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Designer as [x]


As we read Mike Monteiro’s work, we looked at a rather expansive, but literal definition of what a designer can be. Someone who designs things; budgetary, graphic, programmatic, systemic, whathaveyou. This essay examines a metaphorical definition of a (graphic) designer; the metaphor being a comparison with other professions. We’ve also examined a lot of identity and identity adjacent content and very current iterations of design eduction and thought. Throughout, the semester we’ll be peppering in some more foundational/“important” thought from which those current ideas spring. 

You may have, and to my mind should have read this text earlier (I think this should be roughly in Word & Image I or II territory here, but that’s me). If so, good. I also think it is fine to re-read it and see how your thoughts on the piece have changed. If you have read it, and you want to prepare a response, you may be more interested in examining the fallout from the essay and might focus on that in contrast and comparison to the Michael Rock text.

Okay...but,who is Michael Rock tho?

This is Michael Rock. Okay, bye, see you next week.

Just playin’. Michael Rock is a designer known for his work at the design firm called 2x4 (they have an office in NY btw). You may recognize some of their work:

(dynamic logo system for the Brooklyn Museum)

(logo and branding for Target’s Prologue brand)
(book design for Theaster Gates) (Type design for LACMA)

Questions You Should be Thinking About & Answering (for Yourself) as you Read This

  • What are the other “models” that a designer can be “as” that Rock mentions?
  • What are the “pros & cons” of those models?
  • How does the authorial, or alternative models square with your experience of design as a student thus far?
  • What does it mean for the viewer or user if the designer is the author
  • To me, Rock attempts to “latch onto” film and literary theory as a means to define what graphic design is, and isn’t. Graphic design is a relatively young medium, closer to film, but in a cultural location that is necessarily “near” writing and painting as well; mediums which are frequently examined for “death.” What does it mean for Rock to attempt to “accelerate” this death?

(some) Things Mentioned in the Essay

Further Reading/Viewing

Designers and Dilettantes from DesignObserver (2007)︎
An essay that examines the “fallout” from the authorial shift in graphic design. It “builds” on Michael Rock’s essay as a starting point and uses it largely to examine Elliott Earls’s work. Worth it and fun to read the comments here.

Designer as Producer by Ellen Lupton (1998)︎
Ellen Lupton examines another thing a designer “can be as” to examine other cultural connotations and implications.

You are not a storyteller by Stefan Sagmeister︎

The Rise of Designer as Life Coach by Kara Cutruzzula︎
(I think this is largely an economic examination of the topic, as in career opportunities, however there’s probably something subtextual about designers’ ability to currate and enliven brief messages and embue them with a deeper apparent “meaning”)

Multiple Signatures ︎
A collection of essays (including Designer as Author) from Michael Rock

(I own this book if you’d like to borrow it, just don’t eat Cheetos while you read it plz)

Fuck Content by Michael Rock(2009)︎
Another essay from Michael Rock, expanding on some ideas from Designer as Author

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