The Power of Design as a Dream of Autonomy

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By J. Dakota Brown

“Designers have attempted, through sheer will, to reinvent themselves as theorists and critics. But as long as they are at work, they are constrained by social forces over which they have little control—and which they have, unfortunately, shown little interest in grasping.”

Approaching the turn of this century, graphic designers developed a series of critiques—formal, theoretical, and ethical—of their profession and its boundaries. In this brief intellectual history, J. Dakota Brown surveys the postmodern turn, the “First Things First” manifestos, and various collisions of graphic design with more established disciplines. A common thread of these efforts, Brown argues, was a yearning for autonomy: an attempt to develop design’s potential beyond the needs of commercial practice. As this essay illustrates, however, the dream of autonomy remains frustrated and politically ambivalent: a symptom of designers’ inability to confront the capitalist imperatives that shape their working lives.

Published by Green Lantern Press, 2019
Second edition, 300 copies

Softcover, 36 pages, b&w interior with 2-color Risograph cover, 5.5 × 7.5 inches

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