In many ways, we’re living in the golden age of graphic design histories. All over the world, designers, historians, and enthusiasts are uncovering forgotten figures, objects, and movements. There are efforts to decolonize, queer, and expand the canon. The linear, oversimplified design timelines many of us were taught are no longer sufficient.
I found myself thinking about all of this while reading Sara De Bondt’s new book, Off the Grid: Histories of Belgian Graphic Design. De Bondt, a designer and publisher, began work on the book as part of her PhD at KASK — School of Arts Ghent / Ghent University. She had just moved back to Belgium, the country she grew up but had lived away from for over a decade, and began researching the visual landscape that helped shaped her. What quickly emerged, however, was a sweeping set of narratives that extend beyond borders.
On one hand, graphic design in Belgium is yet another under-researched field of design history and I was dazzled to find countless new designers and images that were previously unfamiliar to me. But on the other hand, the histories of Belgian graphic design offer a lens through which we can think about design histories, more generally. De Bondt’s book, which includes essays from a range of designers, writers, and researchers, doesn’t stop at posters, books, and illustrations, but also looks at labor practices, colonization, and nationalism. These are topics applicable to all design histories. After the book was released, I spoke with Sara to learn more about Belgian design culture and new ways of thinking about graphic histories.