MODERNISM CRAFT & TECHNOLOGY

Technology has facilitated graphic designers’ ability to further embrace the DIY philosophy of modernism and the value of craftsmanship. The personal computer was introduced over 20 years ago and technology has evolved so that everyone from a layperson to a trained designer has tools at their disposal that can potentially empower them. As a result, designers have acquired more titles, with their ability to edit, author, and publish. Print on demand (POD) technology has grown significantly in the past decade, which has also fostered the DIY, entrepreneurial spirit seen in modernist designers. Having a refined skill set, the drive to keep perfecting

ones craft, is critical in design, because software cannot duplicate the knowledge that comes when something has been repeated so much that it has become ingrained in the psyche. A craftsman-like, modernist designer is armed with the potential for creating projects independently, (that were previously not possible), due to advances in technology. Designers have the opportunity to create their own voice and/or determine what they would like to use their design expertise on and how. The professional control technology has given designers creates opportunities to advance causes they feel are important, and possibly improve the quality of life and learning for others.

While their heroes are modernist designers like Wim Crouwel, they combine this affinity with a DIY punk spirit that they claim has always been part of modernism’s vocabulary

… you seem to have created a viable compression of certain modernist tropes that propagate into contemporary visual culture, comment on it, and demarcate a clear position

… there has been a consistent urge to treat modernism as a style sheet, where it can be separated from its substance – like a Helvetica–styled “identity” can perfectly

essentialize a luxury beauty product, an airplane, a mediocre sushi-bar franchise, and countless other examples. No doubt part of the “success” of modernism is its lightness, the fact that it can from some perspective be seen as a legitimizer of the entity that it is pasted on. Nevertheless, your treatment of modernism is more concerned with its substance and therefore must at some point have (perhaps violently) confronted the sushi-bar version of the contemporary Helvetica fetish

We never think in the categories of style and substance. We always preferred the notion of “language”; after all, a language is a system that incorporates both style and substance, both form and content. The idea of a language presupposes a sort of embedded ideology, the weight of history, an inherent narrative dimension – all these notions seem to be missing from the word “style.” We see International “Style” more as a language then a style.

When we brought up the subject of modernism’s subversiveness in the Helvetica documentary, we were specifically thinking about modernism as a dialectical model defined by “deconstructive” tendencies on one side and “constructive” tendencies on the other side. On the one ide, there are movements like Dada and surrealism; on the other side, there are movements such as Bauhaus and Constructivism. What makes modernism so interesting, so multifaceted, and ultimately so paradoxical is the fact that between these two poles, all different combinations and variations (of destruction and construction) are possible. In fact, sometimes these opposite poles can be active within one single person – think of Theo van Doesburg’s role in De Stijl and his interest in Dada.) We often see punk as a sort of “scale model” of modernism. After all, punk is also a phenomenon defined by deconstructive tendencies on one side (No Future, Destroy) and constructive tendencies on the other (the whole DIY culture). What we were trying to explain in the Helvetica documentary is that we regard modernism in a similar way. However, if you would ask us now to elaborate on the subversiveness of modernism, we would probably start by defining it. For us, modernism has everything to do with the notion of breaking spells, and the ambition to go beyond the chains of illusion. When we say “beyond the chains of illusion,” that is a specific reference to Erich Fromm’s book of the same title, in which he tries to synthesize the languages of Marx and Freud. And in our view, t is exactly in the push and pull between Marx and Freud where modernism can be located. To quote Marx, “The demand to give up illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.” This connects all modernist manifestations. From the most fragmentary surrealist collage to the most grid-based Constructivist composition, and everything in between: They all aim, each in their own way, to go beyond the chains of illusion. In that sense, we believe that every manifestation of modernism is inherently subversive. We believe that even in its most harsh and rigid form, modernism still offers a way out. Even in those rare cases when modernism puts on an unbearable authoritarian face, it still gives the viewer the possibility to completely disagree. It provides a person something to chew on, to work with, to bounce off of. It always demands an active position. Therefore, we even believe that the more corporate outgrowths of late modernism possess a subversive potential. It is tempting to see the internet as the ultimate fulfillment of the ideals of modernism – after all, the world wide web seems the perfect embodiment of Paul Otlet’s “Mudaneum.” Also, when you look at it from a strictly formalist viewpoint, the whole visual landscape of the internet is made up of exactly those elements that most people seem to associate with International Style: templates, grids, sans-serif type, the specific use of “empty” space, flush-left ragged-right columns. Even the use of all-lowercase letters in text messaging can be seen as stylistically linked to International Style. But still – we would say there is one fundamental, crucial difference between the print culture of modernism and the digital culture of the internet. In our view, print is still a more public medium. If a poster is hanging in the

street, it is seen be every passerby in more or less the same way. Sure, the interpretation of the poster will differ from person to person, but by and large, the poster itself will appear in roughly the same way to every viewer, regardless of his/her class, race, gender, age, personal preferences, etc. This is different on the internet, where websites and pages conform themselves instantly to cater to the personal tastes and preferences of the individual viewer. Google search results change from person to person, the advertisements that clutter online profiles are specifically targeted toward the viewer, etc., etc. This makes the online environment ultimately an individualistic, isolated experience, despite the promise of “being connected.” It also makes most online activity a somewhat unadventurous, undialectical affair, as you only will be confronted with stimuli that are algorithmically curated for you, based on what large corporations (such as Facebook and Google) expect you want to see. Whereas, within the context of the street, you will be confronted with information that is not specifically intended for you – posters you might not immediately understand, slogans you might disagree with (or not), kiosks carrying newspapers that are not necessarily tailored toward your specific lifestyle, book stalls displaying secondhand books expressing conflicting opinions. In our view, it is this notion of print culture within the urban environment that offers the most dialectical, and therefore most modernist, experience. So, it’s exactly that idea that we try to explore most in our work. And, as paradoxical as it may sound, it is this theme of modernist print culture that is also one of the main subjects of our online presence – whether it is our actual website or the Facebook group you mentioned.

Writing in 1984, seven years after Never Mind the Bollocks and at a moment when established New York art galleries were aggressively collecting the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Rand points to punk and

graffiti as two of the most debased examples of graphic form giving: amateur, trendy, and of-the-moment. The irony, of course, being that over the subsequent two decades punk and graffiti (or, more precisely, hip hop) have proven to be two of the most productive domains not only for graphic design, but for popular culture at large. Meanwhile, Rand’s example remains a source of inspiration to scores of art directors and graphic designers weaned on breakbeats and powerchords.

…what Rand means by a ‘timeless principles’ of ‘quality’ design is, of course, modernism or, to be more specific, that form of graphic modernism first exported to America with the diffusion of Bauhaus pedagogy in the wake of WWII and subsequently popularized in the 1960s and early 1970s as the so-called Swiss ‘International Style’. For vanguard American designers working in the mid-1980s such work was largely felt to be exhausted and out of favor, associated with the bankrupt corporate establishment of the Vietnam era and a vision of the designer soon to be supplanted with the arrival of the Apple Macintosh.

As ‘Graphics Incognito’ the (GI) cover exemplifies this form of hardcore abstraction and suggests an alternative to traditional modes of design authorship, pointing to the open-secret of the collective, collaborative nature of all graphic design and the productive reserves that remain to be tapped in design history, It is, in effect, the logic of the logo, but in a context that is resolutely anti-corporate, anti-capitalistic, and politically radical.

“…the Black Flag bars are an example of hardcore abstraction par excellence. As if fetched from the coarse geometric forms of De Stijl and early modernism, the four black rectangles were originally meant to be a stylized representation of a waving flag Both Theo van Doesburg and Black Flag were committed to rupturing the surface of bourgeois normality, and the tactics I have been describing – strategic anonymity, pseudonym, and graphic abstraction – were used as a way of disseminating their radical message at all costs and on multiple fronts simultaneously. This rhizomatic, networked logic, I want to argue, is the signature lesson that the graphic abstraction of early American hardcore learns from early modernism without even knowing it.

…the story of early modernist abstraction is also a story of graphic design’s origins, that, through De Stijl, inevitably takes us back to the Bauhaus and its pedagogy of primary colors and abstract shapes.

Muriel Cooper’s landmark English-language edition of The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago by Hans M. Wingler, first published by MIT Press in1969 and in a smaller, expanded paperback edition in 1978. By any measure the book is a tour de force of graphic design. Set entirely in Helvetica with the tight margins and rigorous grid system of the International Style, it is a mammoth, comprehensive collection of primary sources and photographs bound in a black slipcase with ‘BAUHAUS’ set in all-caps vertically along the left and side. Often referred to as ‘the Bauhaus Bible’, the book – as a totemic object, as much as anything else – made the radical ideas of the Bauhaus (including its often overlooked early bohemian, mystical, utopian phase) not simply available, but tangible to an entire generation of designers educated in the wake of May 1968.

Muriel Cooper’s other great contribution to graphic design is the MIT Press logo…Cooper designed the MIT Press logo in 1963 while running her own studio in Boston, and , in 1967, joined the Press as its first art director, pioneering new directions in book design, including Learning From Las Vegas and the Bauhaus book. While at MIT Press Cooper also founded a special experimental initiative to explore computer typesetting, book arts, and modes of self-publishing inspired by the example of The Whole Earth Catalog. In 1973 Cooper went on to co-found the MIT Media Lab’s Visible Language Workshop, and over a 20-year career conducted groundbreaking research into the use of typography and graphics in the dynamic representation of information in interactive media and interface design.

…the Bauhaus’ vocabulary of primary shapes and colors can be seen to have spawned not only to a certain type of corporate modernism, but to any number of ‘bastard’ or ‘soft’ varieties. Modernism was an attempt to jettison the confining aspects of history. It replaced the nineteenth century’s deep infatuation with the past with a twentieth-century optimism about the present and the future. The Modernists invented new formal languages that changed not just how things looked, but how people saw. Modernism was a heartfelt attempt at using design to change the world.

I think design definitely is a cultural force…And design should be educational Modernism was optimistic about the role of design. Even the prissiest Modernists, the Dadaists and Futurists, believed that design has a responsibility to carry a new message

This is the do-it-yourself entrepreneurial culture that has found a way to seize both the means of production and the systems of distribution

Technical skill has been removed from imagination, tangible reality doubted by religion, pride in one’s work treated as a luxury. If the craftsman is special because he or she is an engaged human being, still the craftsman’s aspirations and trials hold up a mirror to these larger issues past and present.

All craftsmanship is quality driven work; Plato formulated this aim as the arête, the standard of excellence, implicit in any act: the aspiration for quality will drive a craftsman to improve, to get better rather than get by. Going over an action again and again, by contrast, enables self-criticism. Modern education fears repetitive learning as mind-numbing … but this deprives children of the experience of studying their own ingrained practice and modulating it from within.

Skill development depends on how repetition is organized… As skill expands, the capacity to sustain repetition increases. You get to know a terrain by tracing and retracing it, not by letting the computer ‘regenerate’ it for you. You build up a kind of circularity between drawing and making and then back again … repetition and practice… is very typical of the craftsman’s approach. You think and do at the same time. You draw and you make. Drawing…is revisited. You do it, you redo it, and you redo it again. Abuses of CAD illustrate how, when the head and the hand are separate, it is the head that suffers. Computer-assisted design might serve as an emblem of a large challenge faced by modern society: how to think like craftsmen in making good use of technology… “thinking like a craftsman” is more than a state of mind; it has a sharp social edge.` … a renewed recognition of the value of craft in graphic design

The obsessions of the Designer’s Voice camp are there to be seen in the enthusiasm for individual production, DIY methods, design that starts with one’s own fonts, lowtech printing, and the shift toward self-publishing

It’s not about the world of design. It’s about the design of the world.

Massive Change was an ambitious project initiated by Bruce Mau Design and the Institute without Boundaries created by Mau…Comprising an exhibition, a book, a radio program, an online forum, and various events and public programs, Massive Change was a multiplatform operation that harnessed the vision of its impresario to the research capacity of its many student participants. The project fused the utopian spirit of the power of design to solve global problems with the dystopian worldview of a planet facing enormous social and ecological challenges. Premised on the answer to the fundamental question, “Now that we can do anything, what will we do?” the project begun in the early 2000s was a bellwether of several trends, including social impact or humanitarian design, research-based design practices, transdisciplinary investigations and collaborations, and professional offices offering educational experiences, such as Weiden & Kennedy’s W+K12 program (Portland, Oregon) and Benneton Group Communication’s Fabrica (Treviso, Italy)

On the iPad, eye and hand movement are brought together and held captive within a massive black frame.

Focus and distraction, linearity and nonlinearity: these conflicting categories of form and experience define who we are as contemporary makers and users of media. We hunger for focus because we feast on distraction; we crave linearity because we so often drift off task. Read-later apps enable users to gather links and absorb them at another time in an ad-free, typographically hygienic environment.

Oliver Reichenstein and his colleagues at Information Architects have embraced the iPad’s status as a holding cell for the distracted mind by creating the hugely successful tool iA Writer, a word processor equipped with just one monospace font. (Starve the eye, and the mind will flourish.) When struggling to compose a tough sentence in iA Writer, the aspiring author can switch into FocusMode, which grays out the surrounding text; the icon for this constrained state of consciousness is a padlock. Put your brain on lockdown.

The telephone, invented to deliver the living human voice, is now used for writing more than talking.

In the traditional business model, publishers supply the capital required to manufacture and distribute books, paying a printing plant to produce books in volume and then providing copies at low cost for resale by bookstores. Today technologies such as print-on-demand, low-cost digital printing, and web-based distribution – to name just a few – are challenging this familiar model by enabling small presses and individual artists or authors to create books for narrower markets at lower risk. Many designers today are using their knowledge of the book industry to become publishers themselves.

Editing is the act of selecting and preparing materials – particularly texts and images – for publication. Using processes of selecting, condensing, managing, correcting, modifying, and ordering these materials, editors, work with authors and designers to help shape and realize books. Designers have begun acting as editors in various publishing projects.

Book design has an enduring place in the tradition of publishing. In books with complex and varied content, the designer’s role becomes as crucial as that of the author and editor. Designers determine the materiality of a publication – paper, binding, page size, printing methods – while creating a visual framework that invites readers to seek, find, and wander. Often working with vast archives of potential subject matter, designers actively gather, edit, frame, and sequence content. The possibilities become even broader in digital books, with their complex navigation and diverse media components. While e-readers have proven especially conducive to the linearity of fiction, visual books provoke a different kind of experience; an atlas or an artist’s monograph aims to be collected, preserved, and perused out of sequence rather than to be read from front to back. Some visual books may remain well matched to the physicality of print, even as new types of media open up new ways to combine words and pictures.

Read-Later apps allow users to bookmark web pages for consumption at a future time. Services such as Readability and Instapaper display content in a streamlined format, stripped of advertising, navigation, and other competing elements. By creating a reading environment that minimizes distraction, such services allow users to harvest content from the crowded, action-oriented environment of the web and then consume it in a place of refuge. Bookmarked content can be read from a web browser, synced to a mobile device, or printed on paper. Readability, whose elegant typographic format recalls the conventions of print, offers to support the publishing industry by sharing membership fees with content producers. Unlike publishing models based on advertising, which bombard the users “eyeballs” with commercial pitches, Readability focuses on delivering content to people willing to pay for a focused experience. The concept is built around mutual respect for readers and writers

Software applications designed to convert screen-based information into speech or Braille, screen readers can be applied to websites, electronic books, and other media, allowing blind, low-vision, illiterate, and learning-disabled users to access a broad range of content. For screen readers to be effective, content must be presented in a linear form, and visual elements such as images and buttons must be captioned and explained. Features such as “speech verbosity” allow users to skip over formatting descriptions or lists; “language verbosity” allows a text originating from the United Kingdom to be read in an English accent.

An application or website that collects headlines, blogs, podcasts, and other syndicated content into a single stream or window, a news reader allows users to quickly scan information harvested from diverse sources. Also called a news aggregator of RSS feed, these readers take content from one context and present it in a new one, stripped of its distinctive typographic features and endowing with new. Websites that aggregate news stories can be carefully edited or curated (Drudge Report), or they can be wholly automated (Google News). For mobile devices, apps such as Flipboard, Pulse, and MyTaptu allow users to build custom

streams from news and social media sites. Several designers have experimented visually with and editorially with the idea of a news reader. Jonathon Puckey’s The Quick Brown gathers links to Fox News articles and uses typography to note changes in the headline copy. Information Architect’s The TPUTH is a “machine generated, hand-polished news site” that employs i/A’s web trends engine to collect links from online opinion leaders

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