Cover Stories: Thoughtfulness in design (3 Nov 2017)
by Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) Let’s delve into great media design from South Africa and around the world:
- Local/print: Art Africa introduces highbrow modernism to the lowbrow culture of South Africa’s streets
- Online: Magenta brings attention to the cultural importance of technology and design today
- Iconic: Revue Noire constructed an avant-garde African consciousness
- International/print: Roll with the Punches turns a popular sport into a movement for change
- Iconic: USSR in Construction reconstructed experimentalism within the confines of dictatorship
- International/print: The Washington Post Magazine appropriates from Russian art and design history to expose Trump’s compromised America
Art Africa (South Africa), Issue 9, September 2017
A one-of-a-kind publication, Art Africa magazine (previously Art South Africa) is a quarterly that never conforms and is always in support of art on the edge from across the continent. The current cover showcases recent work by South African conceptual artist, Robin Rhode (also the feature artist for this issue); he critically confronts issues on the cultural periphery in our country, risking life and limb daily by making his art within the bowels of the city of Johannesburg.
The cover image is a detail from a series titled “David”, one of Rhode’s most-recent projects focusing on aspects of colour theory and geometry. Following the work of Sol Lewitt (an important late-modernist and minimalist artist), Rhode’s stylistic approach here stands in contradiction to much of his earlier work but functions nonetheless within his established narrative, due to its rejection of literal interpretations of the outside world, rejecting representative forms that deliberately appropriate from political, economic, and social discourses, and favoring, rather, the construction of a fictional, quasi Afro-Modernist, world. Inspired by Lewitt’s instructional drawing process, Rhode and his crew produced work in a more-structured and -mechanical manner than in his older work. This was helpful when employing young men from the streets to make the art, empowering them and delivering the message, as the cover headline states, that “liberation is not deliverance”.
The Washington Post Magazine (US), 29 October 2017
This issue of The Washington Post Magazine clearly appropriates from Russian art and design history to expose Donald Trump’s compromised America. The use of constructivist aesthetics, recalling the suprematist work of Kasimir Malevich and the El Lizzitsky’s legendary “Proun” works, is a subtle hint at Russian interference in American politics, particularly the lead-up to the election that resulted in Trump becoming the US president. The headline states “some assembly required”, also a throwback to constructivist worldviews, where industrial progress was a key concern in the production of Russian art and design. One key difference: America is arguably reversing progress, not generating it — a fragmented and fractured nation. There are no surprises as to why this cover is so cleverly composed; it was illustrated by Michael Bierut, a partner at Pentagram, co-founder of Design Observer, among a variety of other historically important contributions. Beirut is an institution in his own right, particularly within the global design community.
Roll with the Punches (Palestine), issue #1, 2017
Conceptual in appearance, depicting the Palestinian flag across a triptych of skateboard decks, one would be forgiven for immediately assuming that Roll with the Punches is a publication about skateboarding. But it is, and it’s about skateboarding for good, and how the sport acts as an agent of change for the derelict communities of Palestine, one of the world’s longest-standing conflict zones. Staying true to its name, wheels rolling to the proverbial Israeli punches, the publication is printed in a limited edition of 500 copies. Edited and designed by skater, Tom Bird, this book details his work with SkatePal in the Occupied West Bank. SkatePal is a non-profit organisation that tries to enhance the lives of young people in Palestine through the sport of skateboarding. All money raised by this publication is donated to SkatePal so that it can work with the communities in oppressed areas in order to affect change. For more info on this project, go to rollwiththepunches.co.
Magenta (global), October 2017
Magenta is an online magazine created by Huge, a digital and experience agency with offices across the globe, and curated by a talented editorial team comprising an array of creative types. Coverage of technology and design trends is commonplace in the media today, but Magenta changes focus, placing emphasis on stories about technology in the hands of real people and how design aids in changing the manner in which people are affected by it.
In partnership with Medium (accessing the channel’s readership), Magenta deals with the important relationship that people have with technology and design, and the role that this seemingly simple equation has to play in society today. This relationship is like the air we breathe; we cannot exist without technology, and the design that has gone into creating it. Many people are surprisingly ignorant of this, when it should be treated, as Magenta believes, “like it’s their job”. The result of this ignorance towards the importance of design and technology in society? We consume culture quicker than we can produce it, and it’s destructive.
Not enough brands get design, and understand the importance of design in the present, expanding technological age. Instead, brands latch onto important concepts turned trendy buzzwords, such as “design thinking”, “disruption”, and “convergence”, among a bunch of others. Often used superficially, or willy nilly, these ideas — once subversive notions, now common corporate jargon — become empty husks that gain momentum in the opposite direction to what design truly stands for. Design is not ‘human-centred’; it is innately human. We shouldn’t talk shallowly about such concepts simply because it’s in vogue and, as a result, profit may be generated from it, ‘adding value’. This attitude lacks critical thought and creative acumen, void of meaningful impact. We should think about design in every aspect of our lived lives, and turn the often-meaningless effect of superficial terminology, models, formulas, et al into lasting effects based upon a considered integration of technology and ‘thoughtfulness in design’. Magenta offers a sucker punch of pragmatism in this regard.
Revue Noire (France), issue #1, 1991
One on the earliest examples of its kind, first published in 1991, Revue Noire was an internationally distributed magazine that aimed to deliver quality commentary on all facets of contemporary African art, from painting and photography to dance and theatre. The magazine was bilingual — written in English and French — allowing for greater networking opportunities between artists from the continent and in the diaspora. In framing the various cultural and artistic fluctuations between African values and Western influences, the publication placed a lot of emphasis on overall design elements. Visuals were interspersed with insightful copy that contributed to the creation of an important discourse surrounding cultural identity on the continent, crafting truly ‘intercultural’ subject matter.
Revue Noire published 34 issues before rerouting the focus of the journal as a brand. By 2001, Editions Revue Noire elected to publish books, curate exhibitions and attempt to create an online presence rather than print magazines, and so an important chapter in the history and documentation of contemporary African art came to an end.
USSR in Construction (Russia), no. 2–3, February/March 1940
Published over the course of eleven years, from 1930 to 1941, with a short-lived revival in 1949, USSR in Construction was a Soviet journal that, in a manner of speaking, was a silent reaction to the accepted cultural norm under Joseph Stalin known as “social realism”. Many artists turned to photomontage as a method of continuing their avant-garde tendencies as photography was an acceptable mode of expression within the confines of social realism, based on Stalin’s rejection of constructivism, which he viewed as a bourgeois style that defied the communist foundations of the Soviet Union.
As an undercover counter-current to socialist realism, each issue was an artwork, with larger-than-usual spreads, multi-page foldouts and other interactive elements that suggest a proto-experience design sensibility. For the most part, the design helm was taken by constructivists-turned ‘productivists’, El Lissitzky, and his wife, Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers. Other former constructivists, such as Alexander Rodchenko and his wife, Varvara Stepanova, also helped with layout and cover arrangements for a number of issues, making USSR in Construction a formidable creative force and historically significant publication.
Catering to an international audience, written in most major European languages, the magazine showcased the transformation of a technologically bankrupt country into a massively developed industrial powerhouse. The scope and scale of progress in Russia at the time was reflected primarily through photography in the magazine. Illustrated and designed by Lissitzky and Lissitzky-Küppers, the cover of no. 2-3 from March 1940 seems ironic in this context, given the austere circumstances at hand, as it depicts a Soviet soldier, in a passionate embrace, kissing a common Russian civilian. Not the kind of image that one would think Stalin would back to represent Soviet power. Despite its significance, December 1949 saw the final issue of the publication, succeeded by the far more conservative Soviet Union magazine in March 1950.
Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) is a designer, writer, and educator currently based in Cape Town, South Africa, working in the fields of communication design and digital media. He works from Gilgamesh, a small design studio, and is a senior lecturer in graphic design at Vega School in Cape Town. Connect on Pinterest and Instagram.
Cover Stories, formerly MagLove, is a regular slot deconstructing media cover design, both past and present.