BA Graphic & Media Design
Recently, the approach to design has been shifting from a structured practice - design; to one built on experimentation and breaking the rules - anti-design. There are differing opinions following the discourse on which of the two outweighs the other. However, neither of the practices can stand alone without the other, each serving a specific purpose. To better contextualise the fields’ benefits and shortcomings, I will be comparing them in terms of communication capabilities, and how relatability or authenticity and how it could be perceived within modern societies, considering “art has almost always been a reflection / [communication] of society” (Satori Graphics, 2021, 3:57).
Design and anti design, are practices used to communicate ideas through a blend of visual and/or typographic elements. Take publications for example, the standardised layouts and grid systems, are used to communicate designers’ intended messages. The use of specific layouts, or the deconstruction of said layouts, embody different moods and meanings.
Typically, minimalist publications follow design layouts that surround content within a majority of white space. This practice puts the emphasis on content (imagery or text) instead of design elements. Oftentimes, used by commercial publications, as it easily and clearly communicates the idea across. Similarly, minimalist designs often communicate the notion of luxury, selling a particular lifestyle to readers. This is not always a bad thing, as sometimes “less is more” (Syjuco, 2019). However, in my opinion it is crucial to implement design and anti-design practices based on target audiences and messages. Many times, big brands miss the point when they use minimalist clean aesthetics, when trying to sell to younger generations. Context of the work is important when forming the designs, otherwise “less [can be] a bore” (Syjuco, 2019).
Fig.1 - Assouline: The Impossible Collection of Design
Anti-design can be seen as an uprising of its own, critiquing or subverting traditional already accepted notions of design, politics, gender and globalism (Syjuco, 2019). Within this field, designers want to bring their audience something new, fresh, challenging what is typically seen in commercial design, and encouraging audiences to do the same. Anti-design takes these conventional structures and reformats them. Similarly, this is present in the context of publication design,“Readers and publishers are hungry for mags that challenge convention and offer a more authentic experience,” (Jamieson, 2016) and anti-design is what brings that, often seen in the format of indie scene zines as seen below. Presenting content in an almost journaling format, breaking boundaries and making it personal.
Fig.2 - Buffalo Zine No. 3
I believe that the rise of anti design is something exciting, breaking away from the typical repurposed structures and practices that we are used to seeing. With new design solutions, we are able to learn and teach new things, rather than consume recycled designs with slight modifications. Challenging norms is exciting and authentic.
Authenticity is a subcategory that falls under communication. Designers, politicians, ad agencies want their audience to connect with them by creating relatable content. The emerging anti-design movement argued “that the Modernist idea of 'the perfect form' that follows a function cannot be reached…” and pushed for designs characterised by kitsch, irony and the distortion” (Martinique, 2016). This approach advocated for a fresh outlook that redefined design and personalised it towards different socio-cultural environments.
Authenticity is something quite difficult for commercial brands and politicians to embody.“Ad agencies are desperately trying to appear ‘understanding’ on behalf of their clients and branding consultants” (Johnson, 2020). Designed outputs are typically planned out, structured, and those characteristics are not usually synonymous with the something that is authentic or from the heart. With the recent pandemic, brands struggled with exactly that, producing almost identical content, repeating the phrases such as ‘unprecedented times’, ’new normal’ and others over and over.
Fig.3 - ‘New Normal Ad’: Unknown Author
This proves that following the standardised structure and scripts doesn’t always work, especially with serious health messages. People seek honesty and something personal that can drive conversation rather than being spoken at.
Rather than viewing a polished high production corporate piece of content, people would rather see something that is common within their culture. I would for sure. The below example of Social media posts by Johnson Banks and Nick Asbury resonated with me on a personal level. The creators play upon a common cultural visual of the parental advisory label, to communicate the government messaging, prompting audiences to turn these messages into creative comms, including them in the conversation and making it more relatable.
Fig.4-5 - Social media posts by Johnson Banks and Nick Asbury
Working at a marketing agency for my DPS placement, I often see authenticity as a common issue. Brands often present audiences with hyper designed content, that although is pleasing to the eye, missing the personal element and in turn results in less engagement. Alternatively, when creatives and influencers represent brands they bring personality and relatability, which in itself can be a form of anti-design in social media marketing, braking away from briefs and letting authenticity out. Even though the content made by influencers is not as polished, it resonates more with audiences, especially Gen-Z.
Fig.5 - Clarks Originals Instagram Post (Brand Led)
Fig.6 - Clarks Originals Instagram Post (Influencer Led)
Overall, my recent DPS experience has opened up my eyes to what people really want in terms of content and designed outputs, something authentic that they can make a personal connection to, and oftentimes that comes in the form of anti-design rather than design. I believe, that it is important to identify target audiences and purpose of message to determine whether design or anti-design should be used. But personally, being in an extremely commercialised world, anti design always wins for me. I believe in challenging the norms and bringing something new to audiences rather than recycling old standardised design practices.
Jamieson, R., 2016. The New Wave of Anti-design Magazines Will Question Your Sense of Taste—and That’s a Good Thing. [online] Eye on Design. Available at: <https://eyeondesign.aiga.org/the-new-wave-of-anti-design-magazines-will-question-your-sense-of-taste-and-thats-a-good-thing/> [Accessed 5 December 2021].
Johnson, M., 2020. Branding, politics and pandemics | Johnson Banks. [online] Johnsonbanks.co.uk. Available at: <https://www.johnsonbanks.co.uk/thoughts/branding-politics-and-pandemics> [Accessed 5 December 2021].
Martinique, E., 2016. Anti-Design Movement - Aestheticism of the Modern Era | Widewalls. [online] Widewalls. Available at: <https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/anti-design-italian-movement> [Accessed 5 December 2021].
Satori Graphics, 2021. Will ‘ANTI DESIGN’ Takeover The Graphic Design World!?. [video] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bv7a3TcxugQ-> [Accessed 5 December 2021].
Syjuco, S., 2019. Less Is A Bore: Maximalist Art & Design. [online] stephaniesyjuco.com. Available at: <https://www.stephaniesyjuco.com/news/less-is-a-bore-maximalist-art-design-at-ica-boston-jun-26-sep-22-2019> [Accessed 5 December 2021].