This is the final article in a dialogue between Steven Heller’s 1993 essay “Criticizing Criticism: Too Little and Too Much” (from AIGA’s The Journal) and Justin Zhuang’s response, “What’s This Thing We Still Call Graphic Design Criticism?” It’s part of a series in which we invite a new generation of design critics to page through our archives and respond to an unresolved design issue.
From Steven Heller > Justin Zhuang
The question is always in my mind: “What and where is design criticism and why is there so little of it?” And my answer is that criticism was our mantra but it had its limits in the graphic design arena.
I agree with Justin that one of the limits is writing itself. When Alice [Twemlow] and I conceived the Design Criticism program [at SVA], it was as a multidisciplinary forum. Criticism was not solely the written word in article or essay form, and the media supported that in spades. So now it’s possible to analyze and report on design through audio, imagery, performance, exhibition, and comix (the mix of picture and word); it’s scholarly, journalistic, essayistic, even fictional.
But most of all, to me, Design Criticism is an entity that went straight from infancy to adulthood. By this I mean designers are writing much more, editing much more, conceiving independent research projects much more. In short, they’re using criticism as a tool for a broader way to address design issues, design products, and the transition from graphic design to inclusive design.
There may not be more design criticism per se, but there’s some damn good writing that’s finding its outlet. More might be better, but more literacy is good too.
I think it has to do with what I see is a broadening of the interest in writing. It’s not just about writing criticism, it’s about writing—period. I see many more doing it in different ways. That generalization aside, there’s the issue of $$$$$$. If they’re not going to get paid, then it’s not always worth the effort. Then designers may write one-shots, but not more and more and more, which is what they need to do to develop a voice.
Also, it’s hard enough to get Millennials to read, let alone write. They’re making things that may involve writing, but they’re not writing crit.
From Justin > Steven
Judging by the growth of fields ranging from “critical design” to “social design,” criticism has certainly become a tool for designers, and I see these as part of the growth in design criticism—designers responding to issues not necessarily by writing, but by making.
I do believe, however, that there’s still an important role for people who can mediate between designers and the public. This is what the role of a design critic should be.
To me, the seeming lack of new voices, $$$$$$, and interest in reading and writing are issues within design and also a reflection of my generation’s social realities. How we navigate a fragmented media landscape, the rise of alternative economies, and changing consumption habits will shape not just design, but the world we live in tomorrow.