Graphic Design Roots


This is the expo text accompanying the exhibition 'Unfollow the leader', February 2023 at the Showroom of Saint Lucas Antwerp. The expo features the work of BA1 graphic design students, within the 'Graphic Design Roots' assignment.

In 2001, Birkhäuser Verlag published the book “Obey the Giant. In it, British design critic Rick Poynor examines the growing resistance of graphic designers to commercial rhetoric. He also clarifies the insights of First Things First, a manifesto written by British designer Ken Garland in 1964 (and revised by Rick Poynor in 2000). Now, two decades later, everything is extremely on edge, social media is cannibalizing our human connections and directing our visual ability. AI (artificial intelligence) meanwhile falls head over heels.

What does graphic design anno 2023 mean? A pleiad of form and formalism? Studying graphic design within an academic context, however, also means gaining insights into its history. Knowledge makes us better understand current trends, opens new perspectives and keeps us critical of everyday delusions. The history of graphic design (and visual visual culture) is rich and well documented, albeit often piecemeal, as the discipline has long been seen within art history as an “appendage” to the visual arts. On the other hand, graphic design still appears to be very much subject to an economic/commercial logic, although it has since gained a more autonomous position, which in turn has come under pressure. ‘Unfollow the leader’ reads like the sparring partner of ‘Obey the Giant,’ a critical obstruction to leadership, dominant thinking and the omnipotence of media, influencers and likes. This is precisely why there is a case to be made for an unbiased view, away from calibrated patterns of thinking, whatever they may be. By analogy with what the word roots means, innovation, besides being necessary and urgent, is therefore grounded. First-year students in the graphic design studio make this kind of “shared memory” visible. Each academic year this is expanded upon with the next group of students.

The Graphic Design Roots assignment started in 2008, was followed up at the Ringling College of Art and Design (Sarasota, USA) in 2010, and has been reintroduced for the last three academic years. The forms of work vary, from readers over wall newspapers to posters, flags, objects to memorabilia. This expo shows a selection of these.

Hugo Puttaert (2023), professor and studio coordinator of graphic design.

Read the Dutch version
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