The Designer as Author: A Symposium on the Legacy of Hard Werken (1979-1994)

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“We were artists who made design, today they are designers who make art” – Gerard Hadders, 2014

Described by Hard Werken, One for All co-author Ian Horton, the members of the Dutch design studio (Willem Kars, Kees de Gruiter, Tom van den Haspels, Gerard Hadders, Rick Vermeulen and Hank Elenga) were autonomous artists. 

Starting with talks from the authors of the book, Horton and Furnée, the symposium explored Hard Werken‘s DIY-mentality and position between art and design, questioning what we can learn, as contemporary designers and artists, from their legacy. This was followed by an impressive talk by Tony Credland about his self initiated and self published projects which challenge the status quo of the visual world, and ended with a panel discussion about ‘the designer as author now’ with Charlotte-Maeva Perret, JP Hartnett, Craig Burston, and myself. 

As the opening quote illustrates, Hard Werken’s partners came from non-design backgrounds, although Ian pointed out to me that two of the partners came from the equivalent of a marketing/advertising background, even so, this raises questions about the relationship between art and design and how that can inform one’s practice.

When defining art and design, sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish where one begins and the other ends. Both are used as forms of communication and the two certainly inform each other; I would define art as free and expressive, whilst design as following rules… Perhaps Hard Werken’s non-design backgrounds, meant that some ‘rules’ weren’t followed, informing the raw creative expression of their practice; this DIY mentality amusingly prompted one newspaper critic to call for Hadders to be thrown into jail for his crimes against design.

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De naam van de roos, Book Cover by Hard Werken

I think great design is informed by art and I left the symposium encouraged to look to art more in my design practice… as I get ready to leave UAL for the adult world, perhaps I should leave behind Helvetica too, in favour of something more ‘Hard Werken’?

The issue of authorship relates to Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author, described as an attack on traditional literary criticism which focused too much on trying to retrace the author’s intentions, in which Barthes’s fundemental argument is that an author has no ownership of their work. Instead, the work belongs to the reader who interprets it.

One of the questions addressed to Charlotte, JP, Craig and I on the panel followed the issue of Designer as Author, asking if graphic authorship still has a role to play in the practice of contemporary graphic designers. In response, I expressed that as a student, from deciding on your research topic to the finished design, you have total control and authorship over the work you’re producing. 

Upon graduating however, and working in a junior design role, this authorship is stripped away. In many cases, no longer can you add your own voice and style; if working for a business and producing work for a client, they are the authors, you’re the manufacturer. Of course, if working on personal projects or self initiated work, graphic authorship plays a huge role in your practice.

As I start to apply for Junior design roles, I find a personal, and slightly more morbid meaning to Barthes term ‘Death of the Author’.

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