Winter 2001

Editorial Eye 42

The physical materials that make up a magazine are straightforward and predictable: there is no need to re-invent the wheel with each issue. Each has the same page dimensions as the first, and though we changed the grid and some of the fonts with the redesign unveiled in issue 41, most of the mechanical aspects of Eye’s production (with the exception of inserts such as this) remained the same.

Yet within the flat surfaces of this relatively glossy magazine we are charged with representing all manner of physical objects, from T-shirts to TV animations, from thick cardboard artefacts to fragile historical ephemera. The silk-screen posters shown in Julia Bigham’s article mark a brief phase in hippie capitalism, when live events were used to support loss-making publications. The posters aimed squarely at one subculture also brightened up the streets and lives around them, and the spiritual, musical and chemical interests of the artists soon spread to mainstream culture.

And from the theme of print and paper, and of materials, emerged a complementary refrain - that of flatness - in David Crowley’s essay about the visual fallout of post-Situationism. The fashion for shiny blankness (using alienation as a hip commercial signifier) contrasts with the use of rough uncoated surfaces to denote authenticity, as Adrian Shaughnessy argues in ‘Truth lies in the surface’. Yet sometimes it is all part of the same game that commerce plays with image-makers, courting the need for novelty and sensation, whether that audience be tired and cynical, or ‘cool’ and gullible. Or perhaps the target market is made of graphic designers themselves - throwing another set of beautifully produced samples into bulging wastebaskets, a phenomenon we explore in ‘Pulp artefacts’.

Stephen Byram seems like the complete design auteur, who has built up a personal body of work while working for sympathetic clients. Yet he may be one of the most commercially effective designers in the current market. His CD covers perform a gritty hard sell for uncommercial music, and his illustrations and designs give authority both to fresh talents and to established stars.

Current affairs can only have a tangential effect upon the slow-moving editorial policies of a quarterly, but recent tragedies have inevitably informed some of the contents. Graphic design can be a servant, an observer and a communicator of human triumph and folly. It may be harder to get work, as Steven Heller notes in ‘The next small thing’ but there is still plenty worth doing. For all the talk of ‘design’s new role’, and however weighty or trivial its context and purpose, the practice of graphic design seems likely to remain as diverse and potentially satisfying as ever.

It is curious to note how the contents of this issue’s Archive, the animated graphics for the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV series, echo many of the concerns about environmentalism, humanism and suffering that author Douglas Adams was to develop further, in books, radio and Internet projects, before his death this year. Not only do the flat colours and hard outlines of Rod Lord’s illustrations look like information graphics for alienated post-Situationists; a sci-fi comedy about the universal propensity for non-communication, stupidity, pointless sacrifice, revenge and mindless destruction seems all too painfully relevant to our present times.

First published in Eye no. 42 vol. 11, 2001