Our present through a kaleidoscope

First published on Norma.

This opinion shares an argument made by Jeffery Keedy in an article on Emigre 47 (1) about the designer of the postmodern era. Graphic design’s ephemeral nature, he wrote, has practically disqualified it from serious consideration as an important cultural practice. Looking at much of today’s graphic design, he continued, one would have to conclude that graphic designers are twelve-year-olds with an attention deficit disorder.

After 22 years, 2020 has offered a territory never explored so far in which to express those "currents of pop mediocrity". Even with a delay of a couple of months compared to the actual beginning of the tragedy (it didn’t really matter as long as it stayed in China), as soon as the COVID-19 epidemic started to become relevant in the western world, a response from the self-referential design bubble came quite quickly.

“Graphic designers get creative to circulate helpful advice during coronavirus outbreak” (2), 10 of the best examples down the page. “See famous logos get reimagined for the coronavirus age” (3): thousands of likes. “A colouring book for the quarantine” (4): fun for the whole family. “In response to the crisis, seven creatives draw rainbows” (5). It seems that the entire professional sector has responded to a sort of call to colored crayons. A crusade formalized in the proliferation of images that invite you to stay at home, wash your hands, flatten the curve and maintain social distancing.

Sensing the irrelevance of their profession, these designers rush to invent galleries of posters (6) to print at home and hang on the window or share on social networks in order to see their usefulness justified outside of being a service of capitalism like many others. Since these projects never leave the restricted environment of the graphic designer who frequents instagram, that much sought after confirmation is nothing more than a series of reciprocal compliments between colleagues.

No poster will save lives, none of these images "will make a difference". One has to choose a nice font to remember people to wash their hands and to make them forget that 30% of the planet has no access to running water. The maximum utility of these projects is that the authors stayed at home in designing them. Indeed, the very possibility of staying at home is a privilege that many other categories of workers cannot afford. Everything else is just an awkward self-promotional attempt.

It doesn’t matter, the agenda is firmly in control: "through strong and concise images we can convey a sense of responsibility in a global crisis", the only alternative point of view is abstention. From a profession that dreams to have a cultural, social and political impact, we would expect real utopian plans to reorganize a future society that no longer has to fear that a pandemic could collapse its financial castle in the sky.

Instead we are offered open source plastic masks (7) and gifs of humanized viruses: graphic design’s job certainly isn’t discovering vaccines but the representation of the present that is found daily on Instagram is even more disappointing. Anyway the puritanism of the politically correct requires to measure one's morality in making a fake poster, so we did it too.

(1) Mr. Keedy, "Graphic Design in the Postmodern Era", Emigre [emigre.com]

(2) Natashah Hitti, "Graphic designers get creative to circulate helpful advice during coronavirus outbreak", Dezeen [dezeen.com]

(3) Lilly Smith, "See famous logos get reimagined for the coronavirus age", Fastcompany

(4) "Un colouring book per la quarantena", FrizziFrizzi [frizzifrizzi.it]

(5) Ruby Boddington, "In response to the crisis, seven creatives draw rainbows to signify this storm will pass", It's Nice That

(6) [stay-sane-stay-safe.com]

(7) "foster + partners shares template for a reusable face visor to aid the fight against COVID-19", DesignBoom