Design in Context – The beginning

Here I shall be writing up a very concise summary of the notes I took in the first lesson I had on the Design in Context module I am studying at the moment.

What is Graphic Design?

  • Visuals produced for a purpose.
  • Commissioned by a client with a specific message for a particular audience. (Could be argued this definition is too close to fine art)
  • A continuation of fine art, that branched off in its own direction.

So what separates Fine Art and Graphic Design?

  • Fine Art can sometimes be more expressive and individual.
  • Graphic Design is mass produced. – This comes from Gutenberg originally with the moveable type system he invented.
  • Some would say that Fine Art is there to pick out what people miss.

Over the course of the history of Graphic Design that I will be looking into, there are key issues, known as discourses, that I shall summarise below. Discourses are often built upon binary opposites, something I learnt about last year.

Technological Advancements:

  • Vellum, the animal skin from calves, used to be used as paper, but it can’t be mass produced, meaning a new material was needed. The Chinese invented paper, and eventually this idea was bought over to the Western World.
  • Ink was also required that was wet enough to print, but dried enough not to smudge.
  • Lithography was another example of an advancement, using a stone with a smooth surface to print.

Machinery vs. Handcraft:

  • An design style such as Arts and Crafts went against the grain of the current time, which was the Industrial Revolution, wanting a return to craftsmanship, with people making high quality design with the materials they had available to them.
  • Art Nouveau started to use machinery more, with some designers using new materials such as cast iron (Paris Metro stations for example) and by the time of Modernism, new materials and machinery was commonplace it seemed.

Rural vs. Urban:

  • In the period of the Industrial Revolution, there was a general belief that the country was pure, green and innocent, while the city was dark, bad and evil.
  • It was believed that your morals were in danger in the city so therefore going to the city was believed to be a danger.
  • Of course, the countryside was regulated by the seasons whereas the city was not, and when mechanisation for agricultural land came as a result of the new factories producing machinery, this made many unemployed, which in turn increased the numbers of people who had to go to the city in order to make a living.

Design for Society:

  • Design that focuses on improving a situation for people.
  • Design that is sustainable and environmentally friendly.
  • Modernism was an example of this, as modern architecture helped people.

Modernity vs. Historicism:

  • Modernity was very much about looking to the future, for new ways of doing things, some design movements such as the Bauhaus took this as a chance to look at the function of something, and if it was good, then it was good design. Form was function to these movements. The philosophy was that all designers should work in order to benefit society.
  • Historicism was very much about looking back to the past and thinking how good things were, and then carrying these themes forward into that current timeframe, meaning that progression is slow. The focus here for designs were more on fine art an example being Pre-Raphaelite art.

Realism vs. Illusionism:

  • What is real? Something that exists in a format.
  • What is realism? More of a trend than a movement, that gives you a look at something real, even if not presented. Hand in hand with modernism when looking at new subjects.
  • What is illusionism? Where something looks real, but isn’t.

Modernism vs. Realism:

  • What is modern? Well, it is to be current and up to date with the surrounding world, making use of what is available.
  • What is modernity? Living in the modern world, state of being modern.
  • What is Modernism? Putting modern thoughts into artwork and selling it to others. It was made up of avant-garde people who were distrusted and mocked by regular people, but over time a lot of what they pioneered becomes the normal.

Decoration vs. Simple and Want vs. Need: I would say these two discourses tie together to a point, so my summary will look at both together.

  • Want is often focusing on decoration and material possessions, such as the bourgeoise people wanting more possessions to reflect their social status.
  • Need is seen in areas such as Modernism, where only the essential things that are needed are included within the design.

There were other areas covered in this lesson, such as looking at specific pieces of artwork, but I just wanted to note these key points. Next up will be some notes from a presentation that I collaborated with someone for to do with Charles Rennie Mackintosh.