Small world, big family

inside Geoff McFetridge’s tower © La Triennale di Milano

Imagine you’re 14, or whatever age you were when interests suddenly became career options. You’re taken to a graphic design exhibition at Milan’s Triennale museum and while you’re there, it hits you: this is what you want to do for the rest of your life.

Graphic Design Worlds doesn’t tell what its subject is, was or should be, nor does it have a grand narrative or pedagogic agenda – which is not a bad thing, for this is an increasingly complex, expanding discipline. Yet judging from what’s on show, you may want to think twice before signing up for this world.

Over thirty designers were invited by curators Giorgio Camuffo and Maddalena della Mura to show their work in installations of varying degrees of scale, complexity and ambition. This international, close-knit family of professionals share roughly the same generation, Y chromosome and education – most of them, including many of the Italian participants in the gallery’s central room, either live or went to school in Holland or the UK.

Their worlds range from the weirdly wonderful (Åbäke) to the rigourously normative (NORM), from the bafflingly cryptic (Elliott Earls) to the obsessively specific (Studio Temp) and the rigidly casual (Dexter Sinister). There’s a wall of sentences with a one-liner appendix (Zak Kyes), a life-size studio photo (Na Kim), a crowded-room-within-an-empty-room (M/M Paris), two towers (Geoff McFetridge, KesselsKramer), a hut (Anthony Burrill) and plenty of posters and books.

Being a teenager in 2011, you’re certainly intrigued by how these worlds are made mostly of ink on paper or paint on walls – not pixels on screens. Apart from a sign with the word INTERNET on it (Mieke Gerritzen) and columns of printed web articles about WikiLeaks (MetaHaven), there’s little evidence of a graphically-designed digital world. Are you suddenly into graphic design because it makes for a welcome, if anachronistic break from your online, screen-mediated existence?

The works on show (with exceptions, most notably from KesselsKramer, Experimental Jetset or De Designpolitie) are best described as bursts of design self-expression – you’ll learn to label non-commercial, often self-initiated work as such. This makes for an extraordinary showcase of visual authorship, yet fails to reveal the extraordinary breadth of outlets and outcomes with which design professionals actively shape our ever more complex media exposed lives. Captions or introductory notes to each installation were also intentionally left out, adding cluelessness to your sensorially overloaded gallery experience.

As with many other design-for-the-gallery shows, this one lacks now (context), how (process), them (society) or why (depth), thus presenting an exceptional, disappointingly safe and benignly irrelevant version of its subject – design as teenage contemporary art. It also feels more like a post-millennial show of yesterday’s “poster designers” (there’s a small-world, big-family, old-boys club for you) than a reflection on graphic design in the world of today.

Once you leave the Triennale you’ll have time to learn about clients and deadlines, serif and sans, advertising and propaganda, data and information – the real world of graphic design. You’re likely to study the subject before earning a living by turning words and images into vehicles of persuasion or inquiry. For a head start, pick up the show’s antidotal catalogue: its 356, A5-sized pages pack highly readable, thought-provoking essays, earnest interviews and a vivid debate among the show’s Italian participants, which will make you get involved into the issues relevant to your future peers. That’s if you don’t change your mind and choose to do something else with your life.

This review of the Graphic Design Worlds exhibition, which was on show from January 26 to March 23 2011 at the Triennale di Milano, was published on the 2/2011 issue of items magazine. Op nederlands, natuurlijk.


  1. mr. knish – i maybe 'old enough' to appreciate your comments and certainly have in all previous posts.However, since i care little to share and stay connected, i will not get inebriated on social media.That's right, i don't get Twit-Faced.

  2. links wrote:

    Great post. I am facing a couple of these problems.

  3. Wolf trees = big spreading trees as opposed to ones that go straight up- basically, they grew up with plenty of space in an open field, instead of a forest.Whereas I think line trees refers to ones that are on borders between fields? So a line tree could be a wolf tree too if it grew up with plenty of space, but they're different terms.

  4. I know! Why is that? For me, the irony was that we really did look like sisters, there was no denying we were blood-related, so the fact that she bought it was what made it even more funny for me. :) I had always wanted a brother, too!! I eventually got one, years later. But that’s another story. :)

  5. I hope the cupcake is a joke… I was getting used to having a profile switcher that was useful rather than a cupcake… Even if it wasn't a cupcake (ie had the Google profile image) i'd still prefer the old switcher.

  6. Hi Jon,I’m having trouble splitting a 2-bed, 1-bath apartment between 3 people.How much should each person pay if one is living in the living room?The rent is $1800, all utilities included.The rooms are equal in size and the bathroom and kitchen are all in the living room, so the person living in the common area must tolerate occasional disruption in privacy.

  7. Het mentale dieet plan van Katja Callens voor diabeten??????????????Ik kreeg er hypo’s van.i.v.m. met mijn diabetes beloofde Katja Callens mijn geld retour te storten.Nu bijna een jaar later heb ik nog geen cent ontvangen.Als het moeilijk wordt dan blokkeren zij hun e-mail .

  8. To Anonymous 2:31: Yeah, he’s only messing around with the play-doh because Jonze and Gondry turned it down. Third-choice Frank they’ll be calling him…Let’s hope it’s better than the Reebok and SOS pieces of shit.

  9. / I’ll gear this review to 2 types of people: current Zune owners who are considering an upgrade, and people trying to decide between a Zune and an iPod. (There are other players worth considering out there, like the Sony Walkman X, but I hope this gives you enough info to make an informed decision of the Zune vs players other than the iPod line as well.)

  10. Con il Caldo di oggi è proprio quello che mi ci vuole ed è la seconda volta che ti scrivo il comemnto perchè sbaglio le parole di verifica, ma ci sono delle lettere che non si leggono.

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  12. Such a creative and fresh eye. I think we take these types of effects for granted these days, but something like this which is extremely painstaking and troublesome yet produces such a fantastic and beautiful effects cannot be ignored. Thank you for sharing!

  13. Awesome you should think of something like that

  14. That’s really thinking out of the box. Thanks!

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