Summer 2004

Understanding the P-word

No More Rules: Graphic Design and Postmodernism

By Rick Poynor
Laurence King, £25

This book looks at an exciting period of theory-based graphic design, which is complex and difficult to define – and consequently often neglected. Though the period preoccupies academics, Poynor’s book is clearly aimed at practitioners. Rank and file designers who take the book at face value will find plenty to interest them.

First, there is a nostalgic appeal because the book includes plenty of work from the pages of iD, The Face and Ray Gun that were once so influential (though sadly none of Carson’s work is shown). Second, it offers a useful account of the path from Weingart, Friedman and Greiman to the experiments of the mid-1990s when many people like me first became aware of design. Third, the book is ideal for undergraduates, written in plain and jargon-free language.

Organised into seven chapters – an excellent, polemical introduction, ‘Origins’, ‘Deconstruction’, ‘Appropriation’, ‘Techno’, ‘Authorship’ and ‘Opposition’, the book chronicles graphic design from the early 1970s to 2001. Gliding from one piece of work to the next, Poynor connects the development of postmodern design while gently including some academic opinions in a tone that is inclusive rather than alienating.

Poynor sketches a conversation that switches between the US and the UK. Terms and phrases such as différance and ‘the designer as author’, are never left to hang in the air, but are helpfully clarified for readers who are not so comfortable with this discourse. The person who has not quite got round to reading Derrida can still get the point, and the average designer will gain a better understanding of what postmodernism is (sample explanation: ‘a parasite, dependent on its Modernist host’) and what deconstruction is not

(‘a transiently fashionable, lamentably misguided style’). The book reads like a who’s who of recent graphic design, covering work from Barnbrook, Fella and Saville as well as Tibor Kalman and Lupton and Miller, to whom Poynor gives extensive space in ‘Authorship’.

Many designers have discarded ‘postmodern graphics’ as a style, opting instead for a more Modernist approach. But this may be just another form of postmodernism, as Poynor explains in ‘Appropriation’. Suggesting that ‘the only way forward might be to go back’, Poynor quotes Rudy Vanderlans, who asks: ‘Are the graphic designers who concern themselves with complex solutions merely slow learners who try out the wildest schemes only to come to one conclusion, that less is more?’

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