Conceptual apparel presenting graphic design with populist intentions. Created to reassess the communicative possibility of the self-referential and the appropriated format.
In 2001, Dutch designers Experimental Jetset designed the shirt John & Paul & Ringo & George. This design was an exploration of what the studio described as “‘self-referentiality’: the idea of graphic design that refers to itself, to its own context, or to the medium as a whole.” Essentially, neutralizing content in translating the figurative—focus presented through a method of abstraction.
My response to this method was to invert the concept and create a design with populist intentions. By leveraging the format’s cultural gravitas, these actions are elevated, revealing that they should be popular sentiments. Furthermore, the application and placement on a toddler heighten their necessity. I’ve observed many adults, reading and smiling as they are mentally re-aligned with their sense of cool.
Since the shirt’s initial release in 2001 (left), the studio has seen hundreds of images in “homage, tribute or parody.” (right) The studio wondered why such an intentionally distilled presentation got so much attention. They noted: “It’s amazing to see that the ‘John & Paul & Ringo & George’ shirt has become a format, a standard, for other people to work with. (To us, it proves an important point: that a popular design doesn’t have to be made with populist intentions).”