Cover of Print magazine, vol. 45, no. 6, September-October 1991
© Art direction and design: Howard Schiller. Illustration: Leslie Swain. Courtesy Howard Schiller

WYSIWYG. An investigation in the uptake of graphic design software in Switzerland and France, 1980 - today

September 2024 to August 2027

Leading institution: HEAD – Genève
Project leader: Clémence Imbert
Project team: TBN
Financing: FNS
Co-financing: HEAD – Genève (HES-SO)

WYISWYG is a 3-year interdisciplinary research project that aims at documenting, from a historical and theoretical perspective, the digital turn of graphic design practice. How and when did the computer become the main working device for graphic designers? And what are the long-term unexpected effects of these technologies on the practice of graphic design today?

The project will produce data, timeline, critical analysis on the economy and distribution networks of WYSIWYG software (acronym of « What You See Is What You Get »: first-used in 1981 the expression designates a specific category of software whose graphic interface makes it possible to visualize a design on the screen as it will ultimately be printed). This includes word-processing systems, desktop publishing (DTP) software used for lay-out as well as software used for computer-based drawing and image-editing. The period considered stretches from the mid-1980s with the introduction of the first personal computers equipped with graphic design software (in particular the Macintosh from Apple, Inc., 1984) to contemporary discussions regarding their massive generalization. The survey will concentrate on Switzerland and France, in a comparative perspective, and with a focus on the significant intertwining of both countries’ graphic design cultures in this period of great upheaval.

The historical investigation will be articulated with contemporary theoretical questions in the framework of AI development. WYSIWYG intends to shed light on core issues in design theory, such as the relationship between technology and creation, and the border between professional and amateur mastering of “creative” digital tools.


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