It started back in 2018, with my epiphany upon seeing this meme on Teenage Stepdad. It seemed to express so much of what had been brewing in my heart for a long time. Maybe it's just my inner Sagittarian bestial nature, but "How refreshing" I thought, "to see someone being so blunt, so vulgar for once, when they talk about design. "Yes", I thought, "Yes! Imagine if we all went wild and did that? How would it be to see a whole new revolution where we all set ourselves free in typographic anarchy, and made things look cool again? Especially here in Melbourne" she says as she lets out a big sigh. (I recommend that you follow Teenage Stepdad by the way ). So I hope that you do understand that there is absolutely no hatred here, merely a light hearted attempt to start a chain of thought and even some healthy and light hearted self deprecation if it still exists?
So often, too often, I wonder what is going on here in Melbourne amongst my Communication Design fraternity, students, other studios, AGDA (Australian Graphic Designers Association) and if I am honest, even myself. Where did what I perceive anyway, to be a problem, all start? I have my theories as to why so much Communication Design produced here is actually exquisite, yet kind of sterile, and a little to clever for it's own good. To whom is it supposed to speak? (maybe other uptight designers who want to appear to be clever?). Some clever copy, routinely dressed in untitled sans on a pleasing grid, often designed by nice girls with hyphenated surnames, who would never speak bluntly or rockstar dudes who are encouraged to do so while we all snigger away. Maybe it's the same reason that the same list of nice and likeable ( and nullifyingly safe) names are routinely trotted out from the milk arrow root factory for every design event (circus?). I guess it appears that we all do like it, as these names do sell tickets, so that are constantly recycled. There's nothing wrong with Modernism Getting back to the idea of Modernism, let me qualify my discourse by saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Modernism. Gosh no! I definitely don't think we should actually Fuck Modernism at all, I love modernism with all of its restraint (truly I am not being facetious). It is truly beautiful. Which is why I understand why as a student, you would want to follow Modernism. It gains good marks, using it makes you likeable. That is specifically what I don't like. Following its design formula is a dangerous trap. Why? Because it is a lazy and easy generic formula to follow, and once you learn the formula, a belief that Modernism is the only good design will constrain your creativity and skill. There are many other design styles that are good (yes even Teenage stepdad is good design, because it cuts through the noise to get its message across). This is the trap that entraps Melbourne which should probably be called Modernist Melbourne. We are a relatively small group of designers who are geographically isolated. Unlike European and American Designers, we don't receive the same cross fertilisation of ideas, and it becomes easy to become a big fish in a small pond. Us fishes seriously don't know any differently and at University, we usually learn from other digital natives who pave the way of safety Best stick to that safe style. By way of example, when I went to University in 1997, I learned my typography on the computer from our computer tech guy whose expertise was Adobe not typography. So busy was I panicking about beziers that even if there had been someone who could explain them, the finer points of type classification eluded me. I believe that if we had all been taught to draw lettering, things would have been very different. So all of us were left with only one choice, which was to bluff our way through, and pretend, even though we understood sweet Felicity Arkwright about what we were doing My deep dark and dirty little secret continued with me, when I went to become a lecturer in Typography, unleashed onto poor unsuspecting students such as Suzy Tuxen, Shane Loorham from Liquorice, and many others. My peers and I all had a reputation to keep. Upon reflection, with the knowledge that I now have, I can understand that the rest of my peers were in the same boat. There were those peers fortunate enough to have a photographic memory who could rattle of names of designers and historical periods, and actually these are the peers to whom undue professional status has been delivered. I have deduced this because I heard one of them speaking on the radio recently, stating categorically a great inaccuracy which indicates that he has been hiding his ignorance of letter form architecture because he believes that the serif structure on letters comes about due to the Roman Stone carvers. Anyone who knows how to write and draw letters by hand would know that the serif is simply a natural extension of the act of writing. So the reason that we are all pretty much regurgitating the same typographic decisions is that it makes us feel safe and certain that our ignorance wont get caught out. There are only a few designers teaching in mainstream degree courses, (that I know of) who actually understand Type, such as Dan Milne and Vincent Chang who have broadened their horizons. Also the nature of courses with huge classes of disinterested students makes the subject challenging to teach properly with pencil and paper. However now that I know so much I would love to return to the Academy where I was taught for 6 years, and right my wrongs. Whenever I walk into a bookshop to see what designers are up to, I want to cry. To see Australian Designers open up, and release their inner Teenage Step Dad, and express themselves in new and interesting ways in their book titles, posters, would be truly wonderful. . In the rest of the world there is an ocean of big fish type designers who experiment and take great typographic risk. Groups and Designers such as Underware, High On Type, Job Wouters, James Edmonson, House Industries just to name a few of the top of my hat. So many graphic designers I know hate hand lettering, they tell me that they find it tacky and messy I can't really blame them as so much of the lettering that has emerged over the last nine years is a plethora of brush script lettering that is heavy handed
If you see yourself as one of those safe Graphic Designers, I would like to let you know that custom lettering can be exciting, and restrained. A walk through any of the custom titles created for mid century films, book covers and posters is pure wow!