Designing Humanity

Prof. Vilim Vasata, Düsseldorf

To start with it and to not seem too pretentious, the title of my essay could also be named in a more practical version, like "mankind repair".

Within the Zeche Zollverein you will find a restaurant. The great architecture is what placed the buildings into the list of the UNESCO world heritage. But on the restaurant’s ceiling you will find some of these terribly disappointing chandeliers, which most possibly only have survived due to bourgeois neglect of tradition, almost an injury to human rights. Something which tells us how endless the stylistic vulnerabilities of our world are and that our work of mankind repair is never supposed to come to an end.

The designer is a power, nothing else. A force. And, if he makes a conscious effort, he provides an orientation, of course, in all this blathering, corrupted dialogue of our societies. We must talk straight. And we must reclaim our memory in order to understand where we once stood and where we stand today.

This fervent guy, George Lois, the Greek, the Esquire star of the forceful images, art director in the reckless New York of the Sixties, is still not at peace either. He describes today’s scene, quite similar to the way I see it. He is asking what I am asking.

Did we lose our innocence? Where has the vivid imagination of the Sixties gone? Take the time just after J.F. Kennedy had been elected: The political and erotic energies opened the vaults, released the bats and butterflies from the collective unconscious, infused colour into the country’s fantasies. It was as if America had gone to bed in a Holiday Inn and woke up in a poppy field. It was a decade when the inner mystic eye uplinked to the slick packing of Madison Avenue. In comparison with today almost an optical orgy, the 60s kaleidoscoped with iconography. J.F. Kennedy and Jackie. Chairman Mao. Che Guevara. Andy Warhol’s soup cans and Brillo boxes. Marilyn Monroe adrift on the set of The Misfits. The cover of "Sgt. Pepper" by the Beatles, with its magpie cemetery of modernism. The Woodstock logo.

And, vital to any montage of 60s iconography, George Lois’ cavalcade of Esquire covers, Andy Warhol drowning in a tomato soup can. George Lois, a visual power of rare excellence, still actively making noise.

Lois believes that advertising today not only has lost its faith but has levitated up its own butt-chute. Ads, he says, advertising has become art-schooly in their cool look and tone: dissonant, elliptical, postmodern, rendering a lack of affect as hip attitude. Tailored strictly for entertainment value to grab a quick laugh from attention-deficit-disordered viewers, the product itself an excuse to press the joy buzzer. He argues, not only that the philosophy of advertising has changed, almost resulting in a cult of anti-advertising, but also that the process of producing ads has led to an android detachment. His generation drew and cut and pasted and had a tactile connection to the creative process.


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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

  • Prof. Vilim Vasata, Düsseldorf, Germany
    Design Humanity 
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