Michael Rock and His @Microcritique

July 25, 2017


Tyler Unger


Michael Rock and His @Microcritique

In New York I Michael Rock Do you know Michael Rock? If not, what is wrong with you? He and his design studio, 2×4, have created some of the most celebrated works of the 20th Century. Their clients range from Nike to Prada, high-end fashion meeting sneaker culture with Google, and …

Michael Rock 2x4
In New York I Michael Rock

Do you know Michael Rock? If not, what is wrong with you? He and his design studio, 2×4, have created some of the most celebrated works of the 20th Century. Their clients range from Nike to Prada, high-end fashion meeting sneaker culture with Google, and Harvard occupying the middle-ground. The work itself is endlessly thoughtful with a vast yet intelligent style that speaks for itself while still retaining Michael’s RISD bred poignancy. He is currently the Director of the Graphic Architecture Project at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture. He’s a member of the graphic design faculty at the Yale School of Art. And his favorite musician? Kanye West.

Nike Michael Rock 2x4
Nike Environmental Design
Prada Michael Rock 2x4
Prada Olfactories
Harvard Michael Rock 2x4
Harvard Poster

That last accolade might not be confirmed, but Michael is a very opinionated individual, to the point that he wrote a lengthy article on his Yeezy Season 3 / The Life of Pablo Reveal Concert. You can check that article out here and Michael’s long form writings on design here. But if there’s any piece of his creative output that everyone should be follow, it’s his socio-political Instagram @microcritique.

Using a platform like Instagram transforms his typically long-form (and possibly less accessible) writings on the world into a contained two to three paragraph critique. In its infancy, most of his posts focussed on America’s last political cycle, which has continued into Donald Trump’s current presidency. Some of my favorite write-ups include ‘Data Deception,’ where he explores the media’s promotion of incorrectly graphed voting data and crime rates and his examination of FLOTUS’ heavily photoshopped official white house portrait while quoting Kendrick Lamar’s ‘HUMBLE.’  To reiterate, this is the director of Columbia University’s Graduate Graphic Architecture Program posting, “I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop…Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch mark” on his Instagram. It’s fantastic.

An @microcritique post
A @microcritique post

Moreso it presents an often unseen facet of the modern condition in that our culture is representative of its designer, and design contains politics. The two can rarely exist separately especially when communication is necessary to your message. Michael’s critiques became a window into the influences of media, entertainment, and design. It’s not about keeping face but showing how our thoughts on the world are created, controlled, and directed by the person creating them.

I’m doing that right now. I’m explaining to you why I think Michael Rock’s Instagram page is cool because I think he’s cool and could use more followers. This entire article could be a promotion for himself and the work of 2×4, a thin line separating commercialism from genuine appreciation. But what I hold for @microcritique is a deep affection that I think others might appreciate as well. The platform and critiques Michael gives have an important hypocrisy making every statement that much more poignant.

@Microcritique actually reminded me of Kanye West’s seminal work My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, although Michael might have a stronger grasp of grammatical skill. They both use their platform in a way that’s hypocritical to their end goals: Kanye in revealing the dirty underbelly of fame and fortune while being so entrapped by it and Michael revealing the controlled messages in media and entertainment while controlling those messages. It’s a very special thing, so take look before the moment has passed.

Kanye West Michael Rock 2x4
Kanye West Cruel Summer Pavillion

Who is we? Inauguration day editions of The New York Times, Washington Post, and USAToday featured full page ads (and potential protest posters) emblazoned with the latest political images from street artist Shepard Fairey, the author of the now-ubiquitous Obama HOPE poster released in the early days of the 2008 campaign. The new series comprises three portraits – a Muslim, an African-American, and a Latina woman – wrapped in patriotic symbols and depicted in red, white, and blue tones reminiscent of 1930s WPA propaganda. The work was commissioned by the Amplifier Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to “amplifying the voices of grassroots movements through art and community engagement,” and funded by a $60,000 Kickstarter campaign (that has raised over $1.3 million to date.) While visually striking, the new series demonstrates the difficulty in deifying and imaging the multitude. The current trajectory is almost the reverse of the period following the early 20th century revolutions where designers worked first to depict the proletariat – think: masses of anonymous hands raised in protest – only to end up with cult of personality: Lenin, Stalin, Mao as a synecdoche for “the people.” The HOPE poster fits the late revolutionary model, Obama = Che. But trying to create symbols for the vast diversity of “women” or “the oppressed” is a stretch, multiple identities resist singular iconography. How do you rally around a generic somebody? In contrast, the mindboggling creative outpouring from today’s “Women’s March on Washington” delivers an alternative image. Despite all the early machinations regarding the meaning of the event, it’s clear that the participants showed up regardless and made it their own. Lack of coherence was displaced by sheer volume, passion, and enthusiasm. If ever there was an image of “We the People,” it occurred today, not yesterday. In a stark rebuke of Trump’s exceedingly bleak inaugural address with its images of “American carnage,” the marchers today displayed, in wild excess, exactly what was missing in the President’s depiction of a national wasteland: empathy, humor and joy. #design #branding #shepardfairey #amplifier #pussypowerprotest

A post shared by Michael Rock (@microcritique) on

The C-word. As the latest in a litany of dramas unfolded last week – i.e. the damning email chain that exposed Donald Trump Jr.’s unbridled enthusiasm for a potential meeting with Russian government representatives – Trump family spokesmodels assumed remarkably contorted positions to justify Junior’s behavior. But as she has so many times in the past, Kelleyanne Conway took the crown with a performance that managed to be simultaneously dishonest, glib, misleading, demeaning, opprobrious…and offensive to Muppets. Speaking on the Sean Hannity program, Conway resorted to visual aids in case the home audience had trouble following her convoluted reasoning. Flashing a card emblazoned with CONCLUSION and COLLUSION in sturdy Helvetica she began: “This is how I see it so far, this is to help the people at home. Collusion? No. We don’t have that yet.” (At which point she vigorously redacted the word.) “I see ILLUSION and DELUSION. So just so we’re clear, everyone: four words. Collusion, no. Illusion, delusion, yes. I just thought we’d have some fun with words. A Sesame [Street] Grover’s word of the day, perhaps.” The demonstration was the most typographically-explicit example of Team-Trump’s distortion of language for strategic obfuscation. Her Grover-esque flash cards promised simple clarity, rhyming child’s play really, but delivered the exact opposite. What is illusory about the phrase: “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”? And is it delusional to suppose that Junior’s reply “I love it” suggests exuberant consent? Just six months ago, Kelleyanne dismissed the notion of collusion as so much fake news. When questioned about coordination between the campaign and Russian government officials, she vehemently denied there had been any contact whatsoever: “I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous.” Its notable, however, that now, in her most recent presentation, she said: “Collusion? No. We don’t have that yet.” Yet? Maybe not, but please God, let it be soon. #trumpfamily

A post shared by Michael Rock (@microcritique) on

Leave a Reply