Free University of Bozen/Bolzano, Italy
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Project. National Icons

Purpose. To explore issues relating to the visual clichés often used in the portrayal of specific European nationalities in public communication.

Assignment. To design a poster advertising a fictitious conference on the subject of xenophobia. As the European Union expands to the east, many countries are going through a process of re-appraising their past, looking critically at the present and establishing new aims for the future. An over-riding message is that it is the differences between our countries, rather than the similarities, that make the concept of a European Union so exciting. Graphic design, often using a homogenized international style, has frequently played a regrettable role in the diminishing of national identities.

In this project we will explore the concept of national icons. These icons might be cultural, social, industrial, scientific... or any area of activity which might embody characteristics appropriate to the specific identity of each country. Some icons might be well known internationally, but are tired clichés to the host country: France's baguettes, Italy's Mafiosi, England's umbrellas. Perhaps we might find less well known but more genuine icons to help to bury the myths, the lies, and the outdated.

As well as "images" in the traditional sense, students will also be expected to explore the idea of "text as image", looking into such artifacts as typefaces, logos, layout styles, etc., which might have perceived national characteristics (Germany and blackletter types, for example).

Format. A2 (420 X 594 mm or 16 1/2 X 23 3/8 inches)

Time. One semester, three days a week.


Jay Rutherford studied design in Kingston, Ontario and Halifax, and Nova Scotia (with 13 years in between), but learned more on the job doing film stripping, computerized typesetting mark-up (long before DTP), page layout and graphic design. Jay has taught design-related subjects from silk-screen printing to set design to detail typography (with many stops in between). In 1992, after running his own design studio in Canada for some years, Jay ran away to Germany to join the MetaDesign circus. Here he helped expand the Meta type family and drew an italic for Frutiger Condensed, which FontShop now sells as FF Transit. The Meta experience convinced Jay to stay in Germany, where he was professor of Visual Communications at the Bauhaus University Weimar for ten years. Jay Rutherford is now teaching Visual Communications at the Free University of Bozen/Bolzano.

(Note. After a two-year Italian sojourn at the Free University of Bolzano, Jay has returned to his former post at the Bauhaus University in Weimar.)

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