The Independent Type
30th June, 2009
What makes a city’s design culture strong?
It’s not the sort of question that’s going to keep you awake at night, especially as it might elicit all sorts of mind numbing answers: conferences, festivals, strong public funding? What about a city’s independent publishing scene? Books figure strongly for graphic designers as references, as sources of inspiration, as objects of desire and perhaps most importantly they represent a serious design challenge. With this in mind I visited the State Library of Victoria’s (SLV) latest exhibition, The Independent Type and it would seem that yes, design and independent publishing are just like two peas in a pod.
For many designers it is book design that first exposed them to the world of design and graphic ideas. In a recent interview, designer Harry Pearce noted that it was the cover design of the book Papillon that initially drew his attention to graphic design. While his father bought him the book because he thought he would love the story, it was the cover that got the young Harry. He says: “The white space, the big bold black type, and a butterfly sitting on a rusty padlock. When I discovered that ‘Papillion’ was French for butterfly and the name of the man incarcerated, the brilliance of the cover design stunned me. The contrast of the brutal rusty lock and the delicate butterfly was so poignant. It felt right, intelligent, thoughtful and powerful…in that cover I found a window to the world of graphic ideas.”
The book as object represents a significant design challenge for any designer. It reflects a world of graphic ideas but also requires a sophisticated visual literacy. The book designer must not only organise a complex array of information but express narrative, beauty and produce a publication that is both appealing and accessible to a reading public, alongside a myriad of typographic considerations. While “The Independent Type” traces Victoria’s independent publishing scene from indigenous story telling through to contemporary zine culture, design, both of the publications featured and the exhibition, is also important.
Independent publishing allows for the full expression of many of the things that add value to a design culture: eclecticism, experimentation and independent projects. Projects that are not determined by advertising or by client needs but that are often produced with a lot creativity and very little cash. A vibrant, independent publishing scene helps push the boundaries of design culture as it requires designers, both amateur and professional, to stretch the parameters of their design practice. A good example of this is the award winning “Is Not Magazine” that ran from 2005 to 2008 as a 1.5m x 2m bill poster and appeared on walls through out the city of Melbourne. Featured in the exhibition “Is Not Magazine” won design awards but it also challenged the way that people thought about public advertising space.
On visiting “The Independent Type” it is apparent that Australia’s independent publishing scene has also benefited its symbiotic relationship with design. In recent years the independent publishing scene in Australia has exploded with a proliferation of beautifully designed zines, magazines and independent publishing houses such as Serps Press. Great design has transformed many of these publications from barely legible literary journals to intriguing objects, adding to their cultural and intellectual value and contributing to the design culture of the city that produces them.
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