Michael Bojkowski is designer with over 10 years of experience working with studios, publishers, and independent clients in London, Melbourne, and Amsterdam. Michael has also written extensively about design for various publications including his own Press Publish/ok interrupt imprint. Previously art director and designer at Grafik magazine, he is currently art director for (inside) & Architectural Review Asia Pacific at Niche Media. He speaks here about emerging trends in visual communication, and the forces that are pushing design forward.
Over the last decade or so we’ve seen, firstly, people disconnecting from traditional media. Just think about the number of people you know who happily admit to not having a telly, or the number of refuseniks you know who still buy all their music on physical formats, or friends who always seem to see the latest films before they hit the cinema (only to go watch them again in the big screen).
We’ve also borne witness to a fractured media landscape that has quickly evolved, where nothing replaces anything any more. Vinyl records now sit comfortably next to mobile phones chock full of mp3s, which in turn sit next to streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio and the like – and that’s just a quick look under the hood of the music industry. All these formats, products, services and ideas now jostle for our time-poor attention. Whereas in the past there might have been a sense of progression from one format or technology to the next, now there is chaos.
Just as the media landscape has splintered into numerous outshoots, so too has the role of the graphic designer. Never before has graphic design covered such a wide gamut of creative endeavours. From the more traditional brand-savvy, identity-led designers, to digital experts such as ‘designer-developers’, to art directors and editorial bods (Hi!) bridging the divide caused by recent print and screen melees, to artisan-esque type designers, to screen-based designers creating work for broadcast and online. The list is becoming infinite.
And whilst there are still many full-service design studios that seek to encompass all that being a modern creative agency entails, there are also many designers, young and old, finding the space to specialise. And not just in a particular design practice, but also in a particular aesthetic approach, sifting through the vast history of visual culture so easily accessible online.
Previously, all-encompassing aesthetic movements such as Swiss Modernism in the 1960s or American Vernacular in the late 80s/early 90s, to name but a couple, would blow through design practises around the world, transforming the design landscape of whole continents. Nowadays we’re used to visual trends and motifs coming and going so quickly that a splintered approach starts to make sense. For example, take a look at the work of print studio such as The Hungry Workshop with their unique take on vernacular design, then flick over to somewhere like Hunt Studio, whose publication work is resolutely ‘modern’ in the strictest definition of the term.
For this particular article, we’re going to look at one particularly visually rich trend that might have the longevity to make a lasting mark on our visual landscape and help define the times we live in.
The Aesthetics of Mistakes.
Anti-design is one of the terms that has been attached to an emerging aesthetic that investigates, and often celebrates, motifs and techniques that were previously considered naive or simply ‘bad’. A group of young designers have been picking at the bones of early digital design, unearthing neglected visual nuggets and unpolished gems that have been previously consigned to graphic design’s morguefile. In this respect the trend is not dissimilar to the renewed interest in American vernacular design as parodied on the Hipster Branding tumblog. The significant difference is the period of graphic design development being referenced, specifically the point at which the Apple Mac emerged as a key tool for designers and ‘desktop publishers’ – a role that has all but died out now.
Misfires, mistakes and oddities created during this period, such as ‘badly’ distorted and/or skewed type, Photoshop bevel effects, awkward use of white space and spartan image arrangements as well as previously unpopular elements such as the use of ubiquitous, default typefaces like as Arial and Brush Script are now being investigated and celebrated for their unique qualities, as well as being bent out of shape to create demented new forms.
Prime examples of designers employing this new aesthetic include Joel Evey and his recent work for Urban Outfitters, Valdemar Lamego’s editorial design for Parq magazine, Michael Willis’ work and curation for Panther Club and Metahaven’s various politically charged, and often impenetrable, project work. On our home turf designers such as Uriah Gray at Coöp, Jordan Dolheguy at Totem Visual and Tomas Shanahan and Kevin McDowell at Confetti are all forging ahead with their own investigations into early digital graphic design in order to create new styles and visual motifs.
Also running alongside this is a renewed interested in early website, broadcast, and other screen based design from the same era, whose motifs include crudely drawn icons, flashy animated gifs and jagged 3D renders, such as those deployed by Daniel Swan in collaboration with artist LuckyPDF, or designer/illustrator Brian Metcalf who is part of a collaborative project known as Phone Arts which seeks to create new art forms using mobile phones exclusively.
The roots of this new aesthetic can also be found in Finnish agency, Kokoro & Moi’s guest design for Print magazine back in 2010, where they went as far as manipulating arabic letterforms to appear as English, in the process, eliciting heavy criticism from certain readers not used to having such a radical design agenda thrust upon them. It’s also evidenced in editorial design by art directors such as Yue-Shin Lin at Lodown magazine and in Mike Meiré’s intentionally ‘ugly’ redesign of 032c.
Blame the interwebs and services like ffffound, Designspiration, Pinterest or, most notably Tumblr, for the spread of this new form of ‘graphix’. There’s no dodging the fact that the idea of the ‘graphic designer’ as jack-of-all is slowly being consigned to the annals of history, whilst the emergence of a hit squadron of designers, with a burgeoning range of expertise, and a plethora of aesthetic approaches are fast becoming the norm rather than the exception.
- Joel Evey
- Küng Design Bureau
- Panther Club
- Uriah Gray
- Totem Visual
- Daniel Swan
- Confetti Studio
- Lucky PDF
- Brian Metcalf
- Phone Arts
- Kokoro & Moi
- Lodown Magazine
- Meire und Meire
- Schick / Toikka
- Travis Stearns
This essay was first published in desktop #289
Enjoyed reading this feature? You can find more like it inside desktop magazine. Take a look at this month’s subscription special.