Design criticism courses
Chosen by Rick Poynor, design writer
For anyone interested in the development of writing about design, the recent arrival of a brace of ma courses devoted to design criticism is an exciting development. In 2008, The London College of Communication’s Design Writing Criticism was the first in the UK, opening its doors around the same time as the Design Criticism course at the School of Visual Arts in New York, more snappily known as D-Crit.
Now the Royal College of Art has announced a Critical Writing in Art & Design ma to be launched in October this year, subject to formal validation. The two-year programme will offer seminars in media contexts and critical theory, lectures in critical and historical studies, writing workshops and masterclasses led by visiting writers. There is also an ma in Critical Writing and Curatorial Practice at the Konstfack design school in Stockholm. You can be certain that other colleges will be watching to see whether these courses have pulling power. If they do, others will surely follow.
The timing could perhaps have been better. Institutions are understandably cautious when estimating the likely demand for new directions in study. Nevertheless, design criticism has been steadily building as a focus of interest for at least 20 years. The most vigorous critical debates in graphic design, which might have given vital energy and a sense of topical purpose to these courses, are already five or ten years, or even longer, in the past.
There is also the question of what we mean by ‘criticism’. The most influential criticism in fields such as art, literature or film is highly ambitious: lengthy, detailed, extremely well informed, often demanding. We have plenty of design journalism, but little writing that engages critically with design from a deeply held point of view. Since Emigre ceased publishing in 2005, there has been no regular Anglo-American outlet for longer critical essays about graphic design, except occasionally for Dot Dot Dot. That needs to be addressed.
Meanwhile, the online world has changed everything. Countless blogs offer personal commentary. While there is nothing stopping a blogger producing sophisticated criticism, not much has surfaced yet in graphic design. If anything, the old love of uncomplicated eye candy, much criticised in the 1990s by critics and teachers who demanded context and analysis, has made an unapologetic comeback, driven by the availability online of vast amounts of cool things to look at. Popular sites such as Manystuff and Ffffound! are content simply to show pictures and design book publishers are happy to cater to reluctant readers, if that’s what it takes in order to sell books.
If designers themselves aren’t much concerned with critical writing, what chance is there of developing design criticism aimed at a non-specialist public? Yet this is clearly the hope that lies behind the writing courses. If the aim is to elevate the standard of design criticism – we should always assess a field by its finest work – then now is the right time to encourage greater interchange between design writing and art writing. This makes the RCA’s linking of art and design criticism, taught, presumably, by specialists in each subject, potentially of great interest. (At sva, art criticism is an entirely separate course.)
It’s too early to draw firm conclusions, but these new degrees are a sign that design criticism could yet develop a second wind.
Good advertising is useful advertising
Chosen by Måns Tesch, and Remi Babinet, founder of BETC Euro RSCG and global creative director of Euro RSCG Worldwide, BETC Euro RSCG
What I’m excited about is a new phenom-enon called ‘Good Advertising’. It came about sometime during the year 2010, when regular people claimed full ownership of how they consume media and entertainment and how they might want to interact with brands. This development had been taking shape for the last 15 years, but now that it had become a mainstream behaviour, brands quickly had to adapt.
Good Advertising is best explained as brands creating communication initiatives that people interact and play with, immerse themselves in, mould, develop, comment on, and forward to their friends.
The only reason for people to engage in Good Advertising is because, yes, it’s good, it’s relevant, engaging, entertaining or interesting. It’s a piece of content that’s good in it’s own right, not compared to yesterday’s ‘advertising’, or compared to anything out there that strikes you as engaging, that you’d like to be a part of. It was the only way for brands to re-engage with people, to take a step back and let the terms be defined by the audience, not the brand.
Advertisers have the reputation of throwing dust in people’s eyes to hypnotise and sell. The future challenge is to redefine the utility of ad agencies for clients and consumers.
We will see new forms of agencies that are more useful to everyone. Quality is vital here – clients and consumers will choose quality, it is more useful
and more durable.
Måns Tesch recently left Fallon, London to set up a new creative company with his brother, Johann. Hopefully, they will do some ‘good’ work.
Chosen by Adam Luckwell, CEO, Unit
RED is a range of ultra-hi-res digital moving image cameras. Relatively cheap to rent, they can provide spectacular results. “RED’s biggest selling point is that the cameras can provide image capture close to 35mm film,” says Adam Luckwell, ceo of post production house Unit in London. “They are the natural choice for the new generation of filmmakers.” District 9 and The Lovely Bones are just two recent features to use the cameras.
But perhaps more interestingly, the cameras are also being adopted by those working across media platforms. David James, the art director for Prada, now uses red cameras to create advertising campaigns for the brand with the likes of Steven Meisel, shooting moving image first, then pulling stills to use in press ads. The results are slightly disconcerting: not pin sharp – there is still motion blur – but extremely rich in detail.
As Brett Foraker notes in 30/30 Part 1, the RED, and others like it, will open up a whole new range of opportunities, and problems.
The future of Creative Review
Chosen by us
This issue marks the end of three decades of Creative Review magazine, but the start of the future for the title. In our April issue we will unveil a new format and new look for the magazine. Despite the great success of our website, we still believe in print. Nothing else can match its power to deliver inspirational images and fine writing, which is what Creative Review is all about. We are also developing new formats (which may or may not be related to certain new products coming out of Cupertino, ahem). So here’s to the next 30 years.