Media Design: Blok, Popeye, New York Times Magazine, Timesheets
Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct)’s weekly analysis of media design from South Africa and around the world:
- Iconic: Blok constructed a unique visual language in Poland during the inter-world-war period, in favor of socialism and industrialisation
- Independent print: Popeye supports craft as a solution to problems we face today, reforming and reviving the production of quality goods and meaningful things
- Commercial print: The New York Times Magazine contemplates what will become of humanity during the fourth industrial revolution
- Online: Timesheets explores the work life of established creatives in influential cities across the globe, all of whom help to form the cultural bedrock of each center
The New York Times Magazine (US), 18 November 2018
The current issue of the NYT Magazine focuses on a pertinent subject that is increasingly apparent in our lives today, and bound to dominate all that makes us human in relation to the fourth industrial revolution. The theme is “The Human of the Future”, heralding the annual Tech & Design issue and avoiding expected notions, such as augmented or cyborg technologies, or an artificial intelligence, computer-driven world.
Illustrated by Jamie Chung, styled by Pink Sparrow and with 3D work by Justin Metz, this parody of a famous scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet marks the distinction between the humanist and posthumanist worldview. The comedy implied by an image of a robot contemplating the future of humankind, where a human skull is held by a machine hand, seems apt in contemplation of what will become of humankind as technology rapidly changes what it means to be human.
Popeye (Japan), issue 860, December 2018
Around 1860, during the first industrial revolution, William Morris, one of the founders of the arts and crafts movement, famously said: “Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making, or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers.” This statement was a response to the gaudy design and poorly crafted objects that industrialists were producing at the time. Morris was calling for reform through the revival of pre-industrial perspectives regarding design, art, craft, and discourse, based on the premise that, when confronted with good design and well-crafted things, we are somehow uplifted, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
The reality is, craft equates to quality because a lot of determination and consideration has gone into the process of making something. So, too, the inherited knowledge and skill akin to craft adds value and meaning, even provenance and legacy. This is importantly related to tradition and culture. The latest issue of Popeye places emphasis on this subject, elaborating on the concept of craftsmanship — what John Ruskin (a contemporary of Morris) would label ‘handicrafts’— and defining what will be ‘meaningful’ in the future. The perspective that Morris and Ruskin had didn’t fully succeed in the late 1800s (capitalism was simply too virulent) but perhaps today a deep appreciation for craft may be a solution to the problems we will face during the fourth industrial revolution.
Timesheets (Germany), November 2018
Migrating from city to city, Timesheets is an online magazine that profiles established designers and artists from around the world. The notion of the creative urban center is key to understanding the mission of Timesheet, where certain cities — and their respective cultural scenes — have always been, or are becoming, globally influential. This issue focuses on Berlin, an historical cultural hub.
The magazine explores the creative vitality and expressive drive that forms the cultural bedrock of each center, profiling pioneering creative practitioners and their individual approaches, processes, and visual language in their work, specifically with regards to studio culture, workflow and time management, discipline, accountability, responsibility, and the like. These are all elements that creative professionals the world over must practice every day when they walk into the studio.
The design of the site is interesting, deliberately using poorly executed typography and overly expressive colours which clash with the slick grid and layout of each page. The split-screen spread is easy to navigate, further complimenting the pseudo-schizophrenic art direction of the site.
Blok (Poland) 1924–1926
Blok was a Polish avant-garde journal focused on constructivist tendencies stemming from Russia during the inter-world-war period. First published in March 1924, the journal was initially a supplement to a group exhibition in Warsaw, which saw the introduction of constructivist ideals in Poland and included the work of Henryk Berlewi, Katarzyna Kobro, Karol Kryński, Vytautas Kairiūkštis, Henryk Stażewski, Władysław Strzemiński, Mieczysław Szczuka, and Teresa Żarnowerówna. All these artists are considered key members of the Blok Group, with Jan Golus, Maria Nicz-Borowiakowa and Aleksander Rafałowski joining later.
The Blok Group was influenced by cubist, constructivist, futurist, De Stijl, and suprematist trends of the time. Their obsession with Russian constructivism, specifically the suprematism of Kasimir Malevich, and the strong influence of the Dutch movement De Stijl which advocated the ‘neoplasticism’ of Theo van Doesberg and Piet Mondrian, inspired the Blok Group to construct a new visual language specific to Poland. Blok focused on how modernism was fundamentally altering civilisation, defined by the built environment, industrialisation and urbanisation. As a result, Blok concluded that all forms of representation had to be analogous to the language of the machine and pure reason.
Artists who contributed to Blok included Malevich, Philipo Marinetti (the founder of Italian futurism), Theo van Doesburg, Kurt Schwitters (noteworthy for his important dada contributions), and Mies van der Rohe (arguably the foremost modernist architect who helped define the international style). Blok appropriated many stylistic traits from the above-mentioned influences, including a strong emphasis on geometric form, stylisation and abstraction, establishing creativity as a service geared towards social purposes, as opposed to being an aesthetic experience. Much like the constructivists, the artist or designer was a ‘constructor’ functioning to serve the greater needs of the state and therefore society, effectively merging creativity, labor and social life.
The Blok Group disbanded in 1925 due to a plethora of discrepancies and disagreements between its members. The final issue was dedicated to architecture and theatre. Painting seems to have been omitted in favor of the commercial and industrial arts, including advertising. The last issue acted as a catalogue for an International Exhibition of Modern Art at the Zachęta National Art Gallery in February 1926.
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. Connect with him on Pinterest and Instagram.
Media Design, formerly Cover Stories and MagLove, is a regular slot deconstructing media cover design, both past and present.
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