This entry begins my book discussion series. I have recently bought a few design books and I’m finally going to sit down and take a critical look at my field. These entries will deal with the issues in these books and hopefully strike discussion among those who design and who look at design. 

Looking Closer 5 was required reading for my Visual Communications III class in college. Now unfortunately, like every other senior, I was not as dedicated to work as I should have been. Therefore, I read very little of this book, thinking I knew enough about my field to get by. And I did…mostly. But after I graduated and started my career, I felt (and still do feel) that there was so much about graphic design that I didn’t know. And so here I am, a year later, rereading the very book I loathed to carry around. At the time there were too many words and not enough pictures. But today, when I am surrounded by images, I long for words.

Steven Heller opens Looking Closer 5 with a very real issue – the realm of blogging. After reading the very first sentence I thought, “Uh oh.” I knew exactly what this would be about. Whether or not blogging has helped or hurt the field of design criticism. He states that most bloggers get their information from other blogs or internet resources, and that there is less and less focus on printed essays and materials. Rather, we visual thinkers are looking to a place that is bright and laced with images. And yet we lose a level of sophistication and professionalism with blogs. I will be the first to admit that what I discuss here is not my best writing, nor my nicest. I am guilty of having more to say about bad design than good design. However, I feel good that I am actually looking deeper into what I do.

The problem with design criticism, Heller says, is that “unlike art, architecture, or film there still is no codified critical approach that can be universally adopted or rebelled against.”  Most critics follow guidelines related to art. Rules about thirds and golden ratios and color theory. I think the issue is that graphic design is a very psychological field as well as an artistic one. We rely solely on the viewer of our art, not what it means for us. And everything we do has a message and a purpose that the viewer interprets in various ways. The average person knows that red suggests anger or lust, and that a tilted square in the corner of a page can suggest tension. These are all psychological observations.

So then, do we look to psychology for help with establishing rules of design? It is an interesting thought, combining these two fields. And what of the future of design criticism? Will books and journals become obsolete? Is internet blogging another example of a 10 year old with Photoshop?

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