Computing and Library Services - delivering an inspiring information environment

Graphic Affect

Roberts, Spencer (2016) Graphic Affect. Message Journal, Edition 3: What is the topography of the contemporary graphic design / communication landscape in relation to art practice? What occupies the space between disciplines? (ISBN: 9781841024110), 3 (3). pp. 7-32.

[img] PDF - Accepted Version
Restricted to Repository staff only

Download (339kB)


“I shall consider the actions and emotions of man precisely as if I were studying the nature of lines, planes, and solids” (Spinoza, 1677)

Baruch Spinoza’s fusion of matter and sensation has in recent times served as the inspiration for a number of ‘new materialist’ approaches to art and visual culture. Contemporary materialisms question the hegemonic role of language, representation and communication in the theorisation of the visual - emphasising instead the affective dimension of our encounters with images and artefacts.

Such philosophies typically address two overlapping senses of the term ‘affect’. The first concerns qualities of felt experience and is primarily psychological or phenomenological in character, whilst the second is more materially focused, stressing the ontological power of material things and their transformative effects upon the world. Accordingly, the concept of affect, as developed and extended by contemporary process philosophers such as Brian Massumi (2002), Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) places a greater emphasis upon the agency of images, their entanglement with the material world, and with their impact upon the body – often foregrounding the power of imagistic encounter as a catalyst for change.

Whilst there has been much interest in the ‘affective turn’ in the context of the arts, humanities and social sciences, it has been noticeably absent from discussion of graphic design. This seems odd when we consider the ways in which matters of feeling, emotion and behavioural disposition are often combined in the context of advertising, as well as in the semiotic regulation of the social, and in the modes of resistance that emerge out of practices of design activism. There are, however, a number of interesting avenues of enquiry that facilitate the discussion of ‘graphic affect’, which in accordance with this concept’s allegedly disruptive and liminal operation, also serve to narrow the disciplinary gap between art and design.

This paper will argue that the first wave of radical design criticism that emerged out of Cranbrook (Aldersley-Williams, 1991), CalArts, and the pages of Emigre Magazine (VanderLans, 2009), despite arising out of a (broadly textual) deconstructive paradigm, came close to addressing the operation of affect through their concern with difference, complexity and graphic intervention. It will be suggested that this form of post-structuralist design criticism better captured the vitalist spirit of affect than does the comparatively conservative vogue for emotional design and functional affordance which collectively fold into notions of ‘experience design’. Secondly, it will be suggested that recent interest in craft-centric ways of knowing reaches back into the collective history of art and design through the process-philosophical teachings of Josef Albers that informed the material-experiential cultures of both the Bauhaus and Black Mountain college (with Albers’ career spanning both institutions). Finally, it will be claimed that the contemporary exploration of expanded practice, DIY and modes of critical making effectively constituted a second wave of design criticism – a more directly materialist outgrowth of deconstructivist design, that nevertheless enacts an ‘affective’ mode of critique (Somerson, Hermano, Maeda, 2013; DiSalvo, 2002)

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Affect, Bauhaus, Deconstruction, Open Design, Conditional Design, Relational Design
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > NC Drawing Design Illustration
Schools: School of Art, Design and Architecture
School of Art, Design and Architecture > G
Related URLs:
References: Albers, J. (1975). Interaction of color. New Haven: Yale University Press. Aldersey-Williams, H. (1990). Cranbrook design. New York: Rizzoli. Armstrong, H. (2009). Graphic design theory. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. (2016). Stage Workshop | Bauhaus Online. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Mar. 2016]. Bearn, G. (2000). Differentiating Derrida and Deleuze. Continental Philosophy Review, (33), pp.441-465. Beggs, M. (2015). Two Utopias “ The Bauhaus and Black Mountain College | Bauhaus Online. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb. 2016]. Bennett, J. (2005). Empathic Vision. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press. Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant matter. Durham: Duke University Press. Bierut, M., Drenttel, W. and Heller, S. (2006). Looking closer 5. New York: Allworth Press. Bishop, C. (2004). Antagonism and relational aesthetics. October, 110, pp.51-79. Blauvelt, A. (2008). Towards relational design. [online] Design Observer. Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb. 2016]. Borchardt-Hume, A. (2006). Albers and Moholy-Nagy. London: Tate Publishing. Bourriaud, N. (2002). Relational aesthetics Clough, P. and Halley, J. (2007). The affective turn. Durham: Duke University Press. Deleuze, G. (1990). The logic of sense. New York: Columbia University Press. Deleuze, G. (1994). Difference and repetition. New York: Columbia University Press. Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. DiSalvo, C. (2012). Adversarial design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Dunne, A. and Raby, F. (2001). Design noir. London: August. Dunne, A. and Raby, F. (2014). Speculative everything. Duve, T. (2010). Clement Greenberg between the lines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ellert, J. (1972). The Bauhaus and Black Mountain College. The Journal of General Education, 24(3), pp.144-152. Flusser, V. and Mathews, A. (1999). The shape of things. London: Reaktion. Gill, R. and Pratt, A. (2008). In the social factory?: Immaterial labour, precariousness and cultural work. Theory, Culture & Society, 25(7-8), pp.1-30. Gratton, P. (n.d.). Speculative realism. Gregg, M. and Seigworth, G. (2010). The affect theory reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.. Gries, L. (2015). Still life with rhetoric. Logan: Utah State University Press. Itten, J. (1970). The elements of color. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. Keller, C. and Daniell, A. (2002). Process and difference. Albany: State University of New York Press. Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lupton, E. and Miller, A. (1994). Deconstruction and graphic design: History meets theory. Visible Language, 28(4), pp.345-366. Lupton, E. and Miller, J. (1996). Design, writing, research. New York: Kiosk. Lurie, A. (2012). LUMA. Tel Aviv: Shpilman Institute for Photography. Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the virtual. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. McCarthy, S. and Venezky, M. (n.d.). The designer as author, producer, activist, entrepreneur, curator & collaborator. Norman, D. (1988). The psychology of everyday things. New York: Basic Books. Norman, D. (2004). Emotional design. New York: Basic Books. Ó Maoilearca, J. (2006). Post-continental philosophy. London: Continuum. Postrel, V. (2003). The substance of style. New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins. Postrel, V. 2013. The power of glamour. New York: Simon & Schuster. Protevi, J. (2001). Political physics. London: Athlone Press. Rescher, N. (1996). Process metaphysics. Albany: State University of New York Press. Rescher, N. (2000). Process philosophy. [Pittsburgh]: University of Pittsburgh Press. Roberts, S (2016).On scratching your own itch. Digital Creativity , pp. 1-20. ISSN 1462-6268 Sagmeister, S. (2014). Happiness by design. Retrieved 4 April 2016, from (2016). AIGA Detroit - Work - Sagmeister & Walsh. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Mar. 2016]. Saletnik, J. (2016). Josef Albers, Eva Hesse, and the Imperative of Teaching. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb. 2016]. Shaughnessy, A. (2005). How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. Shaughnessy, N (2012). Applying performance. Palgrave Macmillan. United Kingdom. Somerson, R. and Hermano, M. (n.d.). The art of critical making. Twemlow, A. (2006). What is graphic design for?. Mies: RotoVision SA. van der Beek, S. (2012). From representation to rhizome: Open design from a relational perspective. The Design Journal, 15(4), pp.423-441. VanderLans, R. (2009). Emigre no. 70. Berkeley, Calif.: Gingko Press. VanderLans, R. (2003). Emigre no. 65. Princeton Architectural Press. Wetherell, M. (2012). Affect and emotion. Los Angeles: SAGE. Williams, J. (2008). Gilles Deleuze's Logic of sense. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Zepke, S. (2005). Art as abstract machine. New York: Routledge. Zepke, S. (2010). Anita Fricek: Contemporary Painting as Institutional Critique. Deleuze and Contemporary Art. pp. 63-82. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Zepke, S. (2012). Art as Abstract Machine: Guattari's Modernist Aesthetics. Deleuze Studies, 6(2), pp.224-239.
Depositing User: Spencer Roberts
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2016 12:17
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 16:55


Downloads per month over past year

Repository Staff Only: item control page

View Item View Item

University of Huddersfield, Queensgate, Huddersfield, HD1 3DH Copyright and Disclaimer All rights reserved ©