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Designer as Author: Voices and Visions

designer-as-author McCarthy

Designer as Author: Voices (juried show)
Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, 1996
February 8 – March 8, 1996

Curators: Steven McCarthy, Cristina de Almeida
Statements: «It is a nationally curated exhibition of exemplary self-authored graphic design […]»
«[…] Our goal was to find out existent avenues for self-authorship in graphic design and to assess how this kind of practice, which has frequently run in parallel to mainstream graphic design, is currently taking place. We were looking for projects in which designers were involved as thoroughly with literal content as they were with visual form. This involvement could consist of either the origination of verbal/visual content or of close collaboration with writers. We were also looking for writers/editors that were using type in ways that amplify meaning, add a commentary, or simply help to complement their writing. Self-originated projects are not new among graphic designers. Ventures on this area abound in variety […]. For many years now, graduate work has also become an especially fertile arena for authorial experiments in design. Many are the motivations that can bring graphic designers to self-initiate their own projects. For some it means the opportunity to use their skills and modes of expression to locate questions as well as to investigate solutions. It can also mean an opportunity for interdisciplinary endeavors allowing them to openly address their personal ideologies into the process of generating visible messages. As the design profession is increasingly challgnged by technological developments and deep transformations in work relations, the pervasive presence outside academia of graphic designers as facilitators of their own agendas can be seen as an indicator of visible avenues for the practice […]. At the same time, increased involvement in content making through mutual cooperation with specialists of other disciplines is enriching the whole design experience in unexpected ways. Endeavors in the borders of the field, exploring overlapping concerns between design and language, literature, philosophy or history, seems to be contributing to expand the field […]
This show does not intend do exhaust the subject of authorship in design or even trace delimitations. This was an attempt at pointing towards possible directions for authorship in design through what is believed to be a comprehensive display of this kind of work. More than a specific genre or style, authorship takes place whenever the individual voice/vision of the designer is considered a crucial part of the semantic process. […]» (Cristina de Almeida, in “Re:Port for Exhibition”, exhibition leaflet)


The exhibition’s call for submission is also mentioned in Michael Rock’s well-known essay “Designer as author”, Eye, Number 20, Spring 1996.

Additional information about this exhibition and further discussion of McCarthy’s notion of graphic design authorship as well as of curating as meta design-authorship can be found in essays written and co-authored by McCarthy himself:

– Steven McCarthy, “Curating as meta design-authorship”, Visual: Design: Scholarship – Research Journal of the Australian Graphic Design Association, Volume 2, Number 2, 2006, 48-56
– Steven McCarthy, “Designer-Authored Histories: Graphic Design at the Goldstein Museum of Design”, Design Issues, Volume 27, Number 1, Winter 2011, 7-20
– Cristina de Almeida & Steven McCarthy, “Designer as Author: Diffusion or Differentiation?”, paper, DECLARATIONS of [inter]dependence and the im[media]cy of design international symposium, Concordia University, Montréal, 2002

See also McCarthy’s recent book The Designer As…: Author, Producer, Activist, Entrepeneur, Curator, and Collaborator: New Models for Communicating: Author, Producer, Activist, … collaborator: New Models for communicating (BIS Publishers, 2013).