In the video “Reflections on Learning,” Malcolm McLaren (presenting at the 2009 Handheld Learning Conference in London) discussed the notions of karaoke culture versus authenticity with regard to graphic design in the 21st century. According to McLaren, our modern world is “no more than a karaoke culture and provided us with the opportunity to revel in our own stupidity.” He asserts that “in a karaoke world you are free from any real responsibility beyond that moment of performance” Authenticity is the opposite, “It’s about discovering something that is real that can only be achieved through a struggle” and “it makes that messy process a romantic and noble pursuit.”
How do McLaren’s ideas relate to your creative process?
My creative process, however evolving the past few weeks, has always been rooted in research and brainstorming. The word “struggle” implies a process that is very challenging and difficult. Some projects, when the creative goal is particularly challenging, the ideation process can be more of a “struggle” … I will research, sketch, write, design concepts and narrow until I arrive at those 3 or 4 ideas that I want to present to my client. I don’t share the same outlook as McLaren on that struggle, in that I don’t really “romanticize” it.
In what way(s) do you think these ideas relate to Philip Meggs’s definition of the essence of graphic design?
In his epilogue to A History of Graphic Design, Philip Meggs states:
The tools—as happened so often in the past—are changing with the relentless advance of technology, but the essence of graphic design remains unchanged. That essence is to give order to information, form to ideas, and expression and feeling to artifacts that document the human experience.
The need for clear and imaginative visual communications to relate people to their cultural, economic and social lives has never been greater. As shapers of messages and images, graphic designers have an obligation to contribute meaningfully to a public understanding of environmental and social issues. Graphic designers have a responsibility to adapt new technology and to express their zeitgeist by inventing new forms and new ways of expressing ideas.
The key to understanding the correlation between McLaren’s ideas on authenticity and the definition of the essence of graphic design asserted by Philip Meggs, is in Meggs’s statement that “As shapers of messages and images, graphic designers have an obligation to contribute meaningfully to a public understanding of environmental and social issues.”
If we as designers are to “contribute meaningfully,” then we MUST seek authenticity in our work. McLaren points out that authenticity is in “finding something that is real.” In my opinion, the most meaningful designs are those that speak to a truth. And I think that when designs are smart, and dig deeper than the surface message to try to relate to the public in a real way, that they are more effective and produce the best results as well.
On a related note, I feel that as a creative person, I am more fulfilled when I do work that “is meaningful.” When I first started out as an Agency designer and art director, I worked for several firms that primarily serviced casinos. While that type of work is very lucrative, as a designer it was soul-sucking. After a few years, I wanted nothing to do with designing the next “buffet ad” or “slot promotion!” I think it was when I got a brief for a Martin Luther King Day Slot Promo with the headline, “I have a Dream of winning $50,000!” that I knew I had to move on to other types of clients! And it’s not just casino work, the ad industry in general can be a drain on a creative spirit. I love advertising though and wouldn’t want to do anything else. For me, however, it’s important that I seek out the clients and projects that provide opportunities to do meaningful work so that I don’t get “stuck” in a bad place.