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"Graphic Design: Now in Production" opens at the RISD Museum
Acconci Studio, “City of Words,” 2010, Courtesy Maharam Digital Projects.

PROVIDENCE, RI.- This spring, the RISD Museum explores some of the most cutting-edge concepts and creative practices in 21st-century graphic design as the ambitious international exhibition Graphic Design: Now in Production culminates its national tour in Providence. Graphic Design: Now in Production opened at the RISD Museum on Friday, March 28, and is on view—complemented by an exciting series of public programs and events through Sunday, August 3, 2014.

“The RISD Museum is thrilled to present the groundbreaking exhibition Graphic Design: Now in Production,” says Museum Director John W. Smith. “We are confident that this exhibition will resonate widely throughout our community— where powerful, innovative design is valued and respected.”

Graphic design has broadened its reach dramatically in the 21st century, expanding from a specialized profession to a widely deployed tool. Today, graphic design is the largest of the design professions in the United States, with more than a quarter-million practitioners using color, typography, images, symbols, and systems to make the surfaces around us come alive with meaning. The revolutions in desktop computing and networked communication have raised public awareness of graphic design, and the field is shifting and expanding in unexpected ways as social media and other technologies change how people consume information. As design tools have become more widely accessible, designers’ roles have also expanded: more designers are becoming producers—authors, publishers, instigators, and entrepreneurs.

Co-organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Smithsonian’s Cooper- Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York, Graphic Design: Now in Production explores some of the most vibrant graphic design work produced since 2000, including magazines, books, and posters; the expansion of branding programs for corporations, institutions, and subcultures; the entrepreneurial spirit of designer-produced goods; the renaissance in digital typeface design; the storytelling potential of film and television titling sequences; and the transformation of raw data into compelling information narratives.

“The show vividly highlights the ways in which graphic design influences our lives and offers a deeper understanding of the creative thinking that informs the design process,” Smith says. “During the course of the exhibition, the Museum will be a forum that unites the public and some of graphic design's leading practitioners through lively and innovative programming.”

Jan Howard, Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs for the RISD Museum, adds, “As the RISD Museum is the last venue for this show, we are excited to develop programs that give us an opportunity to respond to the installations at the previous venues, and discuss some of the innovations in graphic design since the show was organized just a few years ago. Graphic Design: Now in Production also presents an opportunity for the RISD Museum to become more strongly identified as a major venue in the Northeast for the display of design.”

Exhibition Themes
Graphic Design: Now in Production is organized around eight themes: Posters, Magazines, Books, Information Design, Branding, Typography, Storefront, and Film and Television Titles.

The poster is the most iconic form of graphic design, with its roots in the early advertising culture of the 19th century. Today, designers create posters to actively investigate the genre itself through self-initiated projects. Experimental approaches to the poster encourage user-generated messages and explore digital, mechanical, and handmade techniques. This section includes Albert Exergian’s poster series based on American television classics; Jürg Lehni’s Empty Words project, a system for making die-cut posters; and Anthony Burrill’s typographic woodblock and silkscreen posters proclaiming messages such as “Oil & Water Do Not Mix,” printed with ink made from spilled Gulf of Mexico oil.

Publishers are rethinking the traditional magazine by exploiting print-on-demand, online distribution networks, the explosion of niche audiences, and new digital formats. This section was curated by Jeremy Leslie, creative director of the blog magCulture, which explores issues and trends in publication design. Among the projects on view are Jop van Bennekom’s Fantastic Man and The Gentlewoman; Karen, an independent magazine-maker with a highly personal blog-like sensibility; Peet Pienaar​’s Afro magazine from South Africa, which re-imagines the form of the magazine itself; and Pedro Fernandes’ design of I, a Portuguese newspaper that incorporates the visual vocabulary of magazines.

The role of the designer in the publishing process during the past 20 years has dramatically shifted to be more inclusive in terms of authoring, editing, and self-publishing. This section features work by David Pearson, whose Pocket Penguin book titles reinvigorated the publisher’s classic backlist; the print-on-demand experiments of James Goggin; and McSweeney’s books and magazines, which employ typography, layout, and production to enhance the experience of reading.

Information Design
Information designers serve as storytellers, journalists, and translators—seeking to organize data in understandable, engaging, and memorable ways. This section includes work by the Boston-based studio Sosolimited, whose installation analyzes language from broadcast television to create dynamic typographic displays; information displays created by the New York Times Graphics Department that tell the news stories of today; and Catalogtree’s interactive iPad app about the “flash crash” of the American financial markets.

More than just a logo, a brand consists of a larger visual and verbal identity as well as the perceived values that both define and set apart an organization, a community or even an individual. Designers approach branding as a narrative-driven experience, evoking an emotional response and solidifying the relationship between the company and consumers. This section was curated by Armin Vit and Bryony Gomez-Palacio, operators of the blog Brand New, which tracks the ever-changing world of brand makeovers and corporate identity programs. Highlights include Ji Lee’s World Trade Center Logo Preservation project, documenting the use of the twin towers to brand numerous New York City area businesses; a new project commission from design researchers Metahaven about the use of social media as a powerful form of communication and control; and experimental identities for cultural institutions, created by Stefan Sagmeister, Barnbrook Studios, and Maureen Mooren, among others.

Typography is the creation of letterforms and other characters that give visual form to the spoken and written word. The personal computer revolution of the 1980s introduced typography to the general public, and the availability of font design software in the 1990s fueled a renaissance in typeface design. Featured works on view in this section include Process Type’s Anchor, Peter Bilak’s History, and Lineto’s Akkurat, as well as posters and other artifacts created by M/M (Paris), Antoine + Manuel, Marian Bantjes, Oded Ezer, and Farhad Fozouni.

Today’s designers are increasingly entrepreneurial, designing merchandise and conceiving goods for sale themselves. This section includes designer-created and designer-curated products, including t-shirts, wrapping paper, housewares, wall coverings, and tools. Works on view include wallpapers produced by Knoll and Maharam, the artfully designed, bespoke axes by Peter Buchanan Smith from Best Made Company, and Meike Gerritzen’s Beware of Software vest.

Film and Television Titles
Film and television titles are mini narratives that give viewers insight into what is to come and what has happened. This section features television and film titles curated by Ian Albinson, co-founder of the website, created by some of the leading motion graphic designers practicing today.

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