When Progress Propagates Like Yeast

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In 1948 the designer, typographer and illustrator (and sometime curmudgeon) Thomas Maitland Cleland (1880–1964) gave a talk at the Newberry Library in Chicago to the Society of Typographic Arts on the nature of “‘Progress’ in the Graphic Arts.” His signature tone was slightly sarcastic, heavily cautionary and always critical. Oh yes, and endearingly entertaining unless you were on the stinging side of his barbs. In 1950 the talk was “printed in privacy” by The Overbrook Press (Stamford, Connecticut). You get an inkling from where he was headed with his explanation of the quirky title page: “The title page of this edition is designed in ‘dynamic functionalism’—the function in this case being to call attention to the designer’s creative originality and show that even a slave of ‘outworn tradition’ may progress.” I reproduce the entire document below as an example of design criticism before the age of design criticism.

Princeton University.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →