Magazine article Eye : The International Review of Graphic Design

7 Types of Design Inquiry

Magazine article Eye : The International Review of Graphic Design

7 Types of Design Inquiry

Article excerpt

From folklore to theory, via shamanism and the 'magpie instinct' for shiny things, graphic design's quest for self-understanding takes many different forms. Philosopher and critic John O'Reilly takes a sideways* look at the myriad ways designers present themselves.


In the individuated world of late capitalism, professional creatives are by and large leftto themselves - except for the design conference. Conference organisers will stress the practical usefulness of the event, and delegates sell their attendance to their accounts departments as 'professional development'. However conference attendance serves a deeper purpose. It delivers a mix of folk wisdom that is 'more or less' true ('less-is-more'), Damascene conversion, and the panel as campfire ritual, where the point is not what is shared but the fact of sharing.

In the drive to professionalise graphic design, to give it weight and standing, we have misrecognised (as the psychoanalysts would say) the much more fundamental, tribal experience of the conference-goer. The designer's life can be bloody hard - the unpaid pitch that is later used by the client, the compromises, and the eye-opening work you could deliver on this project if only you had a bit more budget.

There is a moment ten minutes into Michael Bierut's Creative Mornings presentation on the typology of clients when you realise, 'This is the shit!' A kind of mental peace comes with the insight: 'Never talk about "educating the client".' It's patronising, and Bierut says he has never met a client that needed educating: if there is something wrong in their relationship it is because he is not educated enough in what the client is about.

No school is going to teach you this, or reflect back your painfully earned experience to you. This is the power of folklore. The conference provides graphic design with its essential, hand-me-down folkwisdom from the elders.


Living in a secular age has not killed offour deep desires for saints, heroes, larger-than-life figures who explain the journey each of us makes with clients, the quest-like struggle, the set of tasks that, once completed, will vanquish the Dark Randomness of 'The Tweak'. In the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell suggested that Steve Jobs was the tweaker of our age. Every designer knows that for every definitively inspirational tweak there are ten that could be either genius or the thing that unravels the integrity of a project.

It's why we need TED. Speakers at TED make a mythological narrative of professional journeys, their triumphs over clients who don't recognise their genius become bigger, more epic, more profound.

Whether at a podium, or walking back and forth across the stage, the TED speakers promise a kind of creative healing, a magic with the discovery of forces that transform lives. Take Stefan Sagmeister, who revealed that on his year offin Bali he created mosquito-repellent typography and made 99 T-shirts with portraits of the dogs that attacked him during his morning walks, with a little message: 'So many dogs, so few recipes.' Sagmeister is the perfect TED shaman, a little bit wild, a designer who personifies the eccentric, a magic man exactly because he is a little bit scary. He can turn any object, space, even himself, into a platform for design.


The studio visit 'field trip' has long been a part of the furniture of design magazines, but the past decade has seen several attempts to demystify the graphic design studio, make sense of this place that is a source of both creativity and commerce, the sacred and the profane.

Tony Brook and Adrian Shaughnessy's Studio Culture (reviewed by Douglas Haddow in Eye 74) captured the idea of a studio having an ambient ethos, another layer of context that fed into creative work. Derek Brazell and Jo Davies visited the studios of illustrators around the world, interviewing the likes of Oliver Jeffers, Javier Mariscal and M / M Paris for their 2011 book Making Great Illustration (A&C Black, see p. …

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