Talk given at the MACAA conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, October 2016. Here is the abstract:
And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning…
Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. —T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding
The discipline of graphic design is fraught. We chart our ancestry expansively, etching a squat tree with a seemingly infinite number of delicate branches, all straining upward and outward. We ground ourselves in art and architecture, wrap ourselves in literary theory, graft on models from communication and semiotics, employ research on cognition, coding, community-building, chaos theory, cartography, cinema. We apply our wares widely, because not only can the
communications and objects that make up our culture be designed, but so can the services, information streams, organizations, and spaces that we use and inhabit. Design is everywhere, and everything is designed—merely waiting for the Designer to come and make her mark.
But, if everything is design, then what can we keep for ourselves?
This paper will examine graphic design as a means to manage and manipulate information from Gutenberg to our discipline’s attempts to define itself at the turn of the 20th century, to the explosion of design caused by the Internet. It will also briefly explore what might be coming next, from user experience design and big data, to human-centered and social design. Describing the artful dissemination of information through visual form is the flag I choose to plant in the current
vast landscape of our discipline.