Cover and illustration: ©Rian Hughes
Ideas Can Be Dangerous
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
Website Fiell: Cult -ure
Website Rian Hughes Device Fonts
Related Article Conversation: Charlotte Fiell
Culture is our discussion with ourselves as to how we think we should be.
It is a map that has the potential for redrawing the territory. It makes meaningful the set of assumptions, deductions, insights and prejudices we have inherited.
Because top-down attempts to control and channel it have all ultimately failed, culture is in the final analysis a communal creation, the social and interpretive ‘art project’ we all participate in.
Culture is the story we spin to tell ourselves who we are.
So who do we want to be?
Crafting CULT-URE with a profusion of enticing graphic art and a thunderous poetry of typography, Rian Hughes asserts it has become “ever more crucial that we ourselves develop a highly discerning ability to evaluate information.”
Hughes champions his ideas with a first-rate gathering of quotes, commentary, clean black edges and a Pantone candy box of printer’s inks. CULT-URE deconstructs what makes something mean what it means, then does itself one better by asking what does it mean to make things mean something?
The result is a set of trenchant observations of culture as “your local consensus reality; your clothing, cuisine and hairstyle, the music you listen to, the films you see; your values, ideas, beliefs and prejudices.”
It has a sometimes loose connection to facts, to faith, and to philosophy.
It can be impassioned and rational, but also illogical and messy, and needs the sharpest tools in our intellectual toolbox to do it justice.
The meme is the medium
Illustration: “starting from the wrong place” ©Rian Hughes
Hughes grew up playing with sheets of Lettraset his architect father had around the house. An hugely successful graphic designer, he began his career in visual culture designing fonts.
His innate grasp of the fundamental shapes we use to think and to share ideas make CULT-URE a book that excites creativity. Hughes makes a play-or-pay argument for personal participation in culture creation in the form of designing one’s own “mimetic footprint,” then provides the fuel for critical thinking with the energy of his art.
“This book,” he writes, “is a delivery mechanism,” and he goes on to demonstrate it.
Hughes is neat-handed in his manipulation of color and line, grid and lead, but he is even more skilled in the movement of ideas with and through the forms he creates.
We must look to ourselves, says Hughes, we must see how we are creating. The swiss army knife of our day is the meme, “a transmittable unit of information; passed from person to person through imitation, education or indoctrination, it is a “self replicating unit of transmission.””
In an electronic democracy of ideas, we ourselves rather than the state or any other overarching belief system ultimately become responsible for our own consumption and production of ideas, for our ‘memetic footprint’ and its consequences.
New ideas can proliferate globally, like an internet virus or a YouTube video, in a very short time; cultural power is devolving to the creative individual.
Reading is UX
Illustration: “memetic inoculation” ©Rian Hughes
In spite of the compounding significance of the ideas themselves, my favorite thing about Hughes’ book is its user interface, which is a kind of analog signal router.
At the bottom of every page are titles and page numbers of three related ideas. Reading the book is like a rebus: how can you encounter the ideas in their plural relationship to each other rather than in singularity? Each time you pick up the book you read it differently, a little like having your iPod set to shuffle.
The effect is as though we are programming the book whenever we “play” it.
Hughes is savvy to both the appeal of this contexted index and to active engagement it provokes. More than any single layout, employing and hacking this series of related concepts is the message of CULT-URE.
Reactionaries, revolutionaries, traditionalists and isms
Illustration: “how to kill an idea” ©Rian Hughes
Culture is a map that is in flux – absorbing new ideas, new strains of memes, expelling the useless and dangerous, embracing the novel and untried, sometimes mistaking the one for the other. It is populated by reactionaries, revolutionaries, traditionalists and isms in all the shades we are capable of imagining.
Society-wide political and cultural movements are our ideas writ large on the culture as a whole, theories applied as grand practical experiment, the population itself its willing or unwilling subjects.
Flexibound in a pseudo leather cover and finished with gilt edged pages CULT-URE explicitly associates “local consensus reality” with the power and persuasion of holy books (there’s even a sewn in ribbon bookmark).
Rian Hughes manifesto is simple. We are living in a world of network-propagated, crowd-curated and instant, unexpurgated data. Tuning out the consequential reality of this environment will guarantee what we value will lose its necessary place contributing to our evolving civilization.
None of us is out of it by a long shot, and our refusal to grapple with being implicated in human destiny will make us instrumental to the very purposes we oppose.
Hughes quotes BBC’s Tim Hewell, “The battle for ideas is far more complex than the battle for territory – and likely to last even longer.”
Rian Hughes is an award-winning graphic designer, illustrator, comic artist, logo designer and typographer. He studied graphic design at the London College of Printing before working for an advertising agency, i-D magazine and a series of record sleeve design companies. In 1994, he founded his own studio, Device, and has since worked with a wide range of international clients in publishing, advertising, music and fashion. He has also worked extensively for the British and American comic book industries, both as artist and designer.
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