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Originally published – JUNE 03, 2005


The image you see here is from a manuscript auction a few months back. It’s been resting in limbo because I keep thinking it’s from a Sotheby’s sale in March, and that i’ll find the source material. No matter how many times I go back to the Cosmatos catalogue, it’s not there.

The story goes, as I remember, that an English printing press was on its last legs, taken over by a new owner in the 19th Century and they issued this preface before a short-run publication. This story could all be fiction with as poor as my memory serves me at times. [I challenge anyone to find this auction lot, $50 to the first person to send me the correct link.] No real matter, because truly, the story the document tells is why it’s here.

I’ve been thinking about the past recently. Mostly about my grandparent’s generation who went through World War II, some of which were children of the Great Depression. Those people not only lived through trying times but they all struggled for the comfort we now benefit from. They knew enough to be thankful, and to work hard.

Often I’m amazed at the design community’s over-reaching, self congratulatory propaganda, “The Power of Design” etc… Instead of lavish approbation from the AIGA and the like, wouldn’t a better message be to “shut-up and do great work” rather than trying to additionally emote some best-selling euphemism for the “experience” or further leveraging “design” simultaneously into noun, adjective and verb. When proponents make a show about Target marketing that its products privilege design, doesn’t that ignore that once the lowest common denominator bandies your contrivance then what further power is there in the word? This blind-eye optimism isn’t always the most constructive form of communication. This is in no way to imply that I’m arguing against design, quite the contrary: I’m arguing against Designism.

Reward is something that is earned and not manufactured. This newer bent does more to hurt the craft than create awareness. Typography persists as one of the more humble aspects of design. So again, I bring your attention back to the transcript from the mystery text I ran at the beginning. It used to be a job well-done was the meter. Consider the following as advice from the ghost of designers past:

In bookbinding, then, as in other crafts, i would recommend, for the work’s sake and for man’s sake, the union of the mind and of the hand, and the concentration in one craftsman of all, or of as many as possible, of the labours which go to the binding and to the decoration of a book. For some kinds of work, however, or for the purpose of concentrating and stimulating a craft and the industries connected with it, and of forming a great and definite tradition under the influence of which an apprentice may be more readily taught and inspired to do good work, and to conceive of it in its proper magnitude, it is necessary to gather together a number of craftsmen into one workshop and set them to work as one man. So with regard to the distribution of labour and to the employment of craftsmen by capitalists, great or small, I may be allowed to make this remark, that it is not so much the form as the spirit and conception of the workshop as at present constituted, which I conceive to require amendment. A man may well be set to work by another, & many men & women may well co-operate to the production of a single work. The important thing is that there shall be a common and well understood notion of what the work is or ought to be, & that there shall be a common & energetic desire to contribute to the completion of that work, each in due degree, for the work’s sake, and the workmanship, & even for the shop’s sake. And if in this field I might suggest a practicable reform, it would be the transformation of the workshop from a place in which to earn a wage, or to earn make a profit, into a place in which the greatest pleasure & the greatest honour in life are to be aimed at. Pleasure in the intelligent work of the hand, & honour in the formation & main tenance of a great historic tradition.

Placement was a website that turned a critical eye on culture, with an emphasis on the importance of integrity in process over product. It published frequently from 2005 through 2006, as an online critique of art and design within contemporary culture. Placement provided original content by independent voices – something the internet is particularly good at offering but which blogs don’t seem to be very good at maintaining.

In order to save some of that work from the sands of time, I’ve archived selections from that work here: PLACEMENT Archive

E. Tage Larsen
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