Every year at the Frankfurt Book Fair, about 400,000 books are presented. This makes it the largest book fair in the world. Of course, these are printed books made of ink, paper, glue, etc. not digital books. Despite what is frequently said about the supposed bad state of the economy of the sector, this number raises many interrogations. We keep on hearing about the “death of the book”; about how printing could not survive the age of digital transmissions.
Whether it is true or not, this appears to remain an important issue. Books are material. And material things do not last forever. This is a fact. Nevertheless, the knowledge they carry, their stories and the forms they use are the fundamentals of Mankind. This is a heritage that must be preserved.
However, it looks as if we rely more and more on digital ways for spreading information and knowledge, as if it was certain that this, and everything that is related to our lives, will last forever that way. From the floppy disk to the Cloud, we have seen many digital techniques to save and expand our data. The Internet seems to have become the climax of this new information sharing activity. Although, its being immaterial makes it hard to picture its lasting value…
Are digital media and the Internet really a sustainable alternative to printing? And when it comes to graphic design, is it even possible to consider one that would last forever, whether it is digital or printed matter?
This thesis aims to prove the importance of pre-servation as any “graphically designed” item, created in a specific context, witnesses a certain moment in a certain society. Because knowing the past allows to shape the future.
We often hear that a writer is a witness of his time. Nowadays, with the fast developments of means of communication, everybody can write and give their views and thoughts on the world. This readiness damages the lasting quality of the information that is shared. We publish, we print, we upload, we blog, we share and then we throw away and simply forget. All this, without worrying for even one second about the possible future of this written and visual material, mirror of our society.
Graphic design is the process of visual communication and problem-solving through the use of type, space, image and color1. According to Annick Lantennois, a French art historian specialised in graphic design history and theory, “Graphic design can be defined as the formal processing of information and knowledge. The graphic designer is a mediator who acts on the conditions of reception and appropriation of the information and knowledge to which he gives shape.”2 To that definition I would merely add that the designer has a duty to give shape to information in order to convince people of reading it. Therefore, the notion of lasting value can be essential.
With this thesis I want to question the possibility of creating a graphic design that would last forever. A graphic design, using typography, images or new media, that would help to preserve knowledge and information, the History of Mankind forever (or almost). To try and tackle this issue, I intend to find out how it would be possible to preserve this very thesis.
That way I will investigate on the history of printing, its conservation and its so-called “death”, on the one hand. On the other hand, I will focus on the chronology of our digital era, the different aspects of digital conservation and problems such as the data pollution and E-Waste. Eventually, I will try and figure out the several issues that can be connected with the very idea of an everlasting graphic design, focusing on the matters of updates and trends.
We are surrounded by books3. They are everywhere and about everything. Isn’t it fascinating to think that whatever topic you want to share about, you can possibly put it into a book and publish it?
It was not always like this. Printing and publishing have been through a long process to become as accessible as they are nowadays.
The history of printing goes to very early times (with the duplication of images using stamps). The use of round seals for rolling an impression into clay tablets goes back to early Mesopotamian civilization (before 3000 BC)4. Since then the development of printing has made it possible for books, newspapers, magazines, and other reading materials to be produced in great numbers and plays an important role in promoting literacy among the masses. But of course, books already existed before in a different form: handwritten on parchment, this ancient kind of manuscripts was called a codex.
Around 1400, the technique of printing from wood blocks was introduced in Europe. As in the East, the images were printed by the simple method of laying a piece of paper on a carved and inked block and then rubbing its back to transfer the ink. And as in the East, the main market was holy images for sale to pilgrims.
Later in the 15th century, technical advances were made in Germany which rapidly transform printing from a tiny industry to a milestone of western civilization. By then, the name of Gutenberg first appeared in connection with printing. In Mainz, Gutenberg’s great achievement in the story of printing had several components. One of them was his development of the printing press, capable of applying a rapid but steady downward pressure. The concept of the press was not new but existing presses exerted slow pressure —uneconomical in printing. His first publication was a full-length Bible in Latin, printed to the standards of the best black-letter manuscripts. The new technology spread rapidly. Gutenberg’s method was ideal for combining text and illustration on the same page. Movable type could be set in any shape round a wood block. The raised surfaces of both type and image would receive the ink together and could transfer it to the paper at a single impression.
The profusion of presses in Europe by the early 16th century meant that the machinery was in place for a different and entirely new form of production —the rapid printing of pamphlets, or even single sheets, which could
be used for propaganda. In the end of the 18th century, Alois Senefelder made a discovery of great significance in the history of printing: lithography. With this technique, marks are made on a stone surface in greasy crayon or ink. The stone is then wetted. Newly applied ink will stick only to the greasy marks. Paper pressed against the stone will pick up those marks and nothing else. In his book The Work of Art at the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin says that “with lithography, reproductive technology reaches a radically new stage”5.
“The very much speedier process represented by applying a drawing to a stone [...] enabled graphic art , for the first time, to market its products not only in great numbers (as previously) but also in different designs daily”6.
From that moment on, the noticeable advances in printing technology opened completely new possibilities for publishers and designers: printed objects of a new kind emerged.
In the 19th century, stereotyping (allowing for whole sheets to be set at once) gave publishers the opportunity to reach new populations of readers through magazines and newspapers and also to expand the world of book-buyers. In Britain and America, the “Yellowbacks” and dime novels started off as affordable reprints of older books. That meant not having to pay authors but in time the publishers came to experiment with new types of content that reflected readers’ interests. What’s more, bright and cheerful, the chromolithograph, printed in several colours, each from a separate stone, is a characteristic feature of 19th century commercial printing —seen in posters, book plates and eventually in magazines.
Today, offset printing is a widely used commercial printing technique. The inked image is transferred from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface. Also, digital printing, with laser printers, is more and more popular for commercial use because of
its being cheap. Nevertheless, it is important to notice that this lower cost involves a huge lack of quality (in typography and images). This being said, this lack of quality is often used by designers as a creative challenge to produce visually interesting but cheap to produce printed objects. In the same trend, another widespread printing technique, nowadays, and striking when it comes
to conservation and archiving documents is the photocopier. Just as with digital printing, this method gives designers many bounderies forcing them to push the limits of their creative capacities.
This list is most certainly non-exhaustive (let us not forget about screenprinting, very appreciated by poster designers, or even home printers, offering to each and everyone of us the possibility to print anything, anytime...) but it already gives us an idea of the amount of books and other printed items that might have been published since Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible. Many objects containing huge amounts of knowledge using different forms and designs... How do we manage to help them survive the injustice that is time?
According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia “a book is a set of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of ink, paper, parchment, or other materials, fastened together to hinge at one side”. The book is a pure item of the design7: its form is always thought according to its function and/or to its content. In A Book of the Book : some works and projections about the book and writing, Keith A. Smith writes about “The Book as Physical Object”. The essay develops on the many different ways of “building” a book: from the lay-out, to the printing, to the binding. “The book, as object, is intimate, it insists on a one-to-one confrontation: the bookmaker and viewer.”8
The conservation and restoration of books is an activity dedicated to the preservation and protection of objects of historical and personal value. Paper based items, such as books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, posters and postcards present distinctive concerns when it comes to care and conservation. Unlike works of art on paper, these items are handled directly and repeatedly.
Books represents a huge part of our historical heritage. On its online platform, the University of Chicago, Illinoy, presents in detail a course of “Art and Science of Book Conversation”. There you can read that “conservation is an essential component of preserving the library’s collections. Using current knowledge of degradation pathways as well as traditional skills, conservators prevent and stop the degradation of library collections like rare books and archival materials. Conservation treatment may include a combination of chemical treatments such as aqueous deacidification —the process of washing paper in a bath of purified water enriched with alkaline chemicals— and traditional treatments like rebinding a book with broken sewing”9. Therefore, most countries have in there national libraries a Conservation department. Conservation of the collections in order to be communicated to present and future generations is one of the main duties of the Bibliothèque nationale de France; for this purpose, a conservation policy has been implemented and oriented to both preventive and curative. This fundamental mission was entrusted to the library by its founding decree of January 3rd, 1994: “Collect, catalog, maintain and enhance, in all fields of knowledge, the national heritage in its custody [...] and to provide access to the collections to the largest audience.” Throughout its history, the library has developed
techniques that are appropriated to that mission. To the traditional activity of curative conservation and binding, new ones have been added : prevention, preservation, awareness and education of staff, digitization, research... The laboratory allows a real scientific approach thanks to the development of material analysis methods, their conditions of aging and degradation. This task applies to heritage collections gathered on behalf of the Nation for centuries: “French and foreign collections of prints, manuscripts, coins and medals, prints, photographs, maps, music, choreography, sound documents, audio-visual and computerized documents”10. Over the last centuries an ever growing set of collections has been built whose growth is continuously accelerating ; today this set is estimated at over 30 million documents and hundreds of terabytes of digital data.
It is fascinating to see how some books survive centuries... In 44BC Cicero (a Roman orator) wrote a book for his son: De Officiis (“On Duties”) told him how to live a moral life, how to balance virtue with self-interest. The book refers to the views of various Greek philosophers of whom many works have been lost. De Officiis was read and studied throughout the rise of the Roman Empire and survived its fall. Cicero probably dictated De Officiis to a slave who copied it down on a papyrus scroll from which other copies were made in turn. The lush 15th century edition was printed in Mainz, Germany, on a printing press owned by Johann Fust (early partner of Johannes Gutenberg). Nowadays this beautiful volume can be found in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, since 1916. Few physical volumes survive five centuries and this one should last several more. The incredible building from 1951 that protects it and tens of thousands of other volumes was originally meant to double as a nuclear-bomb shelter. Beautifully printed and condensing the knowledge and thoughts of many philosophers of a time from which not many traces were left behind, this book is a treasure and witness of a different age. Already important by Cicero’s time, it was a classic source of wisdom around the Renaissance. Its being preserved is like a physical conservation of the past.
Conversation is a practice that has been thought of for many years already. On another hand the conservation of posters remains more complicated. Posters are ephemeral. More than books can be. They promote an
event and once that event is over, the poster has no more appeal. Nevertheless, our societies tend to acknowledge more and more the artistic value of graphic design in all its forms. And the poster is, without any doubt, one of its most important historical embodiments. For instance, the Chaumont Graphic Design Festival, in Chaumont (France), is now working on a big project: the CIG11 (Centre International du Graphisme), opening its doors in May 2016, is meant to be a graphic design center where a collection of about 40,000 contemporary posters will be conserved, compiled since the festival’s inception, and enriched by about 2,000 pieces each year. Chaumont is probably not the only organisation that conserves graphic design (mostly printed matter) that way; in 2013, we could count around fifty different events around the world celebrating graphic design, and organising competitions (involving poster design and book design). Also, the Poster Museum at Wilanów is the oldest institution of that kind in the world. In 1953, around 500 posters that had survived the war were transferred from the Engravings Department of the National Museum in Warsaw to the Documentation Section, which just had been established. The Poster Museum was opened on the day of the inauguration of the 2nd International Poster Biennial (1968). Nowadays, the museum collection is made of about 36.000 Polish posters and nearly 25.000 foreign posters12.
If both Chaumont and Wilanów collect that many posters every year and so many books are still presented in bookfairs, the idea of “Death of the book” (and of printing) appears like a true mystery to me.
“The book’s words have not changed ; their vessel, though, has gone through relentless reincarnation and metamorphosis.”13
The conservation and restoration of books is an activity dedicated to the preservation and protection of objects of historical and personal value. Paper based items, such as books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, posters and postcards present distinctive concerns when it comes to care and conservation. Unlike works of art on paper, these items are handled directly and repeatedly.
As new means of production, distribution and new audiences have grown up hand in hand throughout the history of the book, representatives of the old order have always perceived them badly. This may be why novelties have often been slow to take over: scrolls were still used for hundreds of years after the codex was developed. Early printed books tried to diminish the shock by looking like handwritten manuscripts, just like e-books now imitate print. So what is it really with this widely spread idea that the book is already dead?
Books become more and more a reflexive medium and therefore post-digital publishing draws attention to the changing status of book in the digital age. One could see it as a direct response to the widely proclaimed, death of a book, caused by the emergence of e-books.
Indeed, we keep on hearing about the “death of the book”: in the early 1990s, the Book Review ran an essay, “The End of Books”, in which the novelist Robert Coover questioned whether print could survive the age of “video transmissions, cellular phones, fax machines, computer networks, and in particular out in the humming digitalized precincts of avant-garde computer hackers, cyberpunks and hyperspace freaks.” Now, progression planners have shifted from the hyperlink to the e-reader. In 2012, it has been calculated that the percentage of Americans who own e-reading devices doubled since December of the previous year. And in 2011, Amazon announced it was selling more e-books than print books.
However, in 1835, before any of these technologies, Théophile Gautier’s novel Mademoiselle de Maupin had already declared that “the newspaper is killing the book, as the book killed architecture.” But actually, we can see how one technology does not necessarily cancel another. Television did not kill radio any more than radio ended reading. The book’s epitath has been written and rewritten by every single generation.
Around 1800, Louis-Sébastien Mercier had predicted that in the year 2440, all the books of the Royal Library would be condensed into a single volume14. Mercier explained editors of the future would “extract the substance of thousands of volumes, which they have included in a small duodecimo” (scaled somewhere between an iPod and an iPad). History proved Mercier right: the future does not lay in expanding information but in compacting it.
Nevertheless, the Dutch graphic designer Armand Mevis recalls in his essay “Every Book Starts with an Idea” that at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest in the world, about 400,000 books are presented every year. These are, of course, printed books and not digital books. Despite what is frequently said about the supposed bad state of the economy of the sector, that number still leaves us thoughtful.
According to Étienne Hervy, former artistic director of Chaumont Graphic Design, the quantity and new use of written contents play a role in the fact that we do not preserve them the way ancient writings were. “Proof is, even design students must now write, produce and submit to reading a thesis.” (see p.47)
This reminds me of what states Marshall McLuhan in The Gutenberg Galaxy. In this book, the author analyzes the effects of mass media, especially the printing press, on European culture and human consciousness, but one interesting aspect of this study is as follows: when television emerged, the immediacy and roughness of the data that was given on this new medium actually pushed people to turn even more to newspapers and any printed information as they felt the need to verify the one given on screens.
The rise of digital technology —and especially Amazon, this never-before-seen bookshop— underlined these fears of the book coming to an end. In the past decade people predicted the death of books, of publishers, of authors and of bookshops, even of reading itself. Of all, only the bookshops have actually suffered serious damage. Ellie Hirschhorn, former chief digital officer at Simon&Schuster admits: “I thought everything was going to change so much more quickly and so much more radically”. In 2010, she had predicted that half of all books sales would be e-books by 2013. A prediction still not accurate in 2015.
If we go back to the example of De Officiis, the copy remaining in California may be sequestered, but the book is somehow “free”. In its printed forms it has been a hardback and a paperback, published in several editions. And now it is available in all sorts of non-printed forms, too. You can read it for free online or download it as an e-book in English, Latin and numerous other languages.
However, to see technology purely as a threat to books might be a mistake. Books are a technology in their own, one developed and used for the advancement of thoughts, and it is a powerful, long-lived and adaptable one. Books like De Officiis have helped shape History. What’s more thanks to Gutenberg and the others, their ability to preserve, transmit and develop ideas was taken to another level. With books in electronic forms, readers can see what other readers have thoughtworthy of note, and seek out-like minded people. The private joys of the book will remain, new public ones will emerge. Obviously, if books and other printed items are still being made, graphic designers are still an important part in the whole production. So, in this what-seems-to-be-bright future for knowledge, can graphic design make information last longer?
Compared to the rather long History of printed design, the digital one starts much later. And looking for a History of the digital15 era actually brings us first to a History of computers and the Internet...
Computers, even before their digital versions, have a long history, starting from the abacus16 (2400 BC) to the Turing machines17, developed by Alan Turing in the late 30s. But the first digital personal computers were introduced and put on market in 1964 by the Italian company, Olivetti (Programma 101). Nevertheless, still huge and costly, it is only a few years later, in 1973, that IBM developed a computer that one can actually own at home. Early personal computers were often sold in a kit and in limited volumes and were of interest mostly to hobbyists and technicians. During the early 1980s, home computers were further developed for household use, with software for personal productivity, programming and games.
Eventually, due to the influence of the IBM PC on the personal computer market, personal computers and home computers lost any technical distinction. Business computers acquired color graphics capability and sound, and home computers and game systems users used the same processors and operating systems as office workers. Mass-market computers had graphics capabilities and memory comparable to dedicated workstations of a few years before.
In parallel to the popularization of the home computer and its many new applications, the data storage technologies grew. These include the computer data storage which is the technology consisting of computer components and recording media used to save digital data but also the data storage devices, which through time have known, just like computers, an incredible evolution over the last decades. Indeed, as you can edit texts and images, you can then save them, which therefore gives you a larger possibility of sharing and keeping the very data you created.
Keeping, yes, but not necessarily forever. As a matter of fact, the evolution of data storage technologies has been such through the last years that the very first storage devices are nowadays completely useless. The floppy disk is a very good example. A floppy disk is a type of disk storage in the form of a rectangular plastic carrier. To write and read data on a floppy disks you need a floppy disk drive. Floppy disks, initially (in 1971) as
200 mm media and later (in 1976) in 133 mm and (in 1981) 90 mm sizes, were a ubiquitous form of data storage from the mid-1970s well into the early 2000s. But, in only ten years, their design and storage capacity changed radically, making the very first ones obsolete in a short amount of time. By 2010, computer motherboards are rarely manufactured with floppy drive support: standard diskettes became rare to non-existent. While floppy disk drives still have some limited uses they have been superseded by data storage methods with much greater capacity, such as USB flash drives, portable external hard disk drives, memory storage cards and computer networks. Of course, in between floppy disks and USB drives were also the CDs and DVDs... Still being used, they are though, as well, heading to a near ending. More and more laptops are being designed without any support for these storage devices. However, this relates to another problem to which I will refer more specifically in the last part of this chapter.
Besides the emergence and development of computers in general —this includes laptops, smartphones, tablets, iPods etc—, the rise of the Internet is also relevant.
In 1989, Professor Tim Berners-Lee made a proposal for an information management system, and he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet. This was the beginning of the Internet and for this English computer scientist to become best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web.
As a reminder: the Internet is the global system of interconnected computer networks that use the Internet protocol suite to link billions of devices worldwide. It is a network that consists of millions networks (private, public, academic, business, and government). The Internet carries an extensive range of information resources and services, such as the inter-linked hypertext documents, electronic mail, telephony, and peer-to-peer networks for file sharing. In 20 years since 1995, Internet use has grown 100-times18.
Most traditional communications media are being reshaped or redefined by the Internet, giving birth to new services. Newspaper, book, and other print publishing are adapting to website technology, or are reshaped into blogging and web feeds.
And together with the Internet is to be mentioned the Cloud computing. It is a kind of Internet-based computing, where shared resources, data and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand. Cloud computing enables ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to the different computing resources (networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) and can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. Cloud computing and storage solutions provide users with various capabilities to store and process their data in third-party data centers19.To sum-up, with the Cloud it is now possible to save data without having to update hardware anymore. The savings occur at the frequency the user decides and then, when connected to the Internet (by WiFi or wire), the data and information is being sent and saved in the Cloud.
With these new technologies, we are now given the possibility to produce a never-seen-before quantity of digital material and do not even need to have it on our personal hardware anymore. But, will this new kind of material stay forever?
Our cultural heritage has reached across time on many different materials (stone, bamboo, silk, paper...). Now a large quantity of information exists in digital forms, including emails, blogs, social networking websites, web photo albums, and sites which change their content over time. With digital media it is easier to create content and keep it up-to-date, but at the same time there are many challenges both technical and economic in the preservation of this content.
In library and archival science, digital preservation is an endeavor to ensure that digital information of continuing value remains accessible and usable. The goal of digital preservation is the accurate rendering of content over time. According to the Harrod’s Librarian Glossary, “digital preservation is the method of keeping digital material alive so that it remains usable as technological advances render original hardware and software specification obsolete”.
Digital preservation must meet various criteria. The first step is called “archival appraisal”. It is basically the selection of valuable data by identifying records and other materials and by determining their permanent value. Several factors are usually considered when making this decision. It is a difficult and critical process because the remaining selected records will shape researchers’ understanding of that body of records.
It is then important to point out how data integrity provides the cornerstone of digital preservation, representing the intent to “ensure data is recorded exactly as intended [...] and upon later retrieval, ensure the data is the same as it was when it was originally recorded” according to the Library of Congress. Unintentional changes to data are to be avoided.
Digital sustainability encompasses a range of issues and concerns that contribute to the longevity of digital information. Unlike traditional, temporary strategies, and more permanent solutions, digital sustainability implies a more active and continuous process. Digital sustainability incorporates activities in the present that will facilitate access and availability in the future.
On a less technical aspect, Raymond Kurzweil, an American author, computer scientist, inventor and futurist is also well-known for his important role in the transhumanist movement. Transhumanism is an international and intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and
creating technologies to enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. For this purpose, Transhumanists believe that they are morally obligated to help the human race transcend its biological limits. Therefore, digital preservation is, according to trans-humanists, more than just a way to save digital knowledge, it is one of the solution for individuals to extend their lives, through dehumanization. Thus, we could imagine that right now, we are able to design our future lives, further than our physical fate: disappearance...
In December 2004, Google, the American multinational technology company specializing in Internet-related services and products, started a quite ambitious project: the Google Books Library Project.
This project is actually an effort to scan and make searchable the collections of several major libraries. It has considerable financial and technical resources, and has seen its scope expand gradually: today, it is an intra-text search tool for consulting books online, for constituting personal collections and a tool to download royalty-free books, it is also an online bookstore via the Google Play store, a tool to find out in which library you can find a copy of a specific book, and an additional information provider (metadata) about the works. In November 2008, the Virtual Library Books had over seven million books, 15 million in 2010, only part of which is available directly from the site. Today it is the largest textual corpus in the world.
Let us have a look at the conservative value of this project and forget about the commercial one. This project initiated by Google is noteworthy. This huge enterprise of digitizing by scanning books from all over the world seems to be a good way of preventing them from disappearing.
Nevertheless, this method seems to be showing failures. The artist Benjamin Shaykin wrote how disturbed he got when seeing “a brown hand resting on a page of a beautiful old book, its index finger wrapped in a hot-pink condom-like covering. In the page’s lower corner, a watermark bore the words Digitized by Google.”20 The Google Books project is such an immense enterprise that digitizing every page of every book cannot be done without a few glitches. So, how can we evaluate the value of this project?
Is it really a good way of preserving the book and its content if the complete readability of the book is not assured (hands hiding parts of texts, pages being scanned when folded, glitches...)? And even further than the flaws that such technique can show, how can this project guarantee the preservation of these books?
In the previous part of this chapter, we noticed that our digital era is one that goes fast. New media are eternally experiencing waves of disinterest as new ones come along. Therefore, will the books of Google Books Library remain read?
To my opinion, this Google Project is an interesting one for it is allowing people to reach content that is not necessarily accessible to all. However, it remains a good experiment of preservation: as Google is one the largest Internet companies of our time, we can expect this service to last and still be available online for some years. Nevertheless, since it is a private company and everything that they undertake is led by commercial purpose, nothing assures the longevity of that service.
Other than the Google Books project, I should also mention all the illegal kinds of copying and sharing files. As illegal as they might be (copyright protection), these still provide the contents they spread and share a higher sustainability.
Indeed, the expansion of information and content on the Internet could be considered as a new strategy of preservation... When put online, pdfs, BitTorrent21 or any direct download see their chances to last in time might be increased because a larger number of copies can then be produced. This becomes some sort of a decentralization: the content is more likely to last longer since if you want to erase it, you must delete every single iteration of it. However, the copies might be preserved but it is almost impossible to keep track of them...
So, is the digital archiving technique really the ultimate solution to save the world’s written knowledge (and with that, my thesis)?
“Data is the pollution of the information age. It’s the by-product of every computer-mediated interaction. It stays around forever unless it’s disposed of. Just as we look back at the beginning of the previous century and shake our heads at how the titans of the industrial age could ignore the pollution they caused, future generations will look back at us.”22
In the previous part, the example of the Google Books Library Project has shown us the possible flaws of a mass digitization of books as a conservation process. This example is also very interesting when we start to think about the issue of data pollution.
We, designers, feel more and more the need to be part of the digital world. Therefore, we are also producing content that might be too much, or maybe just one more nicely designed interface, website or application that will drown like many others in the ocean that the Cloud is nowadays.
“Even if the technologies of the web are in theory standardised and accessible, the rapid succession of technological fashions, breathlessly chronicled in blogs, makes it hard to get started.”23
Data pollution represents the overload of data generated every second on and through high-tech items. When you think about the Google Books Library Project, it definitely appears to be generating a lot of unnecessary —as not always usable— data... For instance, today self publishing has made a comeback. The internet enables people to sell their e-books (printed books too) without the hassle of trying to get bookstores to display them. Somehow, the Internet allowed us to free ourselves from “publishers” telling us what is worth publishing and what is not. Nowadays, each person using the Internet is able to produce, publish, post, share anything they want. Indeed, behind the screen self-censorship becomes scarcer. Even more, people tend to think (just like Bruce Schneier), that digital data is meant to last forever. But, seeing how fast it all evolves, and how floppy disks for instance, are now hardly useable, nothing tells us that data will “stay around forever”... Although, the immateriality of the data generated, stored somewhere in that abstract ungrabbable center somewhere in a desertic area, or in that even-less-reachable server called the Cloud, makes it hard for people to realise that new kind of pollution.
To try and avoid this, digital preservation goes through the archival appraisal first step, the selection of all the
data worth saving. Nevertheless, how can this very selection not be subjective? Well, it probably is at least a bit subjective but necessary.
But this is not the only issue. The Internet has a real impact of the environment. The data centers that store and process everything from your old emails and Facebook data to tweets, Google searches, and e-commerce transactions require two percent of the United States’ entire electricity supply, which is actually more than the notoriously energy-intensive paper industry, refuting the myth that a shift to digital information is necessarily better for the planet... We could also wonder, as nobody owns the Internet: who pays for all of this? Well, in short, it is paid for by everyone who uses it, even if indirectly. So, somehow, the more we use it, the more expensive it will get. In addition to that overconsumption of electricity, another problem is what we call “e-waste” (electronic waste). For the last few years, smartphones have become the primary communication tool for a continually growing part of the population. E-waste stands for the discarded electrical or electronic devices which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling or disposal. As a matter of fact, this issue was quickly discussed in the first part of this chapter when talking of the floppy disk and its very fast ageing. (see p. 24)
Since digital information creates also a lot of material pollution, would a digital way of preserving books really be better than a material one? But the question I would rather ask now is the following : more than comparing the Print and the Digital, which to my eyes are not opposed but complementary, is there actually any kind of efficient way to preserve a designed content?
“Preserving this thesis”. This is a noble intention.
Yet, is it even achievable?
Graphic design is a practice relying on the present and immediate future: as mentioned in the introduction “the graphic designer is a mediator who acts on the conditions of reception and appropriation of the information and knowledge to which he gives shape”, meaning he intervenes in a certain context that is set in time and space, and so is the information and knowledge he has to deal with. Indeed, most of the communication work of a designer is not necessarily meant to last. Even if the company manages to last, its visual identity will change, always in search for renewal to adapt to society. In the case of a poster announcing a specific event, once the event is over, so is the relevance of the poster.
Information has never been as fast as it is nowadays. All the means of communication make it really easy for anyone —scientists, researchers, designers, journalists etc.— to share and rebound on everyone else’s ideas. Thanks to new technologies, any field can interact and contribute to another: medecine, chemistry, physics, engineering, design... But in that sense, it makes the question of preservation even harder. How can preserving be relevant if the content is constantly being updated?
In her monumental audio-video installation entitled AD NAUSEAM, Tania Mouraud, a French contemporary artist, confronts the visitor to one of her favorite themes: the destruction by Man of his own history. The destruction of tons of books in a recycling factoring is shown on three giant screens. Unsold, irrelevant, or out of date, those are possible fates for any book that is not worth saving... Today, in the publishing world, a new solution is being developed to avoid the costs of printing and recycling books: the system of Printing on Demand. POD is a technology and business process in which copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order has been received, allowing books to be printed singly or in small quantities. While this system has been an established one in many other industries, “print on demand” developed only after digital printing began, because it was uneconomical to print single copies using traditional printing technology such as letterpress and offset printing. Therefore, with self-publishing platforms, such as Lulu or Blurb, the problem of update no longer exists; you simply need to directly update your
book, and send the new pdf. A noticeable book, currently available on the POD platform Lulu, would be Dear Lulu by designer James Goggin and the students of the faculty of Design at the University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt&Prof. Frank Philippin. Dear Lulu was researched and produced to act as a calibration document for testing colour, pattern, format, texture and typography. It provides useful data for other designers and self-publishers to judge the possibilities and quality of online print-on-demand (specifically Lulu.com here). That book is, to my mind, in its essence a great tool that deserve to be kept, but the content relies fully on a digital platform that might evolve and change its printing standards... If Lulu becomes outdated, this book will be too. However, what remains interesting is that if the platform itself must evolve and change, Dear Lulu will stay a witness of a specific aspect, at a specific moment, of the website. Therefore, even if it appears to be relevant only in a certain context, its preservation value lingers as it attests of a precise juncture.
So, other than the problem of updating itself, maybe I should also go back to the very question: why do I want to preserve this writing (in this case, my thesis)? Well, I think that first we can go back to the very definition of heritage conservation, which is about preserving the Human heritage. If, once again, we focus on the example of De Officiis, this book has an unprecedented value, because of its content. Indeed, the book gathers the thoughts of many philosophers that could not be kept in their original forms as time has wiped them away.
And just like with De Officiis, that has been studied and analysed by many thinkers for centuries after it was written (Voltaire said about it: “No one will ever write anything more wise”), the interest in saving texts, researches and studies lies in this notion of sharing knowledge. Basically, we save to share and inform. Exchange, analyse, reanalyse, question each other’s work is how scientists, researchers, philosophers and designers can build up new ways of thinking, new visions on the world.
Today, e-books are being sold with commentaries from authors or well-known critics, some sort of a “director’s cut” for books. However, it is even more interesting to notice that more and more, online writings (mostly online universities courses) are open to notes and comments from people worldwide: debates creating
new ways of thinking can arise within a few hours from all over the planet.
If the question of updates does not necessarily appear to me as an obstacle to preserving a writing, and therefore my thesis, how can I deal with the ubiquitous issue that Graphic design trends represent?
Since the beginning, in the world of Art and aesthetics, we hear about trends. In different ways. In Art, the theory and study of the field would actually not use the word ‘trend’ but ‘movement’. An art movement is a tendency or style with a specific common philosophy or goal followed by a group of artists during a restricted period of time (usually a few months or years). Trend is, most often, a term directly relating to the field of fashion. The definition of that word is as follows: a trend is any form of behavior that develops among a large population and is collectively pursued enthusiastically for a period of time, generally as a result of the behavior being perceived as popular by one’s peers or being deemed “cool” by social or other media24. They fade quickly once the impression of novelty has.
According to this definition, the phenomenon is definitely perceivable in the world of graphic design, as designers create visual material that might sell or promote things and which should be seen and adopted by a large part of its viewers. For instance, nowadays in graphic design, we could say that there is a predominance of “typography only” and rather “pure” lay-outs or maybe a majority of weird low-res and Internet related imagery (already some kind of a revival of the Internet debuts, but we will come back to that notion in a bit). Whereas, in the late 90s, the standard practice was the use of photography and handwritten texts...
The fascinating thing with trends is that they always come back around. In the fields of design this is called a revival: “a renewed attention to something”25. In graphic design, and more specifically typeface design, the revival is very common place. In 2013, it is the rediscovery of a book typeset in “les types Beaudoires” that pushes Thomas Bizzarri and Alain Rodriguez, two French designers, to undertake their digital recreation called Thermidor for the publishing house Le Feu Sacré. Getting their prime material from the past, they created a modern design that fits the contemporary graphic landscape.
To refer to the domain of fashion again, there exists some kind of design that can hardly get out of trend: in fashion we would talk of “intemporels” (timeless items)...
Staying in the French graphic design landscape, uncommon are the designers (and designs) that are “intemporels”. There are few examples such as Pierre
Faucheux (1924-1999), to name but one. He was a graphic and type designer. He is famous for the work he accomplished in the editorial design world since he completely changed the notion of mock-up of a book: he imposed his name in the colophon and substituted to the automated work of the printer a detailed and painstaking page by page and often line by line work. His mastery of typography made the books he designed of excellent sobriety and accuracy. Nowadays, when looking at these objects, they appear to be anything but old-fashioned.
In the field of graphic design, an image, design, layout, that stays and remains through time is either one of which content and visual aspect strike and draw the attention of a large number —then, it becomes, as with a movie, a ‘cult’— or, on the other hand, one that is sober enough but perfectly executed —this would become a ‘classic’.
Eventually, it is to be noticed how just like any content (see paragraph on Dear Lulu), trends are filled with clear-cut contexts. And just like any content, written, filmed or recorded, these visual trends use and reuse information gathered from the age it is created in. Therefore, as well as the contents and updates question, I think that trends are in no case a problem towards preservation and lasting value of graphic design since, in the same way Graphic designers are, they are nothing but witnesses of their time.
To conclude this research, I will remark, first, that the long History of printed material proves this medium has come from far, which should let us induce it will keep on lasting especially since the knowledge and mastering in book and print conservation goes on improving.
Second, the fast development (and therefore, short History) of the Digital era did not kill the book, unlike the expectations of many, but actually managed to complement it. And somehow, this long awaited new technology has also shown flaws in the matter of preservation of data and on an environmental level...Also, this very fast evolution of the Digital allows us to doubt that widely spread idea that when you save something digitally it will stay around forever. Where history can give us faith in the future of books, it is less obvious about the future of digital data.
Eventually, I evoked the problems of updates and trends. Nevertheless, both appeared not to be real obstacles to the preservation and sustainability of graphical and textual objects. Anyhow, design whether it is printed or not is already kind of everlasting. If you look at revivals and constant reappropriation of what has been made before, on a larger scale, we could think that the “everlasting graphic design” is actually the practice of it, itself.
So, how can I preserve this thesis? Until we start living in a world where you can get your favorite stories, books, movies, and any kind of content marked directly onto your brain like a tattoo, or that you can immediately access it, within a thought, from your brain to the Cloud, there are many ways I can try to do so:
• Realise a 'precious' edition, worth saving because of its scarcity
• Use longlasting materials (concrete, marble, plumb...)
• Make a large amount of copies and at least a few should survive for a long time
• Send a copy to the National library where it will be archived
• Put a version on a POD platform (therefore I could also update it...)
• Create a digital version; online (html) but also save it on various digital media (in the Cloud, on USB sticks, external harddrive, DVD...)
Of course, in order to keep this thesis, factors such as the quality of writing, the relevance of the topic (within a context) and the aesthetic and material choices of the object remain essential...But one thing stays certain: nothing can now assure me it will last. And if it does, I will never know for sure which technique will have proven to be the most efficient. Only you, people from the future, who found that weird text and decided for some obscure reason to read it, will know.
Also, if graphic design objects cannot physically survive time, as designers, we can at least do our best to produce visual content that is so striking it can survive in people’s minds. This is the way to create a durable graphic design that will last. Maybe not forever, but long enough. Eventually, I wanted to point out to the fact that, still as designers, we are meant to spread a message, an information, more or less valuable. Somehow, this information is part of Mankind’s knowledge, in a very specific context that might not be accurate anymore in a day, a month, a year or more. However keeping it, saving it, this might help shape what will happen next.
Anyways, as Étienne Hervy said in his mail: “what follows depends on the readers among whom I include librarians, conservators, collectors.”
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p.4 Hofland, B. (1822). Tales of the Manor, University of Columbia. In: Dans les livres scannés par Google, la trace de ses travailleurs invisibles, http://rue89.nouvelobs.com/rue89-culture/2014/11/13/les-livres-scannes‐google‐trace-travailleurs-invisibles‐256021
p.6 Picture from personal footage.
p.14 Gutenberg, J. (1455). Bible, Mainz. In: Highlights from Bridwell Library Special Collections: Bibles, http://www.smu.edu/Bridwell/SpecialCollectionsandArchives/ Exhibitions/BibleHighlights/Gutenberg
p.18 Gautier, T. (1834). Mademoiselle de Maupin, Paris. In: Google Livre, Mademoiselle de Maupin (Complete), http://books.google.fr/
p.26 Guedson, P. (1867), A French Examination hand-book. In: Google Livre, A French Examination hand-book, http://books.google.fr//
p.30 Schedel, H. (1493), Schedelsche Weltchronik. In: Wikimedia Commons, File:Schedelsche Weltchronik d 272.jpg. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schedelsche_Wel
p.38 Chabanon, È., King, E., Exertier, N., E.B., Morlighem, S., Office ABC, Royer, É. & Gourmel, Y. (2015). Specimen, Lyon: Le Feu Sacré. In: Thomas Bizzarri & Alain Rodriguez, http://www.bizzarri-rodriguez.com/
p.42 Picture from personal footage.
Detail from (N)EVERLASTING the experiment
© 2015, The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague
p.45 Burke, J.W. (1909). Macon Cook Book.
Wesleyan College Alumnae, Macon, Georgia.
p.47 Picture from Back to the Future (1985),
directed by Robert Zemeckis
The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague