Terra Incognita: Mapping a Regional Design History in South Africa



Graphic Design & Visual Art


  • indigenous design, design history


The paper will start by discussing some aspects of the state of History of Graphic Design. These will include approaches to teaching the subject, the place of research at Technikons, and then, particularly, the question of African content in the discipline. This will refer to historical rather than contemporary material.

The inclusion of material in Philip Megg's "History of Graphic Design" for example, has been explicitly based on the author's judgment of what has led to the current condition of the discipline in the United States of America, and this has been accepted as being largely accurate for South Africa. However, looking at the functions of the material included gives a much broader range of applications than the current condition of the discipline would suggest, Professional graphic design today is overwhelmingly oriented towards commerce, with graphic design work for other fields, such as for example education, often being handled by people who are not trained in graphic design.

History of Graphic Design and Graphic Design courses generally follow this orientation. They also follow the main system of cultural influence in today's world, that of Euro-American popular culture. The widespread use of Meggs' volume is a natural consequence of this attitude. The result is that material from outside the current condition of the profession, and from other cultures, tends to be neglected.

There is a wide range of visual material that is directly comparable to subject matter commonly taught in history of graphic design, which falls into this category. Amongst this material is a large quantity of knowledge from Africa sources, which I suggest is or relevance to us. My own interests in this material are writing and proto-writing.

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