Graphic design has evolved throughout history as an artistic and communicative discipline which has originated through the practice and development of visual forms. While graphic design is a discipline which is inherently driven by an analytical process towards the development and organisation of content, forms, and visual syntax; in recent years it has been argued that the origination of content favours a higher value than that of shaping it. And in this respect, graphic design has been predominantly redefined as a discipline which is bound to a research driven agenda, or 'think tank'. Whereby the primary emphasis of practice points to the development of content, and the linguistic components therein; rather than employing the craft of shaping content through the development of forms.
Additionally, the arena of contemporary graphic design has expanded considerably beyond it’s conventional borders into a fully-fledged climate of multidisciplinary design. And in turn, graphic design has become increasingly affiliated with processes and frameworks coinciding with other artistic disciplines, and intellectual motives alike. However, while the expansion of graphic design has supplemented its development on a wider spectrum: from research, to production tools, to the greater social context; graphic design has in turn become increasingly dispersed in it’s definition. And in this process, the social status of graphic design has been reformed from a ‘practice based on the development of forms’, to ‘a practice based on the development of content’.
This reform may suggest a new standard which values content over form. And while content, analysis, and research are an integral part of a design process; form is one of the most fundamental aspects of graphic design as a discipline. And hence, this poses a responsibility in how we shape our surroundings. Through the languages, systems, and forms which we establish. Through the self revising nature of the practice, and the critical re-assessment of these developments; graphic design has revised itself time and time again based on sociocultural, political, and economical circumstances.
The following thesis aims to stimulate a discussion around the value of form in contemporary graphic design. And the ways in which the field has been redefined. How do we reclaim a balance between form and content? How do we continue to shape our surroundings through current frameworks in graphic design? And how do we pose greater questions towards the development of new visual forms? And how do we validate the value of form, craft, and practice in a highly sporadic stage in graphic design discourse.
Chapter 1 — Introduction: Graphic Design, A Practice of Forms.
Chapter 2 — Production of Form, Content, or Ulterior Motives?
Chapter 2.2 — Graphic Design: On Production Means (And Implications)
Chapter 2.3— Podia
Chapter 3 — Form As A Time-Based Substance
Chapter 4 — Conclusion: The Value of Form
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The images used in supporting this thesis do not belong to me, nor were they made by me. All acquired images have been acknowledged appropriately in captions, and in the colophon. With the exception of some to which titles could not be found.
The included images are a supplement to the thesis, and aim to deliver clear and accurate examples of the specificities of visual form, aesthetics, and intellectual developments in Graphic Design. The selected images support a versatile display of contemporary developments in Graphic Design, covering works from 2002 - 2014 ranging from printed matter, to digital and interactive projects.
All images have been sourced through online blogs, and various platforms. The works are made by designers from a various different specialisations.
Keywords — Graphic Design, Form, Content, Aesthetic, Visual Syntax, Visual Vocabulary, Production, Craft, Value, Practice, Author, Revision, Shift.
Valerian Goalec - Peinture Aleatoire 2014
(Painting, Digital Aesthetics)
Cox & Grusenmeyer - Daily Report 2012
(Kunstenaars / Verzamelaars Exhibition)
Title Could Not Be Acquired
Title Could Not Be Acquired
Steve Hackett - Unknown Title 2013
(Mixed Media Collage)
Metahaven - 032c #26 2014
Karl Nawrot (Voidwreck) - 19 Templates, 2 Post-it® & Dusts 2011
(Poster and collection of self-made tools for illustration and experimentation with typographic form)
ECAL (Ecole Cantonale d'art de Lausanne) Graphic Design Students Poster Exhibition 2014
Cecilia Azcarate - With Love 2014
Michel Egger - Typo St.Gallen 2014
(Graphic Design, School Project, Digital, Print)
Jürg Lehni - Hektor Drawing Robot 2002
(Hektor is a programmed robot which creates visuals with a spray-paint can. Digital, Coding, Robots)
Moniker - Conditional Design 2013
(Conditional Design is a design method formulated by Moniker, in which conditions and rules of play are drawn up in the design process)
Felix Pfäffli - Soft Metals 2014
Andrea Hyde - Visual Identity For Insights Design Lecture Series - Surface Readings 2013 (Graphic Design, Photography)
Karl Nawrot (Voidwreck) - Unknown Title 2009 (Typographic Letters In Physical Construction With Paper and Wood)
Jessica Svendsen - Space Typeface N/A
(A Typeface of Two Weights Created by Porjecting On Corners and Curved Surfaces)
Mathieu Cieters - Another Graphic Tumblr, KABK Open Day And Studium Generale Work Also Featured, N/A (Online Blog)
New York Art Book Fair 2014
HORT - Poster Ad for Nike 2013
"The span of graphic design is not a history of concepts but of forms. Form has evolved dramatically from one year to the next, and suggests a profession that continually revises and reshapes the world through the way it is rendered". 1 — Michael Rock
"If man is shaped by his surroundings, his surroundings must be made human”. 2 — Z.A. Jordan
Form is the basic substance through which every thing is made visible. It refers to the visual shape and configuration of any object, plane, or element that exists in our ocular perception. This could also suggest that form may be one of the most fundamental aspects in how reality is composed. And how we establish a relationship between how we perceive our surroundings, and how we shape our surroundings. This notion could also pose a great responsibility over what we see, and how we react to the multitude of visual configurations which frame the  world. 3 In Michael Rock's essay titled “Fuck Content”, he provides insights on this idea by asserting that “This deep connection to making also positions design in a modulating role between the user and the world. By manipulating form, design reshapes that essential relationship. Form is replaced by exchange. The things we make negotiate a relationship over which we have profound control". 4
Additionally, a style could be identified as the visual properties through which an object is rendered. It’s aesthetic qualities, and visual language through which it is expressed — It is the visual synthesis of the elements, function, techniques, expressions, and syntax. Conclusively contributing to the overall form of an image, or work. While it remains difficult to define form with one single, universal definition; we can imagine that the best way to formulate a clear definition of form in terms of visual literacy, may simply be to view it as a class or category of visual expression. And this class of expression has been shaped by the sum of it’s contributing parts, and the total cultural sphere which surrounds it. 5
The afore-named paragraphs aim to provide a clear definition of what form represents throughout this thesis. As to avoid confusion with the physical form of an object. But rather the two-dimensional paradigm of forms in the context of graphic design. Ultimately one of the most fundamental aspects which graphic design constitutes as practice. Furthermore, the following chapters aim to investigate the value of form in the contemporary field of graphic design. In a period which appears to be a highly dispersed, and sporadically challenged stage for graphic design discourse. Where it becomes increasingly difficult to define graphic design as a discipline, as a profession. And where the conventional craft of design has predominantly assumed a framework which values the origination of content over shaping it.  6 The conventional boundaries of the practice alike have extended enormously into other territories of applied arts. Often treading the boundary between what is considered as graphic design, and Art. Production and technological developments have generously supplemented the growth of the practice. And throughout these conditions: all pre-established aesthetic profiles and intellectual frameworks have been challenged, criticised, and re-invented.
Furthermore, throughout history graphic design has evolved primarily as an artistic and communicative discipline which has progressed through the practice and development of visual forms. 7 Additionally, the graphic designer is often described as an individual who gives shape to information through visual, artistic, and linguistic means. Through a limitless array of mediums, solutions, and combinations of techniques. At the intersection of any legitimate design process, we outline a formal bond between both form and content. The essential equation which allows for a work of graphic design to be established, and to exist with purpose and intent. Where form cannot exist without content, and content cannot exist without form. 8 The combination of these two components celebrate a marriage within a projects framework. And hence, contributing to an end result which consists of an equal balance between the arrangement of visual forms which materialise it, and the intellectual component, the content—which contextualises the work. Ultimately allowing for a message to be transmitted in the optimal state defined by the designer, his personal taste, social agenda, and sociocultural values in the work. Form follows function, or more commonly acknowledged today as form follows content. 9 Content takes its shape by being transposed into the vehicle which makes this body of information visible; and this vehicle is commonly referred to as form. Incapsulating a series of visual attributes which co-exist in picture or on a surface to construct the total visual syntax of a design. Defined by it’s format, context, it’s aesthetic properties, and the medium through which the work is ultimately received by an audience. Attached to the design process are a specifically outlined set of parameters defined by the designer. These established set of guidelines in turn define the total outcome of the work. Through a visual, and intellectually arranged matrix of forms. With an apparent emphasis on the works intention, function, context, and overall artistic rendering produced by the designer and his artistic and intellectual capacity, with the vast advantages of design techniques at his complete and entire disposal.
Additionally, the substance of form in graphic design ultimately gravitates towards the notion of a visual language, or a visual syntax; And a language is defined by a system that addresses both style and substance, both form and content. 10 In order for this result to take place, the work of graphic design first enters a process of research. Followed by hierarchisation of information, and total organisation of form and content. Jonas Berthod had very recently published an essay titled 'Research In Design'; whereby he quotes one of Alain Findeli's essential research inquiries, emphasising the importance of certain design questions by asking "Firstly, what do we want to know about the world in relation to design? Secondly, what is the specificity of the look that the design casts over the world….? Thirdly, what new or different… aspect does the look of the design…. deliver? What are the research questions, the objects of investigation, unique to the design?". 11
Based on the aforementioned excerpt and urgent observation posed by Alain Findeli, we gather a sense of responsibility towards critically revising our practice. Where we pose questions on the relevance of graphic design discourse in efforts of facilitating a process which reflects both the interest of the designer, as well as the social context which it is designed for. Where developments are questioned in a validation process, and where we class the importance of certain design motives. Their benefits, implications, or complications within a socially implicit discourse. To which, a fundamental aspect of the practice is the re-assessment of the significance of graphic design; and it's relation to the aforementioned social circumstances. How should graphic design be perceived by both society, and it's practitioners? How do these concerns motivate questions towards the discoveries of new frameworks, new forms, and an investigation towards new aesthetics? 12
As practitioners we often find ourselves questioning the value of craft, and the function of graphic design at large. We engage in critical discussions through which we assess graphic design discourse in relation to current issues, technological developments, and economical circumstances. But what exactly is the essence of these inquiries? What do we ultimately aim to achieve? By researching different modes of representation, we aim to further our knowledge of meaning and the significant, through the use of language and images. And in this process, we aim to create meaning and mark our work with reason, purpose, and a personal as well as cultural value. All in the interest of reaching new discoveries, and giving meaning to our surroundings, and the things which help us interact with the world. 13 In efforts of responding to these inquiries, we can first look at how the contemporary field of Graphic Design has expanded beyond it's own title, boundaries, and physical limitations. And therefore, entirely superseded it's conventional borders by whole heartedly crossing into other fields of applied arts and intellectual motives. However, still largely adhering to a culture of visual communication which coincides with an array of varying disciplines; driven by previous findings, from historical frameworks, research, appropriation, collaboration, and a multidisciplinary outlook on graphic design. With a vast scope of possibilities available at hand: from open-source DIY cultures, to the paradigm of commercial software developers. Along with the practical know-how and the global democratisation of design tools: designers from all backgrounds, interests, and qualifications are re-defining the practice of Graphic Design on what seems to be an annual, if not bi-annual basis. The liquid form which Graphic Design has assumed has in turn dispersed the discipline across an infinite plane of activities, in what appears to be a constantly revised set of activities which define the field.
However, while the podium for graphic design discourse and aesthetic development continues to flourish in a resourceful climate of contemporary design, we notice a shift in emphasis on what the graphic design practice should be identified as. And it can be argued that in the recent decade we have witnessed a shift in the practice in which 'concept' has predominantly assumed priority over the practice of forms. Evidently delaying the qualities which once defined graphic design as a discipline. So how do we reclaim a balance between the development of content, and that of framing content? Does the origination of content really have more value than the way in which it is shaped The following chapters aim to stimulate a discussion around this ideology in an attempt to restore a balance by outlining the value of form, and the craft of the discipline alike.
“If the audience has changed and the production has changed, and the messages might change, wouldn’t common sense suggest that the notion of form might evolve too?” — Lorraine Wild 14
“What supposedly distinguishes humans from their primate ancestors is their ability not to use tools but to integrate them into everyday activities, find fresh uses for them, and to create new ones.” — Andrew Blauvelt 15
“The tool in effect transforms our material and virtual realities and, by doing so, it transforms us.” — Andrew Blauvelt  16
The arena of contemporary graphic design has expanded considerably beyond it's threshold and continues to become increasingly dispersed in it's definition. And hence emancipated from the conventional values which once defined it as a discipline. It has in this process also transcended the conventional limitations which once defined the discipline. By absorbing processes and motives from other artistic fields in the interest of furthering its substance by adhering to foreign processes which ultimately contribute to new frameworks within the sphere of graphic design. Through the spurt of graphic design criticism in the late 1980's, and the self-revising nature of the practice along with the global democratisation of design tools; graphic design has revised itself as a profession time and time again. And during these transitions, the practice has also been reformed drastically, for better or for worse. Designers today have in turn equipped themselves with a sense of criticality towards their practice, their work, and the work of others. 17 Additionally, the designer today operates in a multitude of fields. While some designers operate in providing “services”: working on a designer-to-client basis within the commercial and cultural domain. Other design practices pertaining to a more autonomous and research driven framework operate as researchers, engineers, curators, performers, artists, and activists; the latter assumes an approach advocating the methodology of ‘being your own client’, as opposed to providing a “commercial” service as conventionally established. The former also portrays the decentralisation of the design practice from it’s conventional model, and could very well be related to the social and technological developments seen in recent decades. But in essence, these reforms reflect the liquid state in which graphic design exists today. Where anyone and everyone is able to adapt and define graphic design according to their practice and personal agenda. And hence, the discipline is inherently bound to revisions and interventions over and over again.
In a recent essay by Daniel van der Velden from Amsterdam based design studio Metahaven, he asserts that "In recent years, the graphic designer has shown himself as — what has he not shown himself to be? Artist, editor, author, initiator, skilful rhetorician, architect…. The designer is his own client, who, like Narcissus, admires himself in the mirror of the design books and magazines, but he is also the designer who does things besides designing, and consequently further advances his profession". 18 The aforementioned extract by Daniel van der Velden aims to deliver a clear example of this reform within the field of Graphic Design. Through which we contextualise the comparison of two common modes of operation within the field of design. One approach which values the origination of form, opposed by an approach which values the origination of content. Making visible the specificities which the contemporary Graphic Designer assigns to himself.
However, while a shift in practice can be clearly identified, it is critical to note that the designer today demonstrates a multifaceted array of occupations and involvements. Possessing qualities which often allow for more complex processes to be introduced into a design process than in previous decades. A call for designers to stay informed, to be capable, and to align ones practice with the current social demands of it’s time. The informed graphic designer today possesses a number of skills within his own practice, but also in that of others. Such skills and insights most commonly pertaining to other fields of applied arts. However, while the graphic designer has extended his practice and capabilities by recruiting secondary and even tertiary titles to his profession. He has therefore renamed the profession by doing so. Experimental Jetset shed light on this idea of reform by asserting that “we see more and more attempts to rename graphic design: ‘visual communication’, ‘branding’, ‘innovation’, ‘design research’, ‘service design’, ‘concept development’, ‘image building’, etc. etc. All these labels deny the material base of graphic design (printed matter) by cutting the ties that bind us to graphic production methods. These are deliberate attempts to let graphic design dissolve into a visual culture without memory, without ideological weight, without material ground, without terra firma".  19
The graphic designer today is also his own producer (as he has all the production means available at hand), he is also an author (because "Today, an important graphic design is one generated by the designer himself, a commentary on the margins of visual culture" 20), the graphic designer is also an initiator (because the graphic designer today possesses entrepreneurial capabilities as motivator, and initiator). While the intention behind these processes is all good and well, it has nevertheless imposed new standards upon the practice which may marginalise those who are reluctant to comply with these frameworks in design. However, while we understand that the practice of graphic design has elevated itself considerably within the last several decades; from a 'problem solving and analytical' practice, to a fully fledged intellectual power-house absorbing and addressing all that encompasses it. One should also note that while these developments foster grand advantages. They also carry an equally steep set of disadvantages. In that, the designer who does not conform to the aforementioned processes of adhering to other professions other than his own, runs the risk of becoming marginalised in his practice. With this shift, the emphasis on the operational aspects of the field gravitate closer to the intellectual and linguistic components, rather than establishing a balanced link between the visual, aesthetic, and intellectual components; and the process therein. Michael Rock asserts that "In Designer As Author I argued that we are insecure about the value of our work. We are envious of the power, social position and cachet that artists and authors seem to command. By declaring ourselves "designers/authors" we hope to garner similar respect. Our deep-seated anxiety has motivated a movement in design that values origination of content over manipulation of content". 21
Following Michael Rock's piece from 'Fuck Content'; we establish a better understanding of this shift in practice. While todays standards favour the origination of content rather than shaping it. 22 We also find difficulties in restoring a balance in graphic design. At least to a point where we can unanimously agree upon one definition of the practice. A grounded term which refers to the nature of Graphic Design and the involvements therein. As opposed to the multitude of distant tangents which it has developed into. The essence of this argument however lies in the fact that Graphic Design is inherently a practice which primarily addresses the shaping of content, not the origination of content. Furthermore, Michael Rock provides insight by asserting his views through an analogy stating “that design (the glass) should be a transparent vessel for content (the wine). And anyone who sided with the former, was a superficial operator, and a ‘knuckle-dragging oaf’”. 23 "This false dichotomy has circulated for so long that we have started to believe it ourselves. It has become a central tenet of design education and the benchmark against which all design is judged. We seem to accept the fact that developing content is more essential than shaping it, that good content is the measure of good design". 24 In perfect conditions, the designer should be 'designer and author', as opposed to 'designer as author'. 25
In Randy Nakamura's essay titled "The Grand Unified Theory of Nothing: Design, The Cult of Science, And The Lure of Big Ideas", he propels Michael Rock's previously stated argument forward by discussing how graphic design has been reconstituted as a practice, and thus now governed by the notion and operational tactics of an intellectual think tank, or consultancy. 26 Rather than the values which graphic design originally fostered in the initial development of the discipline, and in regards to it's own historical developments. These changes may be related to social and cultural changes, granted — but a shift in the designers responsibilities outlined as such leaves an uncertain agenda for graphic design discourse in the future. Are we authors? Are we designers? Are we information architects? Are we scientists? All this may be linked to the fact that the practice of graphic design has never been entirely defined by one universal term, and hence not guarded by parameters which contain it's integrity and composure. Nakamura backs this concern by saying that "Unfortunately, this legacy of concept over form has mutated over the decades into a new and strange form. Instead of merely applying "concept über alles" to actual pieces of design, designers want to engage their entire practice in this manner. This desire to turn design into a total conceptual discipline has it's roots in the fact that the cultural and social status of design has always been up for grabs. Being neither fine art nor vernacular art, but sampling, appropriating, and utilising both domains, design occupies an area Pierre Bourdieu calls the "sphere of the legitimizable", the zone between high and low culture that is constantly being contested, reconfigured, and challenged." 27 And with the "legitimizable", we see this as an excuse to remould Graphic Design on a frequent basis as such.
"Design practice today requires the intellectual power of a think tank and the turnaround capacity of a quickie-printer."
28 — Lorraine Wild
"Instead of collectively agreeing to the same streamlined tools sold to us by large software companies, we need to reclaim the personal relationship we used to have with our tools." 29 — Jonathan Pucky
“This new era challenges all of us—designers, engineers, business executives, and the public at large—to think differently about the relation between surface and substance, aesthetic and value.” 30 — Virginia Postrelt
When the personal computer entered the consumer market in the nineteen-eighties, everything changed. We essentially saw the complete democratisation of the personal computer, and it's respective design tools. Followed by a full scale DIY culture on the rise, as a result of the global decentralisation of the computer from professional practice, to a consumer level product. The personal computer was introduced as an instrument of infinite possibilities. A palette of tools which could accommodate nearly any process with immediate results. The computer was now made available to the general public to anyone and everyone who had A) the financial feasibility to purchase a machine as such. B) anyone who had an interest in personal computing, and C) any graphic designer, desktop publisher, or visual artist who was seeking to improve their practice by jumping on the bandwagon of the soon to be fully-digitalised culture. Lorraine Wild states in her essay titled 'Unravelling'; "As several others have observed, by the mid-1990's the entire panoply of digitisation pointed at editorial, imaging, design, and printing processes had been reinvented, and radically democratised the tools of design, so that anyone could jump in and make up until that point had been the territory of the trained (or of the trade)". 31 This allowed for designers and newcomers to operate on a higher note. To increase production with new possibilities, solutions, and purposes. The danger of which however, was that anyone and everyone had the possibility to "design". And with this, the leverage from 'professional practice' was soon to be denoted to a culture of 'everyone as author'. And thus, the unfolding of the conventions begins to surface. And the inherent body of graphic design dilutes into a multitude of 'sub-professions'.
In efforts of further cultivating a better understanding of the production aspects and design in relation to form, and the multifaceted layers which production can accommodate within the contemporary practice of graphic design. One could first acknowledge the essential fact that this process has been strongly motivated by two things: Namely, the widespread adaptation to digitalisation and the democratisation of the personal computer and it's digital mastery alike. And the Internet as a mechanism which has essentially become the breeding ground through which all culture is collected, cultivated, and contributed back to society. We look back in retrospect and conclude that these developments entirely reconfigured the hierarchy of the design practice. Who was the designer then? Who are the designers now? Who were the clients then? Who are the clients now? (do we even aim for clients, or are we our own clients? And what context or social benefit does the current body of Graphic Design encompass and contribute to society, and the progression of visual languages at large?) And how has mass digitalisation changed the way we work? If we are the creators of our own tools, then we also define how those tools behave. However, so long as we are using tools which are created by others, we also to some extent fall victim to the limitations therein.
In a recent essay written by Andrew Blauvelt titled "Tools (Or, Post-production For The Graphic Designer), he provides an in-depth look at the production aspects of design and how the development of new tools has allowed for us to discover new tangents in the field, and thus new visual and intellectual frameworks which allow us to assert greater meaning into what we create, and the ways in which we shape our environments. Through the benefit of new tools, we have been able to accelerate our practice on both a pragmatic level, as well as an intellectual level. And thus, contributing to the overall visual developments and theoretical discourse in graphic design through the use and combination of design tools and techniques. Furthermore, Blauvelt states that "Human use of tools has been theorised as an explanation for human evolution stimulating such things as increased brain size coupled with the unique human ability to mimic behaviour and thus spread ideas and techniques". 32 What Blauvelt is essentially pointing to in concrete terms is the fact that we as humans have had the possibility to develop ourselves through the action of exchanging ideas. Hence, the universal truth of: "The tool in effect transforms our material and virtual realities and, by doing so, it transforms us." 33
Furthermore, Blauvelt continues to elaborate on a new generation of designers who's practice revolves around the basis and relation between Graphic Design and technology. This combination and skill set allows for the designer to carry extra competences in his workflow by having the advantage of programming, and creating his own tools. "Jürg Lehni for instance wrote a scriptographer, a program that translates digital vectors to more analog devices such as Hektor, a robot-operated spray-paint device; Empty Words, a machine for making die-cut message posters; or Viktor, a chalk-drawing machine. Casey Reas and Ben Fry created Processing, an open source programming language that many other designers have used to create visualisations." 34
So what does all this mean for the contemporary graphic designer? Looking at the current state of affairs in design and it's relationship with other artistic disciplines and technology alike, graphic design often binds with other artistic disciplines, fields, and processes which advocate new kinds of ideation processes and exchange. Case in point being the relationship between graphic design and programming. Where in recent years, programming and the whole introduction of code into practice has offered a new perspective within the field. And has proven to be one of the most essential components of an 'up to date' design practice. By implementing the framework and behaviour which digitalisation delivers; we are able to not only see into new systems, but we are also able to intervene on how they function. Or simply creating new tools and systems through open-source software and the wizardry of open-source communities. Through this, we are able to define new parameters in graphic design discourse. Especially when we consider the emphasis on screen based design today. Which of course points to a completely different set of criteria and treatment than that of print based design. We are not only able to create new forms and new meanings within these digital frameworks. But we are also able to advance our workflows by automating tasks which the computer will carry out in a short amount of time, and almost flawlessly if conducted correctly. Conclusively, it comes down to being an asset to the discipline, and individual practice. The designer equips himself with the adequate tools and knowledge to function in a new era of design. And to embrace these changes by drawing out the benefits to further advance his profession. To create his own tools, and to understand the ways in which we work in efforts of establishing new frameworks which contribute to new visual languages, and ultimately propel these new discoveries onto our existing surroundings. And thus, critically assessing the whys and hows of shaping our surroundings.
The previous paragraph is a peephole into the vast industry of multidisciplinary designers who aim to advance their design practice by allowing for it to meet the character of it's time. By releasing it from a strictly defined conventional set of processes, bound to a material frame; into a multidisciplinary arena of research, development, and artistic ventures. Dutch design studios such as Moniker and Lust can be regarded as strong examples of this process combining the visual, analytical, technological, and social characteristics of graphic design; paired up with new frameworks governed by that of the digital industry. This again offers designers the ability to extend passed the standard conventions by looking into new and interesting solutions in communication. Blauvelt elaborates further on this topic by referencing a quote by Lorraine Wild in his essay which states that "the meaning of our work is connected to how it is made, not just 'concepted'". For Wild, the ultimate value of craft is tied to how we view the work of graphic designers over many years and across disparate projects. It is the connective thread that makes sense of so much labor and identifies that body of work with a particular person: "When craft is put into the framework of graphic design, this might constitute what is meant by the 'designer's voice'—that part of design that is not industriously addressing the ulterior motives of a project, but instead follows the inner agenda of the designer's craft. This guides the 'body of work' of a designer over and beyond the particular goal of each project. So craft is about tactics and concepts, seeking opportunities in the gaps of what is known, rather than trying to organise everything in unifying theory". 35
Furthermore, while production developments have ushered in exceptionally beneficial advantages, it also consequently poses a threat. The meaning of production also expands onto territories which may even marginalise the designer and his practice. For instance the shift from print based design onto screen based design. And how this has essentially re-configured the way in which we perceive and treat form, content, and communication on a global scale. Additionally, the role of printed matter may also very well be threatened by the online and virtual arena. By services such as print-on-demand (Lulu and Blurb) are also signals that show a shift in the production process towards a economical solutions with little regard to the aesthetic value of the material object. The DIY ideology makes visible to the general public that a task as such may not even require the expertise of a graphic designer. But rather automated by the abysmal 'Layout Wizard' offered on Lulu's website. And hence, the designer continues to become marginalised in his role, but through cause-and-effect; the designer and his practice revise, reshape, and adjust to new standards. 36
However, while the full access and complete availability of design tools is all within hands reach, one could acknowledge the fact that a great deal of designers — professional and young designers, are in full control of what is produced, and where it is transmitted to. With hundreds of online blogs for the curation of graphic design: we see a venue in which form appears in every shape, style, colour, scale, and function. While one might see these online platforms as a frivolous and ephemeral wave of pluralistic aesthetic ventures. Others such as Experimental Jetset justify this idea of "sameness" as a platform which may converge with the spurt of new aesthetic revelations in regards to graphic design and the substance of form. Experimental Jetset state that "When we think of the word "standard", we always think of the way the world is used in the field of music: a blues standard, a jazz standard, a rock standards. What is interesting about standards is the fact that they can be used by every musician as a platform for a certain voice, a certain aesthetic. It is exactly the standards inherent "sameness" that becomes a stage for differences". 37 While our tools may or may not differ, be of commercial or open-source origin, we are nevertheless still bound to a scheme within a larger scheme. All with limitations and constraints of their own. However, one could acknowledge that these developments are still part of an ongoing trajectory on the development of form. On all planes, mediums, techniques, and style. But all of which end up on screen, in a new context, without a description of the work. And hence, changes it's behaviour and becomes part of a discussion about form. And therefore, the meaning of the work is not projected through the content, but in the way that this content has been shaped. 38
"If surface is a kind of place, or site, the designer is its geographer. Surface is folded out in order to produce value, while it is folded in to secure it." 39 — Metahaven
Following the production aspects which outline the vast possibilities in which graphic designers can operate today, we gather a better idea of how the practice has evolved into a series of multidisciplinary nodes which still ultimately find place under the blanket term of 'graphic design'. One of the more pressing thoughts however behind a design process is that the work created by the designer is not only aimed to accommodate a specific purpose. But it is also commonly aimed at a specific audience. This target audience often carries an understanding towards the thematic and visual content therein. They may also be familiar with the culture and intent of the work. And this opts for a successful mode of communication from the designer to the audience, the end receiver. And while some graphic designers operate within the stream of what is 'accessible', there are also designers who are specialised in esoteric activities which may only apply to a smaller few; such as the post-internet cultures, the new-ugly trends, default movement… The Internet has become a ground for curation. And through this curation, 'sub-exhibitions' are created. Bringing together a vast paradigm of (multidisciplinary) cultures and motives as one in graphic design through the continuously expanding blogosphere such as Tumblr blogs, Online galleries, Instagram accounts, portfolio sites, and self initiated platforms.
Graphic designers from all ages, locations, and expertise find their work curated online on blogs and platforms along with others from the field. What this creates is a unanimous understanding and visual timeline of form in contemporary graphic design. While a blog is a container which hosts a series of related or unrelated works, we find that all projects (no matter how different) find a general link with each other. This link could be defined by a sense for the 'zeitgeist', or the stylistic 'norm' which represents this era in graphic design. And while this can seem like a negative aspect, one can also view this in positive light by acknowledging that this 'sameness' is simply the visual aesthetic brand of this era. And the 'sameness' again marks a territory which a framework can exist in, develop, or deviate from. To validate this idea, we refer back to the aforementioned quote by Experimental Jetset. Where we take into account that "what is interesting about standards is the fact that they can be used by every musician as a platform for a certain voice, a certain aesthetic. It is exactly the standards inherent "sameness" that becomes a stage for differences". 40
Young designers today are adept at utilising various platforms and tools to reach their audience. 41 And we also see how the involvement of these designers initiates a movement in how graphic designers address problems. How they make use of the democratised tools of design in order to reach new discoveries through experimentation, independent publishing, collaboration, networking, and the involvement in the stream which delivers an 'overview' of what contemporary Graphic Design looks like. 42 In ways that allow us to critically revise it. Nevertheless, while the majority of online blogs display works on only a visual and aesthetic level, some believe that the content is filtered out and stripped in this manner. Leaving the work to be nothing more than a visual rendering. This quote by Mr. Keedy explains that "things get even more complicated when you mix multiple forms and contents together (eclecticism). You can separate form and content from each other, but you can't have content without form or form without content. Even though designers talk about "empty formalism", forms are never completely devoid of content. Because forms come from somewhere, and they bring with them vestigial content". 43
While the online sphere may be viewed as an empty gesture by some, it is still important to note that an online blog or platform is an entirely new system, and an entirely new context than the one for which it was originally intended for. What has been designed for physical and contextual use, may not necessarily apply to that of an online setting. It acquires an ephemeral and immaterial character in which it can continuously change it's nature, meaning, and condition. 44 And hence manifest itself in varying ways. It can also be reproduced infinitely, and appear in more than one place at once. So what happens to a work of graphic design when it enters new systems? How does it behave? And what happens to a work of graphic design with recognised artistic and cultural value when it is deployed into a new system and adheres to new parameters? 45 Marcel Feil asserts his views by clarifying that "the decentralised model of the internet also means that information streams appear less hierarchical and there is a notion of equivalence. This has made the appropriation of the image, in a broad sense, and its manipulation, adaption, and further distribution into a tried and tested, and widely accepted artistic method". 45
What this essentially means, is that the Internet and it's various platforms for exhibition, curation, and sharing of content have become a terrain through which graphic design can be viewed on an wider spectrum. We find a collective, and concentrated array of aesthetic developments. Deriving from a number of differing cultures and motives; but meet together in one container as an exuberant display of what form and aesthetic merit constitutes today. This in effect allows us to critically assess the value of form in said context. Works of graphic design are juxtaposed in such a way which allows us to pose greater questions towards the value of form, and the developments therein. How do graphic designers view these developments? How do these developments become appropriated and reformed into new creations? How does the mixing of various visual languages ultimately show itself? And how has content been treated in these conditions? This results into "a generation characterised by dynamism, movement, changing coalitions, and a focus on process, a generation produced by a reality in which flux, non-linearity and ambiguity are essential". 47
And it is exactly these inquiries and circumstances which offer us a better view upon developments in graphic design. And in this way, we revise graphic design in an actual, relevant, and critical manner. We see the juxtaposition of works online, in books, exhibitions, museums, and blogs as a way of having an overview on the total visual and intellectual discourse. How one work is manifested in regards to content, may differ entirely than that of another, regardless of motives. Emphasised by curiosity towards how content has been shaped by designers, their use of tools, techniques, and new visual vocabularies. This in turn allows for relevant questions to be posed on a new generation of graphic designers who determine what the face of the next visual landscape will be, and what our surroundings and modes of communication will look like. 48
"And we're pretty sure that in a couple of years time, it will look completely different again". 49 — Experimental Jetset
We understand that graphic design is inherently a self revising practice which adjusts itself to the sociopolitical circumstances of it's time, form still remains as the basic substance which makes graphic design visible, and is an ingredient which is also critically reassessed and revised. Through cultural interventions, but also through trends, social, and political circumstances. In order to accommodate the needs for communication and an accurate reflection of what society is at that very moment, designers should lay a bigger emphasis on shaping content in efforts of facilitating visual discoveries which improve communication, introduce new ideas, and new solutions alike. As opposed to simply applying concept over everything in a method which is more weighed out by the linguistic aspect rather than the pragmatic and visual. While culture, styles, and languages come and go. Culture tends to repeat itself. As a result, revivals also take place. In which styles of the prewar and postwar era are often revived in new contexts, given new tools, and intentions alike. Where we see both the aesthetic implications of modernism and postmodernism coming and going in waves which are backed by cultural motives and personal incentive. The zeitgeists which accommodate the crossing of concepts into new terrains which allow for hybrids of visual cultures to manifest. And thus, resulting in new aesthetic and visual discoveries in collectivity, and idiosyncrasy.
In a recently published book by Zak Kyes titled "Zak Kyes Working With…", he elaborates on the fact that the visual languages and esoteric findings which once assumed to be of 'underground' nature; are eventually filtered into what is widely accepted by the mainstream market. He asserts that "a special problem here is that practices that are traditionally seen as dissident — deviations from the mainstream, violating the "rules" — have increasingly turned out to be sources of rather lucrative business". 50 The aforementioned extract refers to how form may be perceived as a time sensitive substance. What was viewed yesterday as a commercially non applicable visual strategy, may tomorrow be the frontrunner of our eras visual language. Experimental Jetset further elaborate on this transition by mentioning that "when you look at that whole retail-and-lifestyle sphere now (fashion chains, for example), you see an aesthetic that is much closer to what some people might perceive as postmodernist: Stretched letters, neoclassical centred typography, vernacular irony, moodboard-like imagery. And we're pretty sure that in a couple of years time, it will look completely different again". 51
Additionally, as we recognise that the progression of graphic design and visual literacy is in constant flux, "it is critical to note that these experiments had their beginning largely in academic settings, informed by contemporary semiotic and structuralist theory. Those experiments were a critical step in broadening the visual possibilities and being more responsive to the instability and subtly of actual communication (something ignored by standard modernist typography). But just like everything else, the look of that typographic experimentation entered the inevitable style-cycle, and became the look of many youth-oriented magazines and market campaigns. So what had began as a deep engagement of typography with language devolved into a set of ubiquitous cliches, which paradoxically seemed to signify the impossibility of communication!" 52
"The problem is one of content. The misconception is that without deep content, design is reduced to pure style, a bag of dubious tricks. In graphic-design circles, form-follows-function is reconfigured to form-follows-content. If content is the source of form, always preceding it and imbuing it with meaning, form without content (as if that were even possible) is some kind of empty shell". 53— Michael Rock
"A director can be the esteemed auteur of a film he didn’t write, score, edit or shoot. What makes a Hitchcock film a Hitchcock film is not the story but a consistency of style, which winds intact through different technologies, plots, actors, and time periods like a substance of its own. Every film is about filmmaking. His great genius is that he is able to milk the form into his style in a genuinely unique and entertaining way. The meaning of his work is not in the story but in the story telling". 54— Michael Rock
"Somewhere in the struggle to win the argument that design was about a great deal more than form, the profession ceased to make a compelling case for design as a formal activity. It is not that the commitment to form went away–it just went unspoken, like beauty itself. We are surrounded by it, but can’t bring ourselves to say what it is. In design, we have overlooked the degree to which beauty is a vital human need. It is an experience from which people have everything to gain and nothing to lose". 55— Rick Poynor
"Suddenly design isn’t really about design anymore, and craft and form are depreciated in the face of “analysis” and “understanding”. This appears to be a halfhearted attempt to recast design as a primarily quantitive and analytics discipline. Yes, design is about analysis and problem solving, but it’s fundamental impact on the world (for better or worse) is in the artefacts of forms it produces. This is the only way ideas survive in design. To denigrate form and artefact making in design is to destroy it’s essence and reduce it to a generic role of think tank or consultant". 56— Randy Nakamura
The aforementioned quotes, and most specifically the latter quote by Randy Nakamura, are crystal clear definitions of the urgent underlying concerns within this thesis and in the field of graphic design at large. An example of the investigative query upon which we revise the value of form within a highly dispersed and impalpable practice of contemporary graphic design. Nakamura mentions that one of designs most fundamental traits is in the influencing and shaping of our surroundings through the forms which we produce. 57 He also outlines a shift in the practice where graphic design has been re-casted as a ‘quantitive and analytics discipline’. If we imagine that the standards of the graphic design practice have been reshaped as such; where does this leave the development of forms and the meaning therein? What do these implications mean for the future of graphic design? Should we all assume the position of “designer as researcher”? Lorraine Wild outlines in her essay titled ‘Unravelling’ that “graphic designers who focused on expressing ideas through the visual side of their work were going to be relegated”. 58 What Wild is essentially saying is that: if all designers who have not already adopted this new methodology of "designer as researcher", are risking ridicule, and incompetence. An outlandish assumption on those who claim this to be true. Michael Rock also shares his sentiment by stating that "this false dichotomy has circulated for so long that we have started to believe it ourselves".  59
What this signifies, is that the practice of graphic design is being internally marginalised by it's own practitioners. And by those who have reframed the practice of graphic design from a discipline which is defined by 'problem solving' through visual strategies, to a discipline which is defined by a fully fledged conceptual ivory tower. 60 And that the development of content and intellectual factors are to override the inherent nature of the practice. If the latter is true, then who claims responsibility towards the development of form? Who is responsible for determining the visual syntaxes which surround us? And the ways in which our surroundings influence us. If more regard and attention is paid to the developments of visual form and their meanings, and cultural purpose alike; graphic designers could lay claim to a new, more varied cultural significance. And smarter, more informed graphic designers would be able to bring invention and creativity to their work. Along with the understanding of why certain decisions were made, and in what context. 61 These questions could in essence call for "a renewed recognition of the value of craft in graphic design as a counterbalance to the then prevailing notion that graphic design was to be reframed as driven predominantly by research". 62
Therefore, it is vital that a fundamental reassessment of the practice takes place. That questions are posed in regards to what the value and significance of form is within our time. How do we understand graphic design as a discipline today? How do we initiate research towards new questions about form and new aesthetics? What is the relation between graphic design and reality? And lastly, how does graphic design relate to it's own past as a discipline?  63 Lorraine Wild's shares her perspective on the craft of graphic design with the supporting analogy that "when the history of graphic design of this period is written, there is no doubt that one of the terms that will pop up for discussion is the "designers voice" (or, in another version, the "designer as author"). There's a literature and argument around these terms too complex to outline completely, but by the late 1990's, the designers voice laid claim to visual authorship—the insistence that graphic designers, through their forms, created content—and contributed to the culture of communication to the audience at large". 64 This approach of open-mindedness towards the matter also promises that there will be new and unexpected, and often surprising results. Regardless whether in a formal or aesthetic sense or with respect to content. It is also inherent in the nature of these findings that no fixed aim has been clearly defined. But rather that this reinvention and value of the medium may in retrospect turn out to be a completely new revelation in graphic design. 65
"When you put all this together with the now common desire on the part of so many designers to produce work that is engaged, in one way or another, with social relevance, it does seem that we are faced with evidence of a possible renaissance in graphic design that pointed at an audience (or many, many audiences) in which imagination and creativity are applied not only to the language of style, but also to the generation of projects themselves, how they live in the world, how they reach out and which purpose they serve." And in this respect, we can reclaim a balance between practice and theory, form and content. "This new era challenges all of us—designers, engineers, business executives, and the public at large—to think differently about the relation between surface and substance, aesthetic and value". 66
In the previous chapter titled 'Form As A Time-Based Substance', it was also mentioned that these aesthetic developments of form in relation to sociopolitical, technological, and time-relevant situations are often manifested through the academic spheres, in which it ultimately signals to the fact that it is exactly the young designers who are mostly in control of how visual languages are found and developed. And thus it is the academic sphere which promotes the experimentation of developing new forms, and indulging in new motives which escape the aesthetic conventions of graphic design. But with this, the treatment and significance of form may also be hindered due to the fact that there is an overlap of concept over form. In which it renders the work as something of aesthetic poverty who's sole intent is to communicate a message, an idea; as opposed to creating a well rounded interpretation and manifestation of both concept and form.
Referring to Nakamura's aforementioned extract which reads that "suddenly design isn't really about design anymore, and craft and form are depreciated in the face of "analysis" and "understanding". This appears to be a halfhearted attempt to recast design as a primarily quantitive and analytics discipline. Yes, design is about analysis and problem solving, but it's fundamental impact on the world (for better or worse) is in the artefacts of forms it produces. This is the only way ideas survive in design. To denigrate form and artefact making in design is to destroy it's essence and reduce it to a generic role of think tank or consultant". 67
Following Keedy's text from 'Looking Closer Five: Critical Writings In Graphic Design', he validates this idea by stating that "All young designers that I know are obsessed with form. And not only that, they are the first to critique form. What does it mean when it's said that they are "creating a context in which they can do work that is satisfying and new"? Does that mean they want to have their own studios and do their own work sans clients? Or does it mean that they want to start working in cross-disciplinary ways that redefine graphic design altogether? In either case, and I will say it again, FORM MATTERS. Content is crucial. And content may drive form. But form is an integral part of the work, and to deny that is ridiculous and shortsighted. Even if it is possible to strip away personal style or character, the final form still conveys a message worth discussing. In some cases, that "stripping away" and denial of formal qualities is a knee jerk reaction to what has come before. It is a need for young designers to find a place in the design world that sets them apart. However, I would still talk about the work they come up with in terms of content, as well as form." 68 While Keedy also acknowledges the interfering factors in this process. Keedy nevertheless acknowledges that a balance between both should exist coherently. Without sabotaging or hierarchisation of what should be valued more. These decisions are not up for grabs by a single group of people. But rather a collective consensus which allows us to agree on A) the origin of graphic design and B) how we can acknowledge both components as highly necessary driving factors in a design process for well balanced developments. And thus, seeking equal and non-hierarchical, parallel categorisation. Mr. Keedy continues with "I don't know what stuff should look like. I only know that to ignore visual form is to concede that what we do doesn't matter: that the visual is not important and is not capable of the kind of manifestation of intelligence attributed to words, not to mention the means of engagement that words have". 69
What is essential is to re-establish a balanced link between form and content across graphic design practice. In which one does not assume priority or value over the other. But that we learn to distill and mediate the function of both in the interest of creating works of graphic design that reflect social needs. To shape our surroundings for the better. To establish a dialogue and framework to which we can ultimately agree upon as beneficial and constructive. And not weighed out by the agenda of the idiosyncratic individual. To restore the attitude in design which aims to create a better relationship with the world. And while being scattered across the entire spectrum of artistic disciplines, Graphic Design should nevertheless find a universal token which can define it as a practice by centralising the ultimate goal which graphic design has as practice, and craft. What do we want to know about our surroundings? And what is it exactly that we are investigating through design? And exactly who are we communicating to, how, and why? 70
Rick Poynor asserts that "somewhere in the struggle to win the argument that design was about a great deal more than form, the profession ceased to make a compelling case for design as a formal activity. It is not that the commitment to form went away–it just went unspoken, like beauty itself. We are surrounded by it, but can't bring ourselves to say what it is. In design, we have overlooked the degree to which beauty is a vital human need. It is an experience from which people have everything to gain and nothing to lose". 71 This in effect, validates the notion that research has over casted the visual counterpart of the practice. And as Poynor outlines, it is something that we simply 'take for granted'. Simply taking this for granted does not promise it's evolution, or a better future for graphic design and the world of visual communication. It does not promise significant findings or a greater truth. It assumes the position of form and aesthetic as a byproduct to a design process. Left up to "chance". Without fully acknowledging what forms can represent on a semantic level. With this, Graphic Design will increasingly continue to unfold as a game of "tug of war", where one half of the field defines the practice according to his personal agenda. While the other half argues to reclaim the stage which allowed graphic design to essentially exist. With a wider consideration of the practice and it's responsibilities towards the greater social context. The attention towards communication can be heightened, through the act of organising and giving meaning to our surroundings. And hence, defining our surroundings, through form, visual languages, and aesthetic expressions which reflect real concerns and human needs.
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Wild, L. "Unravelling", Graphic Design: Now In Production, 2011. p.19-21
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Gestalten (2013), Culture Identities. Berlin: Gestalten
Kyes, Z (2012), Zak Kyes: Working With…. Berlin: Sternberg Press
Kyes, Z & Owens, M (2007), Forms of Inquiry: The Architecture of Critical Graphic Design. London: Architectural Association
De Bondt, S & De Smet, C (2014), Graphic Design History In The Writing 1983 - 2011. London: Occasional Papers
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Feil, M. "Under Construction", Foam Magazine, 5, 2014. p.24-32
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Andrew Blauvelt, "Graphic Design, Discipline, Medium, Practice, Tool, or Other?", https://vimeo.com/66385792, May, 11, 2013
Bryn Smith, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Exhibiting Graphic Design", https://vimeo.com/66387467, May, 11, 2013
Metahaven & Experimental Jetset, "Autoreply: Modernism", www.printmag.com/article/autoreply-modernism/, October 4, 2011
Metahaven, "Insights Design Lecture Series 2013: Surface Readings", http://blogs.walkerart.org/design/page/5/, February 13, 2013
Interview Experimental Jetset, Amsterdam, 15 September 2008
Valerian Goalec — Aléatoire
Cox & Grusenmeyer — Daily Report
Unknown Name — Unknown Title
Unknown Name — Unknown Title
Steve Hockett — Unknown Title
Metahaven — 032c #26
Voidwreck (Karl Nawrot) — 19 Templates, 2 Post-It® & Dusts
ECAL (École cantonale d'art de Lausanne) Graphic Design Students — Unknown Title
Cecilia Azcarate — With Love
Michel Egger — Type St.Gallen
Jürg Lehni — Hektor
Moniker — Conditional Design
Felix Pfäffli — Soft Metals
Andrea Hyde — Insights Design Lecture Series
Voidwreck (Karl Nawrot) — Unknown Title
Jessica Svendsen — Space Typeface
Mathieu Cieters — Another Graphic Tumblr
New York Art Book Fair 2014 — Art Book Fair
HORT — Nike Ad