The following piece shares Jeffery Keedy’s reasoning from Emigre no. 47 1 on designers in the post-modern era. Keedy says graphic design, due to its ephemeral nature, was virtually excluded from being seriously considered a cultural exercise of relevant importance. Looking at most examples of graphic design today, he adds, you might come to the conclusion that “designers are twelve-year-olds with an attention deficit disorder”.
After 22 years, 2020 offered unexplored territory to express that “trend of mediocrity in pop”. Albeit a couple of months later than the actual beginning of the tragedy (although we gave it little thought as long as it stayed in China), once the COVID-19 epidemic became relevant at the global level for the Western world, the self-referential bubble of design soon came up with its answer.
“Graphic designers get creative to circulate helpful advice during coronavirus outbreak”, 2 followed by 10 top examples. “See famous logos get reimagined for the coronavirus age”: 3 thousands of likes. “A colouring book for quarantine”: 4 fun for the whole family. “In response to the crisis, seven creatives draw rainbows”. 5 It’s as if the entire professional industry answered a call for crayons. A crusade formalised in the proliferation of images that invite everyone to stay home, wash their hands and practice social distancing.
Sensing the irrelevance of their profession, designers rush to invent entire galleries of posters 6 to print at home or share on social networks, in order to justify their usefulness beyond the capitalist service they provide like many others. Since these projects never leave the limited ecosystem inhabited by graphic designers who go on Instagram, the sought-after confirmation comes down to nothing but circlejerking among colleagues.
No poster can save lives, and none of these images will “make the difference”. It seems like a nice font is enough to remind us to wash our hands often, and forget that 30% of the planet has no access to running water. The greatest benefit of these projects is that their authors stayed home to work on them. Actually, the option to stay home is a privilege workers in many other industries don’t have. Everything else is just a clumsy attempt at self-promotion.
It doesn’t matter, the general point of view is univocal and compact: “Through powerful and telegraphic images we can convey the sense of being responsible in a global crisis,” 7 and abstention is the only possible alternative. From a profession that sees itself as having cultural, social and political relevance, one might expect actual utopian projects – for the reorganisation of a future society that no longer would have to fear that a pandemic might make its economic house of cards collapse.
Instead, the proposals we receive are for open-source plastic masks 8 and GIFs of humanised viruses: and while graphic design is not expected to discover vaccines, the portrait of the present that we see on Instagram every day is disappointing. Politically correct puritanism requires us, in any case, to measure our morals by creating a fake poster – so we did it too.
Mr. Keedy: “Graphic Design in the Postmodern Era”. Emigre 47, 1998. (emigre.com)↩︎
Natashah Hitti: “Graphic designers get creative to circulate helpful advice during coronavirus outbreak”. Dezeen, March 2020. (dezeen.com)↩︎
Lilly Smith: “See famous logos get reimagined for the coronavirus age”. Fast Company, March 2020. (fastcompany.com)↩︎
“Un colouring book per la quarantena”. Frizzi Frizzi, March 2020. (frizzifrizzi.it)↩︎
Ruby Boddington: “In response to the crisis, seven creatives draw rainbows to signify this storm will pass”. It's Nice That, April 2020. (itsnicethat.com)↩︎
“Stay Sane / Stay Safe”. (stay-sane-stay-safe.com)↩︎
Natashah Hitti, ibid.↩︎
“foster + partners shares template for a reusable face visor to aid the fight against COVID-19”. Designboom, April 2020. (designboom.com)↩︎