Title: Communicating across frontiers - with and without words
Pages: 44 - 47
Author: Peter Kneebone
Text: Communicating across frontiers - with and without words
Graphic designers from 23 countries met recently in Yugoslavia for the second ICOGRADA congress and general assembly. It was an occasion for exploring the graphic designer's role in international communications. In the following article Peter Kneebone, who is chairman of a student project to design an international sign system, and of the commission on international signs and symbols, reports the proceedings.
In April 1963, in London, delegates from professional associations of graphic designers in 17 countries unanimously voted into being a new organisation-the International Council of Graphic Design Associations, or ICOGRADA for short. A similar organisation, the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), had been formed some years previously, and it had become apparent that a parallel body was needed to deal, internationally, with the professional, educational and social matters of graphic designers. For, unlike Britain, the industrial design associations of most countries do not include graphic designers, who are thus unable to take part in ICSID's official proceedings.
A year after its foundation, ICOGRADA's first congress and general assembly in Zurich created a number of ambitious projects, and the second congress, with its international student seminar, held recently in Bled, Yugoslavia, showed some encouraging results.
End of an epoch
With messages of greeting from President Tito and UNESCO, with Professor Buckminster Fuller demonstrating the stability of the triangle with knitting needles, with a barbecue in the mountains, with night and day exchange of ideas, the week went well and too quickly.
Looking back on it dispassionately, the first impression has remained. This was a good congress, not just for what was said, but for the feeling, part serious and part euphoric, which arose from the nature of the place, the dramatic enchantment of lake and mountains, and for the special significance of this second congress in the history of ICOGRADA. The congress marked the end of an epoch, the pioneer, finding-its-feet stage. It was the occasion for a succession of moving tributes to the single-mindedness and vision of the founder and first president, Willy de Majo. For three, and in some cases four, years, the same group of people, on and around the first executive board, had been fashioning ICOGRADA and establishing its direction and momentum.
The end of this first period of growth shows ICOGRADA to be first, a large and surprisingly well established international body already comprising 28 associations in 19 countries, plus one international association (AGI); and second, a body which had been very busily 'doing', both in relation to the profession and to the community. In his address, Tomo Martelanc, the Slovene Secretary for Education and Culture, expressed admiration for an organisation that did rather than talked.
What in fact has been done ? The general assembly ratified, as established, the three ICOGRADA commissions on international signs and symbols, international standardisation, and education. It ratified, as binding, the Rules and Regulations for International Graphic Design Competitions, the Honorarium for Judges of International Competitions document an d the revised Code of Ethics and Professional Practice, which defines the basis of responsibility and behaviour for designers in relation to other designers, clients and the community. It ratified, as a guide document, the Code of Contract and Conditions of Engagement for Graphic Designers. The first English craft of a Graphic Design Glossary, edited by Keith Murgatroyd, was distributed. And so on.
And so on.
This is a dry, brief, partial inventory. Naturally the function of this sort of international body is not only to work on its complex day-today programme but also to meet and to attempt to express something of the spirit of the profession and, through discussion, to stimulate fresh and clearer thinking. What was particularly felt at Bled was a positive will towards international co-operation between designers, and a professional seriousness, socially and educationally, which found its expression in the three main themes - "Breaking the language barrier through signs and symbols" (student seminar), "Graphic design and visual communication technology" (congress main theme) and "The requirements for the training of professional designers in the field of visual communication".
The stress throughout was on the communicative role of the graphic designer. At Zurich time had been spent, somewhat at cross-purposes, discussing whether or not we were designers or commercial artists. At Bled the emphasis was different and more constructive. In intent this was expressed by Kurt Weidemann when he talked about "the efforts of ICOGRADA to eliminate the chaos and the difficulties inherent in the field of visual understanding".
It was clear that designers were increasingly conscious of the relationship between their discipline and others (those of the technologist, the sociologist, the psychologist, and so on), and of the paramount importance of the thought processes in designing and design education.
Among the 377 congress members from 23 countries, there were just over 100 students. This was the first time that design students had ever had the opportunity of meeting internationally in this way and on this scale. Not only did their presence in Bled help to prevent congress joints from stiffening, but it resulted in an impressive expression of student feeling.
One of the matters most thoroughly discussed was the formation and purpose of the education commission. Out of this, by the week's end, arose quite dramatically the proposition, on the part of the students, that an international association of design (not just graphic design) students should be formed. A student committee was immediately established representing Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, USA and Yugoslavia. An international student meeting is projected for 1967 and affiliation of the association to ICOGRADA is looked forward to by the 1968 congress. It is strange and sad that sometimes it seems easier to communicate across frontiers than it does between departments inside an art school.
Bled was also the occasion for introducing the second ICOGRADA student project to design a unified system for airline timetables, and for announcing and to some extent discussing the results of the first student project to design an international symbol language. A few thought that the symbol language project was too complex for students, but it was generally felt that its very scale made it valuable as an exercise, and it is interesting that two of the best entries (Manchester and Wuppertal) were designed in about two months. The entries are now being analysed and the evidence of this analysis will be fed into the long-range research proposed by the signs and symbols commission. It was certainly encouraging for the congress to hear how, as the result of persistent argument, this commission had helped several of the major international bodies
Communicating across frontiers
concerned with travel and tourism to agree at last to collaborate, and to co-ordinate their conflicting work on signs.
Another example of practical steps to stimulate awareness and progress was the work of the committee on the unification of typographic measurements. Ernest Hoch described the urgent need to resolve the international confusion over different point systems, and over millimetres and inches. "We are forced to use incompatible systems of mensuration", he said, "but the efforts of ICOGRADA over the next 12 or 18 months will decide whether, years from now, there will be international agreement on a metric typography or not."
ICOGRADA executive board
The following were elected to the 1966-68 executive board
President Knut Yran, Norway
Vice presidents Herbert Pinzke, USA . James Holland, Britain . Grena Kosak, Yugoslavia
Secretary general Pieter Brattinga, Netherlands
Treasurer Stig Bark, Sweden
Hon secretary Hans Buys, Netherlands
Immediate past president W. M. de Majo, Britain
Student project- sign system
The project should really have been defined as a sign system and not a symbol language, as students were invited to design a coherent set of 24 signs for transport and tourism. The project was announced in 1964 at the first ICOGRADA congress in Zurich, the entries were assessed in April 1966 in Belgrade and the results were announced at Bled. The design assessors were Abram Games (Britain), Masaru Katzumic (Japan), Josef Muller-Brockmann (Switzerland), Ivan Picelj (Yugoslavia) and Paul Rand (USA).
While about 100 entries from 15 countries were received, only 76 met the entry date. Of these, only three were unanimously considered by the assessors to have reached a sufficiently high standard to qualify for an award, and these are illustrated here. They were by Jan Olov Sundstrom and Sunniva Keliquist, Konstfackskolan Stockholm (special certificate of merit), Jacobus Le Grange, Manchester College of Art and Design (certificate of merit), and Rolf Erikson and Jan Olov Sundstrom, Konstfackskolan (certificate of merit).
Though the result raised arguments about figurative versus abstract communication, particularly as regards learning and intelligibility, it underlined the feeling that only very few entries had analysed the problem and attempted to exploit it imaginatively. The assessors also considered that certain failings in entries, especially those resulting from inadequate understanding of a design problem, reflected unfavourably on teaching methods.
It was realised that it might be some time before agreement could be reached on the use of a basically non-figurative system, even though this might resolve problems of ambiguity, obsolescence and international suitability. But, while none of the entries could at this stage in any way represent 'an ICOGRADA solution', the assessors hoped that at least the winning entry would be studied further and developed to the stage of experimental application.
Designed by Rolf Erikson and Jan Olov Sundstrom, Konstfackskolan (certificate of merit)
Designed by Jan Olov Sundstrom and Sunniva Keliquist, Konstfackskolan Stockholm (special certificate of merit)
Designed by Jacobus Le Grange, Manchester College of Art and Design (certificate of merit)
cate of merit)