Reflections on design practice through publication:
What role does the printed magazine published by the designer acting as editor play today in disseminating graphic design criticism, and what kind of criticism does this model allow for?
The emergence of the terms ‘design criticism’ and ‘critical practice’ related to graphic design in the 1990s reflected a need to bring something more to the professional practice outside (and challenging) the traditional service-provider model. Views on what design is or should be, how it functions or should function, opened graphic design to be a form of inquiry and drove designers (at least some) to dissolve the traditional client/designer relationship and act at the intersection of practice and criticism.
In itself a critical response to the traditional boundaries of the discipline, those inquiries take a myriad of different forms including writing, curatorial projects, publications, collaborations, events/conferences, speculative projects, etc., expanding the activities that are said to be considered graphic design practice and graphic design discourse and critique.
In 2009, with “Designing Graphic Design History” a case-study of the New Zealand publication The National Grid, Teal Triggs suggests that the independent-published artefacts written and designed by designers provide “some of the most interesting” visual and text-based criticism needed to advance the field.
Magazines have always had the role of catalysts of ideas. They have been a meeting point for thoughts and have promoted reflection. Independent designer-led publications (such as The National Grid, designed, edited, produced, and distributed by the designers Jonty Valentine and Luke Wood since 2006) have been acting as platforms for the analysis and discussion of graphic design. These publications act as key case-studies of the development of a model of — and for — critical practice and discourse where graphic design is the connective tissue as both form and content.
Periodicals such as Typographica, published in London from 1949 to 1967, initiated by Herbert Spencer acting as editor and designer, and Emigre, edited, designed and published by Rudy VanderLans in California from 1984 to 2005, are obligatory references in this same context. These references came to reconfigure the designer role as editor, and possibly as critic. They took the periodical publication simultaneously as mode and site of inquiry, debate, and exchange.
Today’s critical design discourse is not confined to recognised publishers or publications hosting and feeding the discussion on the profession. On the contrary, the analysis and discussion of graphic design has been increasingly fragmented.
Despite the plethora of graphic design blogs and publications, lectures and roundtables, and design criticism programmes at New York’s School of Visual Arts (SVA), Central Saint Martins (UAL CSM) and Royal College of Arts (RCA) in London, and University College of Art, Craft and Design (Konstfack) in Stockholm, designers are still making reference to the discipline’s uncritical state (Bush in Laranjo 2016, Fuller 2014, 2017, Laranjo 2014, Lynam in Laranjo 2015, Lynam 2017).
What followed the design-inquiry designer-led publications such as Typographica and Emigre?
Printed anthologies and journals continue to be important as repositories and appreciated for their credibility, but today—in a scenario of fragmentation and multiple ways of engaging in discourse—we may question the role of the printed periodical led by the designer as both a critique and an alternative for the traditional journalistic-led design publication. Above it, we may question the act of editing and publishing a printed magazine today as critical practice.