Catalogue of Strategies

By Curt Cloninger, 10 March 2002

Catalogue of Strategies is an illustrated compendium of Dutch design iconoclast Mieke Gerritzen’s ‘design mentalities’. Lavishly published by Ginko Press, this edition is designed by Gerritzen and written by three new media pundits, the foremost of whom is Nettime co-founder Geert Lovink. After an initial interview with Gerritzen, a bold, red message alerts us to ‘STOP READING | START BROWSING’. On the whole, this proves to be sound advice.

Of the three new media pundits who provide text for the rest of the book, only Max Bruinsma seems to have rightly ascertained the vibe of Gerritzen’s mentalities. Gerritzen’s design style – a crisp, conceptual, iconic minimalism – stems from all sorts of well-considered principles. (True, most of her designs look like a Dr. Bronner’s All-One Magic Soap bottle label on speed, but for a reason!) Gerritzen favours flat, fat, non-trendy fonts in order to sidestep the hype of commercial glitz. Appropriately, Bruinsma’s prose has its own poetic, colloquial sobriety.

Unfortunately, the rest of the writing in this book is largely old-school digerati utopianism that one might expect to find in the liner notes of a DJ Spooky CD circa 1996. Lovink writes with all the vague, amorphous bullshitism of a theorist who’s never designed anything: ‘That’s today’s true Dionysian strategy: with heroic outbursts of mediated splendour, exhausting oneself in an ecstasy of visual presence.’ Blah blah blah. In the initial interview, Lovink keeps asking Gerritzen leading questions about the importance of new media theory. She finally replies that theory is only useful when it’s about ‘new things’ and when it ‘doesn’t get boring.’

The basic ‘strategies’ themselves are sound and inspirational (if none too novel). One strategy proposes a type of playful media synesthesia. Another strategy merely suggests, ‘BE SIMPLE’. Gerritzen’s most interesting strategy involves ‘conceptual functionalism,’ in which the foremost goal of design is to criticise the context for which it has been produced – a far cry from the utilitarian edicts of today’s usability fascists.

In the end, the design of this book is its strongest argument. The fact that some of the theory presented within only tangentially relates to Gerritzen’s actual strategies is really no big deal. It’s just that much more text for her to morph into visual wallpaper.

Curt Cloninger <curt AT> is the author of Fresh Styles for Web Designers. [] and []

Catalogue of Strategies // Mieke Gerritzen // Gingko Press // 2001 // ISBN 1584230991 // £35