Andrew Howard is a graphic designer, teacher, curator, and design writer living and working in Porto, Portugal since 1993. He has specialised over the years (both in the UK and in Portugal) in design work for cultural and educational organisations and institutions. Much of his design work in recent years has been devoted to editorial and exhibition design.
What visual design is interesting you at the moment?
I’m with Jon Wozencroft on this one. There’s just so much out there that it’s all a bit overwhelming. I do see work that I think is graphically striking and that reflects strong visual skills and the impression it leaves me with is that that are so many talented designers out there. So the rather sheepish answer is – lots of things and nothing in particular.
What design blogs are you looking at currently and do you still buy and read design magazines?
My design blog list is split into two sections – ‘discussion’ and ‘visual’. The ‘discussion’ list includes the usual culprits – Design Observer, AIGA, Eye and so on. The ‘visual’ list is much more varied and includes an ever-growing list of design studios as well as the ‘compilation’ sites such as We Made This, Manystuff, It’s Nice That, Slanted, FFFFound etc. As for magazines the truthful answer is that although I do still occasionally buy design magazines they sit on my table for ages until perhaps, when I have time, I might actually read them. The mind is willing but the body is weak.
You are known as a politically engaged designer – what are you reading that feeds this interest?
What has always interested me in relation to politics – or culture or design or most other things for that matter – is the ways in which our world views are moulded and influenced. How they formed and subsequently changed? The common belief that ideas come first and that it is the exchange of these that are responsible for our understanding and beliefs, overlooks and underestimates the ideological force of the forms and structures through which the world is presented to us, and through which we experience the world.
We think – and imagine – for the most part through prisms of perception. For example, language conditions not only the way that we are able to think about things but also the sorts of things we able to think about. It’s a reminder that the real carriers of ideology are forms and not their abstractable content. These thoughts have been reinforced recently through re-reading a book I first read 20 years ago. Published in 1973 ‘Tools for Conviviality’, by the philosopher, former Catholic priest and social critic Ivan Illich is not a book about political policies or histories or movements. It’s about how social institutions and systems, whether they produce tangible commodities like corn flakes or electricity, or intangible commodities such as education or knowledge – all of which Illich classifies as ‘tools’ – condition our world views. In Illich’s own words:
“Tools are intrinsic to social relationships. An individual relates himself in action to his society through the use of tools that he actively masters, or by which he is passively acted upon. To the degree that he masters his tools, he can invest the world with his meaning; to the degree that he is mastered by his tools, the shape of the tool determines his own self-image.”
Any other reading material on the Howard bedside table?
A friend of mine once coined the term ‘the cult of simultaneousness’, a reference to the market-led compulsion in which to have cultural credibility it is not enough to simply read a book (see that film, listen to that music) – one must read it at the same time as everyone else is reading it for risk of being ‘out of step/tune/fashion’. Even though I know that I shouldn’t allow my attention to be directed by the sheer amount of stuff out there to read, see, visit, listen to, it still surprises me how easily it is to be unnerved by turning back down the path to have another look at something you already passed when everything around us tells us that to do so is to take ones eye off the moving target. This time, unlike the Illich book mentioned above, it’s something I missed the first time round. First published in 2003 ‘Between The Eyes: Essays On Photography And Politics’ is a series of thought-provoking texts by David Levi Strauss with an introduction by a favourite writer, John Berger.
Are you a cinema goer/movie buff?
Make a list of the least silent food you can think of: pork scratchings? crisps? toast perhaps? How about popcorn? Movie buff yes, cinema goer no.
How is the Portuguese financial crises affecting culture?
It’s taking to the streets and the web. Being twinned with Greece might once have held some appeal but in the current circumstances it’s pretty alarming. The ubiquitous ‘belt-tightening’ (aka the socialisation of debt) that political managers demand as a result of the crisis in the economic system (aka the privatisation of profit) means that state expenditure on culture, which was already less than 1% of total government expenditure is reduced to invisible proportions.
You live in Porto – what is the gallery and exhibition scene like there?
Despite the demise on the institutional level things are pretty lively in Porto on the independent scene. Young people in particular are keen to express and organise themselves and there’s been a noticeable growth in art and design initiatives. My advice – come over and visit, you’ll be delighted.
You support FC Porto – are they any good?
Ah, now we’re talking – a proper question at last. Well they’re better than say, Liverpool, or Tottenham, or Manchester City. Considering their budget, winning the Europa League this season (like they won the Champions not long ago) is tantamount to Norwich winning the Premier League.
The recent and abrupt departure of André Villas-Boas to Chelsea though was a real smack in the face for Porto fans. We’re used to the idea that although we can form great players and managers, we can't keep them for more than about three years – an unpleasant reality in itself. What is so disappointing and depressing about Villas Boas is that we believed – and were actively led to believe – that here was a man who was a genuine Porto fan (which he probably is) and that he would be around for at the very least another season, and perhaps more. People from Porto are shocked because (thankfully) the idea still persists that it is not just what you do that matters but the way it is done. After all the talk about his dedication and love of the club he leaves at the very first opportunity without addressing any words whatsoever to Porto fans, not a single word. He practically ran to the airport.
Porto has seven European titles, Chelsea have two. We begin the season with the European Super Cup against Barcelona and have every chance of doing very well in the Champions League, apart from winning most of the domestic titles again, and still it wasn’t enough for him. The depressing lesson is that ambition and commitment as concepts only have validity in personal and individual terms.