This essay by Jeffrey Keedy is highly significant in relation to my research topic. He basically articulates the reasons behind many of the aesthetic characteristics which have come to dominate much of contemporary graphic design visual culture. I really like his writing style and his critical tone of voice.
‘Space in the Global Style is flat to the point of non-existence. Although there is almost always some layering of a tedious geometric shape on top of an insipid block of text, the effect is still one of simultaneity and flatness as the overlap is usually transparent. The picture plane is not composed, it is just temporarily occupied. The hierarchy of forms is designed so that everything within the composition is of more or less equal unimportance. Some words go this way some go that way, here it is, easy to read, easy to look at, everything in place filling the page up nicely. Since the page is so evenly filled we read it as instantly “complete” or “done”. It requires very little of the audience in terms of interpretations or participation. It functions like cultural “wallpaper” it is easy to ignore.
The International style used typographic trickery to animate the flat picture frame with the illusion of depth and space. Borrowing from music and video, the Global Style uses the 4th dimension of time, or rather a reference to time, to animate the 2D space. It accomplishes this by looking like it was a single frame taken out of an animated sequence. One can easily imagine many different iterations before and after the one we are currently seeing. The overlap of disparate imagery looks like “screen burn” or “ghost images” that would make more sense seen individually or sequentially. In this way, the Global Style extends beyond itself forward and backwards in time but not in space. It is very emblematic of our transient culture, it's a move that hits the zeitgeist right on the head, making it more relevant that the old International Style with its analogue abstractions of the 2D space.
What the Global Style took from Postmodernism is a taste for the vernacular, the quotidian, the punk inspired anti-aesthetic and an interest in language. This is where the “ugly” font and colour choices come from as well as the squashed type and the frames around the outside and inside the frames within frames, the overt use of languages and diagrammatic symbols, the slash, the underline etc. Centre axis typography was used as a historical reference in postmodern typography, but in the Global Style it is simply an easy auto default setting, randomly deployed.
Designers of the postmodern era were accused of aesthetic self-indulgence with all the computer stunts, historical quotation, formal contortions and time-consuming complexities. No one can accuse the designers of the Global Style of aesthetic self-indulgence since pretty much anyone can design like that, and do it quickly. Obviously, their self-indulgence is not an aesthetic one, but a social one. Forget about print, digital, motion, environmental or interactive media, because it’s social media that has the biggest impact on design today.
Should design studios really put the bulk of their efforts into “projects” of their own division tat are of no use or interest to anyone but themselves and a few underemployed friends? Feeding your blog, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter account is self-promotion, but is it design? The fact that you are busy doing design doesn’t mean you are a designer, any more than the fact that you are busy cooking makes you a chef. Design is for somebody besides you!
Today it is taken for granted that graphic designers have a cultural role to play. We won the battle, we have our autonomy. But is this how we want to use it? Replicating art world practices, and recycling old styles for each other? Is being an institutional servant somehow better than being a commercial one? Better for who?
The Global Style, like the International Style before it, will be with us for some time to come. It is the new normal, or base from which a multitude of stylistic liberations and reactions will evolve. Every era and culture gets the style it deserves. What did we do to deserve this? Or maybe it's something we didn’t do?’
The Global Style, Keedy, 2015