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What is a Designer Statement? (Part 5): Lehni, Geisler, Killian, Cezzar, Malinoski

This is part 5 of an ongoing survey. See part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here. As a design candidate in the MCAD MFA program I was asked to write an “artist statement” which, as a designer, I found inherently problematic. In response I contacted designers whose work inspired and influenced me in […]

This is part 5 of an ongoing survey. See part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here.

As a design candidate in the MCAD MFA program I was asked to write an “artist statement” which, as a designer, I found inherently problematic. In response I contacted designers whose work inspired and influenced me in some way, asking:

Is there such a thing as a “designer statement,” and if so, how would you go about creating one?

I received responses from 30 designers and studios which I will present here in the coming days. Many of the designers in this survey are represented in the current show Graphic Design: Now in Production.

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Jürg Lehni

Hello Vadim,

Thank you for getting in touch.

I personally always resented the notion of wrapping up my practice in one short statement. Artist statements tend to be too self centered and explanatory, offering a key to the reading of the works to be observed. Due to my constantly shifting interests between art, design and technology, I am rarely sure of the name of the hat I am currently wearing. After years of trying to find one short sentence that wraps it all up I realized that the name of the hat does not matter; rather than speaking of my interests and the involved disciplines, if anything the statement should talk of the work itself:

“Works collaboratively across disciplines, dealing with the nuances between technology, tools and the human condition.”

— (The last sentence being my current ultra-condensed ‘statement’ ) Is this of use?

Jürg

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Harald Geisler

Dear Vadim Gershman,

Thank your for contacting me.

To answer your Question:
“Typography is an art not in spite of its serving a pur- pose but for that very reason. The designer’s freedom lies not at the margin of a task but at its very centre. Only then is the typographer free to perform as an artist when he understands and ponders his task in all its parts. And every solution he finds on this basis will be an integral one, will achieve a unity between lan- guage and type, between content and form.

Integral means: shaped into a whole. There the Aristo- telian dictum that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts is assumed. And this vitally concerns typo- graphy. Typography is the art of making a whole out of predetermined parts. The typographer “sets”. He sets individual letters into words, words into sen- tences. ”

-From Designing Programmes, Karl Gerstner 1962, republished 2007 Switzerland (see attached PDF for context)

Also look at “A panel on architecture” Charlie Rose meets Peter Eisenman at minute 12

http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/5865

“This is what I’m about…” It is not Eismann talking but Jay Chatterjee (Dean of the University of Cincinnati) talking about Peters statement and how it defers from competing architects.

— So into the unknown blue:
I don’t believe that design or art or typography needs a statement. Because a statement is a written document, but design, art or typography does not perform in the realm of writing. So the statement is about something else, it is external to what it states about. (Compare: Martin Heidegger, What is called thinking Lesson 2 – “We shall never learn what is called swimming, for example, “…” by reading a treatise on swimming. Only the leap into the river tells us what is called swimming.”) So when formulating a statement one has to be careful, the statement does not inherit the subject, it does not become the subject – but it points to the subject.

What can an artist statement be good for? An artist statement is good for others. If a statement is a pointer, others can follow into the direction of the work by following the pointer. Since a statement exists in the realm of the written others can write about it and even talk about it – others can relate to the statement. Most people who are extern to your work are nor artist, designer or typographer – they are unable to relate to the subject within the realm of the subject. Although an expert i.e. a designer can react direct to anothers designers design by designing (theoretical interaction within the realms of design).

What can the artist statement be to the artist? I believe research is overrated. So a statement shouldn’t be mainly about what happened in the past nor be comparative. A statement could be a pointer to the artist, to point(direct) him towards his art – as the artist is not the art him/her self).

The statements I gave upfront were very important to me (in the past and still today) to orient myself. To orient oneself can mean to relate ones position in distance to other positions. (So maybe artist positions would be more “relational” than artist statements.)

— Yours Sincerely,
Harald Geisler

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Nicole Killian

Vadim

Considering the conversation of “art vs design” an old conversation, yes I think there is such a thing as a designer’s statement. And for me it is synonymous with what my artist’s statement would be. I approach writing them from a transparent and earnest place, setting out to not only inform others on my intent in making but also to understand my work more, selfishly. Through writing artist’s statements for my projects in graduate school, my personal projects and work in general I can better illustrate an understanding of key themes running through my process, content and formal executions—they are all linked. In a world where everything is up for grabs and context means everything, statements can clarify even if they never leave your desktop sticky note.

Designer’s haven’t always had a voice, and with our calling shifting and changing through the years and oscillating between “art” and “not art”, we’ve created content and formed opinions. We’re not flipping graphically designed burgers, asking if our viewers and clients want fries with that (metaphor snagged from my mentor, Elliott Earls). The time for speaking is here and has been for a while. So why not write it down? Knowledge is power.

Nicole

(sent from my phone. forgive the misspelling)

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Juliette Cezzar

Vadim,

The phrase “designer’s statement” is always going to be a tense one. Designers are usually in the business of responding, rather than stating, and it implies that the economy of design resembles that of an art market (you make the stuff first, then sell it). And in parts of our design universe, it works exactly that way: a client or art director commissions someone like Todd St. John or Marian Bantjes for a signature style, not because they’re looking for someone to untangle communication problems.

But in the last ten or fifteen years, the value of signature style has been dropping, the perceived value of “design thinking” is at an all-time high, and even illustrators are dropping the commission model to make their own products. The project is becoming the unit, the thing discussed, rather than the designer. And assigning credit for these projects is increasingly complicated. While I totally get and enjoy the designer-as-artist, designer-as brand model, it usually doesn’t involve the kinds of projects I’d rather do.

So should there be a designer’s statement? On an individual level, trying to clarify what your bigger aims are is always going to be helpful. For a practicing designer, I think a body of writing rather than a short statement is a more reliable way to get there. For a student, most programs involve a big fat swim in the sea of self-reflection, a statement is probably imperative to prove that you’ve gone through that process. I can see where it’s useful to go through all the soul-searching that it takes to get there, and to do it in a context separated from all of the pressures of what everyone else is going to think or do in response.

Which I know is impossible. Bonne chance!

All the best,
Juliette

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John Malinoski

Is it possible for a designer to write an artist’s statement? A designer is not necessarily an artist but often the titles are swapped out without much thought. Artist’s statements are prevalent accompaniments and requests while no such official priority exists for designers. I have read or heard many designer’s thoughts through a variety of sources — manifestos, interviews, talks, lectures, critiques, performance, happy hour, so are these not designer’s statements? Try to be honest and critical of your work, reflect on it. Put these thoughts into words. Realize these words are not permanent and can change as you / we change — ” less is more ! NO ! WAIT A MINUTE ! Less is a bore ! ” If you are unclear or confused say so, do not mask frustration. Realize your expression and meaning in words consistent with your demonstration of visual matter. Honesty and truth are noble yet difficult goals, self reflection is healthy.

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Look for Part 6 soon!