Complaints Posters

The dumbing down of language. AIDS. People who stop at the top of escalators. Congress. Global warming. Suspiciously happy individuals. War. Certainty. Smokers. Work. These are a few of the many topics griped about in the seventy or so posters by contemporary artists and designers in the exhibition Complaints! An Inalienable Right, curated by noted design critic and ridiculously prolific author Steven Heller (160 books and counting). Heller teaches at the School of Visual Arts, so we took this occasion to have our Power of Design blogger, Shawn Clybor, quiz him on the poster exhibition, hoping to be taught something about complaints and their purpose. The exhibition, which opens March 20 at The Wolfsonian (it is also on view on the Power of Design blog as a daily poster), is part of the Power of Design ideas festival March 20–23.

Shawn Clybor: As a leading authority on graphic design, what connections do you see between complaints and design?

Steven Heller: Designers are supposed to (but don’t always) improve their worlds. Complaining is a road into that process. The complaint triggers the design. In the case of posters, we are asking the designers to translate their complaints into word and picture, type and graphics. But the trick is to not make it a whine. We need to learn something from the complaint, not just ingest it and let it sit like a heavy piece of flanken

Clybor: Tell us about Complaints! An Inalienable Right

Heller: The designers took the task seriously and created a wide range of, let’s call them “signposts.” We hope they will provoke thought, maybe even action. 

Clybor: Have you previously dealt with graphic representations of complaints or complaining?

Heller: I haven’t. I think many people (and some of our designers) don’t distinguish between dissent and complaints. That’s why the poster show is fascinating: You see how different people interpret the word through their graphic responses. Some are expected, many are surprising. Some are quite personal, others are universal complaints. Some are more philosophical than others.

Clybor: So what is the difference between dissent and complaints?

Heller: There is a nuanced distinction. Protest is based on complaint, but the word protest sounds more high-minded. Complaint sounds petty. A complaint can be petty or profound, it all depends on how it is communicated. 

Clybor: I am struck by the title of the exhibition, by your use of the word “inalienable.” Do you think we feel entitled to complain? Or do we actually have a right to complain?

Heller: Good distinction. I could say both, but then you might complain I’m taking the easy way out. In the U.S. we are guaranteed free speech, right of assembly and dissent. But I think we are entitled to complain if we do more than just utter the words or make the face. Complaints are hollow if there is nothing that offers a solution. 

Clybor: Now that you have seen all the posters, what is your verdict? 

Heller: Unlike more traditional protest posters, these mostly take one subject and illustrate a particular problem that needs solving. I love the critical mass. If you soak all of them in, you’ll think of that issue or thing that bugs you most. If you contemplate what you’ve soaked in, you may arrive at solutions. 

Clybor: Do you consider yourself a complainer? 

Heller: No. I actually hate complainers. Who wants to know?

Power of Design 2014 is conceived, curated, and presented by The Wolfsonian–Florida International University, in partnership with WLRN and The Miami Herald Media Company. It is generously sponsored by John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, an anonymous donor, Northern Trust, and Terra Group and its president and CEO, David Martin.

Shawn Clybor is a cultural historian of East-Central Europe, a former Fulbright-Hays Scholar, and a former research fellow at The Wolfsonian. He is currently cataloguing a private collection of Czech avant-garde books and teaching at the Ross School. He earned a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University in 2010.

 

Captions (click below to enlarge):

Top:

Poster, Pick One, 2014. Milton Glaser, artist. In Complaints! An Inalienable Right, an exhibition organized by The Wolfsonian–FIU and curated by Steven Heller in conjunction with Power of Design 2014: Complaints.

Bottom:

Poster, Y'KNOW?, 2014. George Lois, artist. In Complaints! An Inalienable Right, an exhibition organized by The Wolfsonian–FIU and curated by Steven Heller in conjunction with Power of Design 2014: Complaints.

Poster, Treat Women As Equals!, 2014. Anita Kunz, artist. In Complaints! An Inalienable Right, an exhibition organized by The Wolfsonian–FIU and curated by Steven Heller in conjunction with Power of Design 2014: Complaints.

Poster, This is an EX parrot, 2014. Philip Brooker, artist. In Complaints! An Inalienable Right, an exhibition organized by The Wolfsonian–FIU and curated by Steven Heller in conjunction with Power of Design 2014: Complaints.

Poster, 2 MUCH 2 MORROW, 2014. Tim Hossler, artist. In Complaints! An Inalienable Right, an exhibition organized by The Wolfsonian–FIU and curated by Steven Heller in conjunction with Power of Design 2014: Complaints.

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Complaints Posters
Complaints Posters
Complaints Posters
Complaints Posters