Mapping the graphic route

“What. How. Why?” was the theme of the 2011 AGI Open, which took place in Barcelona from 3 to 4 October. Design Indaba was there.

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More than simply being visually appealing, graphic design encompasses the mammoth task of needing to communicate clearly, effectively and sometimes even with a dash of humour. “What. How. Why?” was the theme of the 2011 AGI Open, which took place in Barcelona from 3 to 4 October.

Collectively, members of Alliance Graphique Internationale are responsible for the some of the world’s most iconic and recognisable graphic design. Now in its 57th year of existence, the club encourages the sharing and exchange of ideas, while striving for graphic design excellence.

As the public and educational face, the AGI Open annually invites students, professionals and graphic design buffs to get a glimpse into the work and minds of the some of the world’s foremost graphic designers. Over the two days of the conference, 26 speakers shared their work, passions, challenges, creative processes and thoughts on the graphic design industry.

The current president of the AGI, Paula Scher’s presentation had the audience captivated. As one of the most prolific female graphic designers working today, a creative career spanning some 40 years has put Scher at the very top of her game. Michael Bierut, Paul Sahre, Marina Willer, Nicholas Blechman, Christoph Niemann and Javier Mariscal, among others, all demonstrated why they too are considered to be the dot of the I and the cross of the T in their fields.

There was a lot of discussion about the possibilities of graphic design, especially in the digital age; the purpose of design; and the need for graphic designers to constantly refresh their creativity to ensure that they are producing work that is relevant.

More than mere visual appeal, speakers like William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand, Lars Müller, and Joost Grootens spoke of the need for design to take note of its political, economic and social context to allow it to affect positive change in the world. A call to action perhaps, but definitely points that got the audience thinking beyond interesting visuals.

The “What. How. Why?” theme aside, a commonality that emerged is that graphic designers seem to love maps. If one considers a map to be the ultimate form of visual communication, then of course this makes perfect sense.

The host city, Barcelona, has its own unique graphic identity and robust community of design students, professionals and enthusiasts, which made it the ideal destination for the conference. Barcelona is also home to design rockstar and AGI member Javier Mariscal, perhaps best known outside of design circles for his design of the mascot for the 1992 Olympic Games, which were held in his city.

Interestingly, it was the legacy of the 1992 Olympic Games that put Barcelona on the world design map. In preparation for the games, the city underwent a design and infrastructure overhaul in terms of public transport, communication and amenities, which has resulted in a city with a vibrant street culture.

Watch the Trailer with Michael Bierut