Summer 2000

Editorial Eye 36

When El Lissitzky dreamt of the future in his 1926 essay “Our Book”, he may have envisaged something like The Unfortunates, the subject of this issue’s Archive. But today, B. S. Johnson’s loose-leaf novel is still a one-off curiosity, and the new forms El Lissitzky foresaw are more often found in games, encyclopedias, websites and magazine captions. Meanwhile good books and journals, well printed on fine paper (and bound), are still a cause for celebration and some wonder at their survival amid the clamour of commercial spin.

So the bald claim that “design is publishing” is perhaps just another way of saying: “I publish, therefore I design.” The process can seem lengthy and perplexing to new authors, with many stages before their fragile creation emerges: illustrated, edited, printed, bound, published . . . a piece of graphic design.

This route may have become more fragmented and streamlined of late, but it is the designer who is expected to hold the work in head and heart, to visualise the final product in the most abstract and in the most practical ways. This could be regarded as a kind of “authorship”, though, as Lorraine Wild articulates, one in which the designers’ agenda cannot be far from the (largely visual) agenda of their collaborators.

El Lissitzky noted the importance of illustrated magazines in an increasingly literate mass society, but what he saw as a transitional phase now seems here to stay, with a bewildering array of magazines asserting their independence through niche marketing, through shock imagery – or occasionally through sheer brilliance. The example of Fernando Gutiérrez’s yearly Matador also has resonance for the way we all juggle life and work (an issue addressed by Wild), balancing commercial demands with the quest for artistic integrity and satisfaction. Matador is a project whose unprofitable, almost “underground” status is a source of inspiration and influence.

The convergence of media has been challenging our ideas of what graphic design is for some time, but the publishing model still holds good. By and large, the most effective publishers are those who understand design and designers. And whether you are working in motion graphics, audio, advertising, comic books or subversive literature, the deadline rules. Someone has to make adjustments and hit the print command for the last time. You do this when you cut a CD master, approve an edit for broadcast, or send the latest edition to print, in a manner that could be anything from the airy contemplation implied by Russell Warren-Fisher to the stoned frenzy recounted by Steven Heller. This is what it means to publish, whether for profit, pleasure or posterity. You have to “go live” before readers can absorb, approve, ignore or argue with what there is to show or say: you have to be prepared to publish and be damned.