Rick Poynor is a writer, critic, lecturer and curator, specialising in design, photography and visual culture. He founded Eye, co-founded Design Observer, and contributes columns to Eye and Print. His latest book is Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design. He is Visiting Professor in Critical Writing in Art & Design at the Royal College of Art, London.


This is a blog about visual culture. It reflects my interests, enthusiasms, concerns and bêtes noires across the spectrum of visual phenomena.

Naturally, I’ll be observing design here, but the blog won’t be held hostage by that task. It can’t be. The area of design that preoccupies me most ― communication design ― is usually a means to an end. It exists in relation to something else. It’s a communicative surface, a connective tissue: the visible part of an object or experience that pulls in the viewer or reader.

We can’t begin to assess graphic communication without also taking an interest in the enterprises and subject matter that it bolsters and interprets. It was my passion for the media to which design gives form ― books, magazines, art, music, and films ― that led me to design in the first place. I became fascinated by the extra dimension of meaning that good design can supply, and aware of the many ways that poor design can hamstring otherwise notable projects.

So expect to find items here about photography, film, art, illustration, collage, visual literature and popular culture, and unusual museums, as well as graphic design topics.

I have always been interested in forms of visual communication that fall between strict definitions of art and design. There will be plenty of unapologetic boundary hopping and shameless category collisions in these pages, too.

The more commerce attempts to corral and confine design and the image world for its own purposes, the more we need to seek out, savor and support work that connects with areas of experience other than lifestyle, consumerism and celebrity ― work that is awkward, offbeat, difficult, socially challenging, strange or fantastical, and that offers vital mind- and spirit-sustaining alternatives to the insidious corporate monoculture.

If any of this sounds like your kind of thing, then please jump aboard.

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Kuwait, 1991 by Sophie Ristelhueber

The scars of a desert war

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Newport Baths by Max Dupain

Rick Poynor
Exposure: The Eiffel Tower by Germaine Krull

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Reem-B Robot by Vincent Fournier

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Salvation Army Barracks by Jack London

Down and out in early 20th-century London

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Flypaper and Flies by Jacques-André Boiffard

Rick Poynor
Exposure: The Gamble by Peter Kennard

The clandestine operations of power

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Pages from Fabrik by Jak Tuggener

The dark undercurrents of industry

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Head below Wires by Roger Ballen

Absurdity in the South African outland

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Surface Transit by Eva Fuka

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Rue du Temple, Paris by Gail Albert Halaban

The lure of a lighted window

Rick Poynor
Exposure: J.G. Ballard by Brian Griffin

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Brodsky, the Tie Seller in Paris

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Lens bookshop in Sutton by Lloyd Rich

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Luigi Russolo’s Noise Machines

Sonic conjurors of experimental music

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Butlin’s holiday camp by Edmund Nägele

A sixties vacation in glowing color

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Cat and I by Wanda Wulz

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Restaurant de la Réserve by Jean Gilletta

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Berlin scene by Wolfgang Zurborn

The hidden order of the random

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Mother and Child by Philip Jones Griffiths

The crushing, gendered power relations of war

Rick Poynor
Exposure: The Colossi of Memnon by Francis Bedford

Mysterious emanations from the desert

Rick Poynor
Exposure: The Simulator by Dora Maar

The chamber of Surrealist visions

Rick Poynor
Exposure: El Paso Street by Stephen Shore

The street corner: an uncommon place

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Rise Up You Are Free by Dominic Hawgood

A post-photographic view of exorcism

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Striporama street scene by Vivian Maier

How good was the photographer nanny?

Rick Poynor
Exposure: Viktoria Modesta by Nadav Kander

Rick Poynor
Illustrations by Bohumil Štěpán for Crazy Fairy Tales

Rick Poynor
Posters by Hans Hillmann for Jean-Luc Godard’s Films

The work of a master of cinematic graphic design

Rick Poynor
Tracking the Locations of J.G. Ballard’s Super-Cannes

Rick Poynor
The Mysteries of France:
A Gothic Guidebook

Rick Poynor
The Body as Factory: Anatomy of an Image

Peeling back the skin of a New Scientist cover illustration by Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson.

Rick Poynor
Rediscovering the Lost Art of the Typewriter

Typewriters are making a comeback and, as a wide-ranging new survey book shows, so is typewriter art.

Rick Poynor
The Conceptual Advertising of J.G. Ballard

Rick Poynor
The Filmic Page: Chris Marker’s Commentaires

Rick Poynor
From the Archive: Surface Wreckage

Rick Poynor
Why Tatlin Can Never Go Home Again

Rick Poynor
The Compulsively Visual World of Pinterest

Rick Poynor
Martin Sharp: People, Politics and Pop

Martin Sharp rediscovered: drawings and collages from the book People, Politics and Pop: Australians in the Sixties.

Rick Poynor
The Writings of William Drenttel

Essays from the Design Observer archive show the wide scope of William Drenttel's interests and concerns.

Rick Poynor
Martin Sharp: From Satire to Psychedelia

The late Martin Sharp was a visual innovator whose work erased artificial distinctions between applied image-making and fine art.

Rick Poynor
Collage Culture: Nostalgia and Critique

An interview with David Banash, author of Collage Culture: Readymades, Meaning, and the Age of Consumption.

Rick Poynor
Belgian Solutions: The True State of Things?

The foul-ups or “Belgian solutions” in a new book of street photographs are simply the way things are.

Rick Poynor
From the Archive: Brian Eno, Artist of Light

Rick Poynor
New York: City of Spectacular Doors

For six years, Allan Markman crisscrossed New York taking pictures of remarkable doors for a new book.

Rick Poynor
Bohumil Stepan’s Family Album of Oddities

Bohumil Stepan’s Familienalbum presents a series of surreally equipped and irreverently modified collages of his family.

Rick Poynor
Bohumil Stepan’s Gallery of Erotic Humor

Rick Poynor
The Hotel that Dreamed It Was a Museum

The Walpole Bay Hotel: Living Museum, junk-clogged bane of hotel inspectors, or Wunderkammer?

Rick Poynor
Collage Now, Part 1: Sergei Sviatchenko

Rick Poynor
Collage Now, Part 2: Cut and Paste Culture

Cut-and-paste culture is booming and collage-making is rampant: paper-based, digital, and all points between.

Rick Poynor
Keld Helmer-Petersen: Pioneer of Color

Rick Poynor
David Maisel and the Apocalyptic Sublime

David Maisel’s photographs are visions of the Earth as we have never seen it full of beauty and terror.

Rick Poynor
Soft Machine’s Dysfunctional Mechanism

Rick Poynor
The Incidental Pleasures of Street Art

Sprawling, evolving, accreting: a collection of recent street art photos from Portugal and Spain.

Rick Poynor
Inkahoots and Socially Concerned Design: Part 2

In the mid-1990s, Inkahoots became a graphic design studio with its sights set on social causes.

Rick Poynor
Inkahoots and Socially Concerned Design: Part 1

Rick Poynor
From the Archive: Upgrade Yourself!

Rick Poynor
The Irresistible Attraction of Self Storage

Self storage centers are places of private and public fascination and I always knew that one day I would succumb.

Rick Poynor
The Conceptual Posters of Boris Bucan

Boris Bućan’s little known early posters, produced in Zagreb, were reductive, sharply defined, cerebral and enigmatic.

Rick Poynor
The Age of Wire and String Rebooted

Rick Poynor
On the Trail of The Eater of Darkness

Rick Poynor
The Practical Virtue of Works That Work

Works That Work magazine reclaims the word “creativity” from the stultifying embrace of branding culture and design thinking.

Rick Poynor
Utopian Image: Politics and Posters

Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: Fin de Copenhague

Asger Jorn and Guy Debord’s book Fin de Copenhague is a Situationist classic and a brilliant piece of design.

Rick Poynor
The Experiential Thrill of Driving in Films

Rick Poynor
A Dictionary of Surrealism and the Graphic Image

Rick Poynor
Herbert Spencer and The Book of Numbers

Rick Poynor
Socialism and Modernity: A Hidden History

Rick Poynor
On My Screen: Shooting the Past

Stephen Poliakoff’s Shooting the Past, set in a fictitious photo library, is a film that could haunt you for years.

Rick Poynor
Dom Sylvester Houédard’s Cosmic Typewriter

Dom Sylvester Houédard: Benedictine monk, champion of concrete poetry, and master of the “typestract.”

Rick Poynor
Herbert Spencer and the Decisive Detail

In Herbert Spencer’s most memorable photographs, signs of official communication fray into visual poetry.

Rick Poynor
Robert Brownjohn: Photos at Street Level

Rick Poynor
True Stories: A Film about People Like Us

Rick Poynor
The Art of Punk and the Punk Aesthetic

Rick Poynor
The Museum of Communicating Objects

Orhan Pamuk’s The Innocence of Objects is an illuminating guide to his Museum of Innocence in Istanbul.

Rick Poynor
Demonstrations, Democracy and Design

Rick Poynor
Why the Activist Poster is Here to Stay

Digital communication has given posters produced to contest an outrage or support a cause a new lease of life.

Rick Poynor
John Stezaker: Images from a Lost World

Rick Poynor
It’s Smart to Use a Crash Test Dummy

The image of the crash test dummy has traveled from the subcultural fringes to the pop culture mainstream.

Rick Poynor
The Never-ending Struggle against Clutter

Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: André Breton’s Nadja

The Livre de poche edition of André Breton’s Surrealist classic Nadja remains the best visual interpretation of the book.

Rick Poynor
Sending Signals about Political Graphics

Rick Poynor
Pierre Faucheux and Le Livre de Poche

A masterclass in book cover design: Pierre Faucheux’s work for the French paperback publisher Livre de poche.

Rick Poynor
Brian Eno’s “Music for Films”

On Brian Eno and a competition to design an alternative sleeve for Music for Films

Rick Poynor
What Does Critical Writing Look Like?

A report on work by the first graduates from the Royal College of Art’s Critical Writing in Art & Design MA.

Rick Poynor
Updating the Maps of Graphic Design History

Graphic Design: History in the Writing is a heartening sign that graphic design history is attracting a new generation.

Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: A History of the Machine

Rick Poynor
From the Archive: Graphic Metallica

Rick Poynor
Jan van Toorn: The World in a Calendar

Jan van Toorn’s provocative 1972/73 calendar for the printer Mart.Spruijt has been reprinted by a Dutch design company.

Rick Poynor
The Strange Afterlife of Common Objects

In lstanbul shops like The Works: “Objects of Desire,” the novelist Orhan Pamuk found the artifacts for his newly opened Museum of Innocence.

Rick Poynor
Career Prospects in the Pain Business

Rick Poynor
Studio Culture: The Materialism of Matter

Studio, print shop, dance club and store: a photographic essay on Matter's design HQ in Denver.

Rick Poynor
Phil Sayer, Designer of Photo-Portraits

Phil Sayer’s photographic portraits for Blueprint gave the magazine great visual impact and presence.

Rick Poynor
The Closed Shop of Design Academia

Rick Poynor
The Enduring Influence of Richard Hollis

An exhibition of Richard Hollis’s work provides the first public opportunity to assess the entire shape of his output.

Rick Poynor
On Display: Museum of Broken Relationships

The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb is a public space consecrated to a universal experience of sadness and loss.

Rick Poynor
The Covers of J.G. Ballard’s Crash: An Update

Some recent covers of J.G. Ballard’s disturbing Crash, a notoriously hard novel for designers to interpret.

Rick Poynor
Typographic Stories of the City Streets

Characters, a new book by Stephen Banham, investigates the stories behind Melbourne’s street signs.

Rick Poynor
Motif Magazine: The World Made Visible

Motif magazine, founded in 1958, anticipated a new way of seeing, documenting and appreciating the “visible world.”

Rick Poynor
John McHale and the Expendable Ikon

Rick Poynor
The Unspeakable Pleasure of Ruins

Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: A Classic by Berger and Mohr

Rick Poynor
The Evil Genius of David Shrigley

British artist David Shrigley, subject of a major exhibition in London, is forever tempting and testing the viewer.

Rick Poynor
In Response to An Anatomy of Uncriticism

Alexandra Lange’s article in Print about the sacred cows of graphic design sidesteps the issue it raises.

Rick Poynor
Ernst Haas and the Color Underground

Has Ernst Haas, an early master of color photography, received the credit his ground-breaking pictures deserve?

Rick Poynor
Read All That? You Must be Kidding Me

Ellen Lupton’s essay about reading and writing for Graphic Design: Now in Production misses some key points.

Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: Jean-Luc Godard Anthologized

Rick Poynor
How We Learned to Live with Zombies

Zombie films, zombie walks, zombie shops, zombie TV series: our darkest fears are now mainstream.

Rick Poynor
Saul Leiter and the Typographic Fragment

In Saul Leiter's color photographs, the fragment is infinitely more mysterious and suggestive than the whole.

Rick Poynor
Another Design Voice Falls Silent

As design criticism takes off as a branch of academic study, design publications such as Grafik keep closing.

Rick Poynor
Man in a Bowler: Illustration after Magritte

By copying Magritte’s subject matter and method, illustrators ended up making a great artist look hackneyed.

Rick Poynor
How to Cover an Impossible Book

Rick Poynor
The Infinite Warehouse of Images

The more photos we collectively produce, the more ruthless we need to be about bestowing our attention.

Rick Poynor
Literary Horror from the Chapman Brothers

Rick Poynor
This Post has Been Declared a Link-free Zone

Links can greatly enrich an online text, but are they also a counterproductive distraction from reading?

Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: Continuum’s 33 1/3 Series

The 33 1/3 books about classic albums are a perfect example of how design can help focus an editorial idea.

Rick Poynor
On Display: The Kirkland Museum

Rick Poynor
Did We Ever Stop Being Postmodern?

Rick Poynor
Should We Look at Corrosive Images?

Rick Poynor
Jan Svankmajer and the Graphic Uncanny

Rick Poynor
Richard Hamilton, the Great Decipherer

The artist Richard Hamilton, who died this week, was an acute observer of design and the contemporary world.

Rick Poynor
A Swedish Perspective on Critical Practice

Rick Poynor
Chris Foss and the Technological Sublime

Is cult science fiction artist Chris Foss’s work just highly effective illustration, or can it be seen as a visionary form of art?

Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: The Metallization of a Dream

The best designed book about the artist Eduardo Paolozzi was compiled in 1963 by a student at the Royal College of Art.

Rick Poynor
Funerary Portraits: Snapshots in Stone

The portrait sculptures in the Cimetière du château in Nice resuscitate their subjects with a frequently startling vividness.

Rick Poynor
From the Archive: Raging Bull

Rick Poynor
From the Archive: Down with Innovation

Rick Poynor
Andrzej Klimowski: Transmitting the Image

Andrzej Klimowski, author of a new book, On Illustration, has used the medium to create a compelling alternative reality.

Rick Poynor
J.G. Ballard’s Terminal Documents

A speculative visual interpretation of one of the surreal image lists in J.G. Ballard’s experimental novel The Atrocity Exhibition.

Rick Poynor
The House That Design Journalism Built

Printed design magazines continue to fail and close. Where does that leave design writing and criticism?

Rick Poynor
The Dictionary as Art Concept

A new Magritte exhibition catalogue is not the first to take the form of a dictionary. How important is originality when it comes to book design?

Rick Poynor
Speculative Fiction, Speculative Design

Rick Poynor
On the Threshold of Sebald’s Room

Rick Poynor
Lost Inside the Collector’s Cabinet

The Collector’s Cabinet at the Frederic Marès Museum in Barcelona is a mind-bending, sense-bedazzling palace of artifactual wonders.

Rick Poynor
Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?

A DVD cover for the classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly uses the blindingly obvious symbol that just keeps on giving.

Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: Stefan Lorant’s Lilliput

Rick Poynor
A Dream World Made by Machines

Rick Poynor
Unearthly Powers: Surrealism and SF

Richard Powers, auteur of the paperback cover, was a key figure linking science fiction and Surrealism.

Rick Poynor
Books Every Graphic Designer Should Read

The Designers & Books website has published my list of 20 indispensable books about graphic design.

Rick Poynor
Paul Stiff, the Reader’s Champion

For the late Paul Stiff, design educator, writer, editor and skeptic, typography must never neglect to serve the reader.

Rick Poynor
On My Screen: The Back of Beyond

John Heyer’s The Back of Beyond, made for Shell Australia in 1954, is one of the country’s finest films.

Rick Poynor
Wim Wenders’ Strange and Quiet Places

Rick Poynor
Stewart Mackinnon: Ruptured and Remade

Why, at the height of his early success, did a brilliant British illustrator decide to walk away and what happened next?

Rick Poynor
Starowieyski’s Graphic Universe of Excess

In Franciszek Starowieyski’s posters, desire, sexuality, monstrosity, madness and death conjoin in some of the most outrageous images found in graphic design.

Rick Poynor
Wim Crouwel: The Ghost in the Machine

Far from suppressing his own creative personality in the way he advised, Wim Crouwel was expressing it to the full.

Rick Poynor
An Unknown Master of Poster Design

Karel Teissig might just be the best poster designer you have never heard of.

Rick Poynor
Slicing Open the Surrealist Eyeball

Rick Poynor
What Does J.G. Ballard Look Like? Part 2

There is increasing interest in the relationship between the writer J.G. Ballard and the visual arts. Have Ballard’s admirers and critics overlooked the most Ballardian artist of them all?

Rick Poynor
The Secret History of the Edgelands

These transitional zones, places of “possibility, mystery and beauty,” can be found anywhere that urban development meets open land.

Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: Richard Neville’s Playpower

Rick Poynor
Solitude in Dark Trees

Was this structure the idle amusement of some loggers, or an art piece by someone at the academy nearby? Gingerly testing each rung, I climbed up into it.

Rick Poynor
A Journal with No Fear of Flying

The Drawbridge’s change of visual direction is one of the most dramatic ever ventured by a literary magazine.

Rick Poynor
What Does J.G. Ballard Look Like?

J.G. Ballard was one of those rare writers whose vision inspired a new adjective. What is a “Ballardian” image and how have designers and image-makers interpreted it?

Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: Nairn’s London

Inside the architecture critic Ian Nairn’s classic, idiosyncratic guide to London’s buildings and spaces.

Rick Poynor
Discovered by Chance in a Paris Arcade

Rick Poynor
In Praise of the East European Film Poster

Czech film posters of the 1960s are some of the most extraordinary graphic creations ever put on paper.

Rick Poynor
Out of the Studio: Graphic Design History and Visual Studies

Graphic design history’s best chance of development now lies in an expanded conception of the rapidly emerging discipline of visual studies.

Rick Poynor
How to Chew Gum while Walking

We go round in circles but the central issue doesn’t change: what can a designer add to a project beyond fulfilling the client’s brief?

Rick Poynor
Surrealism in the Pre-School Years

A poet described postcards as a “Lilliputian hallucination of the world”: he must have seen the surreal babies.

Rick Poynor
W.G. Sebald: Writing with Pictures

How do the great German writer's notoriously tricky visual fictions compare with reality?

Rick Poynor
Everything has Become Science Fiction

Rick Poynor
Agency or Studio? The Dutch Design Dilemma

Dutch graphic design, once so original and innovative, now looks increasingly similar to everyone else's graphic design.

Rick Poynor
The Impossibility of an Island

Atlas of Remote Islands might look like a celebration of distant paradises. Its beauty masks a darker purpose.

Rick Poynor
On My Screen: Bill Morrison’s Decasia

The avant-garde classic Decasia, assembled from decaying film stock, is a sublime vision of another reality.

Rick Poynor
Where Is Art Now?

Leaving the art world to decide what art is doesn’t resolve the issue of quality.

Rick Poynor
Rethinking Conceptual Type Design

In Copenhagen last week, the organizers of “Conceptual Type — Type Led by Ideas” posed the question: “Where are the idealistic fonts, the fonts that are frontiers of new belief?”

Rick Poynor
What Does H. P. Lovecraft Look Like?

In a gilded age of adaptations: films, TV series, theatrical productions, H. P. Lovecraft’s short novel At the Mountains of Madness, is re-envisioned for a new generation.

Rick Poynor
Adventures in the Image World

This is a blog about visual culture. It reflects my interests, enthusiasms, concerns and bêtes noires across the spectrum of visual phenomena.

Rick Poynor
Danzig Baldaev’s Prison House of Flesh

Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia, which appeared in 2004, was a shrewdly judged piece of publishing. The meticulous ink drawings of tattoos made by Danzig Baldaev, a prison guard from 1948 to 1986, had a horrible fascination for viewers safe in the knowledge that they would never have to endure anything as harsh, perilous and sadistic as the Soviet penal system.

Rick Poynor
Design Writing from Down Under

Rick Poynor
On My Shelf: Surrealism Permanent Revelation

Rick Poynor
An App for the Self-Replacing Book

British artist Tom Phillips’A Humument, must be one of the most successful artist’s books ever published. Now, in an entirely logical development, comes The Humument app for the iPad.

Rick Poynor
Barney Bubbles: Optics and Semantics

The intricately reflexive nature of his work made Barney Bubbles a true original in his time. No previous British designer had produced graphic communications this playful, personal, dense with allusion, or tricksy. Bubbles was a postmodernist before this new category of graphic design had been identified and defined, and he is as significant an innovator as his American contemporary April Greiman.

Rick Poynor
We Found It at the Movies: Part I

Rick Poynor: Looking back, it’s surprising how long we’d known each other before it emerged that we shared an obsession for film. 
Adrian Shaughnessy: Your obsession with film came as a surprise. Before lending you the Herzog box set I had you tagged as a visual arts man, not a cineaste.

Rick Poynor
We Found It at the Movies: Part II

The second installment of Rick Poynor and Adrian Shaughnessy’s conversation about film. Can genre movies express a personal vision? Are films blurring into other media? And what’s the state of film culture today?

Rick Poynor
A Critical View of Graphic Design History

Now comes yet another historical survey, Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide by Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish. Denise Gonzales Crisp and Rick Poynor have been marking pages, making notes and exchanging views...

Rick Poynor
Lost America: The Flamingo Motor Hotel

I found this old photo in a box at the back of my attic. It shows a motel in Flagstaff, Arizona where I stayed for a couple of nights in May 1978. I was 20, it was my first visit to the US, and for three weeks I had been touring around on Greyhound buses.

Rick Poynor
Dancing to the Sound in Your Head

We might not appreciate advertising conducted like a saturation bombing campaign in public spaces. Yet now, to complicate things, the personal stereo is being used as a way of reasserting spontaneity, exuberance and passion in over-controlled public places.

Rick Poynor
Emigre: An Ending

Issue 69 of Emigre will be the last. In its heyday, it was the most consistently interesting design publication produced by anyone, anywhere. By 1990, it was one of those magazines you simply had to get hold of and read straight away.

Rick Poynor
Where Are the Design Critics?

There is no reason why design criticism shouldn’t take an oppositional view of design's instrumental uses and its social role, but few design writers seem motivated to produce this kind of criticism.

Rick Poynor
The Guardian’s New European Look

The Guardian's choice of the "Berliner" format, half-way between broadsheet and tabloid, is an inspired alternative. The paper is the first British title to adopt this European page size. Elegant, well-proportioned pages make its tabloid rivals look like poor relations.

Rick Poynor
Sublime Little Tubes of Destruction

In a culture otherwise swamped with unregulated branding, the graphic counter-attack on the cigarette packet, on its visual integrity as a design and its brand equity, normally regarded as commercially sacrosanct, is a remarkable sight to behold. In Europe, in the US and around the world, outsized health warnings in ugly typography now disfigure and subvert the best efforts of the brands' designers to embody the fast-fading allure of the cigarette.

Rick Poynor
Vladimir’s House and Garden of Earthly Delights

Spending two weeks in Vladimir Beck's house on the island of Vrnik in Croatia made me question, yet again, rigid distinctions between artist and designer. Here, it's impossible to separate the two. Beck has designed every feature with a high degree of thought for what might make a domicile located in such a setting pleasurable and practical to live in.

Rick Poynor
We Are All Editors Now. Or Are We?

Many designers aspire to be editors. But being an editor is not simply about choosing some things you like and throwing them together. Editing is about deep engagement with content and the construction of meaning.

Rick Poynor
In Memoriam: My Manual Typewriter

The fully evolved typewriter is a 20th-century industrial archetype. It feels inevitable, almost elemental, like one of those object types, such as a chair or a fork, that simply had to exist in this universe of forms.

Rick Poynor
Mevis and Van Deursen: Rueful Recollections, Recycled Design

In their self-edited monograph, Dutch graphic designers Mevis and Van Deursen turn their backs on their professed commitment to ideas and treat the book mainly as an opportunity for undemanding aesthetic play.

Rick Poynor
But Darling of Course it’s Normal: The Post-Punk Record Sleeve

There have been collections of post-punk music and now, finally, there is British music critic Simon Reynolds' 500-page history of the genre from 1978 to 1984. It's a brilliant book. He argues that post-punk music's explosion of creativity equals the golden age of popular music in the mid-1960s, but that it has never received its full due. I think he's right.

Rick Poynor
Getting Louder: Chinese Design on the March

The “Get it Lounder” design exhibition in Shenzhen, billed as the first of its kind in China, reflected the lifestyle aspirations of its participants. Will Chinese design be able to confront social reality in more overtly critical ways?

Rick Poynor
Eduardo Paolozzi, 20th Century Image-Maker

If a visual artist created more concentrated, exhilarating images of science, technology and the media realm during the mid-20th century than British artist Eduardo Paolozzi, then I would like to see them. Paolozzi, who died on 22 April aged 81, was first of all a sculptor, but the screenprints he produced in the 1960s rank as masterpieces of the medium.

Rick Poynor
Wisconsin Death Trip: A Psychic History

Michael Lesy’s book Wisconsin Death Trip documented awful events in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, using a town photographer’s pictures. Years later, it remains a spellbinding piece of literary and photographic alchemy.

Rick Poynor
Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot

Dot Dot Dot is the most stimulating and original visual culture magazine produced by designers since Emigre's heyday in the late 1980s to the mid-1990s.

Rick Poynor
Why Architects Give Me the Willies

No matter how central graphic communication might be to our lives, architecture always dominates press coverage because it is very expensive, expresses the conditions of power, and is just plain big.

Rick Poynor
The Ikea Riot: Unsatisfied Excess?

When Ikea threw open the doors of a new store in London, the result was mayhem as customers stampeded. Evidence of social breakdown, or a sign that the utopian argument for low-cost modernist design has been won?

Rick Poynor
The I.D. Forty: What Are Lists For?

How do we measure one kind of achievement in design against another to arrive at a ranking? The truth is we can’t. The real purpose of I.D.’s list was to underscore the magazine’s position as selector and taste-maker.

Rick Poynor
Who's In and Who's Out of the Dictionary

A Dictionary of Modern Design gives exemplary treatment to industrial designers, furniture designers, and the organisations that served them. Once again, though, graphic design emerges as the also-ran of design.

Rick Poynor
Fear and Loathing at the Design Museum

James Dyson has accused the Design Museum in London of ruining its reputation with frivolous exhibitions. For many bemused onlookers, his complaints were out of touch with evolving public perceptions of design.

Rick Poynor
Britain and America: United in Idiocy

What do Brits and Americans think of each other? In Us & Them, a book by the satirical British illustrator Paul Davis, the two countries have one thing in common: they are both equally stupid. That’s not saying much.

Rick Poynor
Where are the Design Intellectuals?

Prospect magazine has published a list of the 100 top British public intellectuals. A handful of visual art and architecture people make the cut, but no from design is included, reflecting its absence from public debate.

Rick Poynor
Modernising MoMA: Design on Display

MoMA is broadening its approach to graphic design. Recovering this material history will assist us in understanding our broader cultural history and help to educate a more aware generation of visual communicators.

Rick Poynor
Critics and Their Purpose

Pulling a 1960s art magazine from the shelf, I opened it at random to find a long list of thoughts about art criticism assembled in 1966 by students at the Royal College of Art in London. Many of these ideas apply to design.

Rick Poynor
Theory with a Small "t"

A critical writing determined by the need to shape practice will be limited in the cultural insights it can offer. This is the last thing that design writing needs when ways to engage a wider public could be opening up.

Rick Poynor
How to Say What You Mean

There is a crucial difference between subtle and complex ideas and needlessly convoluted forms of expression. The challenge now for design writing is to move outwards into a world in which design is everywhere.

Rick Poynor
The Two Cultures of Design

In the past 25 years, graphic design has separated into two distinct strands. On one side there is professional practice in all its forms; on the other a self-directed design culture that is finding a wider audience.

Rick Poynor
Jan van Toorn: Arguing with Visual Means

Jan van Toorn’s designs embody an idea about citizenship. They address viewers as critical, thinking individuals who can be expected to take an informed and skeptical interest in the circumstances of their world.

Rick Poynor
Bruce Mau: The Aura of Power

Bruce Mau has constructed a formidable mystique around himself as a designer whose concerns and apparent brainpower put him in a different league from most other visual communicators. How did he do it?

Rick Poynor
Neville Brody Revisited

Forget passing questions of fashion. When future assessments of graphic design in the 1980s are made, Neville Brody will emerge as one of the most considerable designers of the period, working anywhere.

Rick Poynor
Stephen Gill: Behind the Billboard

Designers are battlers against entropy: a vital task, but taking the long view, often a doomed, quixotic mission. Stephen Gill’s photographs, showing the disorderly zones behind billboards, offer a reality check.

Rick Poynor
Notes on Experimental Jetset

Experimental Jetset’s argument that design should have a certain autonomy and an inner logic separate from tastes and trends makes sense, but as a rationale for defaulting to Helvetica, is it convincing?

Rick Poynor
Adbusters in Anarchy

Adbusters’ once orderly pages are in a state of heaving agitation. The magazine seems to be seduced by the coolness of design as a gesture, even though this is part of the surface-fixated postmodernism it deplores.

Rick Poynor
Remember Picelj

The English-speaking world knows little about the design history of Communist Europe. Few will have heard of the distinguished Slovenian Ivan Picelj. His prints ask us to remember; they are full of yearning.

Rick Poynor
Missing Sleeve Notes

Nick de Ville’s Album: Style and Image in Sleeve Design is the best collection of album cover designs published to date. But where did all of this information come from, and why does he provide no references?

Rick Poynor
Unnecessary Revival

As a first-time enthusiast for American Typewriter, I was happy to see it pass into history. Resurrecting the typeface now that the typewriter has given way to digital technology is just nostalgia ― soft at the core.

Rick Poynor
Those Inward-looking Europeans

Three American design teachers visit London and the Netherlands. European designers, they say, are not paying attention to design history. Maybe the visitors are missing local factors and broader global issues.

Rick Poynor
It's a Man's World

Adam Parfrey’s book shows hundreds of men’s magazine covers from the 1950s painted by artists who specialized in depictions of tough guys abusing terrified women. Have we outgrown this kind of thing? Heck no.


Thanks, John. I don’t dispute the role that collectors play. But the issues I’m highlighting briefly here are the question of quality and how Maier will be placed in photographic history. A lot of the public admiration she has attracted comes from the remarkable nature of her story. I don’t think it takes us very far, especially now the story is so well known, to say that “her work will speak for itself.” Obviously it does (just as anything does), but when we go beyond the widely shared, generalized, initial amazement at the Maier mystery, there is surely a lot more to say about her work, including her achievement in particular photographs. In the foreword he wrote for Maloof’s book, Geoff Dyer notes that it is “important to retain a sense of critical perspective” and cautions, gently, against exaggerating the artistic value of Maier’s work, while he also questions the “quantity of quality”—in other words, how much of it is first rate? Dyer also points out, quite rightly, that because Maier’s work wasn’t seen in its time, her vision has not played a part in shaping how we perceive the world in the way that other photographers’ work has done (Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus, and so on). Until scholars really get to grips with all the materials in her fragmented archive and whatever evidence it contains, we just don’t know to what extent she might have been aware of what other photographers were doing, or whether she produced similar work purely by accident. The legal complications that emerged last year over the estate and who owns copyright in the pictures seem likely to make these investigations even trickier.


J.G. Ballard
Walker Evans
Jean-Luc Godard
Richard Hamilton
Max Ernst
Eduardo Paolozzi
Susan Sontag

Books by Rick Poynor

Rick Poynor: Book

Rick Poynor: Book


Interviews with Rick Poynor

Neshan, 2012
Thought Catalog, 2011
Designers & Books, 2011
Design Taxi, 2007
Emigre, 1995


Exhibitions by Rick Poynor

Rick Poynor: Book


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