Summer 2003

The problem we share

Letter from Michael Johnson

Your review of Rewind (Eye no. 47 vol. 12) made some very basic errors. The history of the D&AD competition could only ever deal with the work archived in its annuals. You call this a ‘basic problem’ but it’s a problem we all share. Any future book and exhibition about Eye magazine will only consist of its past contents, however incomplete a record of contemporary design that might turn out to be.

The review sees some designers choosing not to be involved in the competition as implied criticism. You’re ill-informed: judges of this year included Andy Altman (Why Not) and Ian Anderson (Designer’s Republic), both founders of North; Tom Roope (Tomato); Irma Boom; Alexander Gelman; Stephen Doyle; Anthon Beeke and Lars Müller. All were happy to involve themselves in the competition. (It does not guarantee their work will make the annual, though.)

My phrase about D&AD being ‘the pre-eminent global standard-setter’ seems to bother your reviewer [Rick Poynor] no end. (Is he as worried by Eye’s claims to be ‘The International Review of Graphic Design’ – note the definite article). Perhaps we should look to D&AD’s effect on designers: I take solace from the fact that Eye promoted itself as ‘award-winning’ after scooping a D&AD Silver (under Poynor’s editorship), its recent re-design nestles on page 238 of last year’s annual, and typography by its current creative director, Nick Bell, caused much discussion among this year’s exhibition design judges.

While Eye’s critical contributors would have its readers ignore D&AD, that message clearly isn’t getting through to the creative community (or indeed its own art director). Every designer who engages with D&AD understands that it is an educational charity, with the competition as fund-raiser. Over the past 40 years, it has staged countless lectures, hundreds of workshops for graduates and teachers, there is a student competition, an annual exhibition, as well as a website bringing students and professionals together. Almost all the designers your reviewer cites as disaffected have either already given, or are about to give, D&AD lectures.
To give him his due, past D&AD judge Poynor also says ‘the book is unmissable’, and more than 60,000 people thought the same of the exhibition.

As regards Problem Solved, of the 600 or so projects featured, I mis-attributed the concept of the ‘unique selling proposition’ to Bill Bernbach when I meant Rosser Reeves. However your critics have chosen to concentrate on Christopher Wilson’s concoction of Ernst Bettler. [See the website-only Critique, ‘The “Ernst Bettler” problem’]. I may remove it on the next print run. I may even move it into the ‘fear and loathing’ chapter, since it seems to have been inspired by his desire to de-bunk Eye’s original ‘core’ constituency of North and 8vo.

Overall, your review of Problem Solved was depressingly predictable. However, you didn’t suggest that my book would be better were I dead, as you did recently for Paula Scher (Eye no. 46, vol. 12), so perhaps I escaped lightly. I will only say that on the one hand Eye eagerly seeks to encourage ‘graphic authorship’, and on the other, its writers seem affronted when a designer dares to become an author.


First published in Eye no. 48 vol. 12 2003


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