Pratt Institute Graduate Newsletter (inForm), Spring 2003 (excerpt).
Editors: Frank DeRose and Selva Alganer
Questions by Isabel Roxas
ISABEL ROXAS: What made you decide to become a designer? You have mentioned in your lectures and web site that you come from a family of plumbers; how does this inform your work?
SCOTT SANTORO: Lots of uncles, cousins and father all solder pipes together. I'm squeamish, so I went to art school instead, but plumbing's in my blood. I've grown up around pipes and wrenches.
Graduate school is when I first decided to make the link back, literally including plumbing imagery as a visual experiment. Yet, what began as a jokeholding plumbing up next to designwound up bringing a toughness to my aesthetic. I even think it brought an "everyday" structure to my design language. Plumbers direct the flow of water, graphic designers direct the flow of information. Is one more important than the other? Probably, but graphic design has merit too.
I want to point out that it didn't have to be plumbing though. For me it was nice, but any montage will do just in case you're thinking about it.
I.R: Tell me about the similarities and differences between studying at Pratt as an undergrad and then at Cranbrook as a graduate student.
S.S: At Pratt I wanted my work to look beautiful and to read clearly. At Cranbrook I wanted my work to look ugly but to read deeply. I'm a product of both schools. An objective approach was nurtured in me at Prattsolve the problem with style. I think it's important for undergrad programs to teach this. My grad program was very smallnine departments and a total of 12 in graphic design. Located 16 miles outside of Detroit, there was absolutely nothing to do other than hang out with fine art majors and create work. Naturally, the design department had a bend toward personal exploration and expression.
I.R: At the time you were in Cranbrook the term "deconstruction" was on everybody's mind (regardless of whether they liked it or not) and was the subject of constant debate. How did this affect your own work if at all? And where have all the philosophical and theoretical arguments brought us?
S.S: By 1987 there was a realization within the design community that we were firmly operating within a Post-Modern condition and there was a push toward including a Deconstructionist agenda in the work. That mode helped us design students pick apart social and cultural structures, and as a result, many of the rules we learned in the working field were deliberately unlearned in order to tap into other visual languages. Deprogramming those "timeless" strivings became more important than honing the craft.
Some casualties in this condition were "The International Style," and Modernism in general. It was an incredibly freeing experience for a designer; I didn't feel like a slave to the business community anymore. The service was now a layer in my overall output. A good example of Deconstruction in the design department was a series of student-initiated visual dialogues; silk-screened and hung next to the each other, they ran as a series. There was one in particular that read like a coded language: 1.) see (they told you) everything 2.) and you ate nothing 3.) 'cause tendencies led toward disposal 4.) Wasted and bereft of agenda 5.) 'till the frequencies of ignition. A leitmotif was also found throughout alla pair of hands which pointed, or held, or changed to words, etc., and lot of double-entendres.
I.R: Debates about the role of the designer in society have resurfaced and there is a growing dissatisfaction with the way we practice our craft. What are your thoughts on the matter? How have you resolved your need to provide for your family and progress creatively, while serving humanity?
S.S: There's a branding and logotype design class that I'm teaching, and I include Naomi Klein's "No Logo" book in the syllabus. It might seem weird to my students to even mention her because she's the anti-thesis to branding firms. But pointing out some of Naomi's issues with hollow corporate personalities and the damage they can cause in the world is important to know and understand for designers. We can then decide to either turn down the work if the job is just gross, or in some cases, make a suggestion to the company head that, for example, "honesty is always a good policy," etc., which just might make the world a tiny bit better rather than worse. If your input is ineffective, leave, or stay; but do it through knowledge.
I.R: What are some of the problems you see in the world of design today?
What are your hopes for the profession?
S.S: It's funny how the profession has moved from "master designer" to "celebrity designer." It's occurred in perfect coordination with the mainstream shift from Modernism to Post-Modernism. "Master" anything just didn't make sense anymore, or maybe I should say, it wasn't believed anymore: Master really describes someone who fits beautifully within the coordinates that they probably invented themselves. Celebrity, and the irony attached to it, is a bit empty, but even that will wear off in five or ten years. I have a lot of hope for design in the future because I know it will build off of the shoulders of what came before. Understanding the evolution of why something is the way it is, or looks the way it looks, or means the way it means for social or cultural reasons removes the fear out of the future for me.
I.R: What motivated you to rejuvenate the AIGA Pratt student group?
S.S: I enjoy attending lecturesthe student group is simply a way to extend what the AIGA Chapter has to offer each season. It was also easy for me to get the group going again because I gained experience during my three years on the AIGA New York Chapter board, knew what button to push, etc. Plus I'm proud of Pratt. I wouldn't do it for anyone else.
I.R: What are some of the most important things you hope to instill in or teach your students?
S.S: Teaching design is a bit like encouraging students to find themselves. I want them to develop a visual vocabulary and personal style because when students see themselves in their design, their design becomes integrated into their lives. An investment in what they create is important because design begins to mean something to them. That's what builds a solid body of work they can call their own.