"Graphic design has often looked to architecture as an intellectual model. We long to infuse our work with the same kind of dense theoretical knowledge and the same kind of broad ranging, legendary critiques. But we’re not architects. We’re graphic designers. Our role is less defined. We cross between print and web, 2-D and 3-D. Our work is easier to produce and more ephemeral. This fluidity, coupled with a discipline-wide pragmatic streak, makes it difficult to establish a defined body of graphic design theory.
Graphic designers have written about the ideas behind their work since the inception of the profession. Consider F. T. Marinetti, László Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Josef Müller-Brockman, Karl Gerstner, Katherine McCoy, Jan van Toorn and, more recently, Jessica Helfand, Dmitri Siegel and Kenya Hara. This body of work is small compared to architecture and fine arts, but it is passionate and smart.
Texts about graphic design fall under different categories of “theory.” Some analyze the process of making. Think Bauhaus experiments, methodologies that fall under the umbrella of International Typographic Style, and contemporary explorations labeled “design research.” Some texts examine the ideas behind the visual work. Authors “read” designs or design texts and put them into a wider historical/cultural context. And some apply outside theoretical discourses to the field of graphic design—deconstruction, semiotics, gender studies. Many seminal texts, of course, blur such categorizations.
Through my research I work to emphasize the value of our own theoretical base and inspire others to read and write more. Working on a recent book project got me thinking about a range of issues that face the profession today. Theory can help us address them."