Summer 2007

Posterity or doom

Letter from Malcolm Frost

Either it’s all about posterity or it’s doom alone that counts. What do we leave behind us? For whom, to whom, and to what purpose? Recently, four great designers – Ruari McLean, Germano Facetti, Alan Fletcher and Philip Thompson – have left the mortal realm. The efforts of these four will endure for generations.

Yet our industry is being systematically infiltrated and debased by academics, critics, curators, PR people, middle-men and account executives. Courses in peripheral subjects such as cultural and media studies and the history of design are all over-subscribed. Inevitably, what counts in this world of the production-line MA is the soft, patronising notion of giving the public what ‘educated’ people, think is appropriate, safe and interesting.

London recently hosted a series of exhibitions exploring the oeuvres of three titans of graphic design – Otl Aicher (Eye 63), Alan Fletcher and Hans Schleger. In view of our changing industry, everyone engaged in design must seriously ask themselves what can we show and tell about ourselves. But, as these shows demonstrate, the message sometimes gets scrambled in the ambitious machinations of curators, exhibition designers and book publishers. Otl Aicher’s posters for the Munich Olympics were exhibited in a boutique furniture store in a space so narrow you’d be hard pushed to swing a dormouse. Alan Fletcher’s show at the Design Museum ended in a panorama of art tosh (miles of shaky line drawings and crummy jokes) that someone presumably thought the public could relate to. Finally, at the Hans Schleger exhibition at the V&A, a piece of lazy and / or ignorant curatorship debased the maestro’s work for Finmar. From a mark originally designed in three different weights to match a type range, only two versions were displayed on a 5m high panel.

Designers and typographers have been battered from pillar to post by rapidly evolving technology, the mistrust of clients, and by people who can’t make anything but claim expertise in everything. We must stand up with moral certainty and cut out the expanding ranks of middlemen. Their agenda is set by book-learning and exam-passing, not by working, problem-solving and conviction.


First published in Eye no. 64 vol. 16 2007


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