Despite the ever-increasing number of new independent magazines, there are a very few journals that focus smartly and seriously on graphic design and typography. That’s why I always stop in my tracks when a new issue of Bricks from the Kiln (BFTK) arrives in the mail with a satisfying thud.
Since 2016, BFTK’s editors—the graphic designers Andrew Lister and Matthew Stuart, who are split between Chicago and London—have set out to assemble content as if building with bricks; they describe each article as a “piece of a larger structure” and a “part of a sum.” The title approaches structure conceptually and elegantly. Issue two, for example, was broken apart and rearranged on the wall to form an exhibition for its launch. Turning away from spatial structure, the third and latest issue considers aural structure: along with the sturdy white on black print publication, an accompanying audio track gives content an additional layer of meaning and engagement.
“We see the audio as a kind of curated extension of the printed issue; setting a tone, providing a backdrop, or offering further information to each text or contribution,” say editors Lister and Stuart. The track sits on the BFTK homepage; in some cases, texts reference directly to various recordings and sound works, but in other cases, the connections are more abstract and atmospheric.
Like Dot dot dot before it, BFTK’s content spirals from a tight design focus to encompass interdisciplinary musings—it imagines the edges and various dimensions of what graphic design writing can be. Of particular note in issue three is Bryony Quinn’s study of the oblique—or slash—which she sites as one of the earliest marks of punctuation: her piece traces its form from medieval Blackletter through to Samuel Beckett. Design, type, and sound become the starting point for larger themes and concerns: David Bennewith’s essay, for example, begins with a study of the type design of Inuktitut syllabics, but opens into an account of colonialist histories, globalisation, and technology’s commercial imperatives. Elsewhere, Paul Bailey and Sophie Demay’s visual essay responds to (and punctuates) the only surviving recording of the voice of Virginia Woolf. Designer Nontsikelelo Mutiti and writer Tinashe Mushakavanhu bring together excerpts from ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ by Claudia Rankine and James Baldwin’s essay, ‘If Black English Isn’t Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?’
There’s can sometimes be a sense of constriction when it comes to writing on graphic design, with a tight focus on technical elements, process, and inspiration. BFTK, though, turns to design’s porous and expansive relationship to the world, representing the broader interests of its makers. Lister and Stuart put it well in an interview with Paul Bailey for the Walker’s Gradient: “The notion of this content being ‘on or around graphic design’ relates to the fact that BFTK ultimately collects the kinds of writing that interests and excites us first and foremost as readers, and secondly as designers and typographers. The majority of the writing isn’t necessarily about graphic design or design criticism, but, given that both of our backgrounds are in graphic design, it can be seen through this lens.”