This paper argues for the importance of historical and contemporary examples of what has come to be called “critical practice” in graphic design. A critical practice is similar to, but distinct from, both traditional fine art and graphic design — especially when graphic design is defined narrowly, as limited to a service industry for organizational and business interests.
Having made a historical argument, and provided contemporary examples, this paper proceeds to describe our own attempt to develop a critical design practice in the form of Are Not Books & Publications, an instance of what has been called “micro-publishing.” The publishing taken up by this critical, small-scale venture is entirely controlled by the designer, along with a small group of collaborators. Writing, editing, design, production, and distribution roles are restricted so as to be minimally influenced by outside concerns. As a result, the form and content of the books and pamphlets published by Are Not Books & Publications can be critically and self-reflexively about the practice of design and publishing.