explore exoticism and stereotypes in graphic design

Cultural appropriation has always existed in one form or another, but I believe social media has been an accelerator because of the accessibility and widespread use of its technology.

Over the past decade, technologies like Instagram have evolved from simple photo-sharing apps to essential portfolio tools for creative industry players. With this development, it naturally became a resource for art directors to research artists and designers to hire, as well as a tool to seek inspiration. Along with the often visible metrics of user engagement (number of likes and comments, views, number of subscribers, etc.), many of us have also become aware of the types of aesthetics that are trending or that work well on the platform. Consciously or not, the use of these technologies has most likely shaped the way we think about our own creative output, as there is an incentive to lean into the likes of the platform to gain influence or get hired. to work.

Meta (formerly known as Facebook, Inc.), owner of Instagram, is a multinational technology conglomerate and its services can be accessed from most parts of the world. While this was a positive development as a means of accessing underappreciated and underrepresented art and design communities, it also opened avenues for superficial emulation and exploitative tendencies. As a designer who follows a number of graphic designers and artists on Instagram, when I look at the Explore tab – an algorithmically generated page of public images and videos for each individual user – I often get the impression of scrutinizing the current design. the spirit of the times.

For example, over the past two years, I’ve noticed a growing visual trend commonly referred to as “Acid Graphics” pop up on my Explore tab. The visual style encompasses much of the psychedelic and sci-fi imagery of the 70s, as well as the bright, primitive digital lettering and 3D graphics of the 90s and Y2K era that could be seen to promote events. and raves. Perhaps Acid Graphics’ maximalist approach is also a reaction to the scaled-down minimalist aesthetic that dominated in the 2010s.

However, what I have witnessed oddly often associated with Acid Graphics is the bizarre use of gibberish or broken Japanese. As someone who speaks and reads the language, using the Japanese writing system most often feels naive and automatically translated. I can’t help but feel that the Japanese is used in an entirely semiotic way – symbolizing the aesthetic qualities that tie the techno-futuristic aspects of Acid Graphics to the visual stereotypes of Japan rather than having meaningful understandable meaning . As noted in part 1, the designers probably create these graphics with no bad intentions, but use these visuals as shorthand for their personal cultural simplifications of the country.

Clifton L. Boyd