This gala journal cover is one of my favorites, created for a Purchase College fund-raising event. The brief stated that there would be a white piano on a black stage for a featured entertainer to play. The “bubble P” logo was enlarged and used to represent a piano (center), and the typographic swash elements became motifs that extended throughout the journal. Lighting equipment at the event projected the same swashes onto the stage.
While a grad student at Cranbrook Academy of Art, which is just outside of Detroit, I was asked by a client (I was designing promotions for her art gallery) if I would work on designs for her dad’s gravestone—her dad died six months earlier and they never marked the site. The project included roughs, changes, and refinements, just as a standard job would, but during the final placing of the stone there were tears and statements by the family. It was all quite overwhelming for me as a young designer, but I still cherish the opportunity I had back then.
An apple is a very popular image and has operated as a sign to represent knowledge (think Adam and Eve’s forbidden fruit), as well as to symbolize elementary education as in “an apple for the teacher,” and also as a sign of health as in “an apple a day.” Here, Worksight used the apple as a kind of piled-on-pride of successes for a Pace University’s School of Education brochure.
Logo design by Worksight for the Polyglot Press, a publisher of multi-language books and the republisher of out-of-print classics. The word “polyglot” in fact means: having the text translated into several languages: polyglot and bilingual technical dictionaries. The parrot is used not only because of the letter P, but also to symbolize the power of words and the speaking of truths.
Recently, I noticed a service logojoy that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to develop logos via an online algorithm. The idea is that a client will type in the coordinates starting with the name of their business, and continue with favored color palettes and effects to gather an endless stream of results. Yes, AI is moving into the graphic design field, and I admit that I was annoyed that yet another piece of the design pie was being eaten.
It’s nice to think of AI in terms of self-driving cars, which will save tens of thousand of lives every year. But the downside is that they will also eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs as well. Not much we can do other than to figure out how to ease the burden on truck, bus, and taxi drivers and find more positive ways for everyone to keep moving forward with their lives. It’s the same with graphic design, except for one major difference—we generally get paid to think, not to decorate.
Designers go through every trick, or “technique” in the book when fleshing out a logo exploration; things like reversals, textures, etc., so I must admit that the idea of our creative method being revealed and exposed is disconcerting. But here’s the rub—you can’t get people to properly coordinate their business’s collateral without a logo, and you can’t evolve a proper logo without something to work from. In other words, clients and fellow graphic designers can use the service to flesh out an exploration.
A visual identity can simply take a form, and there are plenty of terrible logos out there. But what makes them terrible is how empty they are of meaning. As my mentor, Charles Goslin, used to say, “Even a monkey can make something look good; but a monkey can never think of the idea.”
When other people recognize your work, it is a great compliment. They may recognize your humorous attitude coming through the work or see a visual treatment that you have brought to many of your solutions in the past. These distinguishing characteristics reflect your style, which can come through you unconsciously. In fact, your style is you.
The places we’ve been and things we’ve seen, felt, or heard all broaden our vision as designers. They also define us. For example, a trip to Vermont to see the foliage could add to your color pallet; an unfortunate visit to a hospital’s emergency room could shock you into realizing how efficient people can be under pressure. In either case, both experiences will be internalized: you will realize that a recent design has a color you never thought about using before, or it has an energized immediacy about it. These influences can come from everywhere. Can you trace them back? The fact that some place or thing might feed your work is, in effect, acknowledging connections with your larger culture, community, and environment. A good example of this dynamic is a visual series on the impact of the Iraq war by Maria Uroos. She grew up in the Middle East and felt a need to create a visual dialogue about the changes in life, culture, and religion that she saw there. Her tools include text and image, metaphors and analogies, elements and principles. All convey thoughts about the region where she lived, fleshed out into a form that is meant to extend conversations. Each piece begins with her.
In a design experiment by Janet Lee, whose family is in retail fashion, two activities are merged into one composition. She created a montage of typography with a dress form, color chips with fabric swatches, and single-edge cutting blades with scissors. The art historian E. H. Gombrich (1909–2001) wrote, “Anyone who can handle a needle convincingly can make us see a thread which is not there.” The connection this designer makes to retail fashion isn’t necessarily there either, but is more a myth that forges a connection to something more personal and perhaps more meaningful to her. She uses that same ability to tell stories and making connections when creating works for her clients.
In another piece, Rick Valicenti examines his own future role as a graphic designer. The poster’s purpose is to announce a design lecture in Vancouver, Canada, and the character pictured—a jester that is full of remorse—is a portrait of Valicenti himself. Hanging off his hat is a flickering sign that reads “HUGE.” The ghostlike, wispy image of an old man beside his own face hints at his later life. Together, the images make a social comment about whether this effort is all there is in Valicenti’s future, and for that matter, in the profession as a whole. In other words, designers can be practical problem-solvers (such as finding a way to announce an event), but also passionate artists whose work also matters in terms of making a positive difference in the world.
Also posted on LinkedIn:
My young son once asked, ‘Why are we here?’, writes Scott W. Santoro. When the question was flipped back to him, ‘Why do you think we are here, Ellis?’, he responded, ‘To learn stuff!’
Ellis was right. If for no other reason, we’re here to learn stuff, and graphic design makes it easy. Our field is so rife with varied subjects that we can’t help ourselves – it is almost forced upon us.
When Pearson Education asked me to produce a graphic design textbook five years ago, I went through everything I know about the subject, and learned a lot more in the process.