Falling back in love
Something interesting happened this week. I feel like I fell back in love with graphic design.
Somewhere along the way got disenchanted, I got interested in other things, I got burnt-out. Looking at typefaces didn’t excite me the way it used to. Suddenly conversations about design styles and possibilities—conversations I used to live for—didn’t interest me anymore. I’d find myself thinking, “Is it even worth anymore?”
But this week, my passion seemed to return. I think there are a few things I can attribute this to:
Jason Santa Maria’s great interview on the Happy Monday Podcast energized me in a way I hadn’t felt in a while. Pair that with his other interview on The Gently Mad where he waxes poetic on typefaces for a while and I realized what I had been missing.
I’d been reading Mike Monteiro’s Design is a Job this week and though the book isn’t really about designing it is about caring for your craft. I wanted to care again.
Experimental Jetset released their new identity for the Whitney Museum. I’ve done very little work in identity design so it always seems to impress me the most, especially when it’s so thoughtfully executed. This is one of those projects that makes me sit back and go, “Man, I want to design something like that.”
The Newsweek.com redesign completely knocked me on the floor. In school, I thought I’d head towards a career in editorial design. Somewhere I got turned around and have made a career on the web. Seeing a site that blends these two paths so wonderfully gets me excited about the possibilities.
I firmly believe that what you look for, you will find. Maybe I was looking for something to help me fall back in love with design. I’m not really sure, but I know I found it. It was a good week for design. It was the kind of week I needed, one full of reminders why I’ve always loved this gig, sometimes I just get distracted. Thanks for helping me find my way back.
“Once a job transcends into craft and from there into art, a door opens. Our craft becomes a canvas for something new and exciting. It never leaves, never fades into the background, but becomes the strong scaffold upon which new things are built.”
I really enjoyed Jeff Lin’s short profile on filmmaker Ang Lee and his long journey to success. Lee worked for six years before he was able to get one of his films made:
Put yourself in his shoes. Imagine starting something now, this year, that you felt you were pretty good at, having won some student awards, devoting yourself to it full time…and then getting rejected over and over until 2019. That’s the middle of the term of the next President of the United States. Can you imagine working that long, not knowing if anything would come of it? Facing the inevitable “So how’s that film thing going?” question for the fifth consecutive Thanksgiving dinner; explaining for the umpteeth time this time it’s different to parents that had hoped that film study meant you wanted to be a professor of film at a university.
Lee kept working relentlessly because he loved the craft and believed in his work:
If you’re an aspiring author, director, musician, startup founder, these long stretches of nothing are a huge reason why it’s important to pick something personally meaningful, something that you actually love to do. When external rewards and validation are nonexistent; when you suffer through bouts where of jealousy, wondering “How come so-and-so got signed/is successful/got a deal/etc?”; when every new development seems like a kick in the stomach, the love of what you are doing gives you something to hang onto.
“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.”
The New York Times had a great profile on Jerry Seinfeld last week (but you probably already knew that). The piece focused on his post-sitcom life, most notably his obsession with doing stand-up. The whole piece is fascinating but really excited me was the look into his creative process and his approach to crafting a joke:
Seinfeld will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so. “It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai,” he says. “I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.”
When he can’t tinker, he grows anxious. “If I don’t do a set in two weeks, I feel it,” he said. “I read an article a few years ago that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don’t I know how to do this already? The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop.”
“We don’t need more tools to make publishing faster. I can check in on foursquare with two taps of my thumb and it automatically generates a full sentence that’s streamed to my twitter. I can reblog a gif with a line of commentary on my tumblr while I’m waiting in line for a sandwich. What is scarce on the web are human-made, intentionally thought-out experiences. My stream is a rush of links all competing for my attention, and for most of them, I know what they’ll look like before I even click.”
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part III: The Future
This is part three of a three-part series. Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 (You are here.)
Are we really afraid? Are we afraid that we’ll be out of jobs or are we afraid the design can’t solve all the problems we think it can? Do we think opening up our toolkit1 — improvising, frameworks, storytelling, and delight — will ruin our field? Or is it possible that these are skills that can help push the world forward, shining light into the darkness?
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part II: The Tools
This is part two of a three-part series. Part 1 / Part 2 (You are here.) / Part 3
“The liberal arts have always been changing just as much as we have.” —The New Liberal Arts 1
The liberal arts are those subjects that were considered essential for students to study. They provide the student with the tools they need to learn and a framework in which to navigate through the world. Somewhere along the way, we decided writing was something every student should learn. Public Speaking is a required course in most university programs. Could graphic design sit along side these liberal arts?
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part I: The Curious
This is part one of a three-part series. Part 1(You are here) / Part 2 / Part 3
“The teaching of art is the teaching of all things.” —John Ruskin
The graphic design field is awash with contradictions. It sits in the awkward cross-section between service and craft. It’s at once a service given to others and a craft we hone for ourselves. It can be both invisible and influential, sometimes showing a point of view and other times remaining apathetic to its content.
“I believe the Japanese people have a basic artisanal disposition. There is a word in Japanese — kodawari — meaning being obsessed with the details, and it guides almost everything here.”
A list of people I admire who keep/kept pursuing their craft well past retirement age
I hope to be like these gentlemen when I’m 80, continually and relentlessly pursuing my craft and my passions.
- Woody Allen
- Massimo Vignelli
- Paul Rand
- Julius Shulman
- Milton Glaser
- Clint Eastwood
- Dieter Rams
- Erik Spiekermann
- Dave Brubeck
- John Berger
I’ve been thinking about Stefan Sagmeister’s 2002 piece How Good is Good? from Typotheque a lot lately. The end, quoting Chip Kidd’s The Cheese Monkeys, is especially great as he equates graphic design to gift-giving:
Winter Sorbeck, design teacher and fictional main character in Chip Kidd’s new novel The Cheese Monkeys, says at one point: Uncle Sam is Commercial Art, the American Flag is graphic design. Commercial Art makes you BUY things, graphic Design GIVES you ideas.
If I’m able to do that, to give ideas, that WOULD be a good reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Art and Family
The always interesting blog of Austin Kleon points me towards this quote from cartoonist Gene Colan on the perpetual conflict between art and family:
To be successful in art, you have to really love it and be totally devoted to it. Unfortunately, a family life is missed. It’s a sad thing. You’re not really with your family that much. You’re married to your art. I have some regrets about that. My art seemed to come ahead of everything. Maybe that’s what makes for the artist. Artists are very self-centered people. They love what they do to the exclusion of just about everything else. They kinda live in a bubble.
The term “work-life balance” gets thrown around a lot these days. I hate that phrase. I wonder if a balance like that is even possible? What if “work” and “life” can’t even be separated but are merely parts of the other? What if it’s all just one stream we delicately navigate down?
Yet, I think about this struggle Colan talks about often. I think the creative fields are more prone to obsession than others. I don’t know any accountants who crunch numbers in their free-time. But us artists? We get home from work—where we are creating—and create more! I spend my days pushing pixels, designing interfaces, and drawing icons only to come home and illustrate, draw, paint, photograph. For many of us our work is more than that. Even if a work-life balance is possible, I can never achieve it because my work is more than work. It’s part of my identity.
Talking Funny is an HBO special that features four of the top comedians working today, Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K., Chris Rock, and Ricky Gervais talking about comedy. It originally aired a few months ago but the entire one-hour show has shown up on YouTube and it’s fantastic. It’s great to see these masters talk about their craft and some of the theory behind what they do. The link above is to part one, and here are parts two, three and four.
“There are too many shoddy, unconsidered things in the world already. Given the widespread distribution of today’s digital production tools, it’s remarkably simple to make nearly anything, especially things claiming to critique design through the rejection of formal rigor. Making things well, making them beautifully, making them with craft, making them with an excess of effort, demonstrates a respect for one’s own labor and an expression of love for the world that dissolves perceived categories of work and pleasure.”