Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Anti Design Festival

From the point of view of graphic design and communication, the printed matter of the Anti Design Festival – ‘default’, ‘punk’, ‘hand-made’ – are signifiers of another time: a time of few resources and even less money. A problem that ADF hardly suffers. At first this was surprising, later turning to a feeling of an opportunity missed.

In its first year and based in Redchurch Street in East London’s uber-hip Shoreditch, ADF was launched on the back of what its founder, Neville Brody says is, ‘25 years of cultural deep freeze in the UK’. Unfortunately it appears that the same can be said of the ADF publicity, with its stark use of black, yellow and red colours and the ‘default’ typeface ‘OCR A’ by Adrian Frutiger.

The use of the outsized ‘X’ or ‘cross’ along with white out of black, yellow out of black and yellow out of red set text, all off-grid, adds to the ‘not sure that I care you read this’ aesthetic. It looks more like the work that a designer thinks Brody would like than something Brody himself would have produced now or even in the 80s.

Before Desktop Publishing (DTP) a fairly significant level of capital was required to produce printed matter of a certain ‘standard’. Political journals, newspapers and magazines of anti-establishment leftists looked the way they did because of a lack of resources rather than any intended design aesthetic.

In this respect, the DTP revolution was to a degree a great leveller. It was only redundant, ‘workerist’ politics that demanded that the reading matter of left-wing organisations should look like the ink would still come off on the readers’ hands, long after it was ever necessary.

In the 1990s the first magazine I designed, Living Marxism, was criticised for looking ‘too commercial’ and ‘middle class’. The idea being that left-wing politics should be ‘packaged’ to look like it was from the poor and struggling.

Of course, this was nonsense then just as it is now. Implicit in this attitude is the problem of style over substance, the reversal of the priorities of the graphic designer. The idea that ‘left-wing’ or ‘anti-establishment’ publications should look cheap or even hand-made today only exposes this further.

The substantial questions of design and culture laid out by ADF printed matter deserve and perhaps demand a graphic language to suit, one that is of the moment as opposed to the past. It wasn’t good enough then. That it is seen as relevant today is ironically – anti-design!

Originally posted on the London Design Festival blog

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