Media Design: 2018 in review
Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct)’s analysis of media design of the past year in South Africa and around the world:
- Rave: Xeno-modernism — internationalist and pluralist perspectives countering conformist and nationalist tendencies, approached using abstraction and collage
- Rave: Real craft — a return to traditional approaches and attitudes towards illustration and typography
- Rant: Bad theft and anti-culture — derivative art direction that blatantly copies international trends without evolving or adding to the narrative
- Rant: No low brow — a severe slump in independent publishing in South Africa, running opposite to international trends , which exhibits a lack of awareness and consciousness.
There seems to be weird amalgamations of postmodernist and modernist tendencies that are mutating into something not quite post-postmodern, alter-modern, or neo-modernist but rather a ‘xeno-modernism’ of sorts. The confluence of these seemingly opposed meta-narratives, apparently in the process of hybridisation, embraces the postmodern penchant for pastiche and appropriation — shown by recent work done by Daniel Ting Chong and Leta Sobierajski — and the modernist obsession with formalism and abstraction — evidenced in various covers this year, including Zeit Magazine, Swiss in CSS, The Observer Magazine, Printed Pages, and The New York Times Magazine, to name a few. A strong sense on internationalism, stemming from modernist ideals, and an appreciation for pluralism and parody (which are postmodernist perspectives) appears to the binding agents for this interesting cultural chimera.
One creative measure that could combat the over-consumption of culture, or ‘anti-culture’, is a clear appreciation for craft, and the proper execution thereof. Craft is pen-to-paper, hands-on stuff, requiring immense skill and knowledge about a given discipline. It requires time and commitment from beginning to end. It is about process, iteration, prototyping, and all the other considerations that make making what it is, displaying how much pride and purpose has been injected into one’s work, evidence of one’s labor, imbued with quality and power to uplift society. This appreciation and understanding of craft have been displayed in many 2018 covers, including: Emergence (illustration and web design), Time Out and TIME (illustration and typography, both by SA’s very own Studio Muti), A Profound Waste Of Time (illustration and writing), McSweeney’s (illustration, writing, and packaging design), Fukt (typography), Baunfire (illustration and web design), and Popeye (illustration and writing). Naturally, all are fine examples of editorial design, and many book craft as well.
This may sound contradictory but often creativity is a healthy act of thievery: feeding off other creative output, influenced by and taking the baton from original sources and evolving upon them, and in turn continuing a narrative that will hopefully become culturally relevant. This follows Roland Barth’s famous concept, “The Death of the Author”, where once the author puts pen to paper she/he allegorically ‘dies’, influenced (‘stealing’) by many authors before, and influencing many authors after the creative act. So, too, one can’t include the concept brought forward by surrealist artist, Andre Breton, known as the “exquisite corpse”, which also deals with a similar collective unconscious creative inquiry.
The flipside of this is a form of anti-culture, the difference between the consumption of culture and the production of culture. The bottom line? Derivative work, cheap production (not to be confused with kitsch), plagiarism, poor crafting, and unapologetic copying — among many other forms of anti-culture and conscious efforts to steal — are not contributing to anything worth remembering.
The problem with this form of theft is that it places the bottom line at the top, and one could argue that this is one reason among many why culture is on the decline. Simply placed, anti-culture breeds dissent.
Some basic examples of bad creative theft from this year’s covers include Finweek (which seems to have used existing stock imagery for its cover, diminishing the craft of cover design altogether), Taalgenoot (which takes all the substance out of the work of Jessica Walsch and Leta Sobierajski, among others, leaving only surface behind) and, surprisingly, National Geographic.
There is a massive following for independent publishing in the US, UK, Europe and other parts of the world, such as Singapore, Australia, and Japan. It is a truly international movement, revivalist and reformist in many ways, all in an unconscious effort to re-cultivate the core pillars that comprise culture: design, craft, art, discourse, and the like. It may seem a tad overarching to say but it’s the spirit and drive behind such efforts that help to make societies function and able to cohere on an international scale.
With this, it is alarming how little activity there is regarding independent publishing in SA. We seem to be plagued by a lot of bad mainstream media, with an incredibly small underground to keep the scales balanced, especially online. That said, many who claim to be independent aren’t, shown by the fact that they are simply not knowledgeable enough; their output is pure surface with no substance — just a different form of anti-culture. Our society is clearly one of culture consumption, with incredibly low amounts of culture production happening.
Perhaps the result of consumerism and materialism run rife, or a lack of awareness, consciousness, and even taste, the low presence of independent/underground output in SA is striking.
To end on a positive note, here’s my selection of SA independents — prime examples from 2018 — which I hope will increase in number as a trend for next year: Wat Binne Is, Nowhere To Hide, Chips, The Carnation and Ambassadeur.
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.
— One subscription form, three newsletters: sign up now for the MarkLives newsletter, including Ramify headlines; The Interlocker, our new monthly comms-focused mailer; and Brands & Branding, launching soon!