/ / / / / /TDR
TDR have gone into administration. It is an end of an era and it is difficult to underestimate how significant and influential this company really was.
I un-knowingly stumbled across them via the Age of Chance, during the early 90s. However, it was Emigre 29 that shook my world— a ‘Damascus road’ experience that made me want to jack-in illustration and become a graphic designer! That parasite document tore up the script; a visual hand grenade that became a personal manifesto— everything else suddenly seemed pedestrian.
Designers Republic were extraordinary, a global phenomenon that spawned multiple imitators. Operating out of Sheffield (and not London), they achieved a level of autonomy and notoriety that other capital-centric studios could only dream of. Its not hyperbole to say they changed the face of graphic design. Their independence and vision was inspiring.
On one level, it’s easy to pick holes in their output, reduce their house style to superficial trivia and inane teenage chatter— yet they stole, resurrected and mutated better and quicker than anyone else. However this is missing the point. In many respects they were the personification of Baudrillardian logic, mischievously exchanging free-floating signifiers, dancing in the code and celebrating the banality of consumer culture— the logical conclusion of ‘packaging’ music. Despite Mr Anderson’s philosophical background, this was not a lumpen intellectual exercise; they were sassy, sensitive and pragmatic, responding playfully and intuitively. If their displaced insignia and extraneous consumer detail happened to correspond with Gallic theory, then so be it.
In my head they had two great phases, one dominated by logo-philia, the other by abstraction— almost all were saturated with Krugeresque irony. In Émigré 29 there is this fantastic apologetic for appropriation. It justifies the use of the Pepsi logo for PWEI.
‘Take the Pepsi logo, for example. Pepsi is more than keen to hit you right in the face with its logo wherever you go—24 hours a day, if possible. The Pepsi Corporation wants to be in your store, in your house, but most importantly, it wants to be in your head. It doesn’t want you to think “I’m thirsty”; it wants you to think “Pepsi”. This is understandable, but if the Pepsi people are so keen for the Pepsi logo to become a part of the environment, then the downside for them is that designers should and will use it”.
Along with the logo end-gamming came the signature horizontal lines, gratuitous katakana and obscure marginalia; with the formalist phase, there was the beautiful neo-Weingartian flat geometry. Equally, there was the scandalous and hysterical ownership of ‘The Arrow’. Parodying the logic of branding and applying it to a simple graphic device— pick something, anything, use it more than anyone else; claim it as your own. For two years no one could go anywhere near arrows!
In some respects DR’s ironic posturing had worn thin. The brutal logic of ‘Buy Me’ still continued to expose and short-circuit more ‘noble’ pretensions, i.e. the idea that graphic design could be anything more than an extension of marketing. The wink-and-a-smile had collapsed into cynical McLarenism. And while in some contexts the notion of a ‘Critical Product’ may well be possible. It is doubtful it can exist within the matrix of a commercially run design studio. Particularly when the focus of attention is consumption itself.
It is always shocking when influential practitioners shut up shop and The Designers Republic will be missed. However, studios begat studios (a future post) and TDR is no different. Build and Universal Everything continue to break new ground, both in output and working practice. The mantle has been passed.