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Reweaving the Web
Where is graphic design in the new order?
by DK Holland and Ben Whitehouse
Last summer a large black-and-white spider, an Araneus cavaticus, to be precise, made his home in my Brooklyn garden. He moved onto my side porch in late summer to catch flies and a bit of the breeze away from the competition of the other spiders in my garden. In the fall as the temperature got nippy, this spider had by now become quite substantial and, framed by a perfectly designed web, had earned the name Milton Glaser. I’d meet with Milton in the morning and admire his portfolio of gnats and moths, artfully and individually wrapped in gooey white threads. I smiled when Milton made it past the first frost, but then I closed the doors to the side porch for the winter, and that was the last time I saw Milton Glaser.
Early this spring, I noticed a ball of what looked like sawdust hanging on a cobweb on my Clematis, right near the porch. As I picked up the ball to move it off this rather finicky plant, millions of tiny yellow spider babies scampered about on the silken cloth on which they lived. Milton Glaser had given birth to millions of spiders I mused. When I laid their web back down on a bush nearby, they returned to a huddle. The first warm day, the ball was gone. These tiny spiders had dispersed all over my garden, each with its own well-designed three-thread web (you have to start somewhere). And I wondered, “This new generation of designers; these children of Milton Glaser—how many will survive?”
When the Internet came on the scene some thought it was a fad, some thought it was fire. Many graphic designers simply ignored the Web: its tools too crude, its form too limited. Designers couldn’t make the Web pretty, they couldn’t control it, so they dismissed it. But now the Internet has become an integral part of life, and this has changed everything: the possibilities are proving endless and good design has become an acknowledged asset. In many ways virtual media is eclipsing print media, and the Web (and technology in general) is indeed home to the new generation of designers. But what of the traditionalists, those who still fail to embrace the Web?
Design it yourself!
With technological advances, everyone can be a graphic designer if only to create a personal Web presence, video, CD label, photo book, personal papers, newsletter, T-shirt, greeting card. In fact, designer Ellen Lupton edited a book recently, D.I.Y. Design It Yourself,1 to make it easier for everyone to create his/her own designs. The popularity of graphic design is both good and bad. Good if it causes people to act on their own creativity; bad if there are no standards, if anything goes.
Has the new Web-savvy generation turned its back on the substantial legacies of Glaser, Ivan Chermayeff, Tom Geismar, Massimo Vignelli (who are all well into their 70s and still working)? Is there a new, more democratic way of thinking about graphic design?
The paradigm shifts
I met Craig Kanarick back in 1995. He told me he had just started a company called Razorfish. They designed Web sites. “Razorfish,” I thought, “What a crazy name.” And when I saw their work I thought, “I don’t get it. Where’s the concept? Where’s the design?” When I saw Kanarick (who was not a designer, I might add) less than a year later, he had green hair and he was talking intranets and extranets and he really got my attention when he said, “By the way, Razorfish now has 1,000 employees.” Not too long after that (blue hair this time), he boasted, “We have offices all over the world, 2,000 employees and we’re worth $2,000,000,000.” Breathtaking! This was a whole new paradigm. But sure enough, not long after its IPO, Razorfish was washed up. And then there was a notice in the New York Times; Kanarick was getting married (looking quite conventional, I might add, in the accompanying photo) and moving on to photograph candy on the Lower East Side. To photograph candy!