A design Year Zero 

30 August 2012 tbs.pm/1304

Bear with me on this one.

Transdiffusion’s audience divides (not very neatly) into telegeeks, nostalgics and people who appreciate design and structure. Or you may be part of the strange group of people who just kinda like reading about stuff to do with the media. We call you people “the majority”, but in a pejorative way. If you’re offended, you know where the Grauniad’s Media pages are online. Click that favourite. Go on.

As for me, I’m here because the twists and turns of graphic design fascinate me, and graphic design found its spiritual home in television. Television was made for graphic designers to play with and graphic designers reach their ultimate potential designing for television (even if, speaking as someone who earned a [poor] living as a graphic designer, you design the television stuff for your own amusement inbetween typesetting adverts for used bloody cars).

My point on this is approaching, so be prepared.

Amazingly talented graphic designers – David Jeffery springs to mind – can turn their hand to any era’s design as well as capturing the current zeitgeist on demand. For the rest of us – ex-designers and design appreciators alike – I have a theory.

Scene set, here comes my point.

For the rest of us, wannabe designers, actual designers, generic fans of design, our choice of when graphic design peaked is based on some sort of formula. Something like [year of birth] + [years taken to realise we liked design] + [period after that that we started paying attention to design]. From there on out, design was all downhill, obviously, even if we tried to keep an ever more reluctant hand in.

Here’s Central in 1986. Gosh.

So perhaps it’s just me. Maybe the rush of technology at the time fixed my “design brain” in the late 1980s. But I still, to this day, love late 1980s design. Yes, I know it looks awkward and spare and has a terrible habit of choosing Times Roman in lower case and inserting words awkwardly around pictures. But that was what Channel 4 was doing, and in the late 80s Channel 4 was, like, the coolest thing ever ever.

Despite all of the above, I suspect your personal design apogee was reach around the year you turned 13. If that was 1966 or 1996 or 2006, I suspect that the design you are most comfortable with, the design you would come up with by default (if you had any talent, and the majority of us don’t, even people like me that worked in the field), the ultimate peak of design itself was to be found roughly when you were 12, 13 or 14.

I could be wrong about that. But I’ll have Central’s design ethos from 1986 to keep me company. So I won’t care.

You Say

3 responses to this article

Paul Z. Temperton 30 August 2012 at 9:40 pm

Well I was 13 in 1962 and I liked various stuff then because it was markedly “new” and above all different from the 1950s, which still mostly looks to me indescribably naff. Now, though, some 1962 design looks to me slightly dated, though curiously not as dated as many 1970s items. As for the design of the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, I haven’t really noticed any difference between them. Such is old age.

Nini 1 September 2012 at 7:28 am

I like the idea of it being during those formative years between ages 11 and 13 when you really nail down what you like in design. It is the same thing that defines what interests you have and what really drives as all seem to coalesce at that time too.

Anyway, if you’re like me and bordering on 30 (old people we are) then the TV design which was around at the time I was 13 would have been firmly in the era of the balloons but also in the era of the hearts so not exactly the greatest period in time. For me though, mine seems firmly parked for no reason from the mid 80s through to the early to mid 90s as I do find that era fascinating being the junction point between the old practical world of design and the new digitally created era and because the old hands of the practical era was still around you got to see them apply their feel to these new methods and come up with things that are technically brilliant at times (though often flagged) and of course the best examples are a tiny little microcosm of that era of design for the humble tellybox.

Dave Jeffery 17 September 2012 at 4:47 am

You’ve got the most instinctive feel for 1940s and 50s design of anyone I’ve ever met – I would venture to suggest that perhaps you love these eras more than you think.

For me all eras are a mixture of the wonderful and the not so wonderful. The trouble is the best ideas, those which seem freshest at the time, tend to lose their impact as they are relentlessly copied. A wonderful thing about TBS is it allows you to see who was first, and what was there before.

I suppose if I was going to pick my high-point of mid-80s graphic design it would have to be the ITV Schools roto on Channel Four (designed at Central Television). That was stunningly beautiful and sums up the best of that era.

The graphics for the mid-80s promo packages produced at HTV in Cardiff were perhaps some of the best television graphic design of the era in my view. There was some truly stunning work in there.

(Er, I actually love Sam Brown – anyone who has their own ukulele orchestra and backs Charlie Dore can’t do any wrong in my view!)

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