My response to Hanno Ehses’s article from 1987 (p.15 from the Rhetoric pdf). He wishes to ‘encourage reassessment and serious discussion of rhetoric as a potential platform for the study and practice of graphic design’.

Ehses, similarly to Bonsiepe, relates the origins of rhetoric back to ancient Greece, quoting Aristotle and his observation that all people were involved with rhetoric. To understand why some examples of communication are more effective we must ‘discover the art behind persuasion’. However the way Ehses describes rhetoric language, as a tool that is ‘manipulated to achieve desired ends’ and its negative connotations of ‘fraud’ and ‘deceit’ still continues into the modern preconceptions of advertising, supporting Bonsiepe’s article. He continues to make historic references of prejudice against rhetoric, citing Plato who condemned language, and Renaissance humanists and its link with high arts as well as ‘oral and written discourse’. Just how strong is this sense to rhetoric and its modern form of marketing/advertising now?

Again rhetoric was not seen positively in the 1500s, when rhetoric was a separate ‘discipline’ to logic, ‘logic was scientific and exact; rhetoric was peripheral and decorative’. It was seen as an additional attachment, a “slap on” piece of clothing that covers logic and ‘truth’. These thoughts, despite its long history, it is only up til the last thirty years when people began to make rhetoric ‘respectable again, to free it from the prejudice that regards it as a cunning and morally questionable technique’. What changed? Perhaps the realisation that design and rhetoric cannot be separated, yet design is not always deceitful in intentions.

Within this article, Ehses does make reference to Bonsiepe’s Visual/Verbal Rhetoric, who in turn was inspired by Roland Barthes’s essay (one of the forefront theologists of rhetoric). He summarises that rhetoric and modern communication relies on understanding the culture of society, that it is ‘a matter of relationships’ where one that connects with ‘the habits and expectations’ of the target audience is a successful one. He also mentions the element of surprise and wit/emotional impact, is this where advertisers/designers prove that rhetoric does indeed have logic and not fraudulent?

There is a huge emphasis to shift the perception of using rhetoric, Ehses ends on how this tool is now used for ‘functional aesthetic/ethical imperative’ rather than just a gloss/imitation on design. Since this article was written in 1987, it would be interesting to note the attitude of designers twenty years later the stigma of using rhetoric, or if they were even aware of its history.

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