Typefaces, Design,

Texts:

Reviews, 613 words, 2002
First published in Items, No. 1, 2002
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Restart: New Systems in Graphic Design

Latest in the stream of graphic design publishing, Restart: New Systems in Graphic Design has an ambition to be more then just a coffee-table book. The educational title suggests that the book would like to stand in the shelves next to Josef Müller Brockman’s Grid Systems in Graphic Design or Graphic Design Manual by Armin Hoffman.

Systems in graphic design are a fascinating tool for designers; many believe that designing a system applicable to design is superior to playing with forms and composition. Creating a set of rules for a self-regulating system implies involving an element of chance, and avoiding making actual design decisions. “Designers like systems”, says one of the authors Emily King in the introduction. “There is nothing like a system for creating a sense of control.” The systems of graphic design that are explored in this book represent significant new moves in visual communication.

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The London-based duo of editors Christian Küsters and Emily King are well-aware of the current trends of publishing and offer more text than usual to explain the context of the project. Each piece is presented on a double spread with a text explaining underlying principles of the project.

Design history, the main theme of the introduction, is reduced to a clash of Modernism and Post-modernism, presenting graphic modernism as ‘a formal system whose aim was to create seamless visual uniformity, to process disparate information into a homogeneous product’.

The selection of designers is balanced between the London-based and international graphic designers, expanded by excursions into the field of fashion, technology and arts. Next to the selected projects featured in the book (including designers such as Irma Boom, John Maeda, Tomato, Paul Elliman, Bruce Mau or Peter Saville) the editors commissioned five different design collectives to create special contributions, to suggest a wide scope of graphic design today. While in principle it seems to be a good idea, in fact this is the weakest part of the book. They are lacking context in which the projects can be seen, and raise questions as to how they relate to the established relationships of graphic design. The editors struggle to explain what ‘non-commercial design’ is, suggesting that instead of being compared with art it should be viewed just as ‘graphic experimentation’.

There is a sense of the authors’ allergy to decorum, and their belief in the superiority of systematic approaches in graphic design. Christian Küsters is also the designer of the book and his treatment of the text follows the same systematic rules as discussed in the introduction.

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The type in the book is set in Univers according to a grid system derived from Adrian Frutiger’s 1957 diagrammatic display of the typeface. Frutiger arranged the 21 versions of the font family in a grid relating the weights to each other to give an impression of steadiness and homogeneity. The placement of images and text is derived from DIN A4 systems of proportions.

Cover and divider images by Sølve Sundsbø are made by a system of their own, rather incomprehensible, but designed by itself without any aesthetic considerations, which seems to be the intention of the authors.

These recyclings of Modernist ideas and forms are trying to reflect the aesthetics of a technological world. It seems that the continuous interest in Modernism’s aesthetic gamut indicates a feeling of exhaustion after the visual abundance of the last decade, rather than a need for more ‘honest’ forms. Whilst the ‘new systems’ are creating an illusion of objectivity, in the end, the functionally connotated technology aesthetics of system graphics became just another style, equivalent to the others. Univers is among the hippest fonts now, visible in both corporate brochures and house party flyers.

Photography, Magazine.