Design Observer recently posted a remembrance of the British designer Paul Stiff. Reading this article was a great refresher on how different the older generations of designers often approached typography and visual communication. Rick Poynor elaborates on a disagreement between himself and Stiff for an upcoming article:
But dealing with Stiff wasn’t easy. He wanted endnotes so he could give his sources, which were critical to his argument. Even though we didn’t usually publish notes — Eye is a magazine, after all, not a journal — I agreed because I could see their necessity in this case, though I suggested we drop the page numbers. Stiff wasn’t happy with this, maintaining that it would ill serve readers; he was consistent to a fault. I thought that was overstating it. When the essay, slightly revised, was reprinted in Looking Closer 2 (1997) under a perhaps too emphatic new title, “Look at Me! Look at Me! (What Designers Want),” he put the numbers back in.
Looking back, so much of the “Golden Age of Design” revolved around clear, ordered and unhindered communication. Without the jargon and buzzwords, designers were practicing user-centered design in their particular craft. I do not think it is coincidence that once the design community lost the focus of the viewer/reader that design began to go off the rails and became far too introspective and, debatably, self-serving. I believe in large part that movement has began to atrophy or at least is becoming more accurately defined as art. It is always beneficial to be reminded of what design of all flavors (including typographic design) should, and should not, be focused on.