Evangeline Cousins, BA(HONS) Design for Branded Spaces Since the pandemic struck in 2019, there has been growing evidence of critical writing on the subject of anti-design. With reference to five sources, what is your perspective on the Design/Anti-design discourse?
In a blog post titled ‘Let’s talk about anti-design’ back from 2017, the blogger quotes Vsauce on the matter; “It’s cool to not care and having an underwhelming and perhaps lackluster artwork underlines this sentiment.” To me, this perfectly encapsulates why anti-design was originally adopted; anti-design is anti-consumerism. To unpack my statement, we can look at an example from the music industry. Back in 2013, rapper Kanye West, now known as ‘Ye’, released his sixth studio album ‘Yeezus’. Having listened to the album and being informed by pop-culture reviewers, I know this piece was Ye’s way of conceptually expressing his realisation of the importance of finding beauty amongst chaos. With such a profound narrative as the album’s foundation, why were we presented with such a, to quote Vsauce again, ‘underwhelming and lackluster artwork’ for the piece’s cover? The clear jewel case with a red sticker, having neither the artist’s nor the album’s name printed anywhere, was a statement. Following on from the retaliating designers from the 60’s, Ye simply wanted to express what he wanted to express, and I argue he didn’t care how it was packaged. Since, his discography’s graphics continue to follow this pattern, amplifying my point that his creative direction is fuelled solely by authenticity, expression and reaching people through his art, rapping; rather than being a cog in the machine of his competitive industry where making the most money, topping the charts, and breaking record sales dictates your status.
My thoughts? Authenticity is extremely commendable in this day and age, and I believe for creatives, creating trends, breaking the mould, or exploring opposite and unorthodox methods is the future. We should look beyond the way(s) things ‘should’ be, and be happy we did so, as the results of applying such attitudes lead us to progression, change, and new realities.
My previous example was a good half-century post anti-design’s ‘birth’, so to understand the movement’s roots, we can look at one of the first examples and their effects on the design world today.Not only is anti-design anti-consumerism, it is also anti-modernism. Modernism favours practicality and functionality over aesthetics, put simply, lacks creativity and perhaps even deems it unnecessary. Being a pragmatic person myself, I relish the idea of an object, system or place serving it’s purpose, but why the hell does that mean it can’t look cool? This, perhaps minus the profanity, was a notion shared by the many designers in the movement’s early days. Through research, I have learned of designers such as Verner Panton, Vico Magistretti, Gianfranco Frattini, Livio Castiglioni, Enzo Mari, Piero Gilardi, Ettore Sottsass and Paolo Lomazzi, who I will collectively refer to as ‘The founders’. The founders produced art and furniture with something to say, something trailblazing which would dominate and inspire design; a breath of fresh air was needed. Up until the movement gained momentum, modernism quite literally confined designers to monotone colour ways with arguably the only item on the checklist being efficient functionality. How boring. Furniture seemed to be the playground for the founders, so lets look at an example. Verner Panton, Danish interior and furniture designer, made a statement with his Panton chair in 1960. By modernism standards, it ticked the ‘efficient functionality box’, it was a chair, you could sit on it, it fit it’s purpose. However, Panton wanted to cast restrictions to the side and create a piece with bright, shiny colours, different curves, and by doing so, created something new; The Panton chair. It was fun, fresh, new, inspiring, who knew these adjectives could be used in describing a chair? Anti-designers. It’s almost as if change is exciting? Since breaking the mould, we can see a pattern emerging which can be described with a word that I am shocked I haven’t used yet; experimentation. I believe experimentation and anti-design go hand in hand. When thinking of an example as to how Panton’s chair encouraged his successors to push boundaries, I created this timeline:
All three would throw 20th-Century modernists into a frenzy, but particularly the latter. A chair? Decorated with stuffed animals? But, it works, it’s unique, it’s anti-design and I love it. Sure this perhaps doesn’t agree with the anti-consumerism stance that Yeezus’ message did, with pieces from the collection prices’ starting at $25,000, however, it is anti-modernism, ergo anti-design.
To round off this thought, I conclude that anti-design, is in fact, design. Design to me is creativity, life, soul, change, drive. Yes, functionality and practicality play a role, but, in my opinion, they should never be seen as restrictions. Perhaps we should all adopt the process of starting with a project’s, to coin a phrase, ‘non-negotiables’, get them out of the way, and then apply sky-high thinking. The world and the trends that we create within it, change at rapid rates, daily. Although this causes some ugly and detrimental effects, for example the fast-fashion industry, it also encourages the idea of anything being possible, which, on a post-pandemic-planet, can be seen to encourage and imply eccentric and exciting futures across all industries.