Outside of the country’s world-leading fashion, perfume, and luxury brands, French graphic design has arguably struggled to establish itself in the same way that it exists in the UK. An emphasis on ‘cultural design’ often means that the more mundane world of corporate branding and packaging fails to receive the attention of France’s design elite.
“In France, when you go grocery shopping, when you fill out your social security form or take public transport, you’re submerged in ugliness by indifferent design,” says French designer and academic Michel Bouvet. “The gap between rich and poor is widening in our society. Now ‘ugly’ is for the poor.”
In order to promote better graphic design for all levels of French society and to highlight the importance of graphic design as an industry in France, Bouvet, with fellow designer Stéphane Tanguy and Pierre Grand, director of cultural consultants and event producer Artevia, has organised France’s first ever Festival of Graphic Design.
“Good design is a mark of social respect for everybody,” Bouvet says. “We’re forcing people to take a fresh look at design in France and to see what it has become. People will criticise it and argue – we are French, after all! But that’s a positive thing. We’re providing a forum where people can express themselves. They’ll ask questions, we’ll provide answers.”
Support for the proposed event came from an unexpected source – the French government. Bouvet received a visit from an envoy of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. Enthused by the Festival’s ambition, she reported back to her minister, Aurélie Filippetti, who endorsed the project, as did the city authority, the Mairie de Paris.
With official backing in place, the Festival, initially scheduled for 2015, was fast-forwarded by a year and opened on January 8 with Célébrer Paris, a free outdoor homage to Paris featuring posters by international designers. Media owner JCDecaux offered 1,600 poster sites in Paris free of charge for the event, 40 of which are on the Champs-Elysées.
The festival will continue throughout 2014 with exhibitions of the best of French design, professional conferences, workshops and digital screenings. These will take place in venues ranging from the Cité de la Mode et du Design, the French Fashion Institute, the Gaîté Lyrique, the MK2 cinema and the BnF, the French National Library.
Bouvet is hopeful that, at last, graphic design will come to be fully appreciated in his country. “It took time for photography to be assimilated as an art form by the French public,” he points out. “At one time, there was only one photography gallery in the whole of Paris. Now, it’s the turn of graphic design. Its hour has come.”
For the complete agenda of events see fetedugraphisme.org