In order to know where you’re going, you must first know where you came from.1

While researching the historical precedent for the practical assignment a common debate was arising; the importance of graphic design history, and not only to students but to the entire practice.

I have always approached design alongside a historical background, throughout my undergraduate I was taught in this manner and it is something I will maintain with the MA.

To quote Philip Meggs, late author of “The History of Graphic Design”;

I’ve always believed the purpose of teaching design history is to strengthen studio education and professional practice.2

Learning the historical context associated with any discipline is essential, I agree with Meggs on this. Without sufficient background knowledge it is difficult to know where to progress. Personally I find the context and work behind an idea interesting, the reason I prefer to look at sketches opposed to the finished piece.

Similarly Craig Oldham in a question and answer session with Eye Magazine identifies the importance of graphic design history within his own practice before expanding on the necessity for design students.3

Back in the spring of 1992, Bridget Wilkins questions the importance of graphic design history, taking an opposing standpoint to Meggs and Oldham.

Why do we need it, and do we even need it?4

Wilkins does raise some important and interesting points. She identifies the old fashioned approaches to graphic design history as lacking, claiming their linear fashion often neglects core issues.5

Wilkins’ Eye Magazine article is relevant into the failure of communication associated with graphic design history. She partially blames the available exhibition of graphic design, claiming that it is lacking in comparison to the other, predominantly more tactile disciplines and therefore neglected in a museum or gallery context.6

Wilkins also identifies that if we were to explain why something looks the way it does opposed to what it looks like we might have a better chance of engaging audiences in graphic design history.

Within an article for the AIGA, Michael Golec previously supported Wilkins, suggesting that we are neglecting further audiences for graphic design history, beyond that of the graphic design student. I believe Golec and Wilkins have identified a problem which not only affects graphic design but other design related disciplines. For the audiences of the practical aspect of graphic design, it is difficult to understand why a designer may operate in a particular way if they are not aware of the historical content. Leading back to the abundance of bad design accepted, even appreciated by clients.

Golec, M. J., 2004. The History of Graphic Design and its Audiences. [online] Available at: <http://www.aiga.org/the-history-of-graphic-design-and-its-audiences/> [Accessed 5th December 2011].

Finally Oldham believes we are just not educating deep enough. He states;

“I don’t think there is enough design history taught in design education. And what is taught tends to be glossed over. I worry that a designer may know the names of David Carson, Neville Brody and Stefan Sagmeister, however I think they’d struggle to recognise Muller-Brockmann, Piet Zwart and Jan Tschichold. They are probably even less familiar with designers such as Brownjohn, Glaser, Lubalin and Crouwel.”7

Looking at this list I completely agree. I can easily visualise the work of Carson, Brody and Sagmeister, I can also manage Müller-Brockmann, Zwart and Tschichold but I will be researching into Brownjohn and Crouwel following this post!

In conclusion; graphic design history does have a valid purpose in graphic design practice.

It is important to establish a basis from which to build your practical skills, however it is important to ensure you do not stifle creativity by over prescribed historical teaching.

Glaser, M., 1976. I Heart NY Concept Sketch. [electronic print] Available at: <http://wwwimg.bbc.co.uk/programmes/i/512xn/e1e1f2be74af8775851d843aad0ab77186f62d19.jpg> [Accessed 5th December 2011].

Glaser, M., 1977. I Heart NY Campaign. [electronic print] Available at: <http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/images/episode/b00yb2v8_640_360.jpg> [Accessed 5th December 2011]

Further Reading

Charchar, A., 2010. Good Designers Learn From History. [online] Available at: <http://retinart.net/graphic-design/good-designers-learn-from-history/> [Accessed 5th December 2011].

References

1. Anon, n.d. cited in Anon, 2011. Interview with Sourdough Slim. [online] Available at: <http://westernfolklifecenter.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/interview-with-sourdough-slim/> [Accessed 5th December 2011].

2. Meggs, P., n.d. cited in Golec, M. J., 2004. The History of Graphic Design and its Audiences. [online] Available at: <http://www.aiga.org/the-history-of-graphic-design-and-its-audiences/> [Accessed 5th December 2011].

3. Oldham, C., 2008. Craig Oldham, Eye Magazine, [online] Available at: <http://www.eyemagazine.com/opinion.php?id=159&oid=435> [Accessed 5th December 2011].

4. Wilkins, B., 1992. No More Heroes. Eye Magazine, [online] Available at: <http://www.eyemagazine.com/opinion.php?id=35&oid=175> [Accessed 5th December 2011].

5. Wilkins, B., 1992. No More Heroes. Eye Magazine, [online] Available at: <http://www.eyemagazine.com/opinion.php?id=35&oid=175> [Accessed 5th December 2011].

6. Wilkins, B., 1992. No More Heroes. Eye Magazine, [online] Available at: <http://www.eyemagazine.com/opinion.php?id=35&oid=175> [Accessed 5th December 2011].

7. Oldham, C., 2008. Craig Oldham, Eye Magazine, [online] Available at: <http://www.eyemagazine.com/opinion.php?id=159&oid=435> [Accessed 5th December 2011].

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