GraphicDesign& Everything: graphic design and the wider world
In 2011, graphic designer Lucienne Roberts (RSA Fellow and founder of studio LucienneRoberts+, London) and design educator Rebecca Wright (Programme Director, Graphic Communication Design, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London) launched GraphicDesign&, a pioneering publishing house that publishes books and papers, hosts events and uses its online presence to explore the symbiotic nature of graphic design practice. Their first title, Page 1: Great Expectations, was a GraphicDesign& Literature title. Their latest book, Golden Meaning, is a GraphicDesign& Mathematics title and has just been released.
The RSA Student Design Awards set out to demonstrate the societal benefits of applying design thinking in the wider world, so there is no better place than this to explain more about our venture GraphicDesign&. As a young student, I referenced the RSA in developing my ideas about the responsibilities inherent in graphic design. Existing only in dialogue with everything – and therefore everybody – else, it seemed to me to be a highly egalitarian form of visual art. Rebecca now cites the Awards as playing a critical role in helping her students consider graphic design’s interconnectedness more broadly still. But despite inroads, we have both been frustrated that the interdependent nature of our profession is generally not made explicit and it is this that prompted us to launch GraphicDesign&.
From the outset, our motivation was to provide an alternative to the largely peer-to-peer nature of graphic design publishing and debate. GraphicDesign& takes as its premise that one of the most interesting things about graphic design is its relationship to everything else and that there is therefore value in engaging a wider public in understanding the practice and purpose of graphic design. GraphicDesign& is a platform that provides the opportunity to explore graphic design’s ability to speak about and shape the world – and to engage designers and non-designers in this process.
Each project is conceived as a collaboration between subject experts and graphic designers, forging a cooperative and exploratory relationship. Since its inception in 2011, GraphicDesign& has published two books and hosted a number of events. We’ve tackled English, Mathematics and Knowledge Classification and have projects related to Religion, Social Science and Medicine in the pipeline. Each piece is individually commissioned and designed to appeal to the culturally curious and be educationally valuable in the broadest sense.
Page 1: Great Expectations saw 70 designers lay out the first page of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. This text was apt; the orphan Pip imagining the personalities of his dead parents from the styles of the lettering engraved on their headstones. Published in 2012, Dickens’ bicentenary, our aim was to reveal the power typography has to influence and affect the way we all interpret a text and demonstrate how rich and varied this process can be. The comparative nature of Page 1 meant that it was popular as a learning tool, not just for graphic design students to compare and contrast the qualities and tone of typeface and layout but also, we discovered, for students studying English – our literature expert and Dickens scholar Professor Robert Patten of Rice University US, used examples from the book in his teaching on the multiple endings of Great Expectations, to ‘help students think about the opening to which any ending must relate’.
Golden Meaning, our latest book, was edited in collaboration with mathematics writer Alex Bellos, author of bestselling Alex’s Adventures in Numberland and critically acclaimed Alex Through the Looking-Glass. Together we chose the golden ratio as our subject because of its frequent occurrence in nature and long-standing importance to both design and science. We then challenged 55 (think Fibonacci!) designers and illustrators to visually communicate this mathematical concept. In the final book, new works by designers including Hort, Ian Wright, Catherine Zask, Moniker, Kapitza, Bibliothèque and Royal Designers for Industry Alan Kitching and George Hardie tackle the brief with intelligence, style and a generous pinch of wit, employing sculpture, poetry, cosmology and cuisine.
Working with Alex proved particularly satisfying. Not only could he check the maths of some of the more complex submissions, he also had natural sympathy with our central mission. As a popular maths writer he is, as he writes in his introduction to the book, ‘always trying to make abstract ideas accessible and fun’. The contributions to Golden Meaning are by turns intriguing, informing and entertaining and, we hope, persuasive in presenting graphic design as a versatile and valuable medium for piquing curiosity, enhancing insight and extending understanding.
The subject framework for GraphicDesign& is provided by the Bliss Bibliographic Classification system, developed by American librarian Henry Bliss in the 1930s and 1940s. Bliss provides distinct rules that allow for a subject to be categorised by more than one subject, a notion that appealed to us greatly – as did the typographic quirks of the system: in developing it Bliss used every character available on his extensive and rather eccentric typewriter. From philosophers to chemists, anthropologists to economists, psychologists to theologians, we’re open to all possible connections – collaboration is at the heart of GraphicDesign& and we would love to partner with RSA Fellows on future publications. We’re always interested in proposals for future projects, especially from experts who have identified specific instances where they think graphic designers may usefully play a part.
This is a guest blog by Lucienne Roberts & Rebecca Wright
Visit www.graphicdesignand.com for articles and projects.