I always imagine that if you read this blog then you probably read the same collection of blogs that I read - at least as far those related to design are concerned. Which means that you would be keeping up to date with what Mike Dempsey has to say. But on the off-chance that you don't, this post is a reaction to Mike's latest call to arms: for fellow designers to follow the lead of their 30-something compatriots and re-engage with a more literary approach to design, using classical styles and techniques from the 40s and 50s.
Because the thing is, I don't think I agree with Mike. And I say that because although I've read his post several times, I'm not entirely certain that I understand his argument.
But let's start with his first example - the 1980 stationery range by and for Studio Dumbar:
As Mike quite rightly points out, this was a piece of work that was going to have an effect upon the British graphic scene. And so it proved to be, for anyone who was working as a designer in 1980 (as both Mike and I were) would have immediately recognised that this was ground-breaking work. The graphic equivalent, perhaps, of hearing (in your youth) the Sex Pistols or Nirvana for the very first time.
Now I can tell you a little more about this stationery range, for it was in fact designed by Ko Sliggers. And assuming that you haven't been reading this blog since the very beginning, it was first mentioned in the first few days of my blogging life. The result of which was that Ko became a friend and occasional contributor to this blog.
But what puzzles me is that Mike seems to suggest that this piece of work in some ways opened the floodgates for all manner of self-indulgent typographic flights of fancy during the following two decades. Well, that may or may not be the case. But I find it difficult to understand that its subsequent effects should undermine or devalue the quality of the work itself. Of course, we now look back with different eyes and place different interpretations upon its values, especially if you've never seen it before now. Just remember that this received a D&AD Silver Award, and that Mike himself was one of the awarding judges.
It's of its time, though - nobody would deny that. Just as Wim Crouwel's work is of its time, as he himself would agree (just watch his little trailer to the Helvetica movie). And Wim Crouwel's work will be reinterpreted, as sure as eggs are eggs. You know, when I made my visit to his Design Museum exhibition there was a design student very carefully sketching into his notebook the new alphabet. "You can download that for free from the internet, you know", I remarked. But that wasn't the point of course - he needed to understand it. Mark my words, that will resurface in some other iteration in the next 10 to 15 years. Maybe it already has. What goes around comes around: 'twas ever thus.
And if that work isn't of its time, I don't know what is. And that style itself led on to all manner of crimes against typography. Not least the suggestion to design students that it was quite acceptable to create Quark XPress files with 48 linked text boxes on a single spread. But without that we wouldn't have today's typographic trees or comedy carpet:
And surely anyone's mum or dad can understand and enjoy those, can't they?
It's not that I'm entirely against classical principles. And I'm certainly not against respecting the reader. Balance and elegance are very often all that's needed, such as demonstrated by Brian Webb in his excellent Design Series:
But if everyone's going to revert to classical principles, then we're going to miss out on a lot of vibrant, exciting and challenging influences. Because sometimes what's required from a brief is to 'push the envelope'. And if you wonder what I'm talking about, it's not the branding for the Olympics. Let me point you instead across the English Channel and to the work of Pierre di Sciullo:
And Philippe Apeloig:
So, sorry Mike. I'm afraid I'm not yet ready to give up my isms.