Dan Friedman steps back into the spotlight at the Chicago Design Museum

With a radicalism muted slightly by the seismic cultural shifts that have taken place since his heights in the 1980s and mid-90s, Dan Friedman remains a notable figure for helping shift public perception of graphic design from that of a purely commercial interest to a field with the potential to puncture and alter the art-cultural world.

“This show I really love because there are so many contrasts, it’s equal parts grit and polish, it shows very clear changes in his career.” says Design Museum founder and executive director Tanner Woodford.

Those shifts began when Friedman famously broke with his corporate-traditionalist background and embraced the activism that informed the New York scene of which he was increasingly a part. Populated with figures such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, with whom he was close friends, Friedman’s work was transmuted through a deeper understanding of the potential of design as part of a larger visual culture to inform the society that inhabits it and to, as he put it, “help improve society and peoples’ condition.”

Encoded in his 12-point agenda with tenets such as “Use your work to become advocates of projects for the public good,” and “Avoid getting stuck in corners, such as being a servant to increasing overhead careerism, or narrow points of view,” the overall tone is one of working within and respecting our distinctly human boundaries. It’s a message that the Design Museum believes answers a need for political engagement that people might be looking for today.

“I feel like right now lots of people are thinking about how to act to make changes in the world,” says Lauren Boegen, executive director of operations and collections, about the influence of Friedman’s agenda, “And if you don’t already know how to do that it can be intimidating sometimes. This show can really act as an inspiration for people to say, ‘I’m a designer, I’m a teacher, I’m a computer programmer, what can…

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