Rick Poynor on The Debate of ’72

“If we reduce the two men’s arguments to their most elementary form, then [Wim] Crouwel believes that it is the graphic designer’s sacred duty to present what the client, as message-maker, wants to say, and to do this as clearly and objectively as possible. The designer has no reason or justification to become personally involved in the message, imposing his vision between sender and receiver; to do so will inevitably cloud and confuse that message and make it harder for the viewer to understand.

For [Jan] Van Toorn, this technician-like posture of detachment is an illusion. He argues that there can be no such thing as an objective message and no neutrality on the part of the designer, because any act of design, in which the designer takes the role of intermediary, will introduce an element of subjectivity. Since this is the case, the designer should explicitly acknowledge and make use of the opportunity to construct and critique design’s social meaning. For the designer to take this course, rather than hiding behind a mask of neutrality, both engages and liberates the viewer. Once the designer acknowledges that subjective intervention is inevitable, it is natural to want to work for clients who content accords with the designer’s personal concerns and convictions. Crouwel rejects this narrowing down of possible design clients, while Van Toorn sees Crouwel’s uniformity of graphic outcome as a restriction of conceptual and aesthetic possibilities.”

— Rick Poynor