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Postmodern Graphic Design

In Typography: Basic Principles (1963), John Lewis, a British designer and graphic design teacher, includes a chapter titled “Rules are made to be broken”, he writes “Before you start breaking rules, you should know what they are” and I will cite one more title by the American designer Bob Gill – “Forget All the Rules About Graphic Design: Including the Ones in This Book”.

I chose to start my article for the Postmodern Graphic Design with these titles, because I think that they played a central role in design thinking during this period. To understand the term Postmodernism we need to relate it to modernism first and then point out the differences.  Rick Poynor in his book “No more rules” (2003) is saying that if modernism  sought to create a better world, postmodernism – to the horror of many observers – appears to accept the world as it is.  Where modernism frequently attacked commercial mass culture, claiming from its superior perspective to know what was best for people, postmodernism enters into a complicitous relationship with the dominant culture. Rick Poynor is also saying that although the products of postmodern culture may sometimes bear similarities to modernist works, their inspiration and purpose is fundamentally different.

Postmodernism is in some way against the principles of modernism, made possibly by the rapidly changing technology. Designers  had the opportunity to do things with type that would have been too difficult to experiment with in the past. An example of a popular postmodern designer that have played a significant role in the development of the thinking in this period, would be David Carson, an “American graphic designer, whose unconventional style revolutionized visual communication in the 1990s”.  “No more rules” (2003)  pg. 13 David Carson is arguing that it was his ignorance of rules, that allowed him to produce designs that seemed to resemble nothing ever encountered before in commercial print media. “I never learned all the things you’re not supposed to do, I just do what makes the most sense…There is no grid, no format. I think it ends up in a more interesting place than if I just applied formal design rules.’ D.Carson

One of the most interesting aspects of  Postmodernism is the concept of deconstruction.  Deconstruction as an approach was first explored by Jacques Derrida  in his book ‘On Grammatology’ (1967), but in “No more rules” (2003)  pg. 49, is written about another definition of deconstruction, published by Chuck Byrne and Martha Witte – “the breaking down of something (an idea, a precept, a word, a value) in order to “decode” its parts in such a way that these act as “informers” on thing, or on any assumptions or convictions we have regarding it”.  And as Rick Poynor is saying their emphasis on meaning is a significant step on from the notion that deconstruction is simply taking things apart in the hope of  “reinventing” form and “revitalizing print media”.

Rick Valicenti with his company Thirst offers “art with a function”, that fully acknowledged the design process and pushed his own self expression to the fore. David Carson again argues that the rationalism of grid system and other kinds of typographic formatting is “horribly irrational” as a response to the complexity of the contemporary world.  What else is very interesting about David Carson’s work is that he involves the reader and makes him to participate, engages the audience to interpret the meaning.  Rick Poynor points out that open-endedness and freedom of personal interpretation were often used as rationales to explain how the audience is being engaged.

David Carson
Ray Gun spread

David Carson replaced a feature about the singer Bryan Ferry with two columns of unreadable dingbats ( the text was printed in full, for those who cared, at the back of the magazine).

Neville Brody
The Face spread

From 1981 to 1986 Neville Brody was art director of the magazine “The Face”, for which he designed a distinctive typographical appearance that inspired magazine designers and other designers worldwide.

According to the Design Museum in London, Alan Fletcher is one of the most influential figures in post-war British graphic design, synthesising the graphic traditions of Europe and North America he develops a spirited, witty and very personal visual style. Which made him a pioneer of independent graphic design in Britain during the late 1950s and 1960s.

Alan Fletchers is a founder of  Fletcher/Forbes/Gill in the 1960s and Pentagram in the 1970s, where he is combining commercial partnership with creative independence. He also developed some of the most memorable graphic schemes of the era, notably the identities of Reuters and the Victoria & Albert Museum, and made his mark on book design as creative director of Phaidon.

“Our thesis is that any one visual problem has an infinite number of solutions; that many are valid; that solutions ought to derive from subject matter; that the designer should have no preconceived graphic style.” This idea-driven design approach (“Every job has to have an idea,” he often said) brought success and growth.

He was described by The Daily Telegraph as “the most highly regarded graphic designer of his generation, and probably one of the most prolific”.

Bibliography:

1.  “No more rules” Rick Poynor, 2003

2.  http://designmuseum.org/design/alan-fletcher

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