Introduction: Revisiting the Avant Garde 
Author: Helen Armstrong
Year: 2009
Source: Graphic Design Theory: Readings from the Field. Princeton Architectural Press, 2009, pp. 9-15.
Context: This essay was written as the introduction to the Graphic Design Theory reader that Helen Armstrong compiled and edited. This introduction briefly mentions many of the designers, movements and texts that are included in the collection (and which we read in class) while also describing the author’s own interest in the theoretical aspects of the design process
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– Revisiting the Avant Garde: Armstrong believes that the ambitions of avant garde artists from the early 20th century should be questioned but should inspire designers of today 
–  Collective Authorship is an constantly evolving aspect of design, in which the producer-consumer relationship plays a key role
– Universal Systems of Connection have been envisioned a means of uniting people through design, but remain restrictive in many ways
– Social Responsibility must be a part of the design process, as designers play a key role in shaping society
– We should ask what role the avant-garde of the new millennium will play

Design as Art; What is a Designer?; A Living Language 
Author: Bruno Munari
Year: 1966
Source: Design as Art. translated by Patrick Creagh, Penguin Classics, 2008. pp. 25-33, 37-40.
Context: These three essays are selected from a collection of Bruno Munari’s writings, originally published as a regular column for the Italian Newspaper Il Giorno.  Munari had a very long career as an industrial designer, fine artist, member of the Futurist group, and author. 
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– The fields of Fine Art, Design and Engineering are often confused
– Designers rarely consider the distinctions between these fields
– Usefulness or function are key features of design
– Different fields of design: Visual, Industrial, Graphic, Research
– “A Living Language” of images, forms, colors, symbols, etc. are employed in design

Excerpts from Course in General Linguistics
Author: Ferdinand de Saussure
Year: 1916
Source: Course in General Linguistics. Edited by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, Translated by Wade Baskin, McGraw Hill Paperbacks, 1966. pp. 65-78.
Context: Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics is assembled from the lectures that he gave on the subject between 1911 and 1915. He was a highly influential thinker and professor in the field, but never compiled his own textbook on the subject. After his death, his former students compiled their notes to create the book as we now know it.
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– Chapter I of Part 1: General Principles addresses the Nature of the Linguistic Sign
– A sign is composed of a signifier and a signified. The signifier is the sound-image that we speak or hear to refer to the sign. The signified is the concept that our mind conjures in relation to the sign. The sign is the whole of these parts.
– Principle I states that the sign is arbitrary, meaning that we do not actively choose the components of language. The sign emerges from collective behavior, with no motivations or natural connections.
– Principle II states that Signifiers are linear, meaning that meaning develops over time as we speak to one another
– Chapter II address the Immutability and Mutability of the Sign
– Signs are immutable, or unchanging, because of (1) the arbitrary nature of the sign, (2) the multiplicity of signs that make up a given language, (3) the over-complexity of language systems and (4) collective inertia toward innovation.
– Signs are Mutable because time allows for shifts in the relationship between the signified and the signifier, language is powerless to defend itself against change, no one controls a language, a community of speakers make the social nature of a language one of its inner characteristics.

Counting Sheep, Modern Hieroglyphs, Language of Dreams
Author: Ellen Lupton, J. Abbott Miller
Year: 1996
Source: Design Writing Research: Writing on Graphic Design. Kiosk Books, 1996. pp. 24-32, 41-45.
Context: Design Writing Research compiles essays that Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller wrote for various exhibition catalogs and publications in preceding years. Each essay in the collection explores designers or design projects that place strong emphasis on research and theory. 
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– Counting Sheep:
A Brief History of Written Numbers examines the ways that numerical notation have existed outside of alphabetic or linguistic writing systems, instead using tally marks, tokens, digits (ie. fingers and toes) and devices such as the abacus.
– Modern Hieroglyphs
examines the lasting impact of Otto Neurath’s Isotype system, which served as the basis for standard symbol sets such AIGA’s. Neurath’s system, like many other typographic ideas of the 1920s, strives for universal communication and objectivity.
– Language of Dreams examines the fundamental graphic systems that are used for written languages. The basis for these systems are the pictograph, ideograph, rebus, syllabary, and alphabet.

The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism
Author: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Year: 1909
Source: Marinetti: Selected Writings. Edited by R.W. Flint, translated by Arthur A. Coppotelli. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972.
Context: Marinetti, along with a group of young Italian artists, composed this manifesto to declare their ambitions, in opposition to the traditional values dominating Italian art and culture of the time. Many aspiring artists at the time published manifestos for their movements. The Futurist Manifesto, published in Italian and French newspapers in 1909, stands out due to its fiery tone.
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– The introductory paragraphs contain allusions to traditional, mythological imagery with references to the latest machine technologies.
– The narrative of this introductory portion portrays the Futurists as both heroic and machismo
– Machinery is portrayed as both dangerous and thrilling
– The 11 point manifesto lists the values and ideals that the group will celebrate, including courage, aggression, speed and violence
– The closing paragraphs emphasize the Modernist idea of rejecting past art movements in favor of progress

Who We Are: Manifesto of the Constructivist Group
Author: Aleksandr Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Aleksei Gan
Year: c. 1922
Source: Aleksandr Rodchenko: Experiments for the Future. Edited by Alexander N. Lavrentiev. Museum of Modern Art, 2005. pp. 143-145. Reprinted in Graphic Design Theory, pp. 22-24
Context: The Russian Revolution of 1917 offered hope for a new society in which workers would replace the aristocracy as the ruling class. The Constructivists, led by Aleksandr Rodchenko envisioned a new form of art that would replace traditional painting and sculpture with new forms of mass produced graphics and engineered objects. Who We Are is one of many manifestos to emerge from this group  
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– This fragmentary text enumerates the areas of life in which Constructivists will be involved
– The authors reject being labeled as ‘artists’ in favor of the designation ‘constructor’
– Technology is seen as both a tool and the ‘mortal enemy of art’
– Geometrical forms are a necessary component for expressive art and everyday objects

Our Book
Author: El Lissitzky
Year: 1926
Source: El Lissitzky: Life, Letters, Texts. Edited by Sophie Lissitzky-Kuppers. Translated by Helen Aldwinckle and Mary Whittle. Thames and Hudson, 1968. Reproduced in Graphic Design Theory, pp. 25-31
Context: In his travels throughout Europe, the Russian artist El Lissitzky played a critical role in connecting European avant garde movements of the early 20th century. His Essay Our Book considers some of the new technologies and visual strategies that artists could use to communicate their ideas both to international colleagues and to mass audiences at home.
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– Technical innovations in the arts immediately produce the highest achievements possible
– New technologies led to the dematerialization of art
– The book form is altered by technological inventions and by innovations in communication systems
– Collaboration between painters and poets to create new book forms offers many possibilities for educating the masses
– While the cinema and illustrated magazine add to social development, book artists must keep pace by developing new forms that will sharpen the optic nerve

The Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus
Author: Walter Gropius
Source: Bauhaus 1919-1928. Edited by Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius and Ilse Gropius. Museum of Modern Art, 1938. Reproduced in Art in Theory 1900-2000. Edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood. Blackwell Publishing, 2003. pp. 309-314
Year: 1923
Context: The architect Walter Gropius, founder and first Director of the Bauhaus composed this text to articulate the ideals of the now-famous institution. In it Gropius criticizes traditional art academies while outlining a positive vision for an education that combines architectural concepts with aesthetic questions and everyday problem-solving. 
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– Individuals must orient their attitude to the spirit of the times to create solutions for bettering society
– The traditional art ‘academy’ fails by isolating artists, detaching skill from reality and ignoring traditional folk arts.
– Creative work should ‘give form to space’ meaning artists should be able to express inner visions through their materials
– The goal of the Bauhaus is to unify training in fields of art and design
– Preliminary training should ‘break down conventional patterns of thought.’ As students progress they should take on more advanced form problems and incorporate theory, eventually understanding ‘all processes of creation.’

Author: László Moholy-Nagy
Year: 1925
Source: Painting Photography Film. Translated by Janet Seligman. MIT Press, 1973. pp. 38-40. Reproduced in Graphic Design Theory, pp. 32-34
Context: This text initially appeared as a short chapter in Painting Photography Film, a publication that Moholy-Nagy wrote and designed for the Bauhaus press. Throughout this book, the artist and Bauhaus instructor articulated his vision for a new form of art that would incorporate a range of media.
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– Artists must participate in society’s ‘collectivity of interacting events.’
– Printers, Photographers, and all artists must consider ways that art can connect people
– ‘Typophoto’ is a new form of making, combining typography and photography for ‘the most exact rendering of communication.’
– The combination of these printing technologies will create new possibilities for visual expression, thereby creating a ‘new visual literature.’  

On Typography
Author: Herbert Bayer
Year: 1967
Source: herbert bayer: painter, designer, architect. Rheinhold, 1967. pp. 75-77. Reproduced in Graphic Design Theory, pp. 44-49
Context: Bayer was first a student then an instructor at the Bauhaus before emigrating to the U.S. where he would continue his career as a graphic designer, typographer, architect, and artist. Though composed later in his career, this text is a reflection on the ambitions and ideals that Bayer held for a new form of typographic expression; one that would simplify language and create new possibilities for improved communication.
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– Typography is a ‘service art’ that provides the means for expressing ideas through mechanical techniques
– Traditional book forms and writing techniques lack principle and structure, thereby limiting the expressive power of type.
– A typographic revolution will come from (a) increased demand on perception, (b) a new alphabet and (c) physical forms for typography
– Universal Communication might come about from improved typographic form and ‘true text-picture integration.’
– Layout and printing techniques such as the square span, or colored type and pages that create a change of impact, improve perception

The Crystal Goblet, or Why Printing Should be Invisible
Author: Beatrice Warde
Year: 1930
Source: The Crystal Goblet: Sixteen Essays on Typography. World Publishing, 1956. pp. 11-17. Reproduced in Graphic Design Theory. pp. 39-43
Context: Warde composed this text, and delivered it, as a lecture to the British Typographers Guild where she appeared as a representative for the Monotype Corporation. In addition to outlining a notion of typography as a tool to be used in service of ideas, this text advocates the “new traditionalist” mentality, shared by Stanley Morison and Eric Gill, also working for Monotype.
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– The Crystal Goblet analogy compares typography to a wine glass, in that both are vessels to contain something without obstruction or distraction
– The ‘modernist’ asks ‘What must it do?’ instead of ‘How should it look?’
– Typesetters forget that ‘printing is meant to convey specific and coherent ideas’
– Readability can be compared to a good speaking voice
– Printing should serve economic or educational purpose rather than ‘expressing beauty for its own sake’
– Printing demands humility and discipline, while avoiding ostentation and stunts 

Language of Vision: Painting, Photography, Advertising-Design (Excerpt)
Author: György Kepes
Year: 1944
Source: Language of Vision: Painting, Photography, Advertising-Design. Dover edition, Dover Publications, 1995
Context: Kepes was an influential designer and educator who combined practical Bauhaus ideas with a formal approach inspired by Gestalt Psychology. Though never directly associated with the Bauhaus, Kepes worked for Moholy-Nagy’s design firms in Berlin and London, then taught alongside him at Chicago’ Institute of Design, where Language of Vision was composed. 
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– Abstraction emerged in Cubism and subsequent movements as a means for depicting reality from a dynamic point of view, rather than a fixed perspective
– ‘Values’ in art should supersede static isolated order
– All representations contain associative qualities, which the mind organizes and resolves to form meaningful configurations and signs
– Social contradictions and problems led to the disintegration of meaning in images. The role of the artist is to reintegrate meaning.
– Photomontage is a meaningful way for artists to make sense of, and function within, the ‘complexity of machine culture’
– The great challenge for advertising is to ‘disseminate socially useful messages’

The Principles of the New Typography (Excerpt)
Author: Jan Tschichold
Source: The New Typography: A Handbook for Modern Designers. Translated by Ruari McLean. University of California Press, 1998. pp. 64-84. Reproduced in Graphic Design Theory. pp. 35-38
Year: 1928
Context: Tschichold was trained by his father in calligraphy, possessed a deep knowledge of traditional graphics and type, but rejected virtually all pre-modern conventions after visiting the first Bauhaus exhibition in 1923. He published The New Typography three years later. In 1933 the ruling Nazi party imprisoned him for spreading Communist ideas. Shortly thereafter Tschichold fled to Switzerland, where he remained for the rest of his life, continuing to design, but rejecting the modern typographic principles of his early work. 
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– The new typography is defined by clarity and economy of expression, as opposed to ideas of beauty and ornamentation
– Typography must not arise out of preconceived ideas, but by developing form from the function of the text
– Asymmetry is optically effective, as it establishes definite, logical relationships within the text
– Standardization of type achieves clear and objective forms, as standardized building materials are necessary for architecture
– For the typographer ‘the most important requirement is to be objective’

Designing Programmes (excerpt)
Author: Karl Gerstner
Source: Designing Programmes. Facsimile edition. Lars Muller, 2019. pp. 8-9, 11. Reproduced in Graphic Design Theory. pp. 58-62 
Year: 1964
Context: Karl Gerstner’s approach to design embodies the International Typographic Style, aka the Swiss Style, in its systematic methods and formal rigidity. In Designing Programmes Gerstner describes the quasi-scientific technique of establishing a programme to address design problems. 
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– There is no ‘absolute solution’ for design problems, only ‘programmes for solutions’ 
– ‘The creative process is to be reduced to an act of selection.’
– Systematic tools such as the ‘morphological box of the typogram’ provide the necessary components for the selection process
– The grid can be a ‘proportional regulator’ but is not a programme onto itself

Grid and Design Philosophy
Author: Josef Müller-Brockmann
Source: Grid Systems in Graphic Design: A Visual Communications Manual for Graphic Designers, Typographers and Three Dimensional Designers. Niggli, 1981. p.10. Reproduced in Graphic Design Theory: Readings from the Field. Pp. 62-63
Year: 1981
Context: Grid Systems is a practical manual for grid-based design solutions, a theoretical treatise on working in this way, and a brilliant example of the grid system at work. Müller-Brockmann’s strict rule-based methodology anticipates the digital workspaces that would come to dominate design in subsequent years. The short excerpt that we read briefly defines the philosophy behind this way of working. 
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– The grid is ‘an expression of a certain mental attitude’
– The designer’s work should be a ‘contribution to general culture’
– Design should be ‘objective, committed to the common weal…the basis of democratic behavior’
– The grid represents a ‘will to systematize, to clarify’

Understanding Media (excerpt) / The Medium is the Massage (excerpt)
Author: Marshall McLuhan 
Year: 1964 / 1967
Source: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McGraw-Hill, 1964. / Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore and Jerome Agel, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Bantam Books, 1967
Context: Though trained in English literature, Marshall McLuhan began writing on the subject of media in the late 1950’s. His ideas not only became a popular sensation, with numerous TV interviews, documentaries, and film appearances, but it also disrupted traditional academic fields, while leading to new disciplines such as Media Studies. His collaborations with Quentin Fiore utilize graphic design to question the conventions associated with print media.
Key Themes and Takeaways
– Media can be defined as any technology that extends the human body, particularly through the sense or perception
– Media ‘work us over completely’, meaning they affect or altar all aspects of our lived experiences
– Visual spaces dominate western culture, as the printed book has traditionally been our primary means of accessing information
– Electric circuitry, and the media that have subsequently emerged from it, extend our nervous systems into a collective space, or a ‘global village’
– Artists must begin by understanding the effects of media, then invent new forms, to arrive at an ‘integral awareness’ of the media

‘What Their Cry Means to Me’…
Author: Gordon Parks
Source: Life Magazine, Vol. 54, No. 22, May 31, 1963
Year: 1963
Key Themes and Takeaways

Rhetoric of The Image
Author: Roland Barthes
Year: 1977
Source: Image – Music – Text, Translated by Stephen Heath. Hill and Wang, 1977. pp. 32-51
Context: Roland Barthes was a prominent French thinker associated with the Structuralist movement. This essay was written in response to a series of articles that Barthes had been following in a well-regarded linguistics journal. In his essay, Barthes attempts to demonstrate that images contain most of the same semiological elements, ie, signs, signifiers, signifieds, as spoken or written language.  
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– Semiological elements are present in an image, yet they differ from language in that they imitate nature, and are non-linear.
– Every image, especially photographs in advertisements, consist of 3 messages: (1) a linguistic message, (2) a non-coded iconic message, and (3) a coded iconic message
– The linguistic message of an image is the textual component that works alongside representational aspects of an image
– A linguistic message can serve the purpose of anchorage, meaning that it directs the viewer toward a clear interpretation, or relay, meaning that it invites unexpected interpretations 
– The non-coded iconic message of an image is the objective, denotational, literal, perceptual, innocent meanings that can be understood from the image.
– The coded iconic message of an image is the subjective, connotational, cultural, symbolic, ideological meanings that can be understood from the image.
– Images are rhetorical in the sense that coded elements perform functions similar to those of persuasive linguistic devices

Good Design is Goodwill
Author: Paul Rand 
Year: 1987
Source: Design, Form and Chaos. Yale University Press, 1993. Pp. 11-42. Reproduced in Graphic Design Theory. pp. 64-69
Context: Paul Rand was one of the most influential American graphic designers of the 20th century, known for the clear aesthetics that he adopted from European Modernism. Rand was prompted to write this article in response to what he considered poor design decisions from major corporations. The essay first appeared as a stand-alone pamphlet designed by Rand and distributed by Yale University Press. In 1993 it was reprinted in Rand’s essay collection Design Form and Chaos.
Key Themes and Takeaways:
– The relationship between designer and client should be a reciprocal one, at the highest level of management.
– Neither the field of design nor that of marketing require any accreditation, which can lead to the proliferation of poor design that does not work well
– Design is “a calling” rooted in the “creative impulse of an individual” and “self-realization.” Thus designers must dedicate themselves to uncovering good ideas based on instinct, aesthetics and taste.
– The contrast between the modern surroundings of an office and the traditional setting of most homes confuses notions of quality and good design
– Contributions of good design build the reputation and integrity of a company, which in turn has a “cultural responsibility” to “help shape its environment” and to develop goodwill toward consumers.

Learning from Las Vegas
Author: Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour
Year: 1972
Source: Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. MIT Press, 1972. pp. 3-18 Reproduced in Graphic Design Theory. pp. 70-76
Context: In 1968 the architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, along with their research assistant Steven Izenour, created a studio course for Yale University wherein instructors and students visited Las Vegas to study building design and urban planning. Las Vegas was chosen because of its perceived status as a “non-city,” with a lack of historical structures and deliberate planning. The resulting publication, including essays on their findings and graphical representations of the city, is considered foundational to post-modern thinking in architecture.
Key Themes and Takeaways:
–  Architects and designers should look everywhere non-judgmentally to understand the analogies, symbols, and images present in their environment
– To understand the language, or vernacular of architecture, one must separate the values or morals from the methods employed to communicate them. 
– Space is the medium in which architects work. Pre-Modern architecture regularly employed space to directly communicate via text and images. 
– Modern architecture attempts to abandon iconology, but fails to recognize the message communicated by many buildings and billboards.
– Graphic signage becomes the dominant architecture on commercial strips dominated by high speed automotive traffic
Billboards and sculptural symbols define the American landscape, much in the same way that landscapes such as the gardens of Versailles are defined by symbolic, picturesque thoroughfares and monuments. 

Title: The Underground Mainstream
Author: Steven Heller
Year: 2008
Source: Design Observer blog, April 10, 2008. Reproduced in Graphic Design Theory. pp. 98-101.
Context: In addition to his accomplished careers as a designer and educator, Steven Heller may be the most prolific design writer and critic alive today, or ever. The Underground Mainstream first appeared as one of the thousands of articles published on his long-running column The Daily Heller. 
Key Themes and Takeaways
– Mainstream, corporate culture steals ideas from underground counter-cultural movements
– ‘The avant garde is usurped when its eccentricity is deemed acceptable.’
– Psychedelia is one example of an ‘alternative code’ that spread through youth culture before it was commodified and diluted for the mass marketplace
– Culture-jamming appropriates the visual language of the mainstream to critique or undermine mass culture
– In contemporary advertising, underground and mainstream have been folded into one

Title: Dematerialization of Screen Space
Author: Jessica Helfand
Year: 1999
Source:  Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media and Visual Culture. Princeton Architectural Press, 2001
Context: Jessica Helfand is a designer whose work explores new critical and theoretical limits by incorporating a range of media and practices. She is an educator, the author of dozens of articles, co-founder of Winterhouse Studio, and co-host of the Observatory podcast, which produced by Design Observer, a site that she also co-founded. Helfand’s writings explore a broad range of themes, often relating to the ways that we engage with design. 
Key Themes and Takeaways
– The computer screen has become our connection to the world, but we are also ‘prisoners’ to a series of ‘commands and regulations’
– While avant garde artists (of the early 20th century) reacted to the machine age, there is not yet an avant-garde of the new media
– Virtual space is ‘circumscribed by a steadfast box’ but the viewer is a ‘moving target’ constantly interacting with real-world surroundings
– Internet space is lacking the ‘temporal references’ that make time material
– Most designers have only reacted to the new frontiers of digital technology, very few are shaping the new space

Assignment 12
Title: Import/Export, or Design Workflow and Contemporary Aesthetics
Author: Lev Manovich
Year: 2008
Source:, March 2008. Reproduced in Graphic Design Theory
Context: Lev Manovich uses design, multimedia environments, and information technology to better understand the role of technology in our daily lives. Hi projects often organize complex datasets into visual appealing, interactive platforms. This particularly text invites a re-thinking of the designer’s role in the digital world.
Key Themes and Takeaways
– The Import and Export commands are central to the digital design process
– Creatives working with analog media, such as filmmakers, graphic designers, animators, etc., were limited by the capabilities of their media
– Digital technologies allow designers to cross boundaries between media, thus establishing ‘parallel visual languages’ for print, film, screens, etc.
– The ‘remixing of working methods’ in different media can be defined as ‘metamedia’
– Today’s media are ‘hybrid, intricate, complex,’ sharing a ‘basic logic of remixability’