As a design candidate in the MCAD MFA program I was asked to write an “artist statement.” Producing an all-encompassing articulation of my work posed a challenge—aside from a certain violence inherent in definitions, the idea of an “artist statement” seemed somewhat problematic for a designer, having worked primarily on client-based projects for a number of years since receiving my BA.
When I attempted to describe myself as a service provider, the statement felt cold and generic—an easily digestible marketing “jingle” with a dispassionate list of skills and expected methods. When I attempted to examine my work through the lens of a wider artistic practice, focusing on my interests, re-current themes in my work, philosophical or political views, this also felt somehow insufficient—it became difficult to reconcile the outward-looking nature of graphic design with the inwardly focused approach necessary to formulate the boundaries of an artistic practice. In my search for a perfect definition of my work I began to question the validity of this exercise and the relevance of such statements in the field of design in general. Should designers produce artist statements or is there a different model for addressing the public? What is the relevance of personal statements (vs. manifestos) in the design field today? How does one produce a definition that is genuine and useful without limiting the range of one’s activities?
The next step seemed logical; I decided to reach out to practicing designers whose work I admired by posing the following question:
Is there such a thing as a “designer statement,” and if so, how would you go about creating one?
I received responses from 30 designers and studios which I will present here in the coming days. Many of the designers in this survey are represented in the current show Graphic Design: Now in Production. Here are the first three responses:
i suppose i have a response which will at first seem glib — of course, a statement (of intent, purpose, subject, whatever) is something that designers are very often actually asked for. usually these things flow out in the either a. hackneyed language of marketing, or b. hasty recounting and slight re-wordings of someone else’s definition of design. a much stronger version is to make your work do the stating, so that a ‘statement’ as such is redundant. i do realize that this is often hard to practically make work, or make legible anyway. so we continue to write our own bios and frame our own practices. in which case, a designer statement is best read between the lines of a bio (perhaps), or (better) in the connecting threads that run one project to the next. i dont see much use in artist’s statements anyway, as it is much nicer to manifest an approach and model a way of working than to describe an agenda and illustrate it through works.
you might notice the distinction between ‘works’ and ‘working’ — this is crucial.
hope this ramble proves useful,
James Goggin (Director of Design, Print, and Digital Media, MCA Chicago)
A really late reply from me, I do apologize. But I was pleased to receive your email and I will happily answer your question.
I’m with you on the notion of a designer statement being a problematic one. Given my own practice which is constantly influenced and directed by the given circumstances of any project’s content and context, I would likely soon contradict any statement I might make as a designer. But perhaps that in itself could be a valid statement: the conscious avoidance of one ideology or dogma but rather the recognition of the parameters and constraints placed on designers, and the willingness to embrace and subvert them.
A bigger question is perhaps not “how would you go about creating a designer statement” but more “for which audience is a designer statement actually intended”? The application of design parameters onto the very question of a designer statement.
As a test of the above, I am going to revisit an unfinished interview that Emmet undertook with me a few years ago (unfinished by me, unintentionally, just due to being to busy and disorganized — he asked some great questions) to see if, in those “designer statements”, I still agree with them, or if I have since contradicted myself. I hope I have.
Thanks for your great question, I look forward to seeing your results. Come and say hello when I’m at the Walker in March.
Hope this response fits the bill. So excited to see the discourse!
Q: Is there such a thing as a “designer statement,” and if so, how would you go about creating one?
A: There are a lot of design manifestos, initiatives, philosophies, missions and methods. Regardless of the titling, a statement outlining ones approach to work is an invaluable guide. The work we produce carries the mark of our perspective (be it grand or subtle) whether we intend it to or not. It is vital that we understand our own voice in order to contribute responsibly and extract greater meaning from our endeavors. For me, stating my goals can help move my work from intuitive to intentional. “Designer” is such a nebulous title; further defining the role for myself is key to directing my own path and its resulting impact.
I developed a half-hearted traditional artist statement when I began showing work in galleries, but I developed the most useful writing during my graduate studies at Cranbrook in response to the completely open, almost unstructured program. I needed guidance. I developed a structure to self-apply. I extracted my own voice, creating a set of guiding statements to keep me on a broad, but directed path. I still look to, and continually evolve two of sets of those guides: “What the work wants to do” (my initiatives) and “Reminders when making” (my methods). They cover the grand concerns of what am I doing & how I am doing it.
Thanks again for the inquiry!
Look for more responses soon!