I had a designer come show me his folio the other day. That happens a lot, especially in this market. Anyway, the designer who shall remain nameless told me that s/he wanted to get into design for the record industry. Fair enough. Some people might prefer a job that pays actual money with which you can buy food, but it takes all types.

The work in the folio reminded me of the designs from 4AD sleeves – you know, Pixies, Lush and all those other bands I loved when you were still listening to MC Hammer and Bon Jovi. So I asked the designer about whether s/he was inspired by Vaughan Oliver.   Blank stare.

I even said, “You know, the guy who did all the 4AD sleeves.”

‘I’ll google him’.

Sigh.

I think if you want to be a designer, you’re obligated to know a bit about your industry. This was the equivalent of an aspiring young novelist not knowing who Chuck Palahniuk or Will Self are. But no, most designers seem to think that it’s ok to live in a cultural vacuum and have an historic continuum that goes back as far as last Wednesday.

I’m not saying you need to know who Carol Twombly works for, or that you have to have a whole bunch of old copies of U&lc stashed under your bed. What I am saying is that an understanding of what has gone before is essential if you want to create useful, meaningful work. Graphic design has been around for a long time now, and better people than us have grappled with reflecting culture back on itself through design. Knowing what they did in the past helps us understand what we must do today.

It’s no wonder there’s so little respect for our industry when we don’t even respect it ourselves. Can you imagine Economics graduates not knowing who Keynes was? OK, maybe you can, but what if they went to a decent university? See? It’s absurd.

I hereby propose that undergraduate degrees in graphic design contain a mandatory Graphic Design History component – maybe you could make space by ditching the pathetic attempt to shoehorn Foucault into the minds of kids who have studied nothing but fine art since they were 16.

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