A set of principles for graphic design? (Paul Stiff remembered)

A little saddle-stitched catalogue came with my order from Hyphen Press last week. In it there is an email exchange between Robin Kinross and the late Paul Stiff, an interesting discussion that draws parallels between the ‘Dogme 95’ manifesto (a Danish avant-garde film movement) and graphic design. Kinross threw the question out to 15 colleagues, and Stiff was the only one responded, with his usual wit as well as seriousness. Paul Stiff passed away in 2011 at the age of 61, and although I’ve only known him briefly, I remember him fondly as someone who had lots of enthusiasm, dedication and rigour in what he did. Paul was an avid advocate of ‘design for reading’ at Reading (was the pun intended?), that is, design in a way that optimises the reading experience, first and foremost. That the designer’s ego should be left out of the picture. ‘Design for reading’ pretty much sums up the Department’s ‘indoctrination’ for most alumni, or at least for me personally. So Paul was responsible, at least in part, for the ideas behind this blog.

I quote Paul’s first ten points here:

  1. Readers come first, second, and third. Designing is not done for peer approval or prizes.
  2. Readers are neither ‘target audiences’ nor clichés: they bring their own purposes and questions to every encounter with text.
  3. ‘Reading’ is not one-dimensional: there are many reading acts.
  4. Content matters: design nothing that is not worth reading.
  5. Stand by meaning.
  6. Embrace the big picture.
  7. Attend to details.
  8. Looking good is better than looking different.
  9. Looking good is worthless without making sense.
  10. Designing and making is collective work: many brains and hands are involved. The designer must not be credited unless all other workers are also credited.

© Estate of Paul Stiff, 2011
Thanks to Robin Kinross for his permission to reproduce it here

Paul Stiff’s obituary by Robin Kinross
Obituary by Sue Walker

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