The Universal Arts of Graphic Design | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios


First and foremost, graphic design has to communicate something. But good graphic design makes people’s lives better. You
have to find a way to make sense of how to make something beautiful and, to me,
you’re speaking for them. As a graphic designer, concept is the
first thing; idea and life. Graphic design is essentially a language for living. Graphic design is about using words and images to convey a message. Graphic
designers have to know a lot about color theory, typography, how to create a grid. But those are all really basic. You have to be somebody that is
really interested in understanding human behavior, being able to
understand how they think, how they choose, how they buy, how they believe. People probably don’t think about how
much graphic design impacts them. We use graphic design to cross the street, to
decide what we want to eat and how much we want to eat. We use graphic design to pay our bills, to
get married. We use graphic design to get divorced. We use graphic design in every
single aspect of human life right now and people tend to like things best when
they feel that they are respected by that thing. But I think, ultimately, if it moves you,
whether it be a good emotion or a bad emotion, chances are that it’s effective
because it’s getting you to think about something and it’s getting you to potentially
take action. When I work on package design I like
for there to be an idea behind it. I like for there to be some wit,
some language, some feeling that there is a human hand behind what you are interacting with. Like, for instance, matchbooks are one of
my favorite things to design. It’s this nice intimate moment between you and
the smoker or candlelighter because you have the
reveal that can be completely surprising. For the Spice Market, we turned
them into these little incense boxes. I like to think about the product like
I’m the consumer. So, when we were working on the kleenex project, we learned that,
for some people, choosing which pattern on the box to take home is a huge part of their day. So, I think about what would give me a moments pleasure
when interacting with that thing. The Mercer Hotel was a really interesting project that was very
clean and very understated and witty. And not necessarily witty in the design but
also witty in the language. Like, for instance, there’s always that sign on the
bathrobe that says “If you take it, you’re going to have to pay for it.” But we didn’t
want to say that in such a crass way, so we just made a sign that very simply said “disrobe” and then, when you turned it over, it said “is available
for purchase in the lobby.” And, so, sometimes maybe beautiful isn’t exactly what it should be. Maybe it needs
to be quirky or maybe it needs to be ugly or maybe it
needs to be invisible. So, I think you’re always solving what it has to look like visually based on what it
needs to be conceptually. A lot of times when people talk about
signage and environmental graphics they think that it always involves letters but it really involves landmarks,
creating a moment that somebody remembers and immediately understands.
Graphic designers aren’t trained necessarily to think in dimension but you
do need to identify things within space that the architecture wouldn’t necessarily
be doing otherwise; through color and type and light. Working on the signage for
Bloomberg’s offices, they wanted people to use the stairs. We thought if people
are intended to use this space, why don’t we at least make it interesting to use. If you
can make the space interesting people will want to be there. It really involves creating a
moment that somebody remembers and immediately understands. Bridge designs
are decorations that we have proposed for the city of Pittsburgh and our
proposal was to, essentially, make those moments special moments. So it could just be
a paint job or it could be using light in a certain way to highlight that
feature as a gateway to the north side. Every building has a timeline of your
experience with it. What’s the cover of this book and then how does that play out as
one navigates through the space where your mind actually solves the problem. So, there’s a process of discovery there. Should you judge a book by its cover? I would really like to say yes, but I
think that there’s a lot of really good books out there that don’t have good covers. My guiding philosophy in design is forever going to change, I think. You have to understand the responsibility
you have in terms of there’s someone at the end of the line there that actually cares about what you’re doing and you have to give it a voice. I never like to pin myself down to one
different style and, to me, that’s what’s fun about design as opposed to an illustrator’s style. You can wear
different hats. The artistic expression, that is the art of it. Getting into the mind of a book, expressing what the book is about, making
it beautiful and grabbing people’s attention. You always care about what are you
reading first and that’s based on contrast of size, contrast of color, is the title more important than the author, can you read it from across the store or not. You know, these are the things that I think about on a daily basis. You have to understand
where this book fits in the world of books. The Day the World Ends is a poetry book
and here’s an example of well, what do you focus on? You have all these different poems that are about different things so I broke the type up a little bit and the author just connected with it. If you love the content, you want
something to come up in your head when you think about it. So, any successful book cover
is something that you want to hold in your hand. It’s
unexpected, smart, and beautiful but at the end of the day you just want to put it on your book shelf face out
because it means something to you. We use graphic design now in many ways to convey who we are as people, to define affiliations, to signal beliefs. If you can contribute to making
peoples lives a little bit better and elevating the general level of design, then why not? If you know how you want to make them feel, that’s the most important thing. You just want to make something memorable. I say, do what you think is right and interesting and smart and then worry
about what the survey says.

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