Question: “I’ve been designing for 20 years and over that time my thoughts on design have changed a lot. I want to know your thoughts on ‘communication design’ and how they’ve changed since the young, naive Dizzee days.” – Greg, 42
Answer: It was 1952. I’d just finished my training at the Royal College of Art and I was looking for work in London.
We knew what design was then, Greg, but no one had a term for it yet. Alan Fletcher was right. You had to be out of your mind to be a designer in the 50s. There we no jobs around.
We knew where design came from. We knew that, at the start of the twentieth century, it came into being as a by-product of creating mass-produced goods and new kinds of media that required printing and circulation on a big scale. Mass poster design to communicate political and social agendas. Book design, not just for the elite, but for the working class. New typefaces, new schools, new epochs. And the easiest way to do this was with text and images. We were invented because there was a commercial and social need for it.
And as time went on, we had to innovate. We still do. We have to ask new questions about technology, materials, and a social cause. After viewing Saul Bass’ title sequence for Man With the Golden Arm, director Otto Preminger asked, “Why can’t it move?”. So animated title sequences followed. When Germano Facetti was gifted the job of re-branding Penguin Books, he asked why each book cover couldn’t be typographically consistent. Cue a new era of economic success and cultural value in literature. And when Steve Jobs asked what a world could look like when a computer became user friendly… well, I think all designers know the answer to that one.
We haven’t changed, Greg, because we still believe in the same thing. Stanley Morrison believed design is a service to society. He’s damn right. The industry is moving at a rapid rate. And as we focus less on products and objects and more on social services, we’re now asking less questions about our self expression like, “can designers be artists?”, and instead asking, “Why do I have a right to exist?”. Whatever the answer is, design will always be responding to the now.
Dizzee Askall will be delivering a weekly lowdown on your design-related dilemmas. If you’re in need of advice or answers, send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet@sdhelvetica with the hashtag #dizzeeaskall