What is a manifesto? It is a public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions, proclaiming opinions and motives in reference to some act, usually of a political nature. However, I have to mention that there is no political drive to this manifesto; it is purely my opinion on design and art. This manifesto was inspired by reading “A History of Graphic Design” (third ed.) by Phillip B. Meggs. (Toronto: John Wiley and Sons, 1998). As many of the quotes were taken from this text. The text was a required reading for one of my design courses in university, and through the lectures and reading the entire book I was so deeply motivated to express my views on design. I understand that my views might not be welcome by everyone, and I am actually very interested to receive feedback, please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have about this piece.
Design is Intelligence Made Visual
“Throw Away Preconceived Aesthetic Notions”
Open with new eyes to the world and be avant-guard. Design should be able to communicate effectively and continue to break new ground in order to elevate the status of design and public taste. And in doing so it can actually attract more attention from the target audience, because even though it is said that “sex sells” it has become redundant, to use that ideology, and it has tied new design down to the ground, restricting it from soaring to new heights. Along with the ideology of “sex sells” comes the idea of portraying a “life style” which entices the viewer to believe that if they buy that perfume then they too would be able to ride into the sunset on horseback. All these advertising ideologies have become redundant and overrated. Not to say that they haven’t had an effect on the general population and that they haven’t sold their products fruitfully using these “tired tested and true” methods, but it has left real design in the dark and left the post-modern design world to deteriorate before its time. Design isn’t fine art, and shouldn’t try to be, design is a powerful visual communication that can unleash butterfly effects into the world, causing innovation and creativity to soar to new heights. Not only for the sake of wealth and prosperity but maybe only for the sake of that driven individual designer who was influenced and wishes to influence others. Should we break free from what we are influenced by? is it even necessary, in an effort to be avant-guard? In the search for originality it might not be necessary to void ourselves of past influences, but instead embrace them and move forward because of them.
A new entity for design needs to be found, one where design can look to the past and seek the future at the same time. I am not advocating the idea of a pastiche, but a new refreshing idea of what design can be, one that understands what has been done in the past and what can be done in the future, in order to create a new refreshing design ideal. Just as the famous designer Jan Tschichold once advocated about freedom of thought and artistic expression. He believed that “designers should draw upon the whole history of design to create new solutions for expressing content.” I believe that artistic expression can be applied to design, and in doing so it can create a new visual language and quite possibly a new style that has never been seen before. Not that we should all be searching for a new style, but that we should be open to any new styles that surface. But then these questions arise, l
ike “is this all possible in today’s consumer/capitalist driven society? And if it isn’t possible, is there anyway to get around it? Can we step away from the client?” To answer my own questions, I believe that it is quite possible to achieve a new avant-guard in design, because smart designers working in the commercial world can always convince the inexperienced or artistically challenged clients that their design is well suited for the job. However, maybe we can become our own clients as well. How do we break free from what people want to see and consider aesthetically pleasing? And can we impose a new design language? Yes, because it has been done in the past, Constructivism for example, its forefront designer El Lissitzky created an entire new language in Russia from what people were used to at the time. And to break free from what people are used to, all you need is a new language.
The reason I discuss all this is because I feel that design needs to move away from reusing similar images and typography, and move towards individualism and creativity, while maintaining its communicative abilities. Today with new computer programs, there is so much freedom, freedom that needs to be used wisely and functionally, but still this freedom should be taken advantage of and experimented with. For example, anyone who takes on the role of a designer should consider looking for new fonts, beyond what is readily available on their home or studio computer. It is a bit tiresome seeing the same fonts being used over and over. Especially with display fonts, for example, Goudy’s Copperplate Gothic typeface is absolutely everywhere! In order to avoid redundancy, one can search through type foundries, font folios, type setters, etcetera. There are so many options and even though the computer has allowed new possibilities to surface, the hand should not be forgotten, because it is the hand that can create something new, instead of something that has been reproduced and used by millions. However, even though the hand can create an original, its creator must beware of imitations and replicas. That is the biggest problem today. Everyone is always willing to take a shortcut and just reuse someone else’s image, instead of creating their own, this rebellion against originality needs to stop and a new creative force must take charge.
“Function versus Form”
Leave rules aside and allow freedom to roam, then go back and rule out what works and what doesn’t in terms of functionality. What’s important is to experiment first, in order to allow new solutions to surface. However, what if instead of solving problems, we create problems in design? Then what? Is this wrong? Or is creating new problems the only way to find new solutions?
A borrowed methodology from the Bauhaus School of Design (1919-1933) concerning form over function reflects that function should come before aesthetics. If there is no function to the design then there is no communication and the design is dead. However, this seems a bit too strict to believe, because function and form run hand in hand and it is form that should enhance function. It seems as though form could be more important than function, if that is the intention of the design, because if the language is abstract, then it will challenge the viewer to construct their own interpretations.
“Let Type Be Free”
Type can be employed both as a concrete visual form and as alphabet communication. Moholy-Nagy, a professor from the Bauhaus School of Design said that typography is “a tool of communication. It must be communicated in its most intense form.” He also said that the emphasis should be on clarity and legibility. I however, disagree with typography being confined to legible standards. I think that if the design allows it, then type should be free to take any form, not be restricted. However, the free form of type should not be taken advantage of, but should be used gently and with caution. Because as type takes on new forms it can become an image in itself and it is important that this new image does not contradict with what the design is intending to communicate. Californian designer, David Carson once said that “one should not mistake legibility for communication.” He believes that more expressionist designs can attract and engage readers, because many highly legible traditional printed messages offer little visual appeal. Additionally, I do not agree with large sections of type or paragraphs of type being forced to “look” like a certain image, unless it really is the best and only solution. The form of type should guide the design and as Moholy-Nagy states it should “never be forced into a pre-conceived framework” but it should form its own framework through ground breaking innovation. Wolfgang Weingart, a European designer who pioneered the “typographic new wave”, questioned the typography of absolute order and cleanness. He strongly rejected the notion of style and saw his work as an attempt to expand the parameters of typographic communication. Although, the idea of expanding the boundaries of type may seem to be an obscure request, if the message allows it, then why not explore the possibilities?
“The Design Process”
Design is a process, which can take anywhere from 1 day to 2 years or more. Good design, the kind that provokes thought, causes commotion or just awakens a new beauty into the world, usually involves a longer process. Not to say that good design can’t be achieved overnight with a bit of luck and talent by your side. However, I believe that the design process is ongoing, a continual analysis in an effort to create something more effective than before, a constant cyclical process of evaluation and re-design. Because as our environment changes, we learn to adapt and therefore design can never rest, and stick to one continuous style or ideology, but remain in constant change. Even the greatest of designs, even if they haven’t undergone a redesign are continuously analyzed to check if they are still relevant in today’s society. Sometimes this process can be tiresome, but it is crucial for good design to arise. But what is this process? Every designer has their own methods, and even though there might be a standard routine that is followed, its implementation varies; therefore the true process of design is not one that can be defined. Swiss-born designer Willi Kunz who played a role in introducing “the new typography” also follows the design process. He permits structure and alignments to grow through the design process while keeping the essential message in mind. I think its important to allow the design to grow, and sometimes even change direction, and allowing intuition and play to be free throughout this process.
“Design is not Fordism”
How can one person not follow through with their design until the end? And just send it off to another person for completion? I believe that all parties involved in the design production must be involved in every aspect of the design process or else it will fall apart. Even with one leader overseeing everything it is still vital that other contributors take part in the design procession before and after they have made their contributions. So that they know exactly what is going on and can make sure that their contribution follows through until the design is complete. Design is still a craft that cannot be chopped up into different sections. Weingart advocates the “Gutenberg approach” to graphic communications: “Designers, like the early typographic printers, should strive to maintain involvement in all aspects of the process to ensure the realization of their vision.”
Designers have always had a social responsibility, because design is powerful and it continues to be a strong and important force that drives the economy forward. The designer needs to keep a concern for the viewer, and realize that people have different perceptions, which are based on their past experiences and cultural influences. When creating a design, the audience’s social/cultural conditions need to be taken into account. If the user/viewer is taken into account when creating the design, it maintains functionality and is thus able to attract attention. Today it seems as though the target audience is kept in mind all the time, but instead of attracting that specific audience to the design, they are bombarded with it. For example in teen magazines, advertisements of clothing companies are in abundance, and since the competition for the viewers eye is fierce, each design becomes either monotonous or absolutely ridiculous, because as everyone tries to be more “eye catching” at the same time, everything remains on the same plane. As for the ridiculous advertisements that bombard the viewer with their shocking content, they loose their value, and lower the standard of design. Today it seems as if anything could be used to try an entice the viewer to buy a product, but because we are now demystified and immune to these tactics, it is time for the ideology of “sex sells” to end. And a new movement of creativity and beauty to surface.
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