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Neshan 45

Design Today-I

And You, What Are You Teaching In Your Classes?

Alex Dujet

I find it interesting to understand the roots used by other countries regarding the teaching of typography. What are the pedagogical resources or visions used by schools in order to figure out the potential future global typographic landscape?
This declaration aims to question the way of exploring design (mostly typography) through the existing landmarks and the interrogations of following them or not. Freeness and escape should be taken in consideration to not make the error of building ourselves into something closed and dogmatic. Some facts exposed here are related to some of my personal visions through my practice as a graphic designer as well as my position as teacher in the same field. As you will discover, this short essay is partially a self-introspection.

For a better understanding of my positions, let’s first discuss the “Swiss Style”, which emerged in Switzerland in the 1950s. Swiss Style was employed by many graphic designers in Switzerland and beyond, and finally arbitrarily called the “International Style”. The principles of this notion were developed by a small group of Swiss designers; many of them disseminated these principles through their teaching or through publications such as Neue Grafik. Obviously these principles are still widespread and used by many graphic designers across the world. It gives us a kind of guideline. 

My colleague at Futur Neue, Constance Delamadeleine, takes part in an important research project called “Swiss Graphic Design and Typography Revisited” ( which aims to contribute to our understanding of the emergence and current self-perception of Swiss graphic design and typography. This project includes the analysis of the widespread adoption and also the rejection of the style. Maybe the final results might reveal how the myth of this style. 
    Indeed, some questions are interesting for our research and development. Does all this indicate that other countries keep associating Swiss designers with this style — a style that, in our point of view, doesn’t exist anymore. Should it reveal how other countries keep this approach alive somehow? This probably sheds light on the powerful impact of the narrative in the construction of the reputation of Swiss graphic design1

The guidelines offered in Neue Graphik define a clear movement and process for executing graphic design tasks, and this is still used today. In terms of graphic design, Neue Graphik is probably the most influential resource used by the profession to answer as design solutions for different needs related to corporate design, advertising or global industry. All this makes me bounce on some simple questions. Is this method is still open for discussions to interrogate our practice? Should we redefine what we disseminate in schools with regards to some political ethics? Is it still relevant today to keep using this part of history in order to create new visual grounds such as a total rupture? 

In the educational frame, and mostly in Switzerland, history seems unavoidable. It is legacy and it allows points of reference, so it is not that easy to get rid of, or to build and justify new visions from nothing. We are often confronted with and stuck in history because it obviously allows a certain form of self-reassurance. There are no big risks to use things that are have already been proven. Since the existence of the Internet sphere, it is easy to observe that today’s design landscapes are just a remix of styles from the last decades. This is actually not negative in our opinion, because it really helps to drown what seems outdated. However, in my opinion, this primitive global style should not work as a cultural appropriation. As we all know, many have disrupted and questioned the international rules from the sixties, such as Wolfgang Weingart or the Richard Hollis case studies on the International Style. All of this doesn’t sound like enough for us today. A clear rupture would have been necessary just after post-modernism, but no! It is also pretty fun to see that plenty of modern designers are using this style in an ignorant way like a modus operandi, trying to create things with meanings by just abiding by the rules of the style. 

This international system definitely works, and it is clearly visible in most of the design productions that one comes across in the world — this includes in our works at Futur Neue, simply because we learned it first, or maybe because this possibility offers some strong visual codes. Is this functional process is not the most relevant to guide people at taking a flight or at reading informations on a plan? This is easy to learn and apply, so why do we need to change it? But as contemporary graphic designers, are we all not attracted by the natural desire of change and questioning things? Unless a radical change, is it not sad to think that we will be confronted to this paradigm our entire career, and probably our entire life? 

One strong example related to type design that leads me to this reflection of an impossible rupture, is the New Alphabet conceived by Wim Crouwel in 1967. It is quite an old one, but in my opinion it remains relevant in order to express some complications for a big change. This potential new alphabetical system has already proven at the time that technologies are the first problem we meet — they are locking the structure of our letters. And the second one from my point of view is our societal design habits. This project could have been a turn in the history of graphic design, such as a typographical new option, but it fails because of the impossibility of adapting technologies to this new design mode, it was too late and too complicated to make these changes. Thinking that something very new is impossible is probably an error, everything is still open, but do you think that people in general are ready to change what is already readable, and this including technologies? Maybe it will help to make our world going slower during a while, which will be not that bad in my opinion. Should we consider that utopia should stay only utopia? This is quite frustrating when you are interested in thinking of what our design world could look like if we weren’t dominated by this international vision.

If we keep an eye on education, it is interesting to discern the position we have to adopt as teachers to provide to our students solutions to work and to think the best way during and after their graduation. Regarding this, a position is obvious; following pedagogical prescriptions seems unavoidable if you want to match the reality of the market. But after a quick reflection, this means always learning politically correct design notions and acting with conformity in order to keep going at contributing to this global economical disaster. So, what are our goals? Should we keep going at this wisely or should we express to our students opinions that sound the opposite? Should our pedagogical prescriptions be more interrogated to expand beyond boundaries?

As you can observe in our day-to-day practice, we are clearly facing a style that has dominated all adventures, and this makes us believe that the only adventure left to is to keep going at challenging or destroying that style! Rebellion applied to form follows function creates flirtations with something more human (this doesn’t mean that it requires a humanist design approach at the very end). Somehow, rebellion represents the actual conviction we need against the totalitarian human expectations that alienate us. 

Should the opposition of evolving through an alternative design process be more cultivated in education? Leaving more space to move forward with more experimentation in order to counterstrike what seems too conventional might be a proposition. The missing of exoticism should be really considerate. Is it not time to talk about a subversive way of using design standards against themselves, like cannibals? The “less is more” notion should be necessarily revisited as a starting point to a contradictory extension, which means using rational solutions against themselves to create irrational surfaces. This is probably a thrilling analogy in order to provoke this amount of suffocating information that we have to deal with on a daily basis. 

Cultivating the possible with what seems impossible is the only way to imagine things that might become more potential visions, and by keeping our attention here and there on what seems interesting to blow up. Challenging our practice with danger by confronting unexpected elements in order to don’t fall in a mono-process is the only way out. Are we talking today about “nihilism-modernism”? Critics are welcomed, it is important for us to stay in something very open, and also open for discussions and opinions. And you, what are you teaching in your classes? 

1. Whist graphic design history still struggles with defining its position, the role of the graphic design archive within the academy is increasingly gaining visibility and defining what a history of the profession and its pedagogical framework might be. The intent is to explore the potential of such an archive as an intersection for re(mapping) a future for graphic design history, research and education. 
(Extract from Mapping Graphic Design History in Switzerland. (Re)mapping futures: graphic design history, research and education)

Alex Dujet

Alex Dujet born in November 29th, 1979 in Lyon (France) is a Geneva based graphic designer, typographer and teacher in the same field at CFP Art Geneva. He studied at CFP Art and HEAD–Geneva, obtaining respectively a Swiss CFC Diploma in 2006 and Bachelor in graphic design in 2017. After working as an independent or a freelancer for his own clients and other agencies in Geneva and New York, Alex Founded Futur Neue in 2013 with Constance Delamadeleine et Sebastien Mathys; often collaborating with Matteo Venet. He also runs a micro editorial project called Type Item.

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