The History of Graphic Design and Its Audiences

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by Michael J. GolecJune

To insist that, or to prescribe how, the history of graphic design need be taught in any particular way is to unnecessarily limit the field in both methodology and pedagogy. Since there is no consensus amongst historians of graphic design on what the history of graphic design is or what it should be, no scholar studying the subject should commit to any one way of researching, writing, and teaching. I suspect that if a scholar were to approach the question of how to research, write, and teach the history of graphic design, he or she may begin with a careful consideration of audience. What constitutes an audience for the history of graphic design? Do multiple audiences exist? What are the constitutive aspects that make up an audience member? What are his or her qualifications? And, what determines the appropriate knowledge base for potential audience members?

In his 1984 article, “The State of Design History, Part I,” the historian and theorist Clive Dilnot observes that design history was introduced into design curricula because of its perceived "important pedagogic role" in studio instruction.

While Dilnot defines design in broad terms, his remark deserves further consideration in regards to graphic design, since the reality of graphic design education now requires that the history of graphic design be taught in conjunction with studio courses. In an interview with Steven Heller in Design Dialogues, the late Philip Meggs discussed the importance of the combination of lecture and studio. Meggs said, "I've always believed the purpose of teaching design history is to strengthen studio education and professional practice." It is important to note that Dilnot and Meggs are not saying the same thing. On the one hand, Dilnot makes an observation about one aspect of the history of graphic design, that it has influenced the dynamics of studio instruction. On the other hand, Meggs prescribes the role of the history of graphic design in...
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