Writing Design: The History of Design Criticism in the UK since the 1960s

This essay appeared in the book published to accompany Communicate! British Independent Graphic Design since the 1960s, an exhibition curated by Rick Poynor at the Barbican Art Gallery in London in 2005. ♦ The history of journalism about graphic design in Britain is, in large part, the history of specialist design journals. Unlike other spheres … Continue reading

Writing about Heroes

This short piece was commissioned in 2011 but not published. It is a set of reflections on how and why the history of graphic design might be written differently. ♦ 1 Should a graphic design history be populated with people or with things? There is a growing library of synthesising accounts and a clutch of biographical … Continue reading

Two books on Polish graphic design …

Against All Odds. Polish Graphic Design 1919-1949 (also published in Polish as Nie gęsi. Polskie projektowanie graficzne 1919–1949) by Piotr Rypson. (Karakter, Kraków, 2011) Projekt: The Polish journal of visual art and design (Unit 05) edited by Adrian Shaughnessy (with essays by Charlotte West and Edgar Bąk) (Unit Editions, London, 2011) The Polish Poster School of … Continue reading

Roman Cieślewicz, Changement de Climat, 1976-77

In the 1970s Cieślewicz turned his scalpel on the magazines which had given him employment in Paris in the 1960s. In a number of commissioned and self-initiated series, he mixed contemporary commercial images with reproductions of historical paintings. Renaissance artists Durer, Uccello and Bronzino as well as David all feature. He called the resulting works … Continue reading

Dlouhý’s ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ (occasional notes on posters)

Bedřich Dlouhý was an occasional poster artist and book designer. Better known as a surrealist painter and a member of the youthful Šmidrové group in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s, he designed posters for art house films directed by Alain Resnais, Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini as well as less cerebral fare from Hollywood studios. Dlouhý adopted ‘strangeness’ … Continue reading

Cieślewicz’s ‘Forefather’s Eve’ (occasional notes on posters)

This poster produced by Roman Cieślewicz in 1967 has become an iconic image in the history of the People’s Republic of Poland. Designed to promote a new performance of Adam Mickiewicz’s nineteenth century poetic drama, Forefather’s Eve (Dziady), Cieślewicz’s design captures the simmering frustration with Soviet control over Poland. The central motif seems to be a desiccated landscape or a figure with a hole … Continue reading

Machines Should Work, People Should Think

IBM commissioned Jim Henson, later the hand behind the Muppets, to make a film promoting the MT/ST, an early word processor. Like other IBM promotional films including Charles and Ray Eames’ ‘The Information Machine’ ten years earlier, ‘The Paperwork Explosion’ promised that these labour-saving devices in the office would liberate their users to engage in … Continue reading

Unmonumental monuments

This text appeared in the catalogue for the Steirischer Herbst festival, Graz, 2010

Well Mannered Anarchists: The Design Research Unit

Written for Creative Review, this piece looked at the career of the ‘DESIGN RESEARCH UNIT’, the subject of an exhibition at the Cubitt Gallery, London in September and October 2010.

Living books

Marx famously announced that commodities have the uncanny quality of seeming to be alive. He pointed this out in a famous passage in Capital (1867):   A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological … Continue reading