Good graphic designs serve as a check against the loss of history.

April 10th, 2014, 1am

That’s what I thought while I was translating a wonderful lecture on the history of American graphic design by Ian Lynam. Until I got this honor, I had little knowledge about the subject. Almost none. I would say, “Oh, I love Paul Rand (photo),” but had no idea what his position in the history of graphic design.

Ian’s lecture, in such a concise and humorous way, taught me that there are convictions and philosophies in creating effective typography, logos, and fonts. Many graphic artists have reflected on what their predecessors did and then created new designs that sustain or reinvent a sense of how we are and who we are, that is, “history.” Let us remember how much and how often graphic designs mediate our daily lives.

Hannah Arendt’s definition of history is useful here. Robert Harrison, a literary historian, summarizes it nicely for us: “While ‘labor’ secures our survival, ‘work’ builds the worlds that make us historical. The historical world, in turn, serves as the stage for human ‘action,’ the deeds and speech through which human beings realize their potential for freedom and affirm their dignity in the radiance of the public sphere. Without ‘action,” human work is meaningless and labor is fruitless” (“Gardens,” 9-10).

Which means, bad graphic designs can deprive our freedom and dignity. Actually, we are experiencing such depravity—the loss of history—everyday, everywhere, at metro stations, hospitals, city halls, and other public spheres. A lot of bad typographies make us feel dumb. But because we lack the knowledge of graphic design history, we can’t identify and analyze our own jarring experience.

David Wade, Chris, Thomas, Samuel and 3 others said thanks.

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Shu Kuge

Woodcut printmaker

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