New Looks, New Newspapers

Peter Campbell

  • The Graphic Language of Neville Brody by Jon Wozencroft
    Thames and Hudson, 160 pp, £14.95, April 1988, ISBN 0 500 27496 7
  • The Making of the ‘Independent’ by Michael Crozier
    Gordon Fraser, 128 pp, £8.95, May 1988, ISBN 0 86092 107 7

Neville Brody is advertised as the most influential graphic designer of his generation, which means something in a Britain where we have at last found what we are really good at: charming money out of each other. If appetites are not refreshed, the clothes racked in Next and the produce tumbling from supermarket horns of plenty will be food for the moth and the worm. When the words and images which sharpen desire themselves need sharpening, the graphic artist (or copywriter, or director) is called in to examine the entrails for signs of which dreams will ring tills. If you are losing the style wars, and the true guerrillas of graphics are unwilling to rally to the flag, you can at least borrow their tactics. So Brody, whose launch-pad was the independent fringe of the record business and whose orbiting vehicle was the fashion/art/interview magazine The Face, found his recipes borrowed and his mannerisms aped in work with which he had no sympathy. His revolutionary war-cries and banners were misunderstood and plagiarised at the same time. In his account of Brody’s work Jon Wozencroft describes how The Face ‘combined pop consumerism with a critique of its culture ... both questioned and celebrated the growing profusion of styles in the same breath – the worst effects of “Style Culture” in the same issue that included items on “radical footwear” and “travelling hats” ’. The ambivalence this description identifies shows up in Brody’s comments on the place of design in communication. Both The Graphic Language of Neville Brody and The Making of the ‘Independent’ cast light on the relationship between writing and the medium of print. The magazines Brody has designed and the Independent are at opposite ends of the spectrum of style, but in both cases graphic design allows scanning (as against reading), and allows those buyers who read very little of the continuous text to feel that they have had their money’s worth from the paper.

The ingredients of the graphic style which Brody gave The Face included ‘abstract’ Bauhaus-like alphabets, headlines letter-spaced so that long and short words squared off, and mixed bold and light, serifed and sans serif characters in single words. He left a lot of white space, words often ran up or down the page, and big type was often mixed with very small photographs. These devices slowed readers down. Readers who persevered became initiates. His layouts were a rejection of the conservative traditions which still govern the look of most novels, biography, literary magazines and other print-for-reading – although full of references to the equally conservative traditions of alternative typography which include Blast, the Futurists and the Constructivists. He was willing to break the conventions which make meanings clear. He wanted people to pause: the magazine was a series of laybys for the travelling eye, not a text expressway. Oz had been differently illegible – Brody on the whole stopped short of printing text over pictures – but the part of the magazine which consisted of display matter, pictures and the odd caption could be ‘read’ as a whole, as could the continuous text. It was not unique in this: most illustrated magazines offer double readings – the cartoons and text in the New Yorker, for example, or the ads and the text in consumer magazines. In this case, despite the fact that the magazine printed the work of journalists like Julie Burchill who were in their way quite as aggressive as Brody, it was the visual style which made the greater mark.

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