Superunion to Hope to Nope: the biggest design moments of 2018

We asked designers to tell us what they think is the most momentous thing that happened in the industry this year.

Matt Baxter, co-founder and creative director, Baxter and Bailey

“Perhaps it’s my fuzzily festive brain, but many of 2018’s momentous design events feel like dim and distant memories. Did the supertanker Superunion really set sail in January this year? Did the Guardian really go tabloid in the same month? Blimey, that feels like eons ago. Looking back, the design story that has stayed with me the most wasn’t exactly what you’d call good news at the time. In July, you’ll probably remember that 30 designers pulled out of the exhibition Hope To Nope at London’s Design Museum. The exhibitors withdrew their work in protest at the museum’s decision to host a private event for a global arms company at the venue.

While the whole debacle was pretty dispiriting, it did illustrate something hugely positive and – I’d say – momentous. At a time when the popular narrative suggests that design is increasingly superficial, an aesthetically-focused, politically-neutral, Pinterest-ready beauty parade, this news story proved that this notion is nonsense. It was a timely reminder that really good designers are an opinionated, bolshy lot who want to make work that has purpose and impact. And they’re happy to hold venerable institutions to account. So, here’s to more stroppy design debacles in 2019. *Stomps off.*”

Katie Cadwallader, designer, Supple Studio

“It’s surely got to be the studio super-merger resulting in Superunion at the start of the year, sparking ‘David and Goliath’ debates across the design land (and most memorably, on Twitter). Satellite studios are absolutely killing it, no longer needing to orbit around the capital but standing with gravitas on their own two feet. Design communities are constantly growing across the UK – the North, filling up the calendar with new festivals, and the South, repping D&AD training and flying in stellar speakers from across the world. Despite the merger swallowing up some of the historically most alluring studio options for clients, there has never been a more exciting time to graduate as a designer. The choices are far and wide and, as yet, neither David nor Goliath has claimed victory.”

Ben Tallon, freelance illustrator and graphic designer

“For me, as 2019 and political chaos looms, it was once again Damon Albarn who wonderfully captured the mood of the moment with The Good, The Bad and The Queen’s Merrie Land album. The melancholy at play in the music and lyrics is brought to life by Tommy, the unsettling puppet who fronts the music videos, live sets and overall design flavour of an album that embodies the underlying apprehension and alienation that has been felt not just in the creative industries, but across the nation and beyond. Here’s hoping we can all channel Albarn’s ability to respond so succinctly to the bullshit all around us.”

Tessa Simpson, designer, O Street

“Tricky one – I don’t know if I’d describe it as momentous, but I feel like this year has been a pretty good one for visibility of women in design, and in general. The anniversary of women’s suffrage meant an increase in exhibitions and events based on women’s rights, both past and present. Many exhibitions displayed archival material like the protest posters created by women in the early 20th century, displayed at Cambridge University Library, but there was also a big drive to celebrate women’s voices now, for example with the Manchester Art Gallery ‘feminist takeover’ in March. This year seems to have prompted a real championing of female designers and artists across press and media — which will hopefully have an echo effect for the years to come, too.

Also Adobe Illustrator finally added a ‘trim’ tool so that you can view your artboards cropped. The buzz of excitement from that is still echoing around our studio.”

Paul-Jervis Heath, principal, Modern Human

“2018 highlighted how important ethics are in design. As designers, we need to think more carefully about the impact of our work. Design continues to be complicit in throwaway culture, the invasion of privacy, discrimination and the erosion of democracy. With their mantra of moving fast and breaking things, big technology firms have indeed broken some fundamental things and continue to erode human values. To move forward we need to adopt a new form of humanism in design. We need to get closer to the people we’re designing for, build genuine empathy and choose our projects wisely. We need to move deliberately and fix things in 2019.”

What do you think is the most momentous thing that happened in design this year? Let us know in the comments below.

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