Spring 1996

Editorial Eye 20

Since the beginning of graphic design there have been graphic authors. Jan Tschichold, whose 1928 book The New Typography has finally been published in English (see Reviews), was an author in the fullest sense of the term. He both wrote and designed his text as an expression of its principles. And many similar historical examples will be familiar to most designers. While American theorists in particular have been talking about the possibilities of graphic authorship for some years – to the point where the idea is now taken for granted in some circles as an unquestionable good – it is still not a term that will ring loud bells with many designers working in professional practice. In Britain, in the last 25 years, the Tschicholdian designer-writer has all but disappeared: few graphic designers now write, or have any serious ambitions in this direction. Yet, during this time, a new conception of authorship has emerged, starting once again in the design academies and trickling out into the profession. Here, authorship – that is, the expression of the designer’s message or vision – is achieved through the basic material supplied by the client, as an extra layer of commentary, reference or style. Design produced for the cultural sector more readily lends itself to this approach, but there are also commercial examples. The popularising influence of the star names means that something along these lines is now an aspiration for many young designers whether they visualise it in theoretical terms of ‘authorship’ or not. While these developments remain problematic for a profession that exists to provide a service, they are now so deeply entrenched that they must be addressed. The twenteth issue of Eye therefore focuses on the designer as author and draws together strands we have been exploring to date. What criteria must be met before authorship can be said to exist in a piece of graphic design? Michael Rock’s essay provides a much-needed critical perspective. We examine the entrepreneurial authorship of publisher Lars Müller and probe the ways that Tibor Kalman and Jeffery Keedy use the medium to make their own messages. We look at illustration, fashion graphics and concrete poetry for the light they can shed. This is without doubt one of the central issues facing designers today. Thanks to all our readers for helping us to make it this far. Please let us know what you think.

First published in Eye no. 20 vol. 5, 1996

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.