Graphic Discourse

Avant-garde communication design tends to be both a rich field of creative experimentation and the subject of heated debates.

Avant-garde communication design tends to be both a rich field of creative experimentation and the subject of heated debates. Though the self-reflective field of books about graphic design can be knotty territory, the books below champion moments of divergence and modes of practice that might be able to redefine the limits of graphic design as a critical discipline. 

Jurriaan Schrofer 1926-1990 Written by Frederike Huygen Designed and edited by Jaap van Triest and Karel Martens Valiz, 424 p., $46

“Better to blunder with conviction, than to have lived without conviction,” wrote Schrofer in a 1953 diary entry. This existential idea embodies the career of the Dutch designer, who, though best known for his experiments in typography, was a veritable polymath with a career that is difficult to pin down. Huygen’s rigorous monograph, as heavy on text as on images, is the first to chart all of his professional activities, from PR consultant to photo-book pioneer. He was also an art director and advertising strategist, an educator, a member of Total Design, and, eventually, an artist involved in public policy. Schrofer was particularly aware of a designer’s potential as a mediator and strategist. “He stood not so much for a style or an artistic position, as for a stance of active participation in the process of creative decision making,” the author says. Schrofer’s circuitous path reveals a figure working through the interstices of design practice to tackle “the Janus faces of graphic design as a profession.”

The Debate: The Legendary Contest of Two Giants of Graphic Design Foreword by Rick Poynor The Monacelli Press, 184 p., $24.95

It’s not often that we can witness two giants in their field dispute the very grounds of their discipline. With the recent transcription of a 1972 public debate between notable Dutch graphic designers Wim Crouwel and Jan van Toorn, we can sense what is at stake in such an exchange. With firm and considered answers, the two discuss their philosophies: Crouwel argues on the side of extreme rationality and objectivity, while van Toorn supports design’s subjective powers. The influence of this discussion was farreaching— the two poles establish a spectrum along which most designers can position their practice. Along with the complete transcription, the book includes a section placing the debate in its historical context and an appendix of the designers’ work. The latter, in particular, provides major insight. The two designers’ projects for similar—and often the same—clients are placed side by side, and the visual impact of their philosophies becomes readily apparent.

Space for Visual Research: Workshop, Manual and Compendium Edited by Markus Weisbeck, Michael Ott, and Mathias Schmitt Designed by Enno Pötschke Spector Books, 184 p., $29

Unusual graphic marks created by foam blown through a respirator, a formal experiment in composition using only label stickers, and scanned toothbrush bristles that begin to resemble colorful landscapes—these are some of the provocative images created at the Space for Visual Research, a workshop founded at the Bauhaus University, Weimar, in 2013 as a laboratory for the development of new imagery. Much in the spirit of the original Bauhaus school, students devise experiments predicated on the scientific method to explore the potential of abstract imagery. The radical visual worlds that they develop train the sense of sight, a trait that is the foundation of any design education. The book is a catalog, a cross section of the laboratories’ works in progress, and a manual. The preparation of each experiment is meticulously recorded, and the addition of a material index makes it possible for anyone to customize and reproduce them.

What, You Don’t Know Grapus? Written by Léo Favier Designed by Léo Favier Spector Books, 224 p., $23

Many people know nothing of Grapus, a graphic design collective that emerged following the political upheaval of 1968 in France. A group of graphic artists began making posters for the French Communist Party and quickly established a practice with the intent of creating politically and socially conscious images. The group was active from 1970 to 1990, an intense period of experimental production that completely did away with any existing graphic design rules. The book assembles accounts from 26 members who were part of the collective at some point, creating a vivid history of the group’s dynamics and working methods. Color reproductions of posters created for different clients and campaigns reinforce the impact that images can have in conveying political messages, an idea that is as relevant today as it was back then. As a reintroduction of Grapus to the contemporary scene, the book succeeds in making the group’s vibrant voice “part of the action today, drawing on their energy for sustenance.”

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