Double Vision: Graphic Design Criticism and the Question of Authority

If the strength of a discipline can be measured (at least in part) by the quality of the criticism that it attracts, then the field of graphic design is arguably in a weakened state. The reasons for this are varied. Working within the general public ambivalence toward criticism, some commenters have attributed the absence of critical dialogue in graphic design to insufficient remuneration, the disappearance of traditional publishing venues, and the paucity of educational programs dedicated to training critics (Bierut, 2013 & Triggs, 2011). Others have blamed changing political and cultural conditions for the waning climate of critique (Poynor, 2005 & Heller, 2002). Distanced from the political upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s as well as the culture wars of the late 1980s and 1990s, graphic design criticism appears to have lost its urgency as well as its subject.

What is curious about this post-critical condition is that it is concurrent with an expanding public awareness of design’s impact on everyday life. Although predominantly invoked for the sake of commercial gain, it is still the case that design, as a value as well as an activity, is increasingly a part of civic consciousness. Given the gulf between such awareness and the silence that has enveloped the graphic design profession, it seems fair to ask whether designers have a thorough understanding of the reasons behind criticism’s meagre beginnings and contemporary decline.


Essay originally published in Modes of Criticism 2 – Critique of Method (2016).

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