Unit 3, Blog Entry 2: The Medium Is The Message

As I’ve been gather sources for my paper on what the graphic design profession looks like today, Professor Abadie suggested I look into Marshall McLuhan’s thoughts on medium. It didn’t take long to find articles, essays and videos on McLuhan’s theories – and it especially didn’t take long to discover that his views were not always understood or well-received. So, naturally, I had to dig a little deeper to get a better understanding of why this figure’s ideas would influence the graphic design profession today.

It is in his most influential book, Understanding Media: The Extension of Man (1964), that McLuhan first coins the phrase “the medium is the message,” which at first glance is both deceiving and profound. It takes a bit more study (and I have a lot of studying to do on the subject) to get a more clear understanding of what he means.

In essence, and as far as I have managed to understand so far, McLuhan places a great deal of importance on the medium, with seemingly little regard for ‘content’ or ‘message.’ He goes as far as saying that the message is unimportant, inconsequential even – at least in relation to the medium. But what does he mean by all this? I believe that what McLuhan was referring to is that the medium (i.e. television, radio, print, computers) should be our main focus of research, because our understanding of the consequences and effects of media on society as a whole is much too limited and under-valued. McLuhan was convinced that the medium would so greatly change and affect society, that the message(s) it delivers are inconsequential in comparison – and, frankly, I agree with his assertion (to a degree, but that’s for another post).

What does all of this have to do with the graphic design profession? I haven’t been able to formulate my thoughts enough around this to express them here in any manner of cohesiveness, but I can see how taking a much broader view of graphic design as a medium and its effects on society, would open up a whole new realm of interesting avenues to explore and research. I am eager to learn more about McLuhan and his work.