & Repres entation Since 1800 . type des igner. Baltimore and L ondon. T homas Frank. The Conques t of Cool: Bus ines s Culture. 1870-1920 . both of which are changing at an unpre ce de nte d rate . com ple x ity. Modern Typography: An Es s ay in Critical His tory . Steven H eller and M arie Finamore. L ondon. I still think it is pre fe rable to the re assuring lim itations of Mode rnism . A fe w postm ode rn ide as lik e de construction. N ew Y ork. M ic hael Bierut. N ew H aven and L ondon. Des ign Without Boundaries : Vis ual Communication in Trans ition . 1 9 9 7 Hyper Text: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology . C ambridge M A and O xford U K. N ew Y ork.
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