Via @WillWiles's twitter feed I came across this article by Rick Poyner on Poundland's graphic design. It's an interesting article, or, at least, an interesting starting point, but he comes to some odd conclusions. Along the way, Poyner makes some good points about the relationship of graphics to wealth, taste and, ultimately, class. These are things that I think design critics should talk a lot more about so I don't find any of his observations problematic, despite the comments here, where it seems to be assumed that talking about class in itself is somehow patronising.
Anyway, Poyner's main point is that Poundland's growth and its move into wealthier, more middle class areas makes its brutally direct, eye popping graphic style problematic. Will new, posher, customers, used to the tasteful graphic niceties of Marks & Spencer or Ocado, be able to stomach Poundland's "proletarian" directness? Or will they need to be flattered into shopping there, reassured that it all fits into an aspirational lifestyle distinguished by lime green fonts and reusable canvas grocery bags?
Not a bad question which probes some interesting conceits about shopping habits and the way that stores play on a mixture of social mobility, snobbery and guilt in inducing us to shop there. Inverted snobbery, of course, plays its part in Poundland's success along with a slightly nauseating tendency towards pretend-slumming by people who could well afford to shop elsewhere.
But Poyner is also all over the place in his conclusions. Having described Poundland's graphics as "highly specified and refined" (which is partially true, but they're also cheap in the literal sense) he goes on to denounce them as patronising and crude. Crude possibly, but why are they any more patronising than, say, the subtle shifts in font and graphic style used to denote upmarket brands in supermarkets? Can only the 'proletariat" be exploited? And, more importantly, why would a tasteful graphic signature used to lure in the middle classes not be patronising or exploitative?
Some years ago BA used to have a budget airline called Go. Despite the fact that its no-frills cheapness made the experience of flying with it identical to that of flying Easyjet, its Damian Hurst-esque spot pattern livery and tasteful graphics made it the acceptable budget airline for the middle classes. In the same way that some people prefer flying from Stanstead over Luton, despite the fact that both experiences are equally terrible, design has an ability to lend a patina of acceptability or sophistication, an aura of class, that has nothing to do with the quality of the product or the ethics of the experience.
Poyner has, like most design critics, confused ethics with aesthetics, assuming that his taste is morally superior, more honest, more truthful, somehow simply better. But there are no truths in typefaces, only taste cultures each with their own values.