Archived entries for Speakers

Annick Lantenois


And Beyond the Forms

The historical differences between national cultures affect our thinking about the relationship between theory and practice, and more specifically about the writing of the history of graphic design. What approach is favoured in France nowadays? And why? What is the relationship between this prevalent approach to historical narrative and current economic conditions? What would be a different story? And why? In other words, what does choosing a certain historical approach tell us about our idea of graphic design?

Annick Lantenois teaches history and theory of graphic design at the École supérieure d’art et design in Grenoble-Valence (France), where she is also co-director with her colleague Gilles Rouffineau of the research group “Il n’y a pas de savoirs sans transmission” (There is no knowledge without transmission). Focusing on the dialogue between history and the issues of contemporary graphic design, her research is aimed at envisaging the potential of critical design. She has written many articles and, most recently, a book entitled Le Vertige du funambule: Le design graphique, entre économie et morale, published by B42/Cité du design de Saint-Étienne.

website vertige-du-funambule

Adrian Shaughnessy


Changing Attitudes to Graphic Design History in the Digital Age

Amongst young designers born in the age of universally accessible interactive media – digital natives – design history has been, at best, a subject of only casual interest. For many, the shiny newness of digital media has rendered the past obsolete. And indeed, when the digital present is so manifestly different from the mechanical past, and when so few elements of the new digital terrain have obvious historical antecedents, the temptation to look backwards is not great.
But something is stirring amongst the onrush of newness and novelty. It can’t yet be called a movement, nor yet a paradigm shift. Rather, it is the realisation that as the future becomes more and more dominated by digital platforms, strategies and methodologies, the reality for many thousands of graphic designers is that their role is increasingly marginalised. In the world of web design, user interface design and social media, design is no longer the sole province of the designer: today, design is produced by utilising existing templates, by working under the supervision of web developers, and by other forms of collaborative activity. It’s a trend reflected in some recent research (see which shows that design students in Holland are rejecting web design as a subject of study, despite the strong likelihood that the greatest number of employment opportunities exist in this sector.
Suddenly, to eyes disenchanted with the world of digital creativity – and the increasing abandonment of printed platforms such as posters – design from the past seems more expressive and more accommodating to the individual. In my paper, I hope to show how graphic design’s past is being viewed afresh from the idealistic viewpoint of the designer as individual creator. I intend to discuss the critical role of the internet and its extreme suitability for archiving and studying the past, and how new paradigm shifts in publishing are causing the book to be revered and reappraised.

Adrian Shaughnessy spent 15 years as creative director of Intro, the design studio he co-founded in 1989. In 2004, he left to pursue an interest in writing and lecturing, and to work as an independent design consultant. He has written and art directed numerous books on design. His book, How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, has sold 80,000 copies to date, and has been issued in numerous foreign language editions. His most recent book is a study of the life and work of FHK Henrion. Shaughnessy writes regularly for all the leading graphic design journals. Between 2004 and 2010, he had a monthly column in Design Week. He is also a contributing writer to Design Observer, the influential design blog. In 2010 he was elected to AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale). He hosts an occasional series of one-hour radio shows on Resonance FM called Graphic Design on the Radio. In 2012, he received an Honorary Degree from UCA (University of the Creative Arts). In 2009, Shaughnessy was awarded a Visiting Professorship at the Royal College of Art, London. The following year he was appointed Senior Tutor, a permanent position on the College’s visual communication programme.
Shaughnessy is co-founder of the publishing company Unit Editions. 


Mario Piazza


Graphic Design and the History of Graphic Design in Italy

This talk will deal with the relationship between graphic design practice and history, with a specific look at Italy and Italian graphic design. The underlying thesis is that in this country graphic designers have tended to engage with the contemporary rather than with the past or with the history of graphic design – and it could be argued that in Italy graphic designers had instead a stronger relationship with the history of art. In the period when the International Style developed, Italian graphic designers were little interested in history, and were more inclined to authorial than to reflective and critical attitudes. On a diametrically opposite side stands typographic research. By the 1970s, however, as graphic designers began to conceive graphic design as a more technical and intellectual discipline, they became increasingly interested in history, in searching not so much for styles to follow as for approaches to renew. What emerged then was a reflection on the processes of making rather than on the types of representation. More recently, with the advent of the digital age, history has apparently become an atlas of moods upon which designers draw to experiment possible samples; a repository of creative inspirations and figures with which designers seem to literally become infatuated and can reverberate in the form of decontextualised styles – as in the case of Experimental Jetset’s infatuation with the work of Ettore Vitale.

Mario Piazza, graphic designer and architect, has been based in Milan since 1982, working on communication projects, corporate image and exhibition design. In 1996 he set up the 46xy design and strategic communication studio. From 1992 to 2006 he served as the president of Italian Design Communication Association – AIAP. Since 1997 he has lectured in graphic design at the School of Design at the Politecnico di Milano and worked as a researcher in the Department of Design. He was creative director at Domus magazine from 2004 to 2007. He was editor in chief of Abitare from 2011 to 2013, and has been co-editor and art director since 2008. In 2008 he received the Icograda Achievement Award.


Esther Cleven


Preservation/Exhibition/Education: Shifting Views on Graphic Design History

In this talk I will draw on my experience as a curator and a university professor, to point out the existence of different approaches to and traditions of graphic design history and to reflect on the sometimes conflicting issues they raise. The graphic design history represented in museums, for example, is characterised by the physical artefact. In its walls, the ephemeral character of mass media is neutralised. What is more, museums and archives very often fail to describe the full territory of the graphic design practice, excluding less tangible traits and contexts. Oddly, whereas some professionals would like to see the field of graphic design represented in a wider perspective, there are also professional interests involved in the museological canonisation of graphic design. A different view on graphic design history is offered by the university context. Within academia over the years the interest in graphic design history has shifted in terms of approach and perspective. Remarkable parallels can be found with the more recent developments of graphic design theory, e.g. the turn towards craft, the digital or the social. Nevertheless, the new views of academic researchers dealing with graphic design history are mostly informed by issues of methodology and interpretation that are situated outside the trade of graphic design itself. Interestingly though, these issues also point to the role of the public which, it should be noted, has also been a major issue within the field of museum studies in recent years. Indeed, it could be argued that one of the most important questions to ask about graphic design history today is: at which audience is it aimed?

Esther Cleven has been working on and with the heritage of graphic design for about twenty years. Notably, she has been involved in the conception of the Graphic Design Museum in Breda (2001-2010), now known as MOTI, the Museum of the Image. In addition to being a curator she has been part-time professor of modern typography and graphic design at the Universiteit van Amsterdam. Prior to this she acted as advisor for graphic design at KPN Art & Design, and taught at the Department of Art History at Utrecht University, where she also received her PhD in 1999. In 2011 Cleven embarked on her second project of museum development, in the role of curator of applied arts and design, namely the forthcoming Bauhaus-Museum in Weimar, due to open in 2018. Esther Cleven has published on the history of graphic design, advertising and art, museology and historiography.


Richard Hollis


History and the Graphic Designer

What do students need to learn if they’re studying graphic design ?
They study perception, Gestalt theory, communication and information theory, semiotics, sign theory and visual rhetoric, maybe programming. Or do they ?
Students leave their courses to go into some kind of professional world, a world where they need to know their subject. This knowledge should be complete, in depth, and give them the confidence that they are experts. Since clients now have access to the designer’s chief tool, the computer, the client – whether an entrepreneur or an editor – often assumes that they have the skills of a designer. It is a proper knowledge of their métier that differentiates a designer from his or her client. The designer is more than a Mac monkey.
Part of this knowledge should come from studying the history of graphic design. Why? Graphic design began with the designer: someone who drew or designed or gave instructions for something to be produced by someone else. In the pre-history of graphic design, all kinds of visual communication was, in general, produced directly by artisans or craftsmen. Within the pre-history there are principles which are unchanged. For example, flags and heraldry are a useful way to understand visual codes, the idea and establishment of identity, even the origins of slogans – the need for verbal reinforcement of signs, the distinction between iconic and abstract forms. There is as much to be learned in such fields as in studying more recent work. It is even more relevant in a digital, globalised age.
Questions worth considering are whether it is useful to look at the history of graphic design in different ways: chronologically or thematically, by case history, by the intense analysis of an individual work, by ways that will include the social, technical and aesthetic aspects that have affected its production.
The talk will describe the speaker’s experience of teaching and writing design history and of working as a graphic designer. It will deal with the relative advantages of direct meetings with designers of an earlier generation, the use of archives, libraries, the web and internet, of reproductions, of photography and copying, of copyright and its effects.

Richard Hollis began practice as a graphic designer in 1957. He has worked as printer, art editor, production manager, teacher, writer and publisher. He has lectured and taught in London and in Milan, Arnhem, Nantes, Maastricht, Urbino and Lausanne. An exhibition of his work opened in London in 2013 and was shown at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in Lausanne and New York.
He is author of Graphic Design: A Concise History (1994), Swiss Graphic Design: The Origin and Growth of an International Style 1920-1965 (2006) and About Graphic Design (2012). He is currently writing on the Belgian designer and architect Henry van de Velde.
Some of his design work can be seen on the website:


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