Graphic design is engulfed in self-disillusionment

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Is the golden age of graphic design over?

What is so wrong with graphic design that leads a giant of the profession to lose all interest in practising any further?

Speaking recently to John Gorham, I was concerned to discover he had ceased working due to his disillusionment with what the industry has become over the past few years. He told me that, for him, the love affair with design is over. His disaffection is completely understandable.

The depreciation in creative standards, the virtual absence of design philosophy, intellectualism, clarity of communication (and humour) in graphics has left the profession in a woefully impoverished state. What has happened to true substance, ideas and integrity in design?

The mind-numbing emptiness and crass pursuance of shallow novelty that pervades almost every area of graphics today, has engulfed the profession in self-disillusionment. Happily admiring itself as it parades vacuous drivel as a substitute for genuine skills and ideas, much of contemporary graphic design has been seduced into wearing its own version of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

The late Paul Rand would often despair at the aimless direction he saw design taking, “self-indulgence gone mad… and as for those crazy alphabets… design is in big trouble”. In his book Design, Form and Chaos, he aptly described the prevailing situation: “The absence of restraint, the equation of simplicity with shallowness, complexity with depth of understanding, and obscurity with innovation, distinguishes the quality of work of these times.”

As for Abram Games’ famous maxim “maximum meaning by minimum means”, this has been reversed by a form of graphic design which advocates minimum meaning by maximum means.

Having steadily developed and matured over most of the 20th century, the latter years have seen the industry regress into a stupor. Ideas, design’s very breath of life, have been suffocated by perpetual mediocrity and highly questionable work.

The profession urgently needs to wake up and re-examine its core principles and fundamental purpose. At best, it is in danger of being trivialised into nothing more than a service trade peddling add-on decorative effects.

Is this the future of graphic design? That such an eminent and talented practitioner as John Gorham is made to feel redundant by his own profession is a shameful and regrettable state of affairs.

The solution to the problem is, as it has always been, with great design based on ideas, to be found within the problem itself.

Patrick Argent


N Yorkshire YO11 2TL

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