1 IS' l O OK I N G C L O S E R J T HE RESPONS IB ILIT IES OF TH E D E SI G N PRO FE SSI O N Ha bert Spen cer T OWA n n TH E EN D 0 F his time as editor ojtypograph ica, Herbert Spencer was asked by tile magazine's publisl/cr, Lund Humphries, to tak e all the editors/lip and desig,' of the rompany's long-established Penrose Annual (founded in 1895). Spencers first volume, pllblislled ill 1964, included his arlicle on JI,t responsibilities oftilt design p"yessjon, in whm. the tensions oj ti,e fledgling discipline, so clearly exposed by the First Things First manifesto, an anu again apparent. TIlt! British D esign ers and Art Dirt(fors A ssociation. f ounded in 1962, "ad drawn regular criticism f or the fri volous (a mmm ;af concerns f oregrounded by mqny of the designs f eatu red in its alltlllol awards, and Spenu r's essay lends its weight to the attack on "designer's design ers" wllom ',e believes to be working norf or the com mon good, but f or the "approbation of their colfeagu es." He concludes by making a calf for resea,,1, into tile practical and psy chological aspects of communication design that would be often repeated, th ough less often Ileard, in the years tllat f ollowed.-rp D uring the past ten or fifteen years, enormo us changes have taken place in the practice of design.the great increase in me pu blic awareness of the importance of good design, the effect of increasing inte rnational competition in trade. The influence of foreign magazines, post- war affluence and the case and relative cheapness of travel, and opportunities for wo rking abroad-all these things have helped to dissolve rigid atti tudes and preconceived ideas towards the design of products and buildings and printing. In a prosperous society, energetic and amb itiou s young executives and editors have emerged, determined to establish their repu tations by the impact they can make rather man, as so often in the past, by the economies they can introduce.the efforts during the past twenty or thir ty years of the designers' own professional o rganizations today ensure that designers who respo nd to this challenge with imagination and skill arc generally adequ ately rewarded. In most sections of indu stry alert techni cians are replacing frustrated handic raftsmen, and the role of the professio nal designer is accepted- in principle, at least. Today's greater opportunities and rewards have attracted to the design profession large numbers of talent ed and imaginative young men and women, and since 1945 art schools have placed increasing stress upon graphic and industrial design in their courses. T he majority of todays designers are formall y trained and highly professional in their attitude to their work, and their training has given the best of them great fluency in the visual language of this age.t his change in the status and training ofdesigners is perhaps the most significant development in the profession during the past decade. Many of the original aims and objectives ofprofessional organizations such as the Society of Industrial Artists seem now to have been achieved. Design as a profes-
2 THE RESP Q N SIBI L 1TIE F THE D ESI G 157 sion is established; the designer's status is respected; the payment offees on a reasonable professional basis is generally accepted by industry; mere is a large number of schools staffed and equipped to train students up to a reasonable professional standard; and most designers do adhere to a code of professional conduct. Seen in this rosy light-with so m uch already achieved and so little apparently still to be tackleddesigners may feel encouraged to settle back and bask in the comfortable glow of their recently won respectability, wi th only occasional gentle bursts ofactivity in order to agitate for higher fee. Fortun ately, however, the design profession has acquired not only recognition but also responsibilities. And it is, I believe, through facing up to these responsibilities that the profession will escape from the cul-de-sac into which, in graphic design especially, it seems to have meander d. Design as a profession, is young. It has really only existed as an activity independent of painting or sculpture or architecture for about thirty y ars, Increasingly during the past twenty years, graphic and in dustrial design and typography have passed into han ds that have been formally trained to serve the requiremen ts of the profession and to prod uce work of a high standard of technical competence. But far too many art and design schools have been content simply to tum out skillful performers in an accepted idiom rather than men able to think out solutions in a logical and creative way.and the design profession as a whole has for too long been con tent to condone this situation instead ofcampaigning vigorously for design education of adequate breadth. By this neglect designers have created the situation which i at the root oftheir present dilemma, Ifwe examine the development ofdesign over the past 150 years it is apparent that designers are faced today with a profound challenge not to their ability, but to their integrity. The design profession, emerging from a long period of adolescence, seems now to be wavering as though undecided wheth er to accept its adult obligations or to retreat to the nursery. And an alarmingly large number of designers everywhere seem to be content simply to turn their backs on the problem as though hoping that by diverting their ey to their own----or their neighbor's-drawing board this threat to their profession's youth will somehow evaporate. Let us loo k briefly at wh at we mean by the practice of d sign and see how this has gradually evolved. Th ere is of course no such thing as an 'un designe d' product or piece of print- Design as a profession, is young. It has really only existed as an activity independent of painting or sculpture or architecture for about thirty y ars, Increasingly during the past twenty years, graphic and industrial design and typography have passed into hands that have been formally trained to serve the requiremen ts of the profession and to produce work of a high standard of technical competence. But far too many art and design schools have been content simply to tum out skillful performers in an accepted idiom rather than men able to think out solutions in a logical and creative way.and the design profession as a whole has for too long been con tent to condon e this situation instead of campaigning vigorously for design education of adequate breadth. By this neglect designers have created the situation which i at the root oftheir present dilemma. Ifwe examine the development ofdesign over the past 150 years it is apparent that designers are faced today with a profound challenge not to their ability, but to their integrity. The design profession, emerging from a long period of adolescence, seems now to b wavering as though undecided wheth er to accept its adult
3 ". L O O KI N G CL O S E R J locomotives o r eng ines or machines-with ornament and decoration to make them worthy monuments to their success.these embellishments, it is true, were not always appropriate to the new materials they used, but generally they effecti vely expresse d the vigorous enthusiasm of their promoters for their produ cts and the honesty of purpose of the craftsmen who worked on them. And wi th th e mechanizing of production, new kinds of prin ting developed. First, in addition [0 the comparatively simpl e lerterheadin gs, invoices. and trade cards already in use, the new mass production industries found n ec~a ry an increasingly wide variety of printed forms in order to control efficiently the proc esses of production and distributio n. Then, as both production and competitio n increased, demand bad to be stim ulated by advertising. After 1800, wi th advertisers using mo re and mo re supe rlatives, printing types grew bigger, fatter, and more ex uberant, altho ugh layout co ntinued to be based on that of the book-with display lines centered in w idth as o n a title page and pun c tuated as in continuous text. The fat face type introduced in the first decade of the nineteenth centu ry was the inevitable product of the printer's rigid adherence to symmetrical or centered layout and of th e advertiser's growi ng demand for typography more compelling than that of his competitor. U ntil the middle of thc nineteenth century typographical experiments were largely co nfined to var iatio ns o f th e type design, but th e inven tio n of th e platen machine led, about 1870, to a new kind ofprintin g known as 'Artistic Prinring.'This style made co nsiderable use of co lored inks and of elabo rate o rnament and decoration (often quite unrelated to the subject matter of the text), and inciden tally brought about the first real departure from the centered layout of the book printer. Artistic Pri nting, at its best, encouraged high standards of craftsmanship and considerable technical ingenuity. Bu t, espe cially in the diluted form of its commercial application, it was skill misap plied so far as the tru e purpose ofprinting is co ncerned. It W3S no t long befo re most printers had utterly lost all notio n oftrue printing tradition.t hey had squ andered their creative inheritance and were either imprisoned in a web of sterile conventio n or involved in an orgy of technical gimmickry without any discernible regard fo r the printed wo rd as a means of co mmunication. Not surprisingly, quite soo n they lost the respec t of both th e public in general and of th eir customers in particular. Aest hetically bankrupt and co nfused, the pr inting industry was quite incapable of picking up, or even of recognizing, the frayed ends of its severed traditio ns. It was ready to relin qu ish (though no t without resentment) control of design to 'amateurs' such as William Morris and those who followed in his wake. Unfortuna tely there are in several respects, as I shall later explain, dose and un comfo rtable parallels between late nineteen th- cen tury typogra phy and the situation in gra phic design today. But, broadly, what happened to printing design in the nineteenth century also happen ed to product and furniture design- not quite for the same reasons or following the same route, but no ne the less the result was a flood of designs wholly lacking in honesty of purpose or of fun ction whic h deliberately disregarded the nature of materials and paid scant atte ntio n to the convenience or comfort ofthe user. T he flippant and irrespons ible use of imporrant technical inn ovations debased late nin eteenth- century printin g.t he printin g industry lost sight of its tru e function and allowed its com positors to manipulate words fo r their own and their colleagues' am useme nt without regard to the value of the results as communication. In the end,
4 TH E RES P 0 N SI B I LIT I E S 0 F T H E DE S I GNP It OF E S S I O N 159 the word was rescued from all this gimcrackery by painters, writers, architects, and others who came to printing from outside th e industry, and who, during the first half of this century, gradually elimi nate d vulgar affec tation and resto red to printing bo th logic and discipline. Today we are in the throes of another technical revo lution in pri nting. Me tal is gradually being eliminated from co mposi tion. R eleased from its discip line the designer is free to place his lin es of type at angles, and he can curve, cut, or split display lines and juxtapose o ne line of type closely against another or he can, ifhe wishes, super im pose one word upon anothe r. This freedom from mechanical restri ction provides th e designer wi th wonderful op portunities for producing imaginative and sympathetic visual solutions and of conveying the author's message wi th great precision. But equally th e designer can ifhe chooses use this new opportu nity-as the late nineteen th- cent ur y compositors used theirs-not for better communi catio n, but merely for supe rficial patt ern maki ng. U nha ppily, there are clear in dications that both in the graphic and product design fields far too m any designers are today working for the approbation of their colleagues rather than in an h onest attempt to solve specific design problems to the best of their ability.t hey arc motivated by fashion rather than conviction and they are rapidly undermining the basis and pri nciples of twentieth-century design. Inspir ed by personal uncertainty, some of them are trying to turn the design process into a kind of professional mystiqu e encl ose d in a rig id yet ever-contracting circle which excludes all true creative activity. But the designer needs to have a hea rt as well as a head and his head should contain more than j ust a pair of eyes. Just as I do not be lieve the honest designer can o r sho uld, or ever wants to, shed sound traditions n or do I think he ought ever willingly to embrace sterile or artificial conventions-not even newly created on es. This, then, is the heart of th e design profession 's present dilemma. There are at presen t too m any 'design er's designers' at wo rk with the result that the public is in many cases being starved of the sound and aesth etically satisfying products to whi ch it is entitled. This is a co ndition which can ultimately be cured only by design education ofadequate breadth and vitality. It is, of course, the pri ncipal aim of the new diploma co urses which rece ntly began in selected art schools in Bri tain to ensure that design ers should in future be educated and not merely trained. The men w ho emerge from th ese courses and othe rs like them elsewhere during the late 'sixties will be well equipped to tackle many of the vita l and fundamental tasks at which society and the design professio n have so far barely begun to nibble. Now is the time, therefore, for designers and the ir profession al associatio ns to examine the oppor tunities and obligations that lie ahead. As design has progressed from an amateur to a professional activity th e jobs and the opp ortunities have grown larger, to o. Most established designers now spend a substantial part oftheir time working no t on single commissions, but on designs which relate to a corporate design po l icy or house style.t he advantages of th is situation are obvious.these larger exercises provide a sounder basis on which to conduct a design practice and, espec ially important, they allow time to b e spent on research and experiment and investigation in a way that th e single comm ission does not. O ut of some ofth e largest schemes of this kind, promoted for qu ite legitimate commercial ends, much useful design kn owl edge and data have been established.
5 ,ro LO OK IN G C LOSE R..l But the designers' contr ibution should be not only to the economy but also more directly to the health and happiness ofour society. T here is. for exam ple, remarkably little research being carried out into the practical and psychological aspec ts of lettering, or co lor, or pattern. The little that is being done is generally conducted by scientists without the participation of designers and the naivete of their co nclusions on matters of design often deprives the results of any practical value. Tens of thousands ofmen, women, and children are killed or injured on the TOads of Europe every year. Many of those who lose their lives or limbs are the victims of clumsy and inadequate signposting devised by engineers and civil servants. O f course these officials and engineers do their best but they fail because they try to solve unaided problems that are beyond their kn owledge and experience. Let us take just one example : in Britain and in many other count ries pedestrians are encouraged to cross roads at places marked with white stripes. Indeed, in theory, the pedestrian has right-of-way on these 'zebra' crossings. But it is quite apparent that from a psychological point of view the stripes run the wrong way. Because they run in th e direction of the traffic Bow, chey encourage the motorist to advance and act as a visual barrier to the pedestrian. There are at least 10 million blind people in the world. Most of them live on char ity of one land or another-c-direcr or disguised. Some of them are helped to lead useful, well-i ntegrated lives through learn ing to read by tou ch and to op erate machines, or carry out handicrafts. Bu t there are thousands of ways in whi ch trained designers by devising new and ingenious equipme nt and techniques could exped ite the process by which these and other handicapped people are helped to fill a useful place in so ciety. Many of the articles made by handicapped peopl e could be better designed both in relation to the market and the abilities of those wh o produ ce them. The elimination of illiteracy throughout the wo rld is o ne of the greatest and most compelling needs of this century. H ow many designers arc there, I wonder, actively engaged in this battle, in Africa, Asia, and So uth Am erica. Teachers, missionaries, and Governm ent officials spend years working out methods that would be obvious to a trained designer in thirty min utes, and other, original techniques lie wholly unexp loited. Each year in Africa far more money is paid to artists and designers to boost the sales ofcoca-cola than is spen t on design ing and devising the weapons that will defeat illiteracy. T hese are just a few ofthe tasks now facing society in which the design profession could make a vital contribution. I am not suggesting that designers should embark on a mammoth campaign of charity.what I am saying is that in solving many of the real and exciting problems posed by twentieth-century socie ty the designer-just as much as the scientist, the engineer, th e doc tor, or the teacher-has an important part to play. Designers should not quietly sit in the wings waiting to be asked to take the stage. Somebody should do something about it.and, as mem bers of society, designers I suggest sho uld now actively campaign for recognition of the role they ought to play. After all, nobody knows better than they do what as a profession th ey have to offer. First published in T he Penrose Annu al 57 (Lond on: 19 64).