The Role of Visible Language in Building and Critiquing a Canon of Graphic Design History
AbstractThroughout its first half-century of publication, Visible Language has contributed to the construction and deconstruction of a "canon" of graphic or visual communication design history. By including and excluding objects, practices, and makers from its literature, the journal has helped to establish a normative definition of what design history is and how it should function. The historical literature of Visible Language both participates in and, at notable moments, critiques a traditional canon: Eurocentric, male-dominated, artifact-focused, and professionally-oriented. This article views the historical literature of Visible Language through quantitative and qualitative lenses. Quantitatively, the article establishes how much of the journal's literature is historical in content, what explicit purposes this literature serves for the discipline, and what areas of geographical and subject-matter emphasis emerge over time. Qualitatively, the article explores how this historical literature has influenced the conceptualization and practice of graphic or visual communication design history as an activity, how it has contributed to the self-conscious construction of the formal discipline, and how the existing literature has both shaped past developments and suggested as-yet unrealized future trajectories.