Dialogue: Design Writing Criticism - Design Bureau

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Dialogue: Design Writing Criticism

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Name: Alex Cameron, Xanthia Hallissey, Emily Higgins, Kate Nelischer, Prachi Khandekar, Krisztina Somogyi
Location: London
Occupation: Design Writing Criticism master’s students by day, but moonlighting as inexhaustible foodies

Writing, letterpress, archives, and pie. That’s all in a day’s work for the master’s students of Design Writing Criticism at the London College of Communication. Most of us read some kind of design writing every day (yeah, okay, this counts), but these master’s students are part of a new flock of writers in design writing and criticism graduate programs in London and New York. They are some of the first to be formally trained in the field.

In the first of a two-part series, we speak with students in the Design Writing Criticism master’s program at the London College of Communication. Whether it’s through their original, limited-edition letterpress prints, storytelling workshops, or cooking classes, they are attempting to push the boundaries of design writing. Before they split ways for the summer to finish their theses, they share what it’s like to get schooled in design writing.

What is design writing? Do we need to define it?

Kate: Design writing is a way of communicating that is specifically geared towards expressing and critiquing design. But design can mean many things. The definition broadens as you realize that design writing can apply to virtually any form of visual culture.

Xanthia: Having a personal definition is helpful because it brings about a discussion and encourages conversation. To me, design writing is about just that: having design conversations in written form.

Prachi: I don’t think we need to define design writing. Setting up parameters might discourage new forms of critique to emerge. Good design writing draws on multiple perspectives to breed unexpected results and that there can (and should) be no definition.

Emily: I think it’s too early to begin defining design writing. We’re still exploring this unknown territory, which I suppose will eventually result in some sort of design-writing canon. That’s why it’s so exciting right now.

This is the second year that students will graduate with master’s degrees in Design Writing Criticism. What does having this degree mean? If there are designers, writers, and journalists out there who have not been formally trained, why is this training important?

Emily: At an uneasy time when industry is questioning the value of a design education, I have faith in formal training. Budding designers and writers need the time and the space to experiment and find their voices; a course structure allows for this. In terms of Design Writing Criticism, there is a wide range of interest. I think it’s timely for the new breed of writer to emerge.

Who is design writing for?

Krisztina: I think one of the most important parts of the job is to make design accessible for a wider public. The quality of visual culture cannot be an issue for designers and architects only. Architecture and design shape life; it is about the space where we are spending our lives.

Alex: Good design writing is for practitioners. Great design writing is for everyone! We would do well to attract people outside of our respective fields. But this is no easy matter. It demands that we not only make sense of the visual world, but also illuminate it such that it makes sense of the non-visual world.

Anything lately that has made you look twice?

Emily: I like the Google voice-recognition adverts. Not so much the visual appearance, but just the fact that I find myself dedicating a good few minutes to decoding the messages. They’re quite congratulatory. I like how they tackle the complexities of language, spoken and written.

What designer or studio should we have started watching yesterday?

PrachiThe Incidental. A London-based organization that produces some really cool, cross-disciplinary, collaborative projects.

Best exhibition you’ve been to lately:

Alex: The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860 – 1900 at the V&A

Favorite person to follow on Twitter:

Xanthia: Apart from Lady Gaga, you mean? Alain de Botton reflects brilliantly on life, but for the most part, it’s the real-life friends I look to.


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