A Social and Cultural Force

In “Remaking Theory, Rethinking Practice”, Andrew Blauvelt is breaking down the ever prevalent battle of theory versus practice in graphic design.

He asserts that theory automatically aligns itself with thinking while practice automatically links to making. He argues that there shouldn’t be this harsh delineation, rather there should be a cross breeding. When theory helps the creative process in design, it leads to design as a social and cultural force.

Small disclaimer, this essay was written back in the late 90’s and a lot has changed, yet this piece still resonated with me. There was a small bit about how there is no lack of “visual variety” but instead designers are not asking the right questions. I feel like this is especially relevant in today’s graphic design communities. Everyone who owns a computer can be a graphic designer, hell, there’s even a movie about type! But where does graphic design become more than just a visual exercise in beauty?

Design is at it’s best when it moves people in a way a word or image cannot do on it’s own. As designers slave away to combine word and image in exponential variations, who is asking the provoking questions?

I believe this is the challenge of the next generation of graphic designers. We need to remain relevant and valuable to business not just through providing “visual variety” but understanding and evaluating problems within historical context, relevant societal influences and seek out how our audiences are perceiving designs. This is how theory will inform the creative process. If graphic designers can apply a critical lens to the process of their work, instead of just designing variations until someone likes it, it’ll make it stronger. If we can pinpoint why a concept would be relevant to our culture today, versus two years ago, it will be set within a context and make it more meaningful. Finally, if we can put ourselves in the shoes of the people we are designing for, we can design concepts that provide meaning to particular individuals.

It is up to graphic designers to embolden ourselves to do more than just make more “visual variety”, we need to work hard to learn how to apply a critical, visual and preceptual analysis to our concepts and designs.

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