A critical view on a critical view on contemporary graphic design in 16 pages made up from components designed entirely in Trend List's Trend Generator app.Everything is Political (essay)
During the process of designing up to a 100 posters with Trend List’s Trend Generator app, two important questions came up. Can you design an entire page using only the app, and what does that mean? What does it mean to be able to produce a hundred different posters within half an hour, what does it mean to design using a telephone app as your only tool, and what implications would it then have to stretch the boundaries, the intentions of that app, using it to design 16 pages, divided in 4 x 4 posters.
Initially, looking for a new type of ‘Modern’ I decided to use El Lissitzky’s 8 ‘Isms of Art’, a manifesto from 19231, as source material for the posters. The manifesto includes statements such as “5. The design of the book-space, by the use of process blocks, realise the new optics. The supernatural reality of the perfected eye.” referring to the emergence of new technologies within printed media. I saw a reference in El Lissitzky as he coined and practiced the art-form Constructivism; the Trend Generator app collages at random with selected current trends within the Graphic Design landscape, put together with input text and image(s).
As a result of getting to fill up 16 pages with 4 by 4 blocks that could each fit up to a hundred words, I took the opportunity to answer the posed questions, by reflecting on the app and my usage by setting or excerpting texts mostly. Introducing with a reflection on the (then) modern developments of printing that states: “Printing becomes modern with the spreading of knowledge about itself,”2 moving into the before mentioned ‘Isms of Art’ by El Lissitsky, then a pointing text by Mr. Keedy, ahead of its time saying: “Designers today are representing our present era as if they were using a kaleidoscope to do it. Or more precisely, a constantly mutating digital collage machine, filled with a bunch of old “sampled” parts from the past, and decorated with special effects.”3. Furthermore I pose the question ‘Am I the author of this poster?’ alongside Micheal Rock’s text The Designer as Author4 and then go into the first of two actual reviews of the Trend Generator app. One handing it to Trend List for reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously, the other doubting their carreer’s need for existence by stating that the app “represents a big shift in the designing process.”5. On the last statement I react in a written essay of my own, stating that you should take a good look at what you are doing if you think this app can replace your work, and going in a little more depth about the obstructions of the app I came across designing the booklet.
In essence the booklet became an extensive review of the app and generative design, questioning it, criticising it while showcasing a varied range of its possibilities if only you take a little agency back into your own hands as a designer. Other artists who’ve played with the philosophy of using the medium as you are reflecting on it simultaneously, were the Situationists. Guy Dubord, wrote in his book The Society of the Spectacle:
However not everyone is as fond of designers, or artists for that matter, working in such a reflective manner. They feel as if some intangible essence is then lost, or the message (too often) repeated. Sarah Hromack writes in her article in Frieze, discussing Metahaven, a Dutch critical research-based design studio, that “At times, in fact, they could even be perceived as coming close to undermining their own critical potential in a feedback loop of self-description and analysis. (…) They also choose to explain their work through the didactic texts they publish when they could, instead, perform an effective meta-commentary by simply allowing their images to exist without comment.”7
In conclusion I understand that this booklet, stuffed to the brim with theory on why and how it is what it is, might not be up everyone’s street, but I did not create it with the intention for it to be. I had a blast designing it with all of the technical obstructions that I had never encountered before, and personally felt I gave it the purpose to exist because it came with a reflection, a discussion and ultimately a larger context.
El Lissitzky, Isms of Art, Topographie der Typographie (March 4, 1923)↩
Robin Kinross, Modern Typography - an essay in critical history (London, Hyphen Press, 1992), page 9↩
Mr. Keedy, Graphic Design in the Postmodern Era, based on lectures presented at FUSE, San Fransisco (May 28, 1998) and the AIGA National Student Design Conference, CalArts (June 14, 1998), first published in Émigré 47.↩
R Micheal Rock, The Designer as Author, first published in Eye no. 20 vol. 5, 1996.↩
Author yet to be identified.↩
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (Paris, 1967). Newly translated and annotated by Ken Knabb.↩
Holly Herndon, On Process, Ableton Loop — A Summit for Music Makers (Berlin, 2015) (all discussed statements taken from this talk — available on YouTube)↩