Monday, 8 November 2010


Deconstruction was a serious theoretical attempt by post-structuralists to understand the provisionality and ambiguity of communication. It has since fallen in to the hands of architects and designers who have turned it into something that is little more than a visual style. For some thinkers like Robin Kinross, ‘print is a social act’ and therefore graphic communication should never confuse or simply entertain. For them there is little place for deconstruction in a studio setting. As a young designer, what are your views on deconstruction?
As we consider that graphics relating to the theory of deconstruction, has its roots bound strongly with the writings of the French literary theorist and philosopher Jacques Derrida. We discover that the theories set have broadened to such an extent that they almost lose their original meaning with the adaptation a new more expansive conceptual one.

    The term first surfaced in Derrida’s book ‘Of Grammatology’1 published in French in 1967, then later translated in to English in 1976. Derrida’s writings dictate that deconstruction is a method of critically analyzing a written form. It is done through the close reading of texts. One may consciously or subconsciously pull apart a text, to reveal an underling meaning. J. Hillis Miller expresses that ‘Deconstruction is not the dismantling of text, but a demonstration that the text has already dismantled itself.’2 Explaining how we don’t need look for these meaning, but they pose themselves with little encouragement.  For some it has be seen as too restricting and to up tight, even though it is a product of theorists mind. Since the first mention of his theory, other academics took it upon themselves to greater understand deconstruction within writing systems. As the understanding of Derrida’s theory has been explored in a more refined sense, writers and literary theorist have use it as less than an analytical process, but more of a working tool. Using their understanding of deconstruction, writers have applied it as a working model for their own writings.

    Deconstruction quickly found its way into other fields of study, such as architecture and graphic communication. It soon became of a movement within these fields and was later coined Deconstructivism. Whilst deconstructivists drew their main influences from Derrida’s work, they also made attempt to expand and crossed boundaries. Taking the idea of deconstruction that originally applied to grammatology, they used these theories from an aesthetics point of view. Looking in depth and breaking up a pictorial subject, to reveal underlying factors that may inhibit or aid a design. Through this knowledge deconstruction it has become a conceptual idea, a way to a mean, a path to follow and aid the creation of design. 
   There has become a division within approach by designers within the application of deconstruction. The designer that designs with the use of deconstruction solely as an analytical criticism for the improvement of a design. The other, a designer who encapsulates the deconstructed aesthetic or typographic elements as a feature. Often to ‘provoke the [viewer] into becoming an active participant in the construction of the [ideal]’1.

    Through the physical pulling apart of the letters one can aid the creation of an aesthetic. This is demonstrated by Neville Brody⒜. Whilst participating in the act of typographic deconstruction he creates a pictorial element, whilst retaining the literate structure but only with the requirement of engaged audience. This engagement could be seen as an advantage, capitulating the audience and increasing their exposer time and capitalizing on the effectiveness of the advert.

    A two dimensional print can create a state of interactivity between viewer and subject though the act of deconstruction. The audience has to become a participating tool to aid the workings within the design. The designer is often reliant upon this audiences engagement and understanding of the writing system and pictorial elements. An example of this state of interactivity, can be seen with in work of David Carson⒝. Following the Asian tsunami disaster in 2004, Carson was commissioned to create the design for a campaign, the campaign was to raise money to aid the affected countries. This is an example of semantic deconstruction in its rawest form. The aspiration of the design is to engage with the audience, not only with the print but within the campaign itself.  The semantic deconstruction of the verb has been forced, by the separation between the penultimate and closing letter, thus creating a play on words. A word play which reveals a secondary meaning within dominate ‘help’. This is also an example of typographic symbols becoming a deconstructed aesthetic. The detachment of the closing letter ‘p’ is seen as symbolic, a visual metaphor for the many who have become departed from their loved ones. This pulling apart of this typographic element could be regarded as a conscious attempt by Carson, to relate his design to the theory of deconstruction. Many designers could step in to this category of being theoretically aware of the mode of philosophy known as deconstruction.

    For some designers deconstruction happened instinctively, often without the educated means to relate their designs to the work of Derrida. Although it could be questionable whether their designs are consciously created using the theory of deconstruction. Their work can be viewed, and analytical judgement be made in a direct response to Derrida's theory. Some designers such as Jamie Reid could be held accountable for such an act. Reid became associated with a group coined the Situationists, his predominate motivation is said to be inspired by the political actions of the time. Through his work with the punk rock band ‘Sex Pistols’, Reid had established himself as a dominate figure in design within this genre. Punk was a form of post-modern rock developed in the mid 1970’s, where excess and rejection of the mainstream were at it’s heart. Through the analytical deconstruction of his work, we are lead to discover the true anarchy within the pictorial factor, before even engaging in the typographic one. The literal deconstruction of the British flag plays upon patriotism, or the lack of it. The fact their has been an attempt to reconstruct this patriotism could be seen as an attempt to mimic the political unrest see by many at the time. Reid sort to deconstruct typography, in an aesthetic fashion, thus broadening the scope of Derrida’s original writings. To pull apart the raw typographic elements, in form of magazine and newspaper cutouts, and arrange them to create new meaning. The emotive language brought upon by this ransom like lettering is one of insecurity, a breaking down of a unified democratic with in post-modernistic culture.

    Many design ideas have proved less successful than others. The some what random anarchy of a postmodern design is posed within the work of Allen Hori. The letters are deconstructed in a physical sense, stretched out and pulled apart simple to add complication and require engagement. We can also deconstruct the symbolic elements to reveal underlying meaning, may be reveal within the proceedings of the event.

    We have established that origin of deconstruction can be clearly traced back to the writing of Derrida. At the time it may have been seen as quite a strait-forward task to define. Although since the expansion of the term and it use throughout many fields of study, we consider it ‘unwise to claim any fixed or final definitions’1 . This is as a result of the topic becoming far more diverse than ever intended. Deconstruction has proved itself within the application as analytical tool, throughout all aspects of postmodernist culture and design. Also as a working process to aid the creation of a design idea and to create an interaction between print and the onlooker. Even without the Knowledge of Derrida’s theory, all designers are guilty of the participation in deconstruction. This is usually within the critical analysis and development process. To aid the communication posed via the eyes of the viewer. One must see a valid place for deconstruction within graphic communication. The past has provided sufficient evidence to back the claim that deconstruction is significant, within both the critical analysis and the design process. In the belief that deconstruction has, had an unquestionable impact upon the design world. We should fit to continue with the use where necessary of deconstruction within all the possible applications within the field of graphic communication.

    Words by Liam Lewis (2008)

Derrida, J. Of Grammatology. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press. (1998)
Poynor, R. Type and Deconstruction in a Digital Era. Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design. New York: Allworth Press, an imprint of Allworth (1991) p.84.
Hillis Miller, J. Stevens' Rock and Criticism as Cure, Georgia Review, 30. (1976) pp.5-31.
Lupton, L. and Miller, A. Design Writing Research: Writing On Graphic Design. London: Phaidon Press Limited. (1999)
Ulmer, G.L. Pluto Classics, Postmodern Culture. London: Pluto Press. (1985)
Poynor, R. and Booth-Clibborn, E. Typography Now The Next Wave. London: Booth-Clibbon Eidtions. (1994)
Poynor, R. No More Rules Graphic Design and Postmodernism. London: Laurence King Publishing. (2003)
Brody, N. The Graphic Language of Neville Brody. London: Thames & Hudson (2001)
Lupton, E. Deconstruction and Graphic Design: History Meets Theory (1994) Available at: [Accessed 17/03/2009].