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100 years of 
type history calendar

What did they say?

According to Time magazine, ‘Function is out. Form is in – it’s time for designers to take a fresh perspective. But if your designs don't work, why bother, says David Bernstein in Design Week.

The 26 June issue of Time magazine announced in a cover story ‘The rebirth of design’, captioning a photograph of a rubber radio inside a goldfish bowl with the line ‘Function is out. Form is in’.

It can't be true can it? Form at the expression of function? Examine designer calendars and you’d be prepared to believe it. You know the sort of thing: huge illustration and all the days of the month in a single horizontal line at the base or a vertical pattern of type with a colour coding not even an enigma could solve.

Compare the calendar on my desk with the earlier examples. Its from a design company and type specialist called The letter g. It consists of 12 cards measuring 7cm x 7.5cm in a perspex holder. It celebrates the millennium by looking back and taking a month from each decade since 1890. January 1890 began on a Saturday, as does January 2000. February 1900 equates with February 2000. March 1910, March 2000. And so on. Each month’s type echoes the decade. Turn the card over and relevant contemporary design artefacts or events are listed. For 1890: ‘Art Nouveau, corsets, Folies Bergères, frock coats, Remington typewriters, top hats’. Each subsequent card adds to the list in a second colour till you reach ‘sustainable design, wind power, world wide web and a plug: letter g at work producing careful, witty, issue-led design.’

Mark Dziersk, president of the Industrial Design Society of America, asserts (according to Time) that ‘This is the new golden age of design.’ He continues: ‘When industries are competing as equal price and functionality, design is the only difference that matters. This is the essence of the article which the glib line ‘Function is out, form is in’ completely distorts.

As an agency creative director, I used to demand that solutions be right as well as bright. Form or function isn’t a multiple choice question. It’s not either/or but both. Relevant creativity. Or, as the clever people at Letter g proclaim, ‘issue-led design’.

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Updated 'Typographic observations' poster

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