Roland Barthes “Rhetoric of the Image” essay from Image – Music – Text, Translated by Stephen Heath. Hill and Wang, 1977. (excerpt)

  • Find 2 examples of the work of postmodern graphic designers from the 1980s.
  • Deconstruct the work. Explain which visual elements are associated with postmodernism of the 1980s and why.
  • What does the author mean by “Typography as discourse”?
  • What does the author mean when she states that “…no longer are there one-way statements from designers. The layering of content, as opposed to New Wave’s formal layering of collage elements, is the key to this exchange. Objective communication is enhanced by deferred meanings, hidden stories, and alternative interpretations”


This first work is “Your gaze hits the side of my face” by Barbara Kruger. The visual elements it shares with 80s postmodernism is the use of a limited color palette as well as its use of bold typography. Similar to constructivist art, Krugers’ piece utilizes only three colors: black, white, and red. This piece also utilizes geometric shapes and bold-faced typography similar to constructivist art of the past which also utilized geometric shapes and manipulated typography to communicate a certain message. 

Another example of postmodern design is this Super lamp prototype by Martine Bedin. Similar to constructivist design, it uses simple geometric shapes as seen in the base of the lamp and the bulbs themselves. The design of the super lamp is simplistic and evocative of older movements with the fascination of it lying in its absurdity and use of garish color palettes.

The meaning of the phrase “typography as discourse” is meant by the author as a call to action for postmodern designers. She is calling for designers to utilize the form of text and create design works that emphasize the letterform and blow it up to make copy text more expressive. She wants expressive typography to be at the forefront and drive discussion between artists and viewers on the meaning and importance of the piece.

When the author mentions the quote listed above, she is meaning to explain that the interpretation and discussion of meaning of postmodern art is its biggest strength. Postmodern art now consists of a layering of all different types of content and that through discourse and discussion about the meaning of these pieces, we’re creating better communication. Postmodern art exists as a conversation piece that promotes sharing of different ideas and interpretations. By holding these discussions, we are improving objective communication.

Hypothesis Annotations

  1. Copy is often treated as just that—undifferentiated blocks of words—without the mannered manipulations of New Wave, where sentences and words are playfully exploded to express their parts.
  2. Reacting to the technical perfection of mainstream graphic design, refinement and mastery are frequently rejected in favor of the directness of unmannered, hand-drawn, or vernacular forms—after all, technical expertise is hardly a revelation anymore.
  3. New Wave extends the classical Swiss interest in structure to dissections and recombinations of graphic design’s grammar.