Should Designers Plunder the Past?

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Spring 2015 issue of Print, Rick Poynor addresses the problems associated with repurposing vintage imagery in design today—and discusses the Print article “Good History/Bad History,” which ran in 1991.

Poynor notes, “If the magazine were ever to produce an anthology of its most significant writing, this trenchant, multiauthored polemic by Tibor Kalman, J. Abbott Miller and Karrie Jacobs—originally written for Kalman to present at one of Steven Heller’s era-defining ‘Modernism and Eclecticism’ conferences—demands to be in there. … The authors’ central concern lies in the way that designers were, as they saw it, misusing history.

There were too many projects where the easy solution was to borrow something seductive-looking from the graphic past, with barely any changes. … If it’s hard now to appreciate why the authors found these designs so unacceptable, that may be because more than 20 years later, despite their urgent warning, we have become thoroughly accustomed to treating the past as a heap of golden nuggets waiting to be ransacked and redeployed for our own gain. Today, a shrug of resignation rather than an outpouring of scorn is the more likely response. ‘Good History/Bad History’ expresses the authors’ enduring faith in Modernism, for its belief in the present, its awareness of the future and its desire to use design to change the world.”

Here, as it originally ran, is the bold “Good History/Bad History.” Click here to open a PDF of the article.

And for more from the Spring 2015 issue of Print—including 15 of the best Bauhaus works, a profile of book design extraordinaire Peter Mendelsund, a debate about the future of print media, a lost letter from Milton Glaser to Massimo Vignelli, and exclusive new work by Jessica Hische, Louise Fili, Sagi Haviv, Paula Scher and many more—pick up a copy today.