Blunt: Explicit and Graphic Design Criticism Now

April 12–14, 2013
Old Dominion University, Norfolk Virginia

Graphic design is concerned about artifice, taste, and radicality—separately and in concert. Artifice is about how design is made and the product’s relationship to veracity. Taste engages that which is proper to represent and discuss. Radicality is a highly prized aspect of making that also engenders apprehension in the field. Taken together, these three constructs shape the ways that graphic design is perceived and interpreted. Has the diffusion of design activity, the loss of an overarching, singular narrative, eliminated the possibility of radicality in design? In an age of “post” and permissiveness, does taste matter? In regard to criticism, is design telling the truth to itself?

This conference invites contrarian statements to prevailing wisdom on graphic design practice, education, and criticism. This conference takes the position that a critical literature is a powerful, positive enterprise that stimulates new thinking and making and yet, while new sanctioned programs of criticism emerge, a body of critical literature is still largely unwritten and under championed. In order to conceptualize a critical practice, this conference proposes that we foster an awareness of—and need for—the conceptual tools, techniques and vehicles of critical practice by writing back at graphic design, by challenging views and assessing possibilities.

The conference featured an exhibition, Mount, of graphic design artifacts from the collection of co-organizer Kenneth FitzGerald, and a selection of prints from Hatch Show Print. A workshop with Jim Sherraden of Hatch was also presented.

Images from the conference by co-organizer David Cabianca are available here.


Planning Committee

• Ivanete Blanco
Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia USA

• David Cabianca
York University, Toronto ,Ontario Canada

• Kenneth FitzGerald
Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia USA

• Jiwon Lee
Kookmin University, Seoul, Korea

• Jason Tselentis
Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina USA


Keynote Speakers

Rick Poynor
What Does Design Criticism Want? (And Who Wants Design Criticism?)
Rick Poynor is a writer, critic, lecturer and curator, specializing in design, photography and visual culture. He is Visiting Professor in Critical Writing in Art & Design, Royal College of Art

Michèle Champagne
On Criticism as Fun Mechanism in Pain Relief for Designer Bullshit
Michèle Champagne is a Canadian designer and writer who works in branding and editorial across media. Her expertise lies open source dynamics–from crowdsourcing for dialogue in That New Design Smell magazine,to branding for Mediamatic Travel, a creative social network pinned to an open source platform.

David Stairs
See What I’m Sayin’? A discussion about critical language in design
David Stairs teaches Graphic Design and Design History at Central Michigan University.
He has twice received Fulbright grants (2000-2002 Africa; 2012 India) and is the joint recipient of a Sappi Fine Papers Ideas That Matter grant (2003).



Practice and Theory:
Critiquing Design Activity and Design Activity as Critique

The principles and standards of professional practice have dominated the interpretation and theorizing of design activity. The profession, however, defines only one (though substantial) area of design activity. Questions which might be addressed during this conference include: Are there other means of reflecting upon practice that are more effective in understanding the broad range of design performance? What is the relationship of criticism to graphic design practice? Is there a critical role for the design project whose intent is housed in the space of the gallery or museum, instead of the public sphere? Can practice itself be interpreted as a form of critical, writerly activity? Can a design question existing conditions and propose alternatives? This session seeks alternative views of design practice, examples of “alternative,” less (or un-) celebrated design activities that arise out of challenges to established practices.

Alternative Modalities for Making: Directions for Critical Graphic Design Research
Sandra Gabriele, Associate Professor, Department of Design, York University

Checkpoint: Reevaluating Graphic Design as (Not) a Critical Social Practice
Keon Pettiway, PhD Candidate, North Carolina State University

The Unbearable Liteness® of Design
Daniel Jasper, Associate Professor, Graphic Design Program, College of Design, University of Minnesota

Digital What?! Graphic Design and the Digital Humanities
Amy Papaelias, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, Foundation Art Department, SUNY New Paltz

Looking for Ourselves: Graphic Design as a Critical Practice
David Cabianca, Associate Chair, Associate Professor, Department of Design, York University

• [Panel] Making Conversation: How Do We Talk About the “Craft” of Design?
Denise Gonzales-Crisp, Professor, College of Design, North Carolina State University
Elizabeth Guffey, Professor of Art and Design History, State University of New York
Louise Sandhaus, Faculty in the Graphic Design Program, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)
Teal Triggs, Professor of Graphic Design and Associate Dean, School of Communication, Royal College of Art
Alice Twemlow, Chair, MFA Design Criticism, School of Visual Arts

Evaluations of Our Past

In a 1991 article for the AIGA Journal, “Is There a Canon of Graphic Design History?” design historian Martha Scotford challenged the “unintentional” canon being constructed in graphic design history after examining five popular books in the field, including Philip Meggs’ A History of Graphic Design. Other critics have taken to task the frameworks used and interpretations made by erstwhile design historians and their texts. Are those challenges still pertinent? How is past design activity valued and what is of value? What figures or movements have been passed over but deserve notice? This session invites papers that address past transgressions and transgressors, conducts reassessments, or present new discoveries.

Global History, Regional Knowledge: Sign Writing and Visual Culture in Southern Africa
Arden Stern, Teaching Fellow in the Department of Humanities & Sciences, Art Center College of Design

After Babel: Visualizing the Territories of Graphic Design
Steve Rigley, Lecturer & Co-ordinator for Graphic Design, Department of Communication Design, Glasgow School of Art

Letterpress: Looking Backward to Look Forward
Alexander Cooper, Letterpress Tutor/ Technician, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London
Rose Gridneff, Lecturer, BA (Hons) Graphic Design, University of Brighton
Andrew Haslam, Academic Program Leader for Visual Communication, University of Brighton

Language as a Tool

Graphic design is a public practice. It can tell us about our culture: where we are, where we are going, what we want to be. The critic is there to read beyond the surface and speculate on the implications. This session calls for papers that explore the writing of design criticism, discussions that open up possibilities for new writing practices and also re-think the relationship between criticism and critical practice. Can we approach a critical writing that is entrepreneurial, immediate, and projective? Might it use the critic’s voice as a way to enter possibilities? Can criticism reach beyond laudatory assessments to present an insightful accounting of the social, cultural and political forces reflected in the work itself? Is criticism’s primary role to actively support or contest the verities of professional practice or is it an opportunity to intensify, alter and expand our discipline? What effects are rapidly evolving digital technologies and social media having on the role of the critic?

• [Panel] Graphic Design on the Verge: Evolving New Critical Strategies for Addressing Graphic Design
Laura Forde, art director and writer
Aileen Kwun, writer, and studio manager, Project Projects
Angela Riechers, art director, writer, and educator
Bryn Smith, designer and writer
Moderated by Alice Twemlow, Chair, MFA Design Criticism, School of Visual Arts

Zine from Afar: Design Writing in India
Teal Triggs, Professor of Graphic Design and Associate Dean, School of Communication, Royal College of Art

Why and How Select Approaches to Critical Writing Should Foster Deep Knowledge Creation in Visual Communication Design
Michael R. Gibson, Associate Professor and Graduate Programs Coordinator, The University of North Texas

The Stranger that Lives in the Basement: Satire as an Under-used Strategy in Design Criticism
Alice Twemlow, Chair and co-founder of the MFA Design Criticism program, School of Visual Arts; PhD candidate in the History of Design program, Victoria & Albert Museum/Royal College of Art, London.

Criticism: How to Write It
Ellen Lupton, Senior Curator, Contemporary Design, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum / Director, Graphic Design MFA Program, Maryland Institute College of Art

Ultimate Career Crit: External Reviews of Graphic Design Faculty
Steven McCarthy, Professor, University of Minnesota

Five Conversations on Graphic Design and Creative Writing
Maura Frana, Teaching Assistant, Pratt Institute
Leigh Mignogna, Designer
Liz Seibert, Designer

Critical Writing Strategies to Improve Class Critiques
Jillian Coorey and Gretchen Caldwell Rinnert, Assistant Professor, School of Visual Communication Design, Kent State University

Looking to our Future

“Institutions tend to reproduce themselves,” especially in education. In what ways might graphic design curricula reflect new writing practices? How do we introduce educational practices that offer a more nuanced or sensitive consideration of the cultural implications of design? Where should we be focusing our energy as instructors in a discipline with constantly evolving technologies, while simultaneously needing to attend to professional skills that in many ways have not fundamentally changed since typesetting first emerged? How can writing take into account a global fluidity, reflecting the changing demographics of the students we now teach? This session welcomes papers that look to criticism as away to engage our future.

• [Panel] Re-imagining Design’s Relation to the World
Steven Skaggs, Professor of Design, Communication Art & Design Program Head
Kate Lamere, Assistant Director, East Carolina University’s School of Art and Design
Thomas Ockerse, Professor, Rhode Island School of Design
Gunnar Swanson, Associate Professor, East Carolina University

I JUST WANT TO MAKE THINGS. Defining the Problem: What Is the Role of History in Graphic Design Education?
Dori Griffin, Assistant Professor, Department of Art & Design, University of Southern Mississippi

DeZombies and the Coming Design Apocalypse
Eric Benson, Associate Professor of Graphic Design, University of Illinois
John Jennings, Associate Professor of Visual Studies, (SUNY) Buffalo

SPEAK LAB: Using Social Change Storytelling to Teach Design Agility
Peter Scupelli, Assistant Professor, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
Stacie Rohrbach, Associate Professor, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

Designing Our Educational Experience from the Bottom Up
Sara Alway-Rosenstock, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, Marietta College

Advancing Our Practice: Educating the Reflective Design Practitioner
Angela Wang, College of Design, University of Minnesota

Why Isn‘t Anyone Listening? I Must Be Talking to Myself: Engagement, Intellect and Imagination
Roymieco A. Carter, Director of the Visual Arts Program, Director of University Galleries, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University


Peer Review Readers

• Alex DeArmond
University of Wisconsin-Stout

• Andrea Wilkinson
Katholieke Hogeschool Limburg/KHLim

• Audra Buck-Coleman
University of Maryland

• Bobby Campbell
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

• Brooke Scherer
University of Tampa

• David Cabianca
York University

• Gary Rozanc
Columbia College Chicago

• Gerry Derksen
Winthrop University

• Isabel Meirelles
Northeastern University

• Jeff Bellantoni
Pratt Institute

• Jon Sueda
California College of the Arts

• Liz Throop
Georgia State University

• Mitch Goldstein
Hypothesis, Ltd., Baltimore

• Roymieco Carter
North Carolina A&T State University

• Sandra Gabriele
York University

• Sherry Blankenship
Ohio University


Original Website Design

• Sejin Choi, Hyungmin Kim
Kookmin University, Seoul, Korea



By aigaeducators
Published April 15, 2016
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