If Form is not Design’s paradigm anymore, what comes next?
If you’d asked art critic Hal Foster around the turn of the Millenium, he would probably answer Design itself succeeded Form. In 2000, Foster published his influential essay “Design and Crime,” which echoed Adolf Loos’ “Ornament and Crime.”
Loos’ text was a violent, often racist diatribe, marking the change of Design’s central paradigm away from Ornament. As seen in the last installment of this series, Richard Hollis proposed that after Ornament came Form. Echoing Loos’s text, Foster suggests that, after Form, came Design itself.
To Foster, Design had turned into an all-encompassing idea. He famously stated that “everything from jeans to genes—seems to be regarded as so much design.”
To Design as a discipline, this change was puzzling and dramatic. At the same time, Design seemed like an all-powerful idea precisely when its professional sphere felt more threatened.
The traditional studio-based model was in a deep crisis, menaced by automatized Design. The indirect and direct competition came either from young designers who could mimic or surpass the work of a studio using only a laptop or from entirely automated systems that generate design solutions on-demand.
These systems automated formal work to a level where entire fads emerge from filters, presets, or algorithms. The result is a growing suspicion, even repulse, towards Form.
Design withdrew from Form and turned itself into an aestheticization of managerial processes. Design Thinking is the most obvious example, a management trend that redeployed Bauhaus and Ulm methods away from their formal concerns, turning them into generic workflow models.
This Design, cleaned from Form and made into a management tool, was applied to Design itself, like a serpent that invites its tail to a corporate retreat over the weekend.
Why is it so hard for graphic designers to discuss aesthetics? I would argue that graphic Design’s discourse is mainly professional ethics. Everything, aesthetics, politics, pedagogy, must go through here.
In other areas, the division between Form and content is
Design discourse is, above all, professional ethics. Above aesthetics, above politics,
its theory and criticism and everyday talk and attitude.
Design theory and criticism are mostly deontology.