The Seduction of Contemporary Graphic Design by Paul Rand
In the torturous history of painting and design, from Cimabue (1240-1302), to Cassandre (1901-1968), communications between artist and spectator -- even if one disagreed with what was being communicated - was rarely a problem. Today, with emphasis on self, on style,rather than on content or idea, and in much of what is alleged to be graphic design, communication at best, is puzzling. Order out of chaos, it seems, is not the order of the day.
The deluge of design that colors our lives, our print, and video screens is synchronous with the spirit of our time. No less than drugs and pollution, and all the fads and -isms that haveplagued our communities, the big brush of graffiti for example, has been blanketing our cities from Basel to Brooklyn. Much of graphic design today is a grim reminder of this overwhelming presence. The qualities which evoke this bevy of depressing images are a collage of confusion and chaos, swaying between high tech and low art, and wrapped in a cloak of arrogance: squiggles, pixels, doodles,dingbats, ziggurats; boudoir colors: turquoise, peach, pea green, and lavender; corny woodcuts on moody browns and russets; Art Deco rip-offs, high gloss finishes, sleazy textures; tiny color photos surrounded by acres of white space; indecipherable, zany typography with miles of leading; text in all caps (despite indisputable proof that lowercase letters are more readable); omnipresent, decorativeletterspaced caps; visually annotated typography and revivalist caps and small caps; pseudo-Dada and Futurist collages; and whatever 'special effects' a computer makes possible. These inspirational decorations are, apparently, convenient stand-ins for real ideas and genuine skills. And all this is a reflection, less of the substance, than of the spirit of graffiti - less of the style, than of thequality.
That these cliches are used repeatedly, irrespective of needs, is what defines trendiness. The 'Memphis' fad was also based on cliches and on outrageous, kitschy notions. (Occasionally, however, some potentially useful ideas seeped through -- only proving that it takes talent to make something out of nothing.) The huge investments involved in the manufacture andstorage of Memphis products have probably helped speed its demise. Trendy printed ephemera, on the other hand, which involves less capital, may take a bit longer.
There is something about graffiti and graffiti-like design that smacks of WW I Dada. But that was a revolt against the lopsided conventions of the time. The participants were often great artists and reformers: Arp,Grosz, Heartfield, Duchamp, Ernst, Schwitters, etc. And the work was not, in any way, trendy; it was serious, often amusing, and always interesting. Today's Dada, if it can be called that, is a revolt against anything that is deemed old hat. Faddish and frivolous, it harbors its own built-in boredom.
'I feel that the ideas I tried to outline...will strike many of you asconsisting too much of the atrabiliar grumblings of a disgruntled elder,' is how Roger Fry,(1) the distinguished British critic, expressed the fear that his message might be falling on deaf ears.
Most of this 'new' style of design is confined to pro bono work, small boutiques, fledgling studios, trendy publishers, misguided educational institutions, anxious graphic arts associations,and a few innocent paper manufacturers, who produce beautiful papers, but then spoil them with 'the latest' graphics, and who, undoubtedly, see themselves as the avant-garde - and are comforted by the illusion that this must be progress. Unhappily, this is infecting some of the graphics of the corporate world: annual reports, identity programs, direct mail, etc. Trendiness is seductive,...