Design Arguments

the beginnings of a personal exploration of design criticism


Reflection on Rewrite

I tried to follow the suggestions given to me and those comments really helped to guide my direction in the second attempt. It was laborious to have to pick out my biases though.

I couldn't see how you could say exactly the same thing using a different tone, which was what was suggested to us by Cameron. Isn't it true that you communicate through how you say something not just what you say? So as a result of this confusion, I don't think I've really retained the entirety of my original message. A lot of content was cut out from the first review to be replaced by content of a different nature. The writing took on a more informative, less opinionated tone, but I think this was only as a result of the content being changed.


IdN Magazine - Revised

IdN is a platform for those in the design community, especially new talent, to showcase their work that may not otherwise be seen by a wide audience. The publication circulates mostly around Australia and parts of Asia, but it has an international projection, chronicling the works of designers from all around the world.

The magazine aims to capture a wide cross-section of the design community, focusing on subjects across various design disciplines as well as providing coverage on more general, popculture-related items. With a thematic focus to each issue, some issues are more limited in their relevance to designers across the board, instead providing a resource for those looking for a publication broadcasting their specific interests, be it say, illustration or designer toys.

This issue, Alternative Desire, centres on the subject of alternative visions of beauty, with stories that feature some well-known and some less well-known people working in design at the moment. Stories come mainly in the form of interviews, with designers for indie rock labels, product designers, to interface designers and even designers of socially conscious stationery among those interviewed.

Each feature looks very different, with the design making reference to the content of the story. Because of the nature of a magazine - there is no single way through a magazine, the role of the designer [is] to help the reader find their way around, to signpost the content (Leslie, 2003) - this had me wondering whether some restraint in IdN's design might improve the ability to navigate it.

Though it is inevitable with a target market of designers, and I would hazard a guess here that graphic designers make up for most of those numbers, that IdN is so image-centric. This is also a sign of the trend for magazines to have increased their image content exponentially in the last couple of decades. Which has been a result of the possibilites granted by technology but perhaps more interestingly, the precedence of images over words in magazines has taken place in a world that is becoming increasingly globalised. The magazine that launched a thousand trends was Bennetton's contribution to the publishing world, Colors.

Colors foresaw how the globalization of culture, and in particular youth culture, meant there was an international audience for such projects. Colors was about the end of nationality and the birth of subcultures', was how Kalman, who edited the first thirteen issues described the project. People from different countries were finding common links through fashion, music and art.(Leslie, 2003)

IdN seems to exist under the same sentiment, this idea of connecting people through imagery and design. That each story changes graphic style is only evidence of the effort made to cater for its wide and varied audience who hail from all around the world. It is just unfortunate that this can sometimes be annoying for someone who prefers the kind of simplicity that is more in keeping with modernist design, the sort of unnoticed design that graces many fashion magazines but is rarely seen in graphic design publications. Which is all very probably a deliberate point of difference made by the designers but this reader needs to go find herself a copy of Vogue.


Leslie, J. 2003, magCulture : New Magazine Design, Collins Design, New York.


Design Blogs

Design Observer is currently one of the most popular design blogs around. At its helm are three (previously four, with Rick Poynor among them) well-known designers: Michael Bierut, William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand, all of whom write with comparable levels of insight, so I will examine just one of the entries in detail.

From the archives of Design Observer, I came across a piece titled I Hate ITC Garamond, written by Michael Bierut. In this piece I found evidence of the kind of design writing proposed by Steve Baker in Flying, Stealing: Design's Improper Criticism, the kind of writing that allows 'anything and everything into the mix, from..."hard facts" through to personal reflection.'

Michael Bierut's writing brings to your attention the notion that the designed world does things to us.
This typeface does things to you - it makes you not want to pick up this book and read it! It is not with the precision of an academic but the committed obsession of a designer with impeccable industry creds that Bierut lays down his thoughts.

Bierut is also an accomplished writer, who holds your attention through his obvious distaste for his subject matter. As an example of design criticism, it is interesting to see a writer deploy personal anecdotes to show the way design figures into an individual's experience. His hatred for the typeface is so deep it's funny. But personal evaluations aside, he does a thorough job of considering the design from its historical, cultural and social context, readily admitting that his own views come from a deeply subjective place. Herein is evidence of reflective thinking (Levels 6-7), according to King and Kitchener's model, which qualifies reflective thinking thusly: 'beliefs are justified...across contexts, and by constructing solutions that are evaluated by personally-endorsed criteria, such as one's personal values'.

The other blog that I visited was
One Plus One Equals Three, which is authored by Andrew Haig. The blog adopts both an informational and personal tone, with evidence more of Levels 4-5 reflective thinking whereby 'individuals believe that while judgments ought to be based on evidence, valuation is individualistic and idiosyncratic'. In one entry on Emotional Blog Mapping, Haig describes a work of interactive design where he spends the majority of his time telling what this thing is and how it works, concluding with his personal appraisal of it, one that presumably stems from the description he has just given. In this instance and also in Bierut's case, the writing has a critical basis that fits with Wayne Attoe's criteria for interpretive criticism, the main one of which is 'that it is highly personal'.


Attoe, W. 1976. 'Methods of Criticism and Response to Criticism.' JAE, Vol 29. Architecture Criticism and Evaluation. pp. 20-21

Baker, S. 1997. 'Flying, Stealing: Design's Improper Criticism' Design Issues, Vol. 13, No.2, A Critical Condition: Design and Its Criticism. pp. 65-76

Summary of Reflective Judgment Levels


IdN Magazine

{Vol. 12 no.4} Alternative Desire

If there is a word that summarizes how I feel about IdN, it is ambivalence. Maybe it's because I know a lot of students, myself included, read it and obviously enjoy it to a degree, but it's also been duly noted in my mind that the tutors I've had respond to IdN with far less enthusiasm. And I suspect this is because as design educators, they take it upon themselves to cultivate excellence and somewhere in their minds, they see IdN as a breeder of middling expectations. If so, if IdN is in fact a little
'undergraduate' and lacking the visual integrity of more polished publications, this very criticism may also serve to explain its enduring popularity in the hard-to-crack design magazine market.

A cursory glance over IdN's pages will give you a good idea of who the magazine's readership is, namely young designers and design students. With a fastidiously mainstream name- IdN, which stands for International Designer's Network - can be seen as straddling a comfortable place between 'accessible' and 'progressive'. But I had the uncomfortable feeling, flipping through this issue, that it comes dangerously close to being neither here nor there. Stylistically, IdN seems permanently inconsolable. Your attention slides from one page to the next, and maybe it was the designer's intentions to sow a little bit of chaos, but for the reader the experience is somewhat schizoid.

Still, there are few magazines out there that are as rigorously attentive to the sensual qualities of the page as IdN. The reader benefits from this sensitivity - flipping through the magazine I am met with articles presented on their own separate paper stocks and in different formats. This creates a magazine that is invitingly textual. The designers of IdN also know that some spot varnish never goes amiss.

Each article is proposed as its own contextual site, with the design of the article's layout dependent on the content. This evidences a flexible design approach and the organic processes on which such an approach rests. What IdN fails to do - or fails to do well - is preserve the visual coherence of the magazine as a whole. The elements used to unify the pages too often falls to ornamentation.

In the world of design, overused stylistic tropes are everywhere. IdN proves to be less successful when it employs the "street" aesthetic familiar to anyone who's ever visited an urban clothing store. It's an aesthetic dominated by a kind of faux grunge, the whole purpose of which is hard to fathom. Except to say that it is perhaps symptomatic of a culture that relentlessly engages in appropriating the stylistic conventions of those who rebel against the established order, in order to sell it to the masses.

IdN doesn't set out to be a challenging publication and for that, it is perhaps less rewarding. To its credit, the mish-mash of retro and and digital styles is generally enjoyable. It comes with some generic eye candy, and the truth is, I don't mind and I don't think its readership minds. Suffice to say, we are a generation who feel as much at home with visual noise on the page as we are with it on the streets we walk in. And taking your eyes for a walk in an issue of IdN, you will most likely come across something that excites you, that which you find dull and maybe even that to which you object. From there it is up to you to draw connections. Should you get lost, you can relax knowing that the place is familiar, you've been here before.


Review 2

Viewing Amer's work from a Western context, where sexually-charged images of women abound in the cultural sphere, you can’t help but question the potency of the politicized message behind these works. What is notable about the images - women engaged in sexual acts with each other, with themselves - is their familiarity.

One way to determine the merits of a painting could be whether you would want to be in the same room as the work, and Amer’s paintings would not be out of place in your living room or bedroom. However, it is precisely this possibility of reducing art to a form of interior decorating that makes the paintings seem faintly vacuous. For all their complexity and negotiating of gender stereotypes and female empowerment(
) it is nonetheless tempting to view the work as “pretty.”

But where this may be a limitation, the accessibility of Ghada Amer’s paintings is also their strength. When reactions to contemporary art are often uncomprehending and sometimes even hostile, Ghada Amer’s work sits comfortably with audiences. And unlike some of Abstract Expressionism, where all the paint amounts to little and artists have treated emotions as if they were signs of a great destiny (the sad legacy of Romanticism), Amer’s paintings work their effect subtly. You let them wash over you and the ones delivered with evident pleasure and openness come off the most successful.

Review 1: Ghada Amer

The material properties in Ghada Amer’s work engage with two separate material traditions – on one hand Abstract painting and on the other textile arts. Positioned in relation to Western art traditions, these paintings draw attention to the way “feminine” arts such as embroidery have been marginalised, having not historically been recognized as art. Coloured thread and sewn line drawings also serve to express the female experience. There is both allure and angst when considering the corporeal in our society. This difficulty resonates through Amer’s works, most noticeably in her
figurative work such as Amalia and Heather (pictured).
It is not without significance that the images of the women in her paintings are taken from the pages of pornographic magazines. The paintings themselves subvert this pornographic content, seeming to revel in the women’s awareness of their bodies. Any truly explicit imagery is concealed in the tangle of threads, reminding us of the intimacy of the body.

The context for experiencing Amer’s works is important to understanding them. It has sometimes been the case that her work has been ill-received in her native Islamic country of Egypt and among Islamic communities.
Such reactions bear to mind the question of personal freedom, pointing to deeper issues beneath the delicately-stitched surface of Amer's paintings.


Response To Guesses

Both of the people who responded were able to guess right certain characteristics about me. The difference in interpretation of my taste regime, I think, comes down to the differing personal constructs of the reviewers, which led them to construe my responses to the questions in different ways.

Christina guessed right that I used to play an instrument (for 7 years) and even managed to narrow it down to either the piano or violin (it was the piano). I think the guess may have been based on the fact a lot of people once played either of these two instruments, because nothing in my answers really points to this. Zoe guessed that music was not an important part of my life and that I probably do not see much live acts. While the latter is true (the last gig I attended was probably more than a year ago, which was Franz Ferdinand and I did have to be persuaded), I regard music as an essential, vital part of life and if I had had either the tenacity or talent, I would have pursued it further. The guess was based on the fact I did not answer the questions regarding musical tastes, so I don't think too much can be made of it. Zoe also stated the impression she formed of me was that I might be any of the following: calm, shy, private, because I did not divulge much information in my responses. This is interesting, especially the calm part. I think that I wrongly give the impression of being calm but people who know me well, know me for being deeply neurotic. I will get attacks of shyness but it's not generally the case. However I am a private person which could easily be contrued as shyness. I think some of these guesses were more a response to personal impressions than from the information given in the questionnaire, although that would surely be the case for everyone.

I prefer social settings where I can eat, drink and talk, so I don't like watching movies as much as Zoe suggests, which is to say that I don't really consider it an 'activity.' I do enjoy reading but don't really have the attention span for it. I think these activities were suggested because of the impression that was formed about my personality. Both were partly correct in guessing that I did not really have much to do with politics, which predictably comes from my having mentioned that I was only mildly interested in the news.


Taste Profile

1. Favourite TV show in the last 2 years. How many hours of TV do you watch a week?
Alias. approx. 6
2.What sort of camera do you have? What do you take pictures of?
An unusually big digital one with a huge blinding Flash. friends and images for school
3.What sort of car would you like to drive? How often would you get under the bonnet?
One that drives smoothly. never
6.Which of the following would you visit or attend at least twice a year: art galleries, museums, public lectures, public libraries, political meetings, demonstrations or rallies?
art galleries. public libraries
7.List 4 films you have seen in the last year, from favourite to least favourite.
Capote-cinema(brought tears to my eyes). National Treasure-dvd rental(enjoyable). The Pillowbook-dvd owned(a little disappointed). Elizabethtown-friend's dvd(watched it on fast forward)
8.What is your favourite sport or game to play? To watch?
swimming. tennis
9.Where would you like to travel to?
10.What is your primary source of news? To what extent do you take an interest in the news?
the newspaper. mild interest
12.Which country are you from? Could you live in a country other than where you were raised for the rest of your life?
China, though raised mostly in Australia. Yes, I plan on it
13.Where do you tend to meet friends?
at each other's homes, cafes and restaurants