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Invisible Biannual of visual communication of Slovenia


I have recently been asked by D_magazin, to write a review of the 5th Biannual of visual communication of Slovenia, as student newspaper Tribuna took part in it and has recieved the award for type design, the award for editoral design and the grand award. I have to stress, that my personal reason for participation was one of "infiltration", to see, if my critical stance to such events is justified by actual experience. I was interested in how our complex work-process at the newspaper will be percieved in the bianuall and, hence, be judged by the profession. It was overlooked, the newspaper was judged only as the product in itself. The irony of the awards lies herein. I articulated it in the review-turned-critique, and continue to do so, as I am following the reactions both to the awards and the critique. I am interested in your feedback both on the content and the approach. Thank you.

(The review is written in slovene.)


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11 years, 5 months ago

Hi Aljaz,

Good to see that this issues are being opened. I really do hope they are also being seriously discussed within a broader local scene.

Here are some thoughts that might be helpful in articulating further perspectives and deepen some of the current ones.

Quite a few things that you have written and that I will write about here can be applied to almost any design related profession/environment. The blind spots are global and to a big extend universal. So is the ideology behind the profession, so are the conditions under which design as profession is constructed. I will speak about Visual Communication. All observations are valid in the Slovene scene, most of them also in the international scene. Of course not all is bad, but here the focus is on problems.

I agree with many things that you wrote In your original comment. Here are additional things that need to be taken in to account:

1. Design is (almost completely) skills based training.

Design as it is to a very big part now is a vocational skills based training. It was as such integrated in universities and for several reasons it remained as such. Partly because it represents a small part of universities, partly because it has strategically used the symbolic capital of art and the autonomy that comes with it. No one from within universities really has been studying design as an academic profession and how it gets constructed and designers- educators as well as students have been living in a small self-referential, save university bubble for decades. It has to be understood that a vocational skills based training is fundamentally different from an intellectual education. The first one has more a place at vocational schools than at universities.

2. Design is market based.

The skills based training has been predominantly related to and connected with the market. This means that criteria of evaluation of what is good design has been first and mainly constructed and created by the market and from there brought in to the class room. Here is an example on how this Ideology works: When I asked once one of the founders of the Brumen biennale what is so good about one of the Jury members, the answer was: “Their advertising agency is very big, they have cca 60 or more people working for them.” This might seem like a lapsus but in fact this is ideology at its purest form and I wont even start discussing the nature of big advertising agencies and their effect on the public sphere and what it means to involve such advertisers as jurors in a visual communication design competition.

3. Design has not established mechanisms to be a serious profession.

Design as a market-based profession at the university (and outside) has in most cases not established mechanisms of research, not developed serious theory and critique and the education is as it is. Also serious publications about design are very rare (and their nr. is getting smaller!)-especially those ones with a critical perspective. Here is a nice post on this problem:


All this is connected with points nr. 1 & 2. Any field of knowledge that wants to be a profession needs these elements.

So, what there is – is mainly practice. However, practice is generated under the influence of points 1+2+3 + other. Also practice is understood in an incredibly limited way- basically it is about the “pencil and computer mouse” practice of visual communication. Strategic thinking, creative direction, conceptual development, thinking in general…are not seen as practice. Even more, the ones who do not use a pencil or computer are not considered as designers. Next – practice is about service providing for clients. The providers provide, the client orders, the market dictates or the other way around. Again, points 1+2+3 are perfect ground for such servility. (I think the part of your suggested definition on what is Visual communication design, where you mention that this is a practice that is client based- commissioned is problematic! It should not be restricted only to the client relation!)

As a practice it is extremely image and object centred almost without relational thinking and understanding of the broader social, cultural, communicative and political context and because of this depoliticised (except for short surface based rendezvous with critique in order to jump the bandwagon of cool). This is why it has not developed the capability to think about the conditions for the construction of the profession. Going back to the short jury member anecdote- the market –although mainstream economists try to tell us a different story – is of course not an objective criteria for measuring quality.

4. Competitions are about the image / control of the profession not about the profession.

This particular competition gives “The biggest national award for achievements in the field of the design of visual messages.” Here again is a good example of how ideology works: This competition started as an initiative of a handful people mainly based at the university+ a few in the industry.

After few years significant parts of the profession were highly critical to it. In fact the bigger part of the only University design department was against it arguing this event does not really contribute to the profession but actually does damage to it. So where does the title: “The biggest national award for achievements in the field of the design of visual messages” come from? Who said that? Who should say that? Normally it is a matter of broad professional, academic, expert, and industry perspective and agreement. It should and can be done only if certain mechanisms are established that allow for public critique at a certain standard and if such an organisation is inclusive and not exclusive.

In this case it was self-proclaimed through advertisements! Isn’t that fantastic? It was first announced on the advertisements that were launched for the promotion of one of the biennials. (The advertisments have showed a pixled cityscape of Ljubljana, that was covered with the event’s logotypes. Basically the complete city was branded. Interesting if we take in to account that branding is a specific approach to communication).

Of course the media and journalist are for obvious reasons happy to pick up this title. So are the participants, the winners, the losers, the students etc…The nature of this process in problematic and sadly works in the longer term against it self. It does not have anything to do with any academic or serious professional culture. What I am describing here is not only about this case. The underlying principle we can read in this is part of the existing and dominating design (and advertising!) culture, because design (and advertising) competitions, festivals, biennials etc. are not about the design profession but about the image of the design profession! And because it is about the image of the profession it is also about control / influence on the profession/scene. This is key and very important to understand!

5. Design as a profession constitutes it self from outwards not from inwards.

The profession as well as designers and design companies constitute to an important part on the basis of what I call external authority. Good examples are:

- Think about the importance competitions of various kinds play in the profession. It is interesting to think about the fact that almost all designers use awards at competitions as a reference that should prove how good they are but practically no one is thinking about the shallow logic this events are based upon. Much more energy is spent in the filed of awards events than in establishing mechanisms, which are crucial for a profession (point nr. 3), that creates knowledge from the inside. Not to mention that competitions are always an “outside motivation” and an “outside award”.

- Creating and publishing ads that describe something as the best, most important etc… instead of being recognised as such on the basis of good work by the wider profession, critics, experts…

- Using Imaginaries of branding in the narration of positioning the event in the public sphere.

- Instead of developing visual communication in directions that are relevant (let’s have a look at the current state of the world!) the profession is celebrating works like (commercial) logotypes, inventing all kinds of rituals and mechanisms of representation within media and the art world, like putting the submitted works like logos in to an exhibition in to the National Art Gallery to make the irrelevant work seem really important. I mean seriously, what are commercial logotypes doing in a National Art Gallery exhibition?? This is a question to the gallery as well to the designers. Does a profession need to exhibit in such an institution if it puts a lot of energy in to distancing itself from art as design lately does? Or is exhibiting in such institutions mostly about the external authority, because a National Art Gallery has big symbolic capital?

6. Criteria of measuring quality are vague and unclear and the process of selection is exclusive

Evaluations of submitted works are either not articulated beyond the usual: “this is a very strong work with good idea and concept. Or something like: this is a fresh approach or even better: this is a strong image“ or the public and participants do not get any real explanation on the results. Of course the evaluation is highly decontextualized and therefore give only a partial picture of the works evaluated…
Not to mention that all this is a top-down process, which of course has its role in the processes of mystification of the knowledge and importance of design. Not to say that design is not important, it is very important, but there are other ways to celebrate this importance.

There is more to say, but this should be enough for now.

As almost always this event is not done without real ambitions and sincere and hard work to change things for the better. And I think some things- especially through a younger generation of academics, professional designers and educators are changing. But without a radical rethinking, unlearning and relearning things won’t change. Designers have been educated in error. The profession has been constructed without enough focus on substance, but with a lot of focus on the appearance. There is immense work that needs to be and I believe can be done. New institutions are needed. New practices are needed. New theories are needed. New vocabulary and research methods are needed. It will be hard to escape the ideological blind spots of the profession, because real realisation of the real situation will have to lead to fundamental changes on many levels, and they are never easy to do.

The Slovenian design and visual communication scene is in the international perspective strong. But two things should be remembered. It’s real strength is not what the scene thinks it is and being strong in the current dominant international design perspective does not automatically mean that things are good if the global design scene has more or less the same fundamental problems. And secondly we need to widely implement completely new criteria on how to measure quality- the current ones will bring us only this far.

Here is some links that might be helpful in thinking about and around these issues:

Sandy Kaltenborn: dear contributors - dear ...,
the jury dilemma and some other thoughts..:


Jason Grant : Awards Madness:


Tony Fry, Design as Politics:


Tony Fry, Design Futuring:


Brian Holmes, Extradisciplinary Investigations. Towards a New Critique of Institutions


DEMONSTRATING RELEVANCE: RESPONSE-ABILITY. Theory, practice and imagination of socially responsive communication -- edited and curated by Oliver Vodeb and Nikola Janović:


Oliver Vodeb, Družbeno odzivno komuniciranje:


Design Philosophy Papers, Beyond Progressive Design issue:


11 years, 5 months ago

I want to add a few points to what Oliver has said.
1. the whole professional discourse of design assumes design as a service. This model is starting to break down, especially with the rise of design strategists who are creating and finding funding for their own projects.
2. To know how to design (which is what most skill-based design schools teach) does not mean the student designer learns what design actually is and does. This remark frames the notion of "education in error" that exposes both the lack of education and the necessity of major educational development in design. Effectively, unless the designer is education to understand the agency of design in and on the world they are in actuality "designing blind".
3.All the remarks on the competition and the kind of comments jury members make affirms that to look at the visual does not necessarily mean that what is "represented" is seen. One of the common characteristics of all designed artefacts in any medium, in any dimension, is that they both reveal and conceal. An educated designer thus has the ability to "see" the concealed.

11 years, 5 months ago

I think Oliver says it best, but to add to the discussion, "research" and the recent rise of a design-based PhD has also taken many odd turns.

From what I have observed first hand, PhD's in design are application based and attempting to be competitive with other disciplines in fundable areas that are currently high profile in the United States: K-12, sustainability, etc. To compete with other disciplines in this arena, the design PhD uses the research basis of other disciplines, but usually without entering the actual discussion of the discipline, in other words, a theory (for example) is taken from cognitive science, and is used as a rationale for a design methodology. Once the theory is applied to the "project," the inquiry into the other discipline ceases. Essentially what this does is borrow the credibility of the other discipline and apply it to design. Design therefore does not add to any fundamental research knowledge: it does not exchange any significant ideas with the other disciplines, but remains rooted in practice and the "market," even when the "market" is based on grants. The language of the PhD embraces post positivist positions on knowledge, quantitative data, etc. but in most cases the actual phd projects fall short of this practice, while sounding authoritative.

Application is an important part of all disciplines, however, it remains questionable to me whether design can generate a true research culture, or cultures, with a language that can be clearly communicated.

My point would be to emphasize the need for a design based Phd as the development of critical practices, both in the world and in the discourse and literature that some Phd programs in Design are based on.

11 years, 4 months ago

Much food for thought in your posts. If I may add another source to Oliers's list, I add a post by Oliver Reichenstein of iA. It was written after an exchange of words he had with one of the pioneers of web standards.


11 years, 4 months ago

In May 2009 I was invited by the Brumen Foundation to be on the jury of the 1st Poster Festival Ljubljana. As genuinely tempting as it was, with the other esteemed jurors including Alain Le Quernec, Anthon Beeke, Piotr Młodozeniec, Bruno Monguzzi, not to mention the prospect of catching up with my good friend Oliver Vodeb, Inkahoots has a longstanding philosophical objection to competitions so I politely declined.

We had also been asked to contribute the Festival's exhibition 'Masterpieces' at the National Gallery of Slovenia, and fortunately, the organisers were conducting a workshop to which they extended me an invitation as a mentor. This was a real honour and a great arrangement - all the benefits of an international competition (meeting brilliant people, seeing new places and great work) without the problems (many of which already mentioned in this discussion). Unfortunately I wasn't aware that the workshop itself had also been framed as a competition. The workshop outcomes of many excellent students from countries such as Italy, Finland, Croatia, Poland, Slovenia would be judged towards the '1st European youth poster competition'.

I'd flown 17,037 kilometers to help conduct a competition (about climate change!). It was a long way back to Brisbane.

My group had a discussion about the problems of sincerely confronting the issue of climate change with the antithetical mechanism of an adversarial conceit. It was decided we would complete the workshop, continue to explore these ideas critically, and boycott the competition.

We signed a statement (all participants except for 3 students, one of which won the competition - but that's another story) and read it publicly at the prize launch. This was our objection:


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