Using a metaphor such as diving instead of skimming the surface—to surf—sends a compelling message. Josef Muller-Brockman shares his ideology of the grid as a system in his essay Grid and Design Philosophy. It is a powerful message about respect and Muller-Brockman stands strong in his philosophy. His opening statement in the essay informs us on the amount of emphasis Muller-Brockman denotes, “The use of the grid as an ordering system is the expression of a certain mental attitude inasmuch as it shows that the designer conceives his work in terms that are constructive and oriented to the future.” There is the implied perception that the grid system is more than a way of ordering content, it’s about deliberation, attentiveness, and proficiency adding to the advancements in sociopolitical life. While these may just have been theories, it is the idea of theory that pushed Jan Tschichold to create them into new rules. In his essay The Principles of the New Typography, Tschichold encourages the ideology on clarity. Clarity, in its purest form, for him was a new typography that addressed the masses of communications that were dealt with everyday. Tschichold writes in his essay, “This puts it into deliberate opposition to the old typography whose aim was “beauty” and whose clarity did not attain the high level we require today.”
With Muller-Brockman’s implied need for form and structure and Tschichold emphasizing the need for clarity, it was Paul Rand that merged these ideas into his concept clarity of form. Rand shares his methods, in his essay, Good Design Is Goodwill, with this excerpt, “Good design satisfies both idea and form, the needle and the thread.” As design closed gaps in commercialism—as a powerful tool to sell products—the gap widened elsewhere. Rand continues his message around idea and form through the relationship of businessperson and designer. Both with varying concepts of a similar problem there is an ever growing need to find the merger in idea and form to emphasis the clarity of form—to comprehend the how and why. “The phenomenon is not new, however. From the beginning of the twentieth century avant-gardes have ceded original ideas to the mass market-place,” expresses Steven Heller in his 2008 essay The Underground Mainstream. Heller, a renowned critic and prolific author of design, shares his research and understanding of how society regurgitates old ideas into new.
This rehearsal of rebirth gives us insights perhaps as to how new movements in art and design come to fruition. A quick review in design history displays a stylistic link from past ideas into fresh ideals. This can be seen from the Futurists and Constructivist into Bauhaus, leading to a departure from political pressure resulting in a merger of minds and though to create the International Style. The beliefs in creating social change that we are seeing today through such movements as the Occupy Wall Street movement are not far from the teachings of the Bauhaus school with their hopes to create social change through design. We have AIGA’s initiative Design for Good promoting creating better communities by working with nonprofits and citizen groups to improve the human experience. This is a positive opportunity during a time of uncertainty to continue unearth old ideals, bring to the forefront clarity and structure, and merge what we’ve learned with our latest experiences.
Learning from our past isn’t anything new, however history must repeat itself time and time again. In his essay 1600–1886: The Birth of the Corporate ‘I,’ Kalle Lasn presents evidence of this. Reflecting as far back as the Elizabethan era he explores how corporations began their climb to power. Lasn explains, “The Declaration of Independence freed Americans not only from Britain but also from the control of British corporations, and for 100 years after the document’s signing, Americans remained deeply suspicious of corporate power.” Although repressed time and time again—with the people in control—corporate America marched forward pursuing their “hundred-year march to global power,” describes Lasn. Perhaps that striving culture that is internal to corporate America that creates the ambiguity of the ‘I’ in corporate America. Large corporations became so human during this process, receiving practically more legal rights and opportunity than the people the serve, that they developed personas and identities of their own. Lasn continues with, “Civil society was in retreat and it looked as if, in the coming century, corporations would indeed rule the world.” The question then can be asked, “Are powerful corporations easily compared to political powers in history? Are there similarities in the abuse of power and authority to a level of arrogance?” I pause to reflect on the impact left by Nazi power on the socially aware visions of the Bauhaus school.
We’ve used the authority of design to build these personas in corporate America—believing in creating a better society—however, with ill intent, corporate America abused civil intent. Just as important, design has brought structure to broken systems and dying theories. Cycling through problems in inevitable in our world. Take the great words of German philosopher Karl Marx, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” much like great wars and corporate gluttony. Again, a question arises, “Is there a solution within tragedy and farce where design has a role, or responsibility?” Karl Gerstner, a pioneer of Swiss typography, reasons, “…the possibilities cannot be delimited absolutely. There is always a group of solutions, one of which is the best under certain conditions.” In his 1964 essay, Designing Programmes, he expresses, “This implies: not to make creative decisions as prompted by feeling but by intellectual criteria.
Thus, bringing this cycle full-circle, I’d like to suggest a connection between the grid—structure, clarity—intellect, and intent—societal impact. Again we’re finding ourselves in that gap between misfortune and disgrace. It is a problem that can seem insurmountable upon first glance but with endless solutions there will options to meet today’s challenging circumstances. Revived principles can guide social change offering refreshed solutions to age-old problems through meticulous planning and intelligent decisions via design.
“Design is everything. Everything!” Paul Rand.