No More Rules

For a review of No More Rules: Graphic Design and Postmodernism:

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I was never told about nor taught or explained what postmodernism meant, entailed or encompassed. My design education began at the tail end of postmodernism’s boom yet I was highly influenced by it — as many young designers were — and its most visible exponents like Brody, Carson, Fella and Keedy without having any real understanding of it. I have picked up nuggets of information here and there about what postmodernism means and have come to conclusions similar to those of better-versed writers like Judith Williamson who is quoted in the book saying “the term is too vague to be useful in anything other than a stylistic sense”. So, admittedly, in confusion I have remained about postmodernism — until now. I think.

Poynor’s No More Rules is the most comprehensive collection of graphic design work under the rubric of postmodernism yet. This alone is an accomplishment and provides a valuable tool for students, professionals, historians and any other confused lad such as myself to better understand this much talked-about ism. The book’s strength, in my opinion, lies in its division: Origins, Deconstruction, Appropriation, Techno, Authorship and Opposition. Instead of the expected timeline, this structure allows for a more thorough back-and-forth of influencers and influencees, as they relate across the evolution of postmodernism in its different guises. “Techno” naturally follows a time-based structure as it relates to the rise of the computer and how that affected design from 1984 onward. “Opposition” serves as a conclusion that, again, jumps through time and reflects the constant critique of postmodernism regardless of the decade.

Upon reading the introduction and the initial chapter I am surprisingly amused, and relieved, at the amount of confusion and ambiguity the term creates amongst critics, writers and professionals alike. No More Rules does not establish an authoritative and final definition of postmodernism — which is not a fault — nor a bullet-pointed list of what a designer needs to do to be postmodern. Rather it presents it as a constantly mutating form of expression — invariably defined by its technological, cultural, social or political context — in hopes of its understanding as a persistently evolving way of thinking, doing or, more precisely, undoing.

The book is laden with work from some of Europe’s and United States’ most influential designers of the 1960s up until the 1990s — most of whom are still practicing today in a non-postmodernistic way, showing the propensity of postmodernism to become a stylistic stepping stone, even among its more arduous practitioners. If one were to not read the book (which I assume is common) the work itself is able to asses the essence of postmodernism in all its various incarnations from punk to grunge to techno. Flipping through the pages is a trip down memory lane — albeit a distorted, deconstructed, at times unintelligible, fragmented one — and a reminder of the visual richness that postmodernism can produce.

No More Rules serves its purpose: it establishes the intrinsic relationship between postmodernism and graphic design. It does so in a digestible, intelligent manner without the usual — and convoluted — pretenses of postmodernist writing or design (although the cover leaves much to be desired for). Poynor’s undertaking brings clarity to a confusing subject; one which designers, writers and critics enjoy reinterpreting to fit their argument — at least (and last) now, there is a standard. And finally, I can claim to understand postmodernism as it relates to graphic design. I think.

PUBLISHED ON Mar.15.2004 BY Armin

There is a comment on this review which says:

Andrew’s comment is:
I was not as enamored as Armin with No More Rules. While I agree that it serves quite nicely as a neat compendium of graphic work between 1980 and 2000, it lacks a depth of theoretical investigation and visual playfulness that disappoints me. There certainly is value in writing for the designer that lacks any previous exposure to the field and needs a simple introduction to postmodern thought, but it strikes me that this isn’t the venue for such a cursory glimpse. Here we have the first book of its kind to treat postmodernism as a serious and worthy graphic time period to unpack, and yet it doesn’t include reference to many of the theorists most responsible for its philosophical framework. 

But more than the writing, which on the whole was the typically clean and clever accomplishment that I expect from Mr. Poynor, this book took no graphic risks! Yes, the relationship between postmodernism and graphic design was discussed, but why couldn’t it have been shown? There was an opportunity here to play with the in-between texture of the philosophy under consideration and instead we got obvious layouts and standard text/image relationships. It would have been easy to destroy the essay with clichéd “ruptures” and “fragments” but I was hoping for something closer to Derrida’s Glas, where the interactions between text, image, author and reader blended and blurred slightly…playing with traditional limits in book publishing. There is not an easy graphic solution to this essay, and it would need very careful art direction, but aside from Mr. Kidd’s cover (really brilliant: logo as text) the book as it stands is visually sleepy.

On Mar.16.2004 at 10:51 AM


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