While changes in visual style, education, and practice evolved predictably in the past, some unexpected developments are affecting graphic design today. The profession many of us remember as bright and optimistic is now overwhelmingly introspective – permeated with anxiety, cynicism, and pseudo-intellectual debate.
Idealism and passion for creative work have been replaced by ego-driven striving for personal gain that inevitably leads to frustration. Compounding the problem for designers seeking personal and professional growth are production overcapacity, a crowded job market, and, most significantly, a shortage of meaningful work. These conditions have become such a part of life that we have to pause and reflect on what is going on right now.
Technology: hands off
Most designers are driven by creative ambition. Each will use his or her own talent differently, but ultimately every designer longs to create a unique, innovative visual product. Newcomers to the field, fresh from the academic studio experience, are often naïve about how a professional office functions. They assume their day will be about making designs, only to discover that much time is required for peripheral technical and administrative chores. They learn that instead of practicing their skills, the computer usurps them.
Today, tackling graphic design jobs is impossible without mastering a plethora of software products. Programs, most inelegantly designed to start with, require frequent upgrades, making it difficult for the designer to stay current. By the time the intricacies of a specific program becomes familiar, a new version replaces it. Mastering any program, in fact, mastering anything, is frustrating and time-consuming so this cycle of constant re-education diverts from more meaningful and satisfying work.
Electronic equipment has replaced the traditional tools of design expression: pencil, crayon, pen, and brush. Design has been “dematerialized”. The tactile qualities of materials such as trace- and colored- papers, boards and overlay film that often inspired ideas are no longer viable. For the designer who enjoys the sensuality of working with actual materials, the absence of touch, smell and even sound is disarming, as if part of the nervous system had been deactivated.
Devaluation: ready for landfill
Ideally, graphic communication used to be carefully planned and produced to achieve clear, realistic goals within a predictable amount of effort. The end product was respectable and used, then saved for a period of time. The means of design were limited to using type, photography, paper and printing to maximum effect. If everything went according to plan, the designer felt fulfilled and the client felt satisfied.
Today, many graphic designers struggle with overly ambitious, nebulous goals – often defined by committee – while at the same time finding their talents and products undervalued. For every decent piece of communication, a million horrendous pieces are produced. Digital design and printing, and easy access to inexpensive but excellent manufacturers overseas, have all contributed to reducing production costs. Graphic materials produced and distributed in such overwhelming quantities become a nuisance, and the critical consumer gets used to discarding ineffective communications instantly. The widespread attitude that design can be replaced quickly and cheaply has fostered negligence and waste.
Digital design furthers the problem by allowing instant variations, devaluing the carefully developed original and depriving the designer of a sense of authorship, recognition, and achievement. Witness how fast innovative designs are now bastardized and commercialized.
Isolation: so near yet so far
No designer can produce an effective solution without awareness of the assignment parameters and a familiarity with the client’s culture. Experiencing the client’s organization firsthand provides the designer with a sense of direction and empathy for all personalities involved. It also provides an opportunity to experience the world outside the studio.
Today, designers are tied to their computers for hours on end with little direct human interaction or contact. They produce work with a diminished sense of purpose and only scant understanding or sympathy for the client’s problems. Even though seemingly more “connected” to the world through the Internet, the designer is actually more personally isolated. Projects are sent back and forth electronically between the designer and the client with cryptic notes attached. Lacking physical presence, scale, and texture, designs seem disembodied, as if appearing from outer space untouched by the human hand, furthering a sense of disconnection.
Isolation, of course, doesn’t just affect graphic designers. We live in a world where personal isolation is becoming more the rule than the exception. Email conversations with colleagues half around the world seem no different than those with people nearby. We walk down the street oblivious to the immediate environment, isolated from surroundings by cell phone conversations or music wired into headsets. Everything seems overscaled – the cities we live in, the buildings and offices where we work in, the spaces for shopping and playing – reducing our sense of identity and reinforcing isolation.
Education: dumbing up
A classical design education used to integrate imagination, skills, knowledge, understanding and experience. Years of basic studies, search for personal interpretation, expansion of professional horizons through exposure to different specializations such as corporate identity, advertising, packaging and exhibit design were all typical steps. The knowledge and skills necessary for practice were clearly defined and understood. They were acquired by working with master teachers as well as by studying a small number of classic texts on design. Learning from books was an enjoyable and relaxing pastime that fostered a sense of shared value and community.
Modern technology has severed most connections to the past and put a new spin on education. We are operating in a strange hiatus, where traditional expertise is being replaced by constantly changing new standards. Digital media dissolved the boundaries of graphic design and altered the way skills are both learned and applied. The knowledge necessary to practice now has increased exponentially – so much that the “rules” are undefined. As a result, there are endless, contentious debates about what constitutes design education today.
Meanwhile, education has become experimentation, moving along free of ideologies and theories. “Good design” is no longer plausible, possibly the victim of political correctness or the zeal to eliminate boundaries at all costs. A multitude of visual approaches exists side by side, there for the taking. Baroque decoration is as accepted as bland modernism. Exposed to so many different styles, the young designer is robbed of a sense of direction, resulting in confusion.
Today designers who bother to look at books consume them by scanning rather than by carefully reading and reflecting on their content. Instead of relying on the theories and aesthetic principles that were the basis of visual communication for previous generations, designers derive bursts of inspiration from the Internet, magazines, film, video, music, and philosophy texts. The constantly changing landscape of popular culture does not provide a solid base for a career, making the designer insecure.
The more complex the design problem is, the wider the range of knowledge and skills necessary to solve it. From project to project the required specialized expertise and skills vary. We cannot hope to master them all. Today we need to be a print designer, tomorrow a web designer, the day after a wayfinding designer, and then an illustrator, etc. The idea of the designer as a Renaissance man no longer applies; there are too many competencies for any individual to attain. Inevitably, the designer’s role is becoming that of thinker, planner and coordinator of various specialist skills.
Identity theft: the disappearing genius
Brilliant visual ideas, outstanding artistic and technical skills, and the ability to present work convincingly used to be the hallmark of the great maverick graphic designer – a specie that has all but disappeared. Today’s highly competitive business environment is too complex for an individual designer to operate alone successfully. Designers instead collaborate in project teams on business strategies executed within budget and on schedule to produce projected results.
Any designer who is ill prepared or disinterested in the different skills required to function in today’s complex environment experiences insecurity and frustration. To function at a high level, the designer ideally should be conversant in marketing communication, business, economics, sociology, and psychology, and facile with writing and public speaking. In fact, most of the time a professional with outstanding communication skills edges out the visual designer. Furthermore, the computer fosters a dialectic approach. Every project soon evolves into a game between the designer and the client, who makes changes at a rapid pace without concern for visual consequences.
With the introduction of personal computers and graphics software in the 1980s, a new playing field was created. The domain of the professional designer, who used to be the expert in aesthetic and production questions, became accessible to virtually anyone interested in producing and disseminating graphic information. Technically proficient people without visual education increasingly take charge. In an age when speed of production is the overriding criteria for success, the graphic designer loses ground to the technical experts, succumbing to frustration.
In the 1970s and 80s many graphic designers were guided by the convictions that purpose and principles are more relevant than style; that individuality and passion are more important than conformity; that quality is superior to quantity, and that professional commitment and integrity are more important than the financial rewards.
It would be impossible to prescribe remedies to cure the various frustrations of graphic designers. The profession is too fragmented by educational, philosophical, economic, and generational gaps. Designers born into the computer age have a different perspective about today’s situation than those who have experienced profound technological change – and no one wants to turn the clock back anyway.
What we’re experiencing in graphic design goes hand-in-hand with other evidence of current societal decline: obsession with monetary and material values, craving for instant gratification, lack of manners, short attention span, foul language, etc. Graphic design will always continue to be produced in one form or another but no one can predict how future iterations will take shape. Human beings by nature are problem solvers so it is likely that today’s problems may spark tomorrow’s opportunities.
Copyright © 2007 Willi Kunz
About Willi Kunz
Willi Kunz practices graphic design in New York. He is the author of Typography: Macro- and Microaesthetics (1998) available in English, German, Spanish, and Chinese editions; and Typography: Formation and Transformation (2003). He is a member of AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale).
You have a variety of work, and have had continuing engagements with several clients… do any projects stand out as favorites? We’ve been doing regular illustrations for The New York Times (mainly the Book Review, but other sections as well). These projects often illustrate an essay or article with a more abstract intellectual theme or relate to the impact of culture on language. Since there usually hasn’t been an immediate visual reference to start with it’s a fun challenge to figure out a visual accompaniment to an abstract idea. Unlike our usual projects, the time lines of these illustrations, which range from 24 hours to a couple days, force us to conceptualize and execute them very rapidly. We’ve also continued to design for the Johns Hopkins Film Festival for the past six years; it always challenges us to think of new ways to approach a poster subject that’s so well-worn. We’d also love to do more book design and publication design in the future; it’s a medium we enjoy working in.
Tell us about the traveling experimental typography show you curated, Alphabet. Alphabet: An Exhibition of Hand-Drawn Lettering and Experimental Typography is a show that we curated in 2005 for Artscape, a large arts festival in Baltimore. We sent out an open call for experimental and inventive interpretations of the letters A-Z and selected the 60 best alphabets from the hundreds of submissions we received. The show features artists and designers from around the world— including work from renowned designers like Ed Fella, the calligrapher Jean Larcher, and House Industries’ Ken Barber to exceptional alphabets from students and artists such as Andrew Jeffrey Wright, C.W. Roelle, and Luke Ramsey. In spite of the fact that the show was based on an open call, the level of work submitted was overall very high quality, and the resulting exhibition reflects that. There’s also a nice range of approaches ranging from elegant conceptual work to the surreal and illustrative. Since the show closed in Baltimore, Alphabet has been traveling to galleries and institutions around the U.S. (currently in Minneapolis). Check out the Alphabet website for more information.
What does your band, Double Dagger, have to do with graphic design? When we began the band a few years ago, we planned Double Dagger as a graphic design punk concept band. Design and art references made their way into a lot of the lyrics, as parallels and metaphors for the usual stuff punk bands yell about. As the band has grown and evolved, the design stuff has faded from the content, but there’s still a good bit of Internet-age, post modern stress throughout which we’re sure most designers and others can identify with. Double Dagger has also provided us a chance to design and screenprint a lot of posters, packaging, and shirts, so it’s also a chance to express ourselves visually and be our own client. We’re also really loud.
What’s next for Post Typography? Bruce: I’m going to the Dominican Republic. Woo! Nolen: I’m gonna get my car fixed and shave more regularly. We’re also making Post Typography more “legit”, working to get some larger jobs. We’ve done a lot of work across many media, but we’re excited whenever we get to do something new that forces us to think in a different way or explore new media. For example we did some film titles last year as well as our first completely Flash-based website, and we hope to continue to explore new media and ideas in the future.
Who are some other individuals or studios that you feel are doing interesting things with design? We’re generally too busy working to pay too much attention to what other people are doing. It seems like with the recent explosion of design blogs and trend-spotting blogs, one could spend all of one’s time just reading about design. We prefer to spend our time working on our own projects. That said, it seems that in general there are a lot of young smaller studios or individuals who are doing really smart and beautiful work that blurs the line a bit between design and art.
About Post Typography
Originally conceived and founded in 2001 as an avant garde anti-design movement by Nolen Strals and Bruce Willen, Post Typography specializes in graphic design, conceptual typography, and custom lettering/illustration with additional forays into art, apparel, music, curatorial work, design theory, and vandalism. Their work has received numerous fancy design awards and has appeared in such publications as Ellen Lupton’s Thinking With Type and D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself, The Art of Modern Rock, STEP Magazine, Metropolis magazine, and Taschen’s upcoming compendium, Graphic Design Now. Post Typography has appeared in multiple design and art exhibitions, and their posters are collected by high school punk rockers and prominent designers, whom they consider equally important. Strals and Willen currently teach classes in design and typography at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and have lectured at the Cooper Union, Society of Publication Designers, and Pennsylvania College of Art and Design among others.
Check the Little Friends Flickr Stream for hot new prints and other work.
Tell us a bit about your background, and the disciplines and media your work comprises. Like most kids, I started drawing and painting around the age of four or five. I can remember building and painting clay dinosaur sculptures in the 2nd grade with my classmates; handprint paintings were one of my favorites. Later in the 5th grade, I graduated to drawings of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle characters. I was skateboarding a lot more those days- my dad taught me how to skateboard. I grew up in the small town of La Verne just east of Los Angeles, one of those perfectly groomed suburban neighborhoods. My High school art teacher and parents were always very supportive of my interests, and I had a lot of friends who enjoyed drawing and painting. My high school art teacher pushed me creatively and technically; he urged me to follow my art interests and to pursue studies at an art college.
I eventually studied art and design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. I learned a lot about image making and met a lot of really amazing instructors and artists over the next three years. While attending art school, I met Justin Krietemyer. We immediately worked well with each other, and before we knew it, we were working on commissioned assignments, art shows and websites together. It made sense for Justin and I to keep working together on projects, so upon graduation we decided to launch National Forest, a design firm that would exploit our individual talents and our collaborative chemistry. Over the last three years we’ve completed projects for traditional print campaigns, advertising, product design, interior design, art direction and web design.
Aside from National Forest we still find time to work on printmaking and personal art projects. I am constantly trying to find that impossible balance between making personal artwork and client driven work.
What kind of messages do you infuse in your personal work beyond visual interest? Beyond visual interests, I enjoy creating objects that other human beings can relate to- not quite nostalgic, but closer to a personal photograph or memory. I’ve always felt a stronger connection to tangible, printed objects, so that’s what I like to make. Most of the ideas for my personal works are created from past experiences and childhood memories. But I prefer creative freedom in my personal work so the concepts and ideas are different from piece to piece. I feel like my process is very intuitive, so many of the meanings or messages are often revealed after the piece is created.
When creating personal works, I like to keep most of my ideas fairly subtle or ambiguous; I think it’s important to let the viewer make their own assumptions about messages and meanings within a body of work. Another person’s interpretation, according to his or her own experiences, is very interesting and significant to me.
Would you share some artists, authors, movements, places, ideas that you’ve found influential? I just recently took a three-week trip with my brother to Japan and Thailand. I couldn’t believe what we experienced in that short of time. I am so used to working and living in Los Angeles that the entire experience became a genuine culture shock. Transportation alone was extremely different: elephant back, tuk tuk, long boat, speedboat, train, plane, etc. Both Japan and The Kingdom of Thailand are absolutely beautiful countries to say the least, and there is something very inspiring about interacting with a culture on the opposite side of the planet. Japanese printmaking and Asian art have always been of serious interest to me; while in Japan, I discovered a brilliant artisan by the name of Kiyoshi Awazu. I also very much enjoy the complete works of Mr. Tadanori Yokoo.
Although I appreciate many different artists, movements, etc, I always seem to fall back on the timeless- John Steinbeck, Ed Emberly, Paul Rand, Ken Kesey, Neil Young, Little Brown and Company, Saul Steinberg, Bruno Munari, The Eames. To me these artists and their art bridge time.
Can you let us know what you’re working on currently? I am currently finishing up a series of concert posters for the “Be The Riottt” music festival in San Francisco, working on several t-shirt graphics and one all-over pattern design for “Sixpack France.” I’m also working on a couple of artist series T-shirt graphics for Stones Throw Records, a limited-run letterpress print produced by DWRI Letterpress and concepting for a 3-D art/object/wooden/toy/thing with Android8. Justin and I are curating a 12 man poster print show, and working on several new poster prints along with re-printing a couple of older ones. I just finished the artwork for my “Threadless select” t-shirt graphic that is due out anytime now, finished a board series for Burton a while back that’s out this winter, and my contribution to Faesthetic just dropped. I am painting on some wooden objects at home for the hell of it, trying to learn how to cook a little better this month, trying to ride my bicycle more often and buying a drum set for the 3rd time. I’m also adding learning Spanish to my “to-do list”…
About Steven Harrington
Steven Harrington lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Aside from owning and operating National Forest Design with fellow artist Justin Krietemeyer, he still finds time to work on both commissioned and self-inspired art projects of his own. Influenced by images, fashion and graphics discovered in Time Life Encyclopedias from 1965-1972, thrift stores, and The Moody Blues, his art might be termed contextual objectivism. That is, he views each piece he creates as a tangible object that is part and parcel of a larger context; the object helps define the context and the context helps define the object. Whatever feel or meaning the observer takes away from the piece belongs to the observer. Nothing is shoved down his or her throat. Discovery is the key. Some of his most recent projects include a four board series for Burton snowboards, contributions to the French clothing line Sixpack, and a series of silkscreen prints based on the idea of “community.” He has exhibited work in Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Montreal, Tokyo, Melbourne and Barcelona.
Did you have any reservations about publishing the monograph so early in your careers? What did you learn during the process of putting it together? We didn’t have many reservations about making the book. Who wouldn’t like to make a whole book about your own work? And when the publisher basically gave us no restrictions, it was too good of an offer to refuse. Since none of us had actually started our professional career as designers when the book came out, it felt kind of strange. Releasing a monograph is usually something you do at the end, and not the beginning of a career. One problem of releasing a book so early on, might be that people very soon will try to label you as one type of designer, and that clients come to you because they want you to do one sort of design. If you’re not aware of this you might easily end up doing the same things for the rest of your life. We talked a lot about this while designing it – Trying to push the work in as many diverse directions as we possibly could, and at the same time push it in a direction that we would like to explore.Making the book was also probably the best job we could ever get. The projects we had done earlier on were not at all of this size. Of course we learned a bit about production and got some experience in doing a larger typographical job. More importantly, we learned about editing ourselves, writing about what we do and putting our work into context. We actually designed the book twice. The first time the book didn’t include that much text, but that didn’t feel right. The book didn’t say anything about the context of the work or reflect the environment of Metronomicon Audio – It just felt like a range of random images that didn’t have anything important to say. When the publisher told us they would like to put the release on hold for six months we decided to start all over again. That was a valuable experience.
What have you been up to since the release of Yokoland? It’s now been about 6 months since the release of the book. At the time it was released we had just finished college, we didn’t have a studio and most of the projects we had been doing were projects we had started ourselves. Since then we’ve been fixing our new studio, had a couple of exhibitions, designed a few of record sleeves for Metronomicon Audio, tried to get enough work to pay our rent and for the first time in years had a one month vacation. So far a lot of our time has been spent on work of a more boring character. Like administration, answering phone calls and e-mails, going to meetings and getting a grip of the economical part of the job. None of us knew that it was so much boring work connected with this job. A former teacher of Aslak told us that he had read an interview with the designer Morag Myerscough where she said that she answered phone calls all day, and when her clients went home she started designing. It has felt a bit like that sometimes. And it’s probably not going to be any less phone calls in the future.
What effect has the attention had on your progress? So far it doesn’t feel like we’ve gotten that much attention. We’ve done a few interviews and some students have been e-mailing us about internships, but that’s basically it. But of course it feels a bit scary to experiment in new and unknown areas when we’re not the only one to see the final result anymore.
How has your involvement with Metronomicon Audio and music in general affected your art and design efforts?Our interest in art and design started with an interest in music. As teenagers we couldn’t really relate to the art we were shown in art classes at school – It was either old art that had little or nothing to do with us, or it was contemporary art that didn’t speak to us at all. We were interested in other things like music, records, books, music videos, film and graffiti. And it was the interest in these things that brought us into art and design.We started working with Metronomicon Audio about five years ago now, and the label has definitely played an important role in our development as designers. From running the label and working with the musicians we’ve learned how to organize our studio, deal with clients, and to collaborate – not only with each other, but also with clients. But the most important thing we’ve learned is to be open for new inspiration from every possible place, and not to be afraid of failing. In this way Metronomicon Audio has definitely been important. We’ve also got a form of freedom in the work with Metronomicon Audio, that you rarely find elsewhere. That’s probably something we can bring into other jobs. When that’s said, the work for Metronomicon Audio tends to be quite different from other jobs we do. Even though we try to put a lot of ourselves into every project we do, different jobs always call for different solutions.
What has influenced your practice and how do you see yourselves inspiring others? There are a lot of things that have influenced us through the years, so that list could be a mile long. As we’ve said the work for Metronomicon Audio has been of major importance, since this has been a place for us to find our own graphic voice. In the same way, the exhibitions that we’ve done the last year or two has taken us in a slightly different direction. One the people that has influenced us the most is Norwegian artist, designer, musician and filmmaker Kim Hiorthøy. He has kind of been like a mentor for us and from him we have learned that it’s not impossible to work in different fields simultaneously. We’re also huge admirers of the work of filmmaker Michel Gondry, as well as work of filmmakers like Mike Mills, Spike Jonze and Geoff McFetridge. There are also a lot of other contemporary designers, artists, filmmakers and musicians that have influenced us. And then there are a lot of historic periods that have influenced us. Just think of all the interesting periods in the history of art, how much interesting music that exists, and how many good movies that have been made, not to mention all the good stuff that’s out there that we still haven’t seen. In this way, we hope to be an inspiring little secret for other people to discover.
Young Norwegian designers Aslak Gurholt Rønsen and Espen Friberg, who have been collaborating on projects since they met in high school at the age of 16, inhabit Yokoland. Together they create design, illustration and art that are idyllic, humorous and poetic without ever being mawkish some of which has been featured in Hidden Track. Being one of the most inventive design studios of today, Yokoland skillfully blends their Scandinavian approach to design into their work melding elegant humor and human touch, exploring new ways of creating graphic design solutions to stunning effect.
In a previous publication you stated: “Amidst the attention given to the sciences as how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered ‘useless,’ will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously. The arts are the science of enjoying life.”
How specifically do you think art can be presented to the common person as a part of their life rather than merely a part of museums? Can you give any examples in the visual arts that help illustrate this statement? This is an area that my new group the Physical Language Workshop is currently working on. Our hypothesis is that by re-architecting some common web technologies, we can provide a new kind of distributed creative supply/demand that has not yet existed. Different levels of artistic expression will have varying levels of associated value. Average art can have an average value, and can be a new kind of creative currency.
Today most people see art as a way to visually express ideas and feelings. Are you implying that art can be functionally useful to the general public? Do you think one day society will accept art as a science because technology has become a new form of art? I think creativity is an important untapped resource in our society. Currently, only the “most creative” get to be creative. I think that it is a shame. The general public needs a means of exercising their creativity in order to discover some kind of tangible benefit from it (beyond the mere joy of exercising the freedom to be creative).
Technology hasn’t given birth to a new form of art; people using technology have given birth to a form of art that is perhaps new. The biggest question is no longer, “Is it new?” The biggest question now is, “Is it any good?”
What is the benefit of teaching creativity and art? In every in-flight magazine there is a piece of wisdom. Today I flew to NY and there was an article in the in-flight magazine on proverbs. It said there is a Japanese proverb, “To teach is to learn.” Is there no greater benefit in life (besides family) than learning? I am currently enrolled in an MBA course, which has very low creativity, but I am learning new things everyday. So it isn’t just about creativity and art. It is the experience of enrichment through learning as learning, or learning through teaching. To work the “exploration muscle” in your brain is a worthy way of life.
As a teacher, how do you judge “good technology” when there seem to be so many aspects to consider? What aspects or traits of technology do you consider to have value? Good technology is always best when it is not the major issue of discussing a technology-based experience. When it is invisible, and simply the source of the magic of it all, it is best. I have heard this said similarly many times before by many people, but I feel that it is usually said from the perspective of someone who knows very little about the technology under discussion. It is convenient to discuss the technology as “getting in the way.” In the way of what? Oftentimes it stands in the way of a thin idea. Why is the idea thin? Because technology demands you to treasure it — to do what you can because something new is possible. Technology craves attention, and we feed its insecurities. In the process of serving technology, we often forget why we were doing something in the first place. Such a process inevitably gets you in trouble because the all-consuming attention given to the technology leads you to an arrival point with very little conceptual strength. One must always seek balance by acknowledging the infinite hunger of new technologies (for more technology).
What links are there between design and technology? Design can aid technology, but many producers of technology don’t seem to value design. Why have you chosen to unite the two? I chose to unite design and technology because it was relevant for me to do so at the time. But I do not think it necessary for anyone else starting out. Everyone is different and valuable. My value came from the mix of those two things.
You talk a lot about Paul Rand. What is it about his design work or his approach to design that fascinate you? What objective or insight did he give you “to aspire forever?” The humility and the confidence in Paul Rand, the person I met, continue to inspire me. He had a wonderful balance of strength and weaknesses that was very human, but also superhuman. At 82, maybe that is a natural state of being.
Is your work more a process of discovery or the application of a consistent methodology? Do you work for personal satisfaction or for solving larger problems? I find my work to be a constant process of discovery and failure. In only the rarest of moments do I see any success. And I know from experience that success can be fleeting, so I do try to find pride in my many failures whenever possible.
What do you consider a failure? A failure, technically speaking, is something that turns out in a way you didn’t expect or hope. A real failure is when you don’t have enough talent to take that unexpected twist and ride it into something better than when you first started.
What is your interest in typography? I have no real interest in typography today. I used to be part of the cigarette-smoking, chummy Swiss cult in Tokyo but I broke free.
How are typography and technology currently connected? The connection between typography and technology is the same connection that everything has to technology today. Everything is (unfortunately) connected to technology today.
Do you think this new generation of technology will lead to some groundbreaking shifts in the way we communicate? No.
How do you describe your profession to people? I call myself a person that aspires to think creatively. I’ve managed to turn that into a profession as a professional professor. I lucked out.
What other professions would you like to practice? Currently I’m getting an MBA. After that I plan go to cooking school. So maybe I want to be a chef in the future.
About John Maeda
John Maeda is a world-renowned graphic designer, visual artist, and computer scientist at the MIT Media Lab, and is a founding voice for “simplicity” in the digital age.
We haven’t talked to you in awhile, so we are really curious, what are you working on these days? Where are you based now? I have been living in Amsterdam for 3 years now. After living 4 years in Milan I decided that it was time to move. An advertising agency called Wieden+Kennedy offered me a job as an art director at their agency in Amsterdam. I decided to accept the offer and to move to Amsterdam, which I had been before and I really liked it. Now I love it!
I had 2 great years in Wieden+Kennedy. It was like an intensive course. In May of last year I decided to quit that job and to focus more on my works and production. The stars had the right alignment to make it happen.
I decided to open a studio/shop. That way I was not forced all day to be the in studio alone, but instead always having people around. It really helps me to work. And since I am fully supporting my own self production, I am able to create a place where other creatives can show their works and hopefully sell them. Then I am fully on my little child Aiko.
What are your goals that you have for the studio and shop in the upcoming year (2007)? For me it is already amazing that I have my own place. Coming here in the morning and opening the door feels so good, it is incredible. I opened Hanazuki with a girl from Amsterdam, her name is Hanneke. She is a really tough girl with lots and lots of energy and passion in what she does. Together we had in mind the same idea and felt the same urge to create. With Hanazuki we want to focus on creativity, on inspiring people to act and create. Having an open space for people to visit and stay is a great starting point. We already have people coming in asking if they can use the sewing machine, if they can make their own puppets, if they can print and so on. This means that we have started on the right path, they feel this is a creative place and when they leave from here they go home wondering with a smile on their face. I just hope I can keep this alive.
With all the focus and energy into Hanazuki, are you still working for clients? Or you have gone the path of customers instead of clients? Most of our income still comes from commercial works. We do not dislike it. Now we just have the luck to be able to choose what projects to work on. Kind of choosing the best project that fits us. In this way our personal and commercial works merge more. This is a result from 9 years of hard work. I have been working all over and for a lot of different clients and agencies. This gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of great people that I now share projects with. The studio right now is producing works for Nokia, Electronic Arts, MTV Network, Katapult Records. I don’t know if I am ever going to quit doing work for clients. Sometimes it can be very frustrating, but other times if you are lucky and find the right project, then it is just great. Like everything it goes up and down. I think I will keep working for clients as long as they keep calling me.
We are not sure if many people know your client work as much as your personal artwork. Is your commercial work a totally different realm of execution, or are you applying your characters and little stories into your clients projects as well? It really depends on the project or client. I started as a designer in Milan, so I was used to trying to find visual solutions to follow the brief given by the client. This means that I had o adapt and find different styles to execute the concept. Sometimes clients ask me to go free and follow my own style. Other times I am ask me to adapt my style. But in the back of my mind I always work using the same mindset and attitude. Visually the project can differ but conceptually they have a lot in common. The little characters and stories are mine. I don’t know if I am ever going to give them to someone for advertising purposes. I really don’t think so.
Your have lived all over Europe, Italy being one of them. How has the move from Italy to Amsterdam affected you and your work? Amsterdam is a place that one can easily get side tracked, have you been able to still keep the same work ethic and focus? Since I was born, I have been on the move. I always lived each movement like stages in my life. I can associate feeling and emotions to different places in the world. Amsterdam is just the stage in which I am right now. I don’t know where I am going to be next. Maybe I stop, maybe I keep going? I love to discover places and people; Amsterdam is such a mix of culture that I fell completely in love with it. It is a small town so it is easy to move around and meet friends. At the same time it is a “place to visit” for millions of people from all over. I never liked the way of working in Italy, you have to know the right people, get introduced, act cool, etc. Here it is more natural, people appreciate more talents and there is generally more respect in what someone can do. It is more rewarding. I have been sidetracked all my life, I was more than ready to move here and be in control of my action, ethic, etc. Even though sometimes I sleep out of track, but that is just cool.
Do you like Yogurt? If so what flavor? I love it! I like the pure one with honey and nuts. Like the one they make in Greece. Uff so gooooood!
About Niko Stumpo
Niko Stumpo was born in Drammen, Norway. He grew up in the ice lands of Norway, and at the age 6 he moved to Italy, and began vigorously skateboarding. During many years, skateboarding became his life. He had become a sponsored skater and toured around Europe with his sponsors. The fun stopped when he had a severe injury, and was forced to change his career to another focus, which led to “art.” He had finished High School in the field of art, and later enrolled in a Fine Art Academy, however never completed the actual course. Even though, he had a great passion in art and could see the great potential of it – through his own creativity. Instead of continuing school, he became fascinated with Web design, and one of his early inspirations on the World Wide Web was an animated butterfly on the first edition, “The Remedi Project.” Since then, he has contributed to “The Remedi Project;” he has worked as a creative director at a major design agency in Milan, Italy,then he started freelancing for different companies, then as an art director for Wieden+Kennedy in Amsterdam, now he runs his own companies called HANAZUKI and Aiko focusing more on artistic projects and creations of events.His artwork has been exhibited in places such as the Biennial of Tirana and Valencia, the World Wide Web Exhibition in Sao Paolo, Brazil, the George Pompidou in Paris, the Riviera Gallery in Brooklin Ny, The MACBA in Barcelona, in the Bomuldsfabriken in Norway, the 55Diesel store in Milan, Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, the 451F gallery in Amsterdam, The MONTANA gallery In Barcelona etc. His works include clients such as MTVitaly, MTVfrance, MTV USA, Electronic Arts , Sony PS2, Nike, 55Dsl, Lexus, Condé Nast, MandarinaDuck, Capcomm, Powerade, Heineken, Goretex, Vodafone, E3,Thomas Cook, Nokia.