The meaning of tools and skills are told through this documentary about Graphic Design
When discussing graphic design within today’s context, the first and probably only tool that comes to everyone’s mind is the computer. It’s been 30 years since Macintosh and desktop publishing have revolutionized the entire working process, causing every preexisting tool to become out of date and something of a tale from previous generations.
Graphic Means is a documentary film that takes us on an exploration of the working process and tools used in the creative process of graphic design in the pre-digital period, all the way back to the origin of printing with Gutenberg’s steel letter press during the time when graphic design was just a part of printing and not yet even regarded as an individual field of study or profession. The film’s primary focus is placed on the period from the 1950s to the 1990s and ends with the transitional period when handmade skills were being replaced by computers.
Graphic design has changed from an activity that requires human labor and depends highly on the proficiency of skilled practitioners with specific processes and tools that demand a considerable physical space in order to operate. Today, the mind and hands of one single designer and a computer can get the job done, while in some cases, the design is executed by someone who isn’t even a professional designer. Everything seems so easy, but the progressively developed tools don’t actually make our lives substantially any better, whether it’s the requirements that come with a shorter working period, the increasing role of clients who interfere in the creative process, or the endless possibilities and experiments that the digital age is offering.
In the film, viewers are able to hear the opinions of a number of designers whose careers have seen tremendous change, and while some embrace the new possibilities these technologies have granted, some view it as a great loss, for the journey of ideas from a designer’s head to the real world is absent, while everything stays formless until it is actually printed out. Some believe that craftsmanship skills will still find their way to exist no matter when and how much rarer and valuable they will become.
What the film depicts allows for us to see the limitations that designers from the older genera- tion had to deal with. Such constraints con- sequentially forced them to develop methodo- logical thinking along with the ability to produce works with a high level of intricateness, which is something today’s designers can learn a great deal from and keep in mind, as even the default configurations of the software they use to make a living are referenced from the experiences of their predecessors.
Another interesting thing about the documentary is that the director, Briar Levit, whose main job is working as a graphic design professor at Portland State University, had no previous experience in filmmaking. Despite growing up in the post-Macintosh period, Levit collects an impressive collection of 60s-80s design manuals. Her personal interest developed into the project that aims to educate the younger generations with a Kickstarter being the place where she proposed the idea. It was in the middle of 2015 that Levit was able to gather the funding, obtaining a total sum that was a little bit higher than she had first expected. ‘Graphic Means’ has been screened at different design festivals around the world with the premier showing in Thailand being scheduled for the 27th of October 2017 at BITS (Bangkok International Typographic Symposium). For more information about seating and booking, visit http://bitscon.asia/program/2017-graphic-means.
￼TEXT: WEE VIRAPORN
PHOTO COURTESY OF GRAPHIC MEANS