2013: Moments in Design

Published:  January 6, 2014
2013: Moments in Design

While compiling a list of pivotal design moments in 2013, desktop editor Bonnie Abbott enlisted the aid of Clinton Duncan—a graphic designer with a particularly renowned sense of conviction—to weigh in. Below is the transcription of their conversation together as they nut out the events that helped shape the design industry’s 2013.

BA: I guess the first way that we could start putting this list together is to look at the news events of the year, like Margaret Thatcher’s death, or the federal election…

CD: I thought that too…

BA: But I don’t know that there are any remarkable design moments around the election to discuss.

CD: I thought it was all pretty ugly. I am fond of Paul Keating’s quote, “When you change the government, you change the country.” We are now entering a particularly conservative period and that is going to affect everything.

BA: Yes, the commercial expectations of graphic design’s role included. OK, so why don’t we ask ourselves this: what has been the ‘flavour’ to graphic design this year?

CD: I think tech has had a huge influence on design recently. It is as if this year the big technology companies have been the ones responsible for taking design forward. When Apple released iOS 7, I have never seen typography discussed as widely or as much. The way Google has been updating the look and feel of its logos and products and icons, even Facebook, even Microsoft with the new Windows – everything is sharp and flat and typographic and cool. It feels like it has been the tech companies that have defined what is next in visual culture in 2013.

BA: I agree. It was like they took to the challenge of visually updating themselves so enthusiastically that they all ended up looking the same level of slick and cool. There was a huge synchronised jump in the opposite direction of the textured, drop-shadowed, skeuomorphistic styling that has become the norm. And it was so publically noted – I don’t think the term ‘skeuomorphism’ has ever had so much fame.

CD: It’s now all very flat, and the influence of these companies has meant that the idea of having this level of design awareness in a business is becoming a lot more mainstream. It is also broadcasting the power of design to a very broad, very mainstream audience. They are not saying that good design is expensive, or even to utilise good design is expected, but that good design in business is a given.

BA: Let’s put this on the list. ‘Tech pushing design…’

CD: ‘Tech taking the lead.’

BA: You work for Wired?

CD: (Laughs) I’m going to run you through other things I have been thinking about. Because I’m a nerd, I have written them all down and moved them into categories. So another pick from ‘Mega Trends’ is that the whole hipster aesthetic has just taken over.

BA: I thought it had imploded. That hipster-ness had eaten itself.

CD: Yes, it has taken over and become the new normal. I think we mean the same thing… it’s worn itself out. It’s got to that silly point where you see corporate institutions utilising the hipster aesthetic, and you think, ‘Wow… that’s really been co-opted.’ It’s run its course completely now.

BA: I have noticed a few businesses branded clumsily to look like hipster cafés. It’s pretty lame now to bash hipster conduct and style, but it’s bashed itself around too. Perhaps now it’s cool to be lame. Maybe the new Yahoo logo is actually great.

CD: Yes, it was momentarily exciting to read about a CEO who cared so deeply, so enthusiastically about her company’s branding, and then read they spent a whole weekend on it…

BA: (laughs) What else is on your nerd list?

CD: I have a category called ‘Hot or Not’, and in there I thought that Optus was probably the best large-scale rebrand of the year. It must be said that it has been a dry year, however.

BA: There was definitely a lack of shocks when you logged into Twitter in the morning this year. I agree to a certain extent. I disliked it in the beginning, but as it has rolled out I have found it quite attractive, and a timely break from the ‘cute’ monopoly of Telstra.

CD: Yes, when it first surfaced on the website, in a particularly poorly executed form, a lot of people wrote it off. Now, six months later, we can experience it and I have found it quite rich, quite character-driven. It has really changed who Optus is. It’s transformational. So under my ‘Not’ heading, I would place Energy Australia and the South Australia rebrand as equal worst. And on this ‘Hot or Not’ point, I just want to say that I think Paul Garbett of NaughtyFish* and the team at End of Work have done some great work this year. Friend of Mine in Melbourne too.

BA: Friend of Mine really does some incredible work and I have seen some excellent stuff from them this year.

CD: It feels like Sydney has really surpassed Melbourne in the ‘excellent design output’ stakes this year. I don’t normally go in for the whole Sydney versus Melbourne thing, but going to the AGDA (Australian Graphic Design Association) Awards this year, and watching NaughtyFish sweep the floor…

BA: Going through the Create Awards entires for 2013 at the office, I noticed a lot of great work from RE, especially some of the branding work they are doing. The work they did for a Northern Territory business in collaboration with local Indigenous artists was fascinating.

CD: Yes, they have had a great year. They came out of M&C Saatchi and are probably one of the top ‘go to’ brand consultancies at the moment. Their Sydney Pavilion at Shanghai Biennale was amazing.

BA: OK, I’ll add that to the ‘Local Stars’ list. It has been an interesting year at Australian award ceremonies as well – and I can say this because by the time this goes to print, it will be old news, but the overall winner, the ‘Project of the Year’ winner of the Create Awards 2013 is a graduate.

CD: A graduate?!

BA: Yes. All the multiple award-winning, middle-sized studios and agencies entered, and he won. Andrew Robertson from Swinburne. I think that is quite remarkable.

CD: That’s really cool. Melbourne design education is still the best.

BA: Something else I have noted down is the Alan Fletcher archives went online this year. When I was in New York, I saw a tiny exhibition at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) of many of its invitations to various show openings all the way back to the 60s – little slips of paper drawn and printed on and stamped that had been kept in the library. The online version went up at the same time. It was great to see these little pieces of graphic design squirrelled away and protected for 50 years.

CD: Don’t forget Re:Collection relaunched this year too. And the Herb Lubalin archives

BA: Yes. It might be optimistic, but it does feel like there was a certain interest emerging this year in the collecting, keeping and celebrating of archived material this year. I think this should make the list.

CD: Absolutely. It’s also an opportunity to look at this work and not think for a moment that we are better now. Everything is supposed to get better over time, that’s called progress. But design hasn’t!

BA: Let’s get some off the list that I don’t think quite make the list. Skywhale? That made both an industry and public impression. With the usual complaints about the amount of money spent of art projects.

CD: It was a bold choice.

BA: And that might be all. OK – what about the Flinders Street Station redevelopment competition?

CD: I had this down in my ‘Architecture’ section. I felt there was an interesting contrast between that competition and Barangaroo in Sydney. It is about government control, it’s corporate, it’s about big money and it’s opaque and you don’t know why the decisions are being made and everyone seems so pissed off. But the Flinders Street Station redevelopment was social, democratic, transparent. It was engaging and inclusive for everyone. It was interesting and exciting to hear public discourse surrounding it. You want to know the process and the outcomes. Even if the final decision is made behind closed doors between five people, perhaps if the public response swayed one decision-maker just a tiny bit towards a social decision, then that is something. I feel the whole thing was done for the right reasons – the opposite of the shambles at Barangaroo.

BA: I am surprised at your response. But nevertheless, well said, Clinton. That’s going on the list.

CD: (Laughs) Well, I have more… Under ‘Media’ I have Lucy Feagins at The Design Files. Her blog was already very popular, but I think this year it has just blown up and she has become immensely influential. Magazines are full of what was on The Design Files six months ago. I think she may actually set the tone of the contemporary Australian home. Look at how she changed the game for Jardan – because of her featuring their furniture so much, they have been able to move from contracts with interior designers to retail and selling straight to the public.

BA: She is huge and she epitomises the blogger phenomenon. They are so immediate that the publishing world can’t help but fall behind. The high street is at their beck and call. Anything that moves slower is under threat. It’s a shift of power to individuals who can construct an empire from nothing more than their own hard work and being constantly plugged in.

CD: It’s all about ‘The Feed’, Bonnie!

BA: (laughs) It’s on the list, under ‘The Feed’. Something that I would like to mention is the Paddles On! auction that was on recently. I reported it on Desktop; I found it such an important moment in digital arts. The auction house Phillips sold the work of 17 digital artists – although I had a problem with it being called ‘digital art’; I felt ‘internet art’ was more befitting for much of it. Rafaël Rozendaal put up a couple of websites, which were set to be sold at $6000 each. There were animated gifs and YouTube videos. These were pieces that were already free and easy to access and enjoy, and that the collector could never physically hold. Rozendaal’s work came with an agreement to maintain the website and keep it open and free for the public.

CD: It’s like you are buying custodianship.

BA: Ownership becomes far more abstract. Perhaps it is in support of the artist, perhaps in the interest of custodianship, yes. The art world is careful to archive, unlike the graphic design world up until recently. I thought this was incredible because, as the internet matures, it continues to surprise me. Twists and turns are constantly thrown up and people are using it in such creative ways. Then this happened – the internet was suddenly something that directly entered the realm of high art.

CD: I had noticed it in the form of curation that has existed for a while with Tumblr and Instagram. So many times I hear people say, “Yeah yeah, I know it, it’s on my Tumblr.” People can claim the creative credibility of pieces by collecting them. It is an activity that is actually seen as creative, that there is a skill or a craft to it. And, with so much out there now, perhaps that is the purpose of it.

BA: It’s mass editing.

CD: It’s a tool allowing a sense of mass creativity…

BA: What’s next?

CD: I was going to mention the Sydney Design Festival controversy.

BA: How could I forget? I even read about it in international design press.

CD: It was the Australian design community’s first Twitter controversy! I initially wrote the post about the misguided design competition just for my blog, but when Heath [Killen, Desktop’s former editor] published it on Desktop, it really got big. That’s when everyone was on there lodging fake entries. The Powerhouse even called me to talk about it; they were so traumatised by it! It was just naivety, and they really suffered for it. Many of the entries ended up just being crass and abusive, whereas in the beginning they were quite clever and satirical.

BA: I was very interested in the way it unravelled, and there was a good result in the end.

CD: Yeah… I suppose.

BA: The list has reached 10, Clinton!

CD: Well there is just one last thing. I wonder whether 2013 is the year AGDA turned the corner. It’s the year it took the vote as to whether it stays as a not-for-profit or becomes a company.

BA: I think that vote made AGDA so much more present this year.

CD: It at least created the perception that it was listening to what people were saying, and trying to respond. It feels optimistic, like there is something exciting coming in the future. And I’m done!

BA: I’m out too! Now I have to type up notes and transcribe two hours of rambling conversation.

CD: You’re trying to turn this into a list, which we all know is the lowest form of journalism, Bonnie (laughs).

BA: (silence)

CD: I don’t know whether your silence means you’ve taken offence or are just taking notes…


Tech Taking The Lead
Apple’s iOS7, Microsoft and Google shed the frills and embraced flat, sharp typography and graphics to match. Expect to see more as tech leads a change in visual culture and encourages its broad audience to engage with rigorous design processes.

Hipster Graphics Run Their Course?
With the whitegoods store across the road now looking the same as the espresso bar on the corner, the gothics, slabs and needless flourishes of hipster branding are now the new norm. This can only mean their end.

Optus: Best Large Scale Rebrand In Dry Year
Optus’ rebrand grew on us as Energy Australia and South Australia’s rebrand appalled and re-appalled.

Local Stars Shine in 2013
The quality of work done by small studios has rocked the design award ceremonies. Sydney’s Naughty Fish and End of Work, and Melbourne’s Friend of Mine produced work that set off that special, aspirational yearn to be a better designer.

Melbourne Graduate Beats Agencies At Create Awards
The ‘Project of The Year’ winner at the Create Awards 2013 was Andrew Robertson, a graduate of Swinburne. Andrew won the Emerging Talent Category, but then went on to win the overall prize, beating award-winning agencies and studios.

More Graphic Design Archives In The Shelves
Australia’s own Re:Collection was this year relaunched bigger and better. The Alan Fletcher archives went online, along with the launch of the Herb Lubalin Study Centre. Smaller, but no less important archives like MoMA’s print invitations went online too, in Please Come To The Show.

Flinders Street Station Redevelopment Competition
Everyone got involved and had a say. Even if you are not interested in architecture, the amount of social engagement around this project encouraged some awareness of urban planning and public space.

The Feed: Bloggers Blow Up
The very recent, phenomenal power of the blogger is epitomised in Australian interiors and design blog, The Design Files. Run by Lucy Feagins out of her home in Melbourne, The Design Files is now the most widely read design blog in Australia, crashing servers with a single recommendation.

Digit Art’s First Major Auction
Paddles ON!, in collaboration with Tumblr, staged a first-time event at major auction house, Phillips. Seventeen digital artists sold pieces of work – including websites, animated GIFs and YouTube videos – that were already free and accessible to the public, for a total of $90,000. This makes this form of art-making tradable, but is ownership the point?

Australian Design’s First Social Media Controversy
Sydney Design Festival organised a poster competition in aid of promotion for the 2013 program. Open to everyone, the move offended the Australian design community, which argued that in previous years the tender had been offered to professional studios. Building to full controversy, designers logged onto the competition page and posted satirical entries with the message that a design festival should support the design community, instead of crowdsourcing work on the cheap. The competition was closed.

AGDA Invites Change With Vote
Suffering some heavy criticism, AGDA this year offered members the chance to have their say in its structure. The vote invited wide participation, but the results have not yet been publically shared. Perhaps 2014 holds the scoop on this one…

*as of 1st Jan 2014, NaughtyFish rebranded as Garbett Design.

What was missed? What do you think were the defining moments for design in 2013? Share your thoughts below.

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