Sunday, March 7, 2010

Helfand and Drenttel Reading Summary


Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel from Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, and Steven Heller,

Looking Closer 5: Critical Writings on Graphic Design, Volume 5 (New York: Allworth Press, 2006)

The article begins with the explanation that science is the reason for revolutionizing the world. Then why is current design practice focused on aestheticizing pre-existing ideas instead of learning to create new ways to visualize new ideas?

Design has taken the surface value of scientific imagery and vocabulary and appropriated it into new designs, however these efforts are seriously lacking any formal understanding of the underlying science. One example used in the article is the recent graphic reinvention of the Periodic Table. The authors refer to this style of design "Faux Science" and offer a scathing review of the current trend to inject meaningless branding content into serious form.

"The appeal of information design is that it offers instant credibility. This is the domain of numbers and bullets and charts and graphs, ordered lists that visualize the obvious. Information design is rational and authoritative, classified and controlled to within an inch of its life: everything in its place and a place for everything. Label it information design and it looks serious. Number it and it looks scientific. But it’s a false authority, particularly because we buy into the form so unquestioningly."

Current design has become nothing but appropriation and artifice. Referring to Hegel and his method of thesis/ antithesis/ synthesis model, we easily locate the scientist, who migrates from observation to analysis to discovery. Meanwhile, the designer catalogs the everyday, making thick, wordless books with pictures that jump the gutter.

Helfand and Drenttel conclude that science is an enormous opportunity for designers, and that design schools should think outside the box (teach music theory, second languages, and science), so that the education of designers becomes new knowledge, rather than sticking to old ideas.

Overall, I think this is an excellent articles, and reveals truths about current design education - so much work is thinly veiled artifice.

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