GraphicDesign& / the Design Museum / Wim Crouwel

GraphicDesign& is a new social enterprise celebrating the connectedness of graphic design with all areas of the wider world. Set up by Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright, GraphicDesign& will publish books and papers, host events and use its online presence to explore how graphic design is always inextricably partnered with something else’ (GraphicDesign&).

Tonight I attended  GraphicDesign&’s inaugural event at the Design Museum coinciding with A Graphic Odyssey, a retrospective of the work of dutch graphic designer Wim Crouwel. The programme for the evening went like this:

Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton explained why the classification of knowledge matters, saying that ‘the greatest difficulty of writing is the classifying of ideas…the right classification brings material to life…modern politics is about classifying people…and meritocracy is the grandest system of classification’. Botton concluded that ‘we don’t know where people belong, people defy classification’.

Anthony Burrill

Graphic designer Anthony Burrill told us, among other things, that he grew up on a farm in The Pennines.

Collaborative double-sided poster by Alain de Botton and Anthony Burrill

Burrill collaborated with Alain de Botton creating a poster that ‘addresses stereotypical perceptions of seemingly opposing approaches to life’ (GraphicDesign&).

Vanda Broughton's 'Rabbits in a landscape'

The framework that underpins GraphicDesign&’s projects is the Bliss Classification system. Vanda Broughton, Honorary Secretary of the Bliss Classification Association, introduced us to the system and used the analogy of rabbits in a landscape to demonstrate labeling and tagging. Broughton explained that Henry E. Bliss (1870-1955) who gave his name to the system, was a scholar who started to formulate a theory of classification. Bliss was an atheist who sang in a church choir, and he didn’t believe in private ownership of land, so he would often take groups of children on picnics in the grounds of private estates.

Modelling the information domain using facets

Bliss Bibliographic classification system

GraphicDesign& stickers

Just before the interval we were asked by GraphicDesign&’s founders Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright to classify ourselves by applying stickers to ourselves. We then took in the delightful view of Tower Bridge from the Design Museum balcony.

When entering the Design Museum we were asked to complete a GraphicDesign& questionnaire. As we were sitting through the first part of the event, social scientist Nikandre Kopcke and graphic designer David Shaw were behind the scenes interpreting the data from the questionnaires. They presented their findings to us, albeit briefly as they had not had time to fully interpret the data. Kopcke summed up the complexities of statistics and surveys by quoting Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) ‘the only completely consistent people are the dead’.

To conclude the evening Design Museum curator Margaret Cubbage explained the process of curating A Graphic Odyssey and the importance of Wim Crouwel’s work. We then had a chance to view the exhibition, however the event had overrun and visitors to the exhibition need more than ten minutes to walk around and see the exhibits in any detail.

GraphicDesign&’s basic premise is a case of ‘the emperors new clothes’. Graphic design is a profession that is historically and logically service-based, facilitating the dissemination of clients’ messages. Clients are usually in sectors other than design. So in order to make GraphicDesign&’s proposition credible, it has adopted the Bliss Classification System to provide a framework for exploration and investigation. The system in itself is a refreshing departure from Dewy, and lends itself well to GraphicDesign&’s cause, but for the project to be credible it will need collaborators who have the capacity to challenge conventional thought. Those who have the caliber of Alain de Botton will serve to not only ‘celebrate the connectedness of graphic design with the wider world’ but will negotiate, as yet, unexplored territory.


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