Graphic Design and the Edges of Common Sense. Thinking about design through the conflicting approaches of Wim Crouwel and Jan van Toorn

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Bachelor's thesis
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Graphic design
37 + 5
This thesis is an attempt to define two contrasting approaches to graphic design practice and explain the reasoning behind their differing perspectives. The starting point and main subject matter is the public debate between Wim Crouwel and Jan van Toorn that occurred in 1972 and continued in different forms for the following decade. The point of departure for the thesis is that public debates in general, and this one in particular, offer an invaluable view of the implicit assumptions that frame the conceptual approaches to graphic design of participants. Beginning from a description of the two designers, their careers and a summary of the debate, the thesis extracts two archetypal approaches to graphic design. These approaches are based on the views of Wim Crouwel and Jan van Toorn, and see graphic design as either service provision & problem solving (Crouwel), or critical enquiry and the subversion of common sense (van Toorn). The service provision approach sees graphic design as a professional activity whose goal is to communicate briefs of different kinds effectively and transparently. The critical enquiry approach, on the other hand, sees graphic design as an activity of practical intellectuals and calls for a fundamental reassessment and repositioning of graphic design practice in relation to the state, media and corporate interests — without losing sight of its dependence on them. The argument explored in the thesis is that these views are not simple binary oppositions, but share a conceptual environment that sees form, content and context as elemental concepts of the practice. In addition, the critique of the critical enquiry approach towards service provision is a direct consequence of the inadequacies of the latter's ability to deal with professional and social crises that it inevitably leads to.
Heinänen, Saku
Thesis advisor
Karhumaa, Arja
graphic design, Wim Crouwel, Jan van Toorn, critical enquiry, service provision
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