Affect v Effect

Wednesday, May 26th, 2004

Since starting this blog a couple of weeks ago by recycling two old opinion pieces I wrote some time before, I’ve been struck by the amount of excellent writing that is going on around the subject of, to put it crudely, “what is design?” I tend to focus on Graphic Design out of habit, but I think a lot of the basic discussion is applicable to any field (though I suspect fashion designers might disagree – they usually do đŸ˜‰

What has really struck me, though, is that whereas I used to feel (and at one point was made to feel) as though my views were “wrong”, I have found they are shared by most people writing on the subject – with important variations, of course, but broadly in sync enough that I don’t think a fight would break out if we found ourselves stuck on a bus together.

My experience over the past few years in the UK has been that design is moving towards the “conceptual” and away from the rather more concrete “concept”, and I suspect this is partly to do with the celebrity status of designers, and the confusion in people’s minds between design on the one hand and style on the other. I’ve never interviewed a potential student who has said they want to study design because they want to communicate, but have detected a lot of the “because it’s glamorous” in their responses. (That was partly why I did it, I admit!)

Consequently, design has become a thin veneer of a subject. Indeed, it has become an activity, not a body of knowledge, and teaching of design has, in some places, focussed purely on “doing” and “impressing”, going for the “wow” factor – affect rather than effect?

I don’t think this is sustainable. We’re now in a situation where the only noticeable advances in graphic design occur when a new version of Photoshop comes out, and thousands of people simultaneously discover a new filter. Lens flares, page curls, bevelled edges… I’m as guilty as anyone.

Is this what design is all about?

Question: why do advertising agencies in the UK looking for new creatives prefer to recruit graduates from humanities rather than arts subjects?

Anyway. Blood pressure rising, must stop.


An interesting post over at Point today, with a comment by Andrew Blauvelt that I would like to quote deliberately out of context for a moment:

“Does graphic design have enough substance (i.e., a coherent �something�) to be the subject of such analysis? Autonomy would be important in order to isolate aspects of history, theory and practice that are meant to preserve and foster the possibility of independent direction and development of graphic design and is intended to be distinct from certain avant-gardist positions, mostly borrowed from art, that tend to suggest a split from social reality, which is very difficult for design to attain.”

That’s the sort of quotation an evil teacher might set as an essay question with the word “discuss” at the end. Mwa-ha-ha (evil laugh). I like it…

For the full context, read this interview with Blauvelt, then the article at Point.

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