From crisis to criticality
Graphic design criticism is in a weakened state, as designer Anne Bush suggests, commenting on the post-critical condition of the design discipline and the relation with its persistent identity crisis. She points other possible strategies for criticism, such as exhibition making via Forms of Inquiry (2007), although notes its bifocal view that “detached criticism from history”. Design researcher Peter Buwert proposes what ‘criticality’ can mean in graphic design, following the tradition of the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, using the concept of defamiliarisation. He argues that “we habitualise what is familiar in order to function day to day, and through this a vast chunk of our living becomes automatic.” Designers have an obvious responsibility in shaping the processes of habitualisation in contemporary society and therefore, a critical attitude towards the way we design can potentiate and expose “ways in which things could be different.”
Buwert’s introduction of criticality paves the way for the essay by the designer Jan van Toorn. The latter alerts that “the choice of a political subject or a critical position does not in itself make the message political. It is the way the message is intended and shaped that is by definition political.” This essay is followed by the proposition of allohistory as design method by the historian Noel Waite. While most of the discourse and practice related to the term ‘speculative design’ is concerned with visions of the future, Waite suggests the use of graphic design in the production of alternative histories as a method for designers to study history, in order to critically understand the present and design the future. Practice is then put at the service of the examination of history through a case study of the recent redesign of New Zealand’s flag.