Rick Poynor | Essays

Design Writing from Down Under

A new issue of The National Grid arrives in the mail. You’ve never seen it? You are missing a treat. I would probably never have come across this design journal from New Zealand either, if I hadn’t met one of its editors, Luke Wood, at a design conference in London a few years ago.

Wood has been sending me The National Grid (great name) ever since, usually accompanied by a delightfully personal note tapped out on a manual typewriter that has seen better days. He’s clearly not a guy who intends to make it easy for himself. (The NG website is pretty lo-fi, too.) The latest issue — the sixth to appear since Wood and his colleague Jonty Valentine started the venture in 2006 — is possibly the most appealing to date. How many other journals with long, erudite articles about design history, decked out with footnotes, come with this kind of teasing, Art Chantry-esque cover schtick?

The new issue, with a while-stocks-last print run of just 500 copies, features an insight-packed conversation between Wood and design academic Noel Waite about the problems of writing New Zealand’s design history. This discussion has wide relevance in any country where most of the evidence is still buried, unseen, in private and public archives. There’s also an excellent speculative essay by music theorist Bruce Russell titled “You Are Experienced: Jimi Hendrix — A Lyric Poet of the Era of Post-Industrial Capitalism,” which uses Walter Benjamin to unlock the cover of Hendrix’s first album. Yes! You don’t get that kind of thing in Communication Arts.

For light relief, the journal has an amusing confessional piece from the 43-year-old self-publisher of the long-running zine Incredibly Hot Sex with Hideous People.

Back issues are worth seeking out. Issues 4 and 5 ran a marathon interview with Russell Bestley about his research into punk record sleeves. (Available here and here.)

Posted in: History, Media, Theory + Criticism

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