ed. by Wim de Wit. Lund Humphries, May 2017. 160 p. ill. ISBN 9781848221949 (h/c), $49.99.
Reviewed November 2017
This catalog serves as a companion to the exhibition Creativity on the Line: Design for the Corporate World, 1950-1975, held at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center from April to August 2017. The book broadly addresses the pervasiveness of design in the appearance and day-to-day functions of businesses and artists’ anxieties about producing works for corporations. It also provides an accessible overview of the International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA). The first of the four chapters outlines the history of the IDCA and emphasizes the increased importance of branding in mid-twentieth century America. The IDCA, held from 1951 to 2004, was the brainchild of entrepreneur Walter Paepcke, executive of the Chicago-based Container Corporation of America. Initially founded with the goal of improving the relationship between business and design, the conference has focused on a range of social issues. Chapter two delves into the 1963 and 1970 iterations of the conference centered on the themes of “Design and the American Image Abroad” and “Design and the Environment” respectively. In the third chapter, attention shifts away from Aspen. This section follows the movement of corporate headquarters from city centers to pastoral suburban settings. The fourth chapter traces the contributions of key faculty members at Stanford to corporate design and the university’s design school. As the exhibition consists entirely of objects on loan, this final chapter connects the show’s content with its location.
Other publications have been written on the tension between design and commerce as well as the IDCA, but this work is distinguished by its strong visual focus and its broad interest in design beyond Aspen. The catalog is indebted to three studies on the IDCA by Reyner Banham (1974), James Sloan Allen (1983), and Martin Beck (2012). These works are primarily textual, providing only a few poorly reproduced photographs of the conference. The current catalog has high quality images and includes a greater range and quantity of works. Over half of the pages within each chapter include at least one image.
The book’s design appropriately matches its content. Bold red and blue are used to emphasize textual selections and divide the work into sections. These color selections mirror those found in the works chosen for exhibition, such as advertisements by Paul Rand and Herbert Bayer. The retention of a leading zero in much of the pagination also has a retro aesthetic.
While the text itself is focused broadly on the design profession, the appendix encourages more focused study through the inclusion of biographies of individual designers who created works chosen for the exhibition. Also included are brief histories of the corporations represented in the show. Each entry includes a short bibliography, making it a good starting point for students who want to learn more about these individuals and corporations.