Heike de Wit

Contact

2016

Valve
Digital Craftsmanship (essay)
Keyslider.otf
F L U X
Generative Questions (essay)

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)

2015

The Art of Peer Pressure
YOU ARE BEING WATCHED
Thinking and Producing (essay)
KONTO
Your Ad Here
The New Modern

2014

The Selfie (essay)
I Protest
The New Aesthetic
Heike de Wit, 2016

Generative Questions

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:

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Critical theory must communicate itself in its own language — the language of contradiction, which must be dialectical in both form and content. It must be an all-inclusive critique and it must be grounded in history. It is not a “zero degree of writing,” but its reversal. It is not a negation of style, but the style of negation.6

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

Ironically, it is composer and sound artist Holly Herndon, multiple time collaborator to Metahaven, who puts her reasons for openly self-selecting on, in her case her own music, in such a way that I resonate with them greatly. She explains in a talk at the Ableton Loop Summit8 in Berlin, how at first she was so excited to send not only her music but her ideas into the world as well, but was met with a huge backlash. “Not everybody wants to hear about everything that went behind it. Not everybody has the same kind of viewpoint on music that you do.”

Which I think makes sense, but what does not make sense is that when something is conceptual, whether it be music or design, it is rendered ‘impure’. That because it has to be explained it is somehow not whole. Herndon then puts forth that impactful work and conceptual work is not something that is mutually exclusive, that even the combination of the two is her ‘Holy Grail’. She closes her argument beautifully saying: “That doesn’t mean all music has to be conceptual to be good. It doesn’t mean that all music has to be made on a laptop. But that’s just how I’m able to approach music and find purpose and find a meaning to driving forward.”

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.


  1. El Lissitzky, Isms of Art, Topographie der Typographie (March 4, 1923)

  2. Robin Kinross, Modern Typography - an essay in critical history (London, Hyphen Press, 1992), page 9

  3. 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.

  4. R Micheal Rock, The Designer as Author, first published in Eye no. 20 vol. 5, 1996.

  5. Author yet to be identified.

  6. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (Paris, 1967). Newly translated and annotated by Ken Knabb.

  7. Sarah Hromack, What Is Metahaven? Frieze (1 June, 2015) https://frieze.com/article/what-metahaven

  8. Holly Herndon, On Process, Ableton Loop — A Summit for Music Makers (Berlin, 2015) (all discussed statements taken from this talk — available on YouTube)