Graphic Design:
History in the Making


Christopher Burke A traditional (or maybe just old-fashioned?) approach to graphic design history

Christopher Burke will reflect on the approach he has taken to studying German typography of the early twentieth century. Well-worn methods – such as concentrating on an individual, looking closely at their work and writings, and digging around in archives – are employed to get below the surface of subjects and to examine broader connections. The shape given by an individual designer’s biography is accepted as a useful structural device, although no attempt is made to encompass both ‘life and work’. Burke will also talk about his current work on Isotype, and how this approach serves a subject that is dominated by certain strong individuals, yet could be interpreted as a larger movement.

Christopher Burke is a typographer, typeface designer and historian. He has designed four typefaces (Celeste, Celeste Sans, Pragma and Parable) and written two books, Paul Renner: the art of typography (1998) and Active literature: Jan Tschichold and New Typography (2007). He is research fellow at the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication, University of Reading.

Steven Heller Design History in the Age of Attention Deficit Disorder

Steven Heller’s specially commissioned video presentation will address publishing as a method of writing history, and the need for reflection in an era when speed is of the essence. Because of the many media at our disposal, attention spans are short and fleeting. But isn't that the nature of design? Styles come and go in the blink of an eye. The objects of design become historical artifacts before they’ve had a chance to ripen. Once decades marked periods of influence, now years, sometimes months come and go and so do trends and fashions. Can history be written on the fly? How much of what passes for history in the design field holds up as solid research an analysis? Is all design history merely reflection – for the moment – or is it the foundation for more viable pursuit?

Steven Heller, author and editor of over 130 books on graphic design, satiric art and popular culture, is the co-founder and co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author programme at the School of Visual Arts, New York. For 33 years he was an art director at the New York Times. He currently writes the ‘Visuals’ column for the Book Review and ‘Graphic Content’ for the T-Style/The Moment blog. He edits or contributes to several graphics periodicals. His books include Design Literacy, Paul Rand, Graphic Style (with Seymour Chwast), Iron Fists: Branding the Twentieth Century Totalitarian State, Graphic Design History (with Georgette Ballance) and Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig.

Rick Poynor Is Curating the New Editing?

This lecture will investigate the relationship between editing and curating and the extent to which these practices share methods and aims. It will draw on Rick Poynor’s experience curating ‘Communicate: Independent British Graphic Design since the Sixties’ (2004), ‘Typographica’ (2009) and ‘Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design’ (2010). Paper-based editing is, in many respects, a microcosmic version of curating that potentially allows a greater degree of control and precision. Curating gives the opportunity to organise objects in spatial relationships that can help to illuminate the work and engage the viewer. There is a tendency when dealing with graphic design to believe that the material requires a high degree of supplementary articulation. Poynor will evaluate the possibilities and pitfalls of alternative curatorial strategies.

Rick Poynor is a writer, critic, lecturer and curator specialising in design, media and visual culture. He was the founding editor of Eye magazine and he writes columns for Eye and for Print magazine in New York. His articles, essays and reviews have appeared in many other publications. In 2003, he co-founded Design Observer where he currently blogs. Poynor’s books include Typographica (2001); No More Rules: Graphic Design and Postmodernism (2003); Communicate: Independent British Graphic Design since the Sixties (2004); Jan van Toorn: Critical Practice (2008) as well as three collections of his essays and cultural criticism.

Sonia de Puineuf For a Multidisciplinary History: Zdenec Rossmann, Architect Turned Graphic Designer

Taking the life and work of Czech Zdenek Rossmann – architect by training but typographer by profession – as an example, Sonia de Puineuf will discuss the limitations art history faces when dealing with multidisciplinary, socially-engaged practices, such as those of avant-garde typography. The fact that Rossmann’s career has hardly been noticed in existing overviews of Central European art points to the need for the history of art to be decompartmentalised by including that of graphic design, which itself should integrate not only the work of professional graphic designers but also that of others such as architects and artists.

Sonia de Puineuf was born in Slovakia. She studied at the Sorbonne and the Centre Allemand d’Histoire de l’Art in Paris. She lives and works in France, where she teaches at the Université de Bretagne Occidentale in Brest. Her current research focuses on avant-garde art, graphic design, architecture and urbanism, mainly in Central Europe. She has translated and edited Karel Teige’s Liquidation de l’art (2009), and her work has been published in several issues of Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne.

Alston Purvis Revision and co-writing of the Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, 5th edition

Retaining and contemporising the integrity of graphic design’s first history book – through the necessary restructuring and bringing up-to-date of its 5th edition – has raised numerous questions. Alston W. Purvis will describe his decision-making process, related to issues such as previously omitted geographies, noteworthiness, quality of illustrations, personal taste, relevance, desensitisation, tradition, and over-saturation of information.

Purvis is a Full Professor at the Boston University College of Fine Arts and Chair of the Department of Graphic Design. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and Yale University and from 1971 until 1981 he taught graphic design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague. He is the author of numerous design publications including Dutch Graphic Design, 1918–1945, H.N. Werkman, Dutch Graphic Design: A Century of Innovation, and The Poster: 1000 Posters from Toulouse-Lautrec to Sagmeister. In addition, he is co-author of several books including Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles. He was recently the recipient of the Distinguished Faculty Award for 2010 from the Boston University College of Fine Arts.

David Reinfurt Mathematical Typography

When invited to give the prestigious Josiah Willard Gibbs to the American Mathematical Society (AMS) in 1978, Stanford computer science professor Donald Knuth chose to speak not directly about mathematics, but instead about typography: ‘I will be speaking today about work in progress, instead of completed research; this was not my original intention when I chose the subject of this lecture, but the fact is I couldn’t get my computer programs working in time. Fortunately it is just as well that I don’t have a finished product to describe to you today, because research in mathematics is generally much more interesting while you’re doing it than after it’s all done.’ In his lecture, ‘Mathematical Typography,’ Knuth discussed the typographic evolution of the AMS Journal and his own attempts to realise a computer-automated typesetting system. Ten years later his programming efforts yielded the discipline-standard TeX and its helper program, MetaFont. Reinfurt’s talk will begin where Knuth’s ends.

David Reinfurt is an independent graphic designer, writer and editor based in New York. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1993 and received an MFA from Yale University in 1999. On the first business day of 2000, David formed O-R-G inc., a flexible graphic design practice composed of a constantly shifting network of collaborators. Together with graphic designer Stuart Bailey, he established Dexter Sinister which among others published Dot Dot Dot magazine. David currently teaches at Princeton University and Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

Catherine de Smet The History of Graphic Design and the Graphic Design of Art History

In the field of graphic design, art history is often cited as a regrettable model, subjecting lazy or mindless researchers to the demons of chronology and biography. Yet certain art historians, closer to anthropological or material histories, have been able to apprehend graphic design and its objects, in order to develop new networks of interpretation. But when art history questions its own methods, it cannot undo itself of graphic design, because it cannot think without an analysis of its own editorial methods of transmission. According to George Kubler, ‘the aim of the historian is to portray time’ – a task not possible without graphic design.

Catherine de Smet teaches at the École des beaux arts de Rennes, where she heads the graphic design research team, as well as at the École supérieure d’art et de design d’Amiens. She is the author of two books, Le Corbusier architect of books (2005) and Vers une architecture du livre: Le Corbusier, èdition et mise en pages, 1912–1965 (2007). Her essays on graphic design have appeared in numerous international magazines and catalogues. A selection will appear in book form later this year, published in French by B42 and in English by Occasional Papers.


David Crowley

David Crowley runs the department of Critical Writing in Art & Design at the Royal College of Art. He has particular interests in the history and contemporary practice of graphic design, as well as the art and design of Eastern Europe under communist rule. Crowley writes regularly for Eye, Creative Review, Icon and other design magazines. He has curated exhibitions including ‘Cold War Modern: Design 1945–1970’ (2008–2009) and ‘Sounding the Body Electric: Experimental Art and Music in Eastern Europe in the 1960s’ (2011).

Teal Triggs

Teal Triggs is Professor of Graphic Design and Course Director for MA Design Writing Criticism at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. She is also co-director of the research network Information Environments. As a graphic design historian, critic and educator, her writings have appeared in numerous international publications and books. She is co-editor of the academic interdisciplinary journal Visual Communication, author of The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovations in Contemporary Type Design and editor of Communicating Design: Essays in Visual Communication. Her most recent book Fanzines looks at the history and graphic language of this unique form of self-publishing.

Printing and beyond