Discourse and Critique. Interview with Johanna Agermann Ross and Tamar Shafrir

Jan Boelen, Johanna Agermann Ross of Disegno magazine and  freelance design writer and critic Tamar Shafrir discuss the role of design discourse and critique at the horizon of Milan Design Week.

Duration 01:03:35, in English.

Walter Bettens of DAMn° was also invited, but he didn’t make it. The last issues of both magazines provided us an interesting starting point for the debate. Both show the same issues on the cover. Isn’t that problematic?

No, Johanna Agermann Ross stated: ”it is important to cover the same things, to give different views on things. Disegno is a biennial and can invest more time in an article, and publishes larger articles than a monthly magazine like DAMn°. That’s a different approach.

In the end you cover the same things, because you feature what is presented to you,” she also said.

But is this enough? Big companies have more means to present their products to magazines. Smaller ones are more easily forgotten in the large amount of content that is available at the design week.

And what about the large aspect of commercial design that is featured at the salone, but which is not covered in the magazine, because editors do not find it interesting a priori . These presentations also give an insight into today’s design.

Another very problematic issue are the large advertisers. They of course expect to be covered by the magazine they are advertising in. “That is indeed a difficult issue”, Johanne Agermann Ross said: “But as a journalist you try to be independent, whereas as a publisher you need advertisers to finance your magazine.”

The role of a journalist -of a magazine- is to observe. But you see that more and more magazines also feel the urge to create content themselves, and there is already to much content around”, she continues. “But it is true that magazines are increasingly organising their own events. Often as a service to the advertisers. But also as a service to the readers.

It has become a complex interwoven structure. It’s very hard to see which content is independent journalism and where the advertisers step in. This was made very clear by the case study Tamar Shafrir did on Dezeen. On the other hand there is also a lot of press coverage that is mostly copy-pasted from the press-releases of the designers. It is problematic as well to only rely on sources coming from the designers themselves.

Johanna Agermann Ross thinks that good design journalism should just follow the rules of good journalism: researching / interviewing the designer / fact checking / personal contact with design object. There is much design journalism going on that forgets these basic attitudes.

Further into the discussion other topic came up such as: possible formats for a magazine , the educational role of a magazine, different forms of critique and the consequences of critique. At the end of the debate one last important statement was made: To make a design discourse more relevant it is important that you open it up to larger publics and that mainstream media, e.g. newspapers, also give it a forum.



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Karen Verschooren