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Hardcover | Out of Print | 217 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 81 illus. | March 2001 | ISBN: 9780262122375
Paperback | $20.95 Trade | £16.95 | 217 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 81 illus. | August 2002 | ISBN: 9780262621700
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Clean New World

Culture, Politics, and Graphic Design


Our culture is dominated by the visual. Yet most writing on design reflects a narrow preoccupation with products, biographies, and design influences. Maud Lavin approaches design from the broader field of visual culture criticism, asking challenging questions about about who really has a voice in the culture and what unseen influences affect the look of things designers produce. Lavin shows how design fits into larger questions of power, democracy, and communication. Many corporate clients instruct designers to convey order and clarity in order to give their companies the look of a clean new world. But since designers cannot clean up messy reality, Lavin shows, they often end up simply veiling it.

Lacking the power to influence the content of their commercial work, many designers work simultaneously on other, more fulfilling projects. Lavin is especially interested in the graphic designer's role in shaping cultural norms. She examines the anti-Nazi propaganda of John Heartfield, the modernist utopian design of Kurt Schwitters and the neue ring werbegestalter, the alternative images of women by studio ringl + pit, the activist work of such contemporary designers as Marlene McCarty and Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and the Internet innovations of David Steuer and others. Throughout the book, Lavin asks how designers can expand the pleasure, democracy, and vitality of communication.

About the Author

Maud Lavin is Professor of Visual and Critical Studies and Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the author of Cut with the Kitchen Knife: The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Höch and Clean New World: Culture, Politics, and Graphic Design (MIT Press, 2001).


“This is a serious book, brilliant with experience and discretion”—Jo Guldi, Eye
“Maud Lavin...discusses the divergent voices of graphic artists whose images have shaped society.”—Leslie Chess Fuller, New York Times Book Review
“...a discussion that has powerful implications for our interpretation of the past and art practices in the future.”—Neil Harris , Chicago Tribune


“"Maud Lavin catches graphic design at its intersections with business, art, and ideology. Lavin's talent is to connect the graphic design present as a continuum with the work of leading figures in the Weimar era. She does so by continuously referring to the issues that confront the production and interpretation of public messages: money, power, and the position of the audience."”
J. Abbott Miller, Pentagram
“This book should make design a key component of all histories of 20th century culture. It deals with large issues of design and communication: who has the means to use images and words effectively, and for what purposes? I know of no other book like it.”
Anne Higonnet, Art Department, Wellesley College
“Maud Lavin's witty and elegant Clean New World: Culture, Politics, and Graphic Design engages the history of graphic design from the early years of Berlin Dada to the current era of corporate logo commissions and graphics in cyberspace. Her sharp critique of the graphic design profession 'so powerful and so warped (in most commercial practice) in its ability to communicate' will engage readers in cultural studies as well as art and design. Highly recommended.”
Dolores Hayden, Professor of Architecture, Urbanism, and American Studies, Yale University, Author of Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History
“By delivering to us the power structure that is behind some of the most important acts in graphic design in the century, Lavin shows us the politics of the design process. That's a first. Here is a book about graphic design that is intelligent, new in perspective, and necessary.”
Paola Antonelli, Curator of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art