Summer 2003

Editorial Eye 48

There are times when graphic design seems stuck in what Lorraine Wild called the Great Tao of Style, the inexorable procession from ‘mass-market’ to ‘it’s over’, via ‘fetish’ back to ‘good design’. Tastes shift back and forth, from grunge to shiny perfection, from photography to illustration. And it’s part of the art director’s job to anticipate and participate in these changes, in the unending search for newness.

Only the technology changes, with more disk space, faster processors, new software. There are more ways to spend ever more time wrapped in the processes of making. And ultimately more ways to reach an audience, whose expectations and standards and world-views are continually shaped by those changing technologies.

So is there ever time to stand back and examine the content of what we do? It’s hard enough to do that when you have the luxury of a quarterly schedule, let alone the pressures of monthly or weekly deadlines. But Eye has always been more concerned with the reflective and self-critical aspects of graphic design, taking an interest in the motives and issues that lie beneath the surface of visual culture. With this issue, we examine some of the broader issues that face designers, with long, thoughtful and polemical essays, and through visual materials that illuminate these critiques.

Though Daoud Sarhandi’s piece is specifically about racism in Mexico, we hope that it will provoke new thinking about the way we all choose and respond to images as selectors; as designers and writers; as readers, viewers, consumers and as human beings. Sarhandi’s piece reaches an angry pitch at times, not motivated by political fantasies, but by an outsider’s clear-sighted appraisal of the country that is now his home.

Judith Williamson, by contrast, took on the task of looking at something that is all too familiar: a view of women in advertising that she had analysed in her 1970s. By coining the term retro-sexism, she has issued a challenge – ‘bring on the critique’– that will give designers, art directors, writers and clients pause for thought.

Sean O’Toole’s examination of the iconography of Nelson Mandela comes at a time when Britain is deciding whether to erect a nine-foot statue of the great man in Trafalgar Square. Questions of national identity blur with the representation of one man whose image has to bear the expectations of millions.

David King’s career has taken a fascinating course, including mainstream magazine design, photography, political posters and books. He’s eschewed the technological obsessions of contemporary design in favour of a personal body of work and style that permits him to work fast. He claims that he has trained himself ‘not’ to recognise typefaces so he can concentrate on the content that interests him.

The uncoated section is packed, as always, with critiques and appraisals from the usual broad church of reviewers, most of whom are practitioners of one sort or another – designers, editors, creative directors, authors . . . people who are dealing with the end products and raw materials of graphic design every day. Such individuals tend to be dismissed as ‘design critics’, however, by the recipients of their criticism. Nevertheless, even the blandest of bland design books will reveal a critical position, if only by default or omission, and everybody is a critic – especially after a few beers. As the writer H. R. Gaines said, ‘It is possible to be beneath criticism, but nobody is above it.’