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What does it mean to call for graphic design
designers to be authors? “Authorship,” in one form or another, has been a popular
term in graphic design circles, especially those circles that revolve around the edge of
the profession, the design academies, and the murky territory that exists between
design and art. The word has an important ring to it, and it connotes seductive ideas
of origination and agency. But the question of how designers become authors is a
difficult one, and exactly who are the designer/authors and what authored design
looks like depends entirely on how you end up defining the term and the criterion you
chose to determine entrance into the pantheon.design
In order to subject the problem of design authorship to close examination, it
is first necessary to dispense with some definitions before moving on to more specific
design examples and suggestions for possible theories of graphic authorship.design It may
also be useful to reexamine the preconceived qualities we attribute to this powerful
figure, the author, and wonder how those attributes apply to a profession
traditionally associated more with the communication than with the origination of
messages. Finally, it is interesting to speculate about how theories of authorship can
serve to legitimize marginalized activities like design and how authorial aspirations
may actually end up reinforcing certain conservative notions of design production—
notions that might contradict the stated goals of the budding designer/author.
WHAT IS AN AUTHOR?
The issue of the author has been an area of intense scrutiny over the last forty years.
The meaning of the word itself has shifted significantly over history. The earliest
definitions are not associated with writing per se, in fact, the most inclusive is, “the
person who originates or gives existence to anything.” But other usages clearly index
the authoritarian—even patriarchal—connotations: the “father of all life,” “any
inventor, constructor, or founder,” “one who begets,” and “a director, commander,
or ruler.”design Basically, all literary theory, from Aristotle on, has in some form or another been theory of authorship. This paper, however, is not a history of the author, but a discussion of author as metaphor, so I start with recent history. Wimsatt and Beardsley’s seminal text, The Intentional Fallacy (1946), drove one of the first wedges between the author and the text, dispelling the notion a reader could ever really “know” an author through his or her writing. The so-called death of the author, proposed most succinctly by Roland Barthes in 1968, 1 is closely linked to the birth of critical theory, especially theory based in reader response and interpretation rather than intentionality. Michel Foucault used the rhetorical question, “What Is an Author?” as the title of his influential essay of 1969, which, in response to Barthes, outlines the basic taxonomy and functions of the author and the problems associated with conventional ideas of authorship and origination.2 Foucaultian theory holds that the connection between the author and the text has transformed and that there exists a number of author-functions that shape the way readers approach a text. These stubbornly persistent functions are historically determined and culturally specific categories.design