Paola, the ICFF design panel evolved out of a conversation with RISD's president, Roger Mandle, about what we can do to nurture design criticism in schools as well as the media. We hope to instigate live conversations around the country and invite students and local design organization members to attend. The first panel, which will take place during ICFF on Saturday, May 15 (see www.icff.com
), will concern many of the subjects we've discussed in this forum: what criticism contributes to design disciplines, how it can flourish in advertising-driven media, and how it can transcend thumbs-up/thumbs-down evaluations to foster a multilayered, multivoiced body of knowledge.
My interest in the subject comes in part from our decision to launch a critical section in I.D., which Ralph mentioned in his last post. Begun in January, "Crit" is a collection of reviews presented at the back of each issue. Subjects encompass consumer products, medical equipment, buildings, design exhibitions, books, fonts, branding schemes--anything that can be pinned down and evaluated. We took this step after much thought about the hazards: the potential of offending not just advertisers but also designers we respect and like. As you know, design, even with all its facets, is a small world, and one's sympathies grow very strong. In the end, we decided to take the risk because cloistering is no friend of journalism--rather, too-cozy relationships with one's subjects often lead to stuffy, narrow, and personality-oriented reporting. More important, if a magazine's critical approach is simply a matter of deciding whether or not to cover a particular design or designer, the result is often as limited as its strategy. The work is presented heroically, the result of the designer's successul wrestling bout with a "challenge." (I have banned that word from I.D. because it has grown so tiresome.) And the story is almost always a romance, with the happy product, say, rolling off the assembly llne though we rarely get a glimpse of its life beyond, any more than we see the aftermath of a marriage in a Hollywood romance. A critical approach presumes that few good products are perfect and that few flawed ones don't have some redeeming feature. It allows for subtlety, and that's the main reason we decided to venture beyond the binary in/out mode of coverage.
I'm happy to report that we haven't lost any friends or advertisers so far. I think most designers recognize that reviewers represent only one point of view. If those views could be multiplied, as they are in, say, film criticism, they would add up to a broader and perhaps more tolerable collection of insights.