An eloquent look at the importance of a design’s story:
“Reflecting current linguistic theory, the notion of ‘authorship’ as a personal formal vocabulary is less important than the dialogue between graphic object and its audience; no longer are there one-way statements from designers. The layering of content as opposed to New Wave’s formal layering of collage elements, is the key to this exchange. Objective communication is enhanced by deferred meanings, hidden stories, and alternative interpretations.” -Katherine McCoy and David Frej in Typography as Discourse, 1988.
Almost twenty years have passed since Typography as Discourse was first published, but the meaning of story within design has remained the same, becoming adapted to new technologies (think of the digital realm and the explosion of opportunity that occurred between the early 90′s and now). There is now a more active participation through dialogue between the material (static or interactive) and the viewer. There is a valuing of aesthetic and of function.
Michael Rock’s “The Designer As Author” plays the Devil’s advocate to Cranbrook graduates McCoy and Frej’s belief in authorship. He thinks that the “romantic theory of self expression” as seen through the DIY movement of Ellen Lupton or J. Abbot Miller as disruptive to the purpose of design. (Heller). Once everyone begins to author their own material, the discipline’s standards are put at risk, not a dramatic stretch from the reality of design amongst the crowd sourced phenomenon presently. From this, I begin to question how can or should a designer tell a story through work, and whether the story of the design process or the result that the design aims to produce? To actively engage and discuss helps draw new ideas and expand older ones within the design field, both in practice and in design theory. Stories will allow interdisciplinary insight to design and make designers more informed and thus, the field more respectable.
A call-to-action by Ellen Lupton is to “create a social network that questions and illuminates everyday practice – making it visible” (Heller). A well-crafted design story communicates not only to the present, but to the future in how to appropriately read design. That is why articles like Katherine McCoy and David Frej’s survive and others, perhaps equally valuable, but not provided with an adequate story, are forgotten.
Armstrong, Helen. Graphic Design Theory: Readings From the Field. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. 2009.