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Cardon Webb… Makin’ COP-ies!

July 1st, 2010 by D.Billy

In an on-camera interview for the 2007 documentary Helvetica, famed graphic designer Massimo Vignelli said:

“The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design.”

A little over the top, maybe… but the man DID design one of my favorite maps of all time, so I’m gonna cut him some slack for the hyperbole.

Anyway, to whatever extent a given graphic designer attempts to innoculate us against any particular outbreak of unattractive information, it’s usually because someone has ASKED them to do it. Which is one of the reasons that Cardon Webb’s “Cardon Copy” project stands out.

Designer Cardon Webb hijacked posters from public spaces — mostly fliers of lost pets, and “for rent” or “for sale” signs — took them home, designed fresh posters using the same information, and then posted the new designs back in the places where he found the originals.

Webb has already gotten some love for the project. It was exhibited by the Type Directors Club in spring ’09, and has been steadily making its way across the blogosphere since about this time last year; It inspired a related “typographical hijacking” project with the TDC called Beautifully Banal, where classified ads in newspapers were reinterpreted by a number of other designers; And Cardon is among the many excellent artists & designers with whom I am sandwiched between two covers in Urban Interventions: Personal Projects in Public Spaces.

While it’s been suggested that there’s something elitist or condescending about this project, or that in some instances the original poster was easier to read and therefore more effective than the redesign, I personally think it’s rad. More than anything, I see the altruism and just pure fun in the design exercise. And in one section of the Cardon Copy site, which is essentially a tightly organized set of mental doodles and stray thoughts about the project, it’s clear that the designer has put some thought into his actions beyond the initial “wouldn’t it be cool if…?”.

Webb asks himself (and his audience):
“Is there a loss of trust in filtering the message through the ‘design machine’? How does this effect [sic] the message? Will it be more or less effective? Is the intensity magnified? Will products sell better? Ads be answered more?”

And in that same section, he notes that:
“Only fliers with multiples were redesigned. Both the original and the Cardon Copy exist in the community.”

But what really jumps out at me from among Webb’s bullet points and diagrams about what lies beneath the surface of Cardon Copy is a quote from someone else.  It sums up, far better than the words of the venerated Mr. Vignelli, my own view on what art and design are best used for — and indeed, what I wish more people would aspire to in their approach to the world in general:

“Leave it better than the way you found it.” -Mom

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