The Palace of Typographic Masonry conducts a correspondence with the Minister. This is the third of a total of four letters.
Download the letter designed by Jan van Toorn in PDF format here, and share it! Read the letter in Dutch here.
Thank you again for being so kind to respond. Your timely answer has found its way to the desks of the Palace of Typographic Masonry. In your letter, you ask whether it is actually a problem that graphic design is forced to move with the times. What’s wrong with its current illustrative, subservient role? You point out that there are more pressing things to be worried about. You refer to a severely dissatisfied electorate, the gap between government and citizens, dwindling trust, and a society that threatens to become torn apart by increasingly incompatible philosophies.
The examples you name couldn’t have been more apt! They’re precisely the kind of issues that can be traced back to the aforementioned tone of voice, as embodied by the public institutions’ current communication efforts. This tone of voice is a mixture of uniform directness, a narrative of ‘winners and losers’ and a simplified representation of reality that literally leaves nothing to the imagination. I believe that you have underestimated how problematic this neutral facade that the government has erected around its activities actually is.
Because a museum is not a corporation, a theatre is not a PLC, research institutes and benefits agencies shouldn’t be focused on maximising returns and a Ministry isn’t a retail chain. This smoothed-out layer of optimised public relations is not only inappropriate, it’s actually counterproductive! Tightly controlled visual communication obscures one’s underlying intentions and wastes a chance to encourage dialogue. When a public organisation always has a smile on its face, citizens don’t know when it’s really listening to them. It feels as if they aren’t taken seriously, and it becomes easy to lose faith. I suspect you have an optimistic view of the average citizen, in which he or she is self-sufficient, vocal, assertive and engaged. Indeed, this kind of citizen is crucial for a healthy democracy. But as I wrote earlier, your predecessors have actually surrendered the arena where this participation can take shape.
I imagine that by now, an idea has started to form in your head. I can almost hear you thinking: “Why do we still listen to anxious marketing and communication departments and pay huge fees to sycophants from the ‘creative industry’ to produce derivative and homogenous product to illustrate of empty core values like ‘flexibility’ and ‘transparency’? Why don’t we take advantage of the formative quality of independent design, this centuries-old tradition that has been honed to represent the world, do justice to social turbulence and enchant the public space with signs, ornamentation, symbols, poetry and diversity?”
Graphic designers need to be given room to lay new connections between abstract concepts and our everyday lives. Their designs need to be able to speak to citizens’ positions and visualise the associated complexity, concerns and emotions. Communication isn’t simply the icing on the cake – it should embody a concrete social dimension. The designer’s instrumentarium needs to be enriched with criticism, opposing views and ambiguity. As a member of our government, you need to consciously decide to let beauty, humour, irony and an array of different voices ‘do their thing’ and reinvigorate the exciting interplay of images and counter-images. With the wheels of communication once again greased, our society’s citizens can climb out of their trenches and take back the public space!
Feel free to visit the Palace of Typographic Masonry sometime soon! I’d be happy to give you a guided tour of our discipline’s numerous physical, technical, cultural and philosophical aspects, show some amazing examples from its rich history, its past giants and points of departure.
And I can point you to some of its most interesting practitioners working today, with talent, magic, passion for experimentation and imagination to spare. If anyone can serve the public good, it’s them. But don’t wait too long. Because we may be nearing the point of no return!
The Governor of the Palace of Typographic Masonry