Week 2: Industry Today
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
As important as it is to look at the past, it's equally as important to look at the present. That's where this week's materials come in! There are a multitude of influences to pull from in the world of graphic design and the only way to find inspiration is to go looking for it. Prior to this week, I hadn't looked into many designers of the past or present, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found artists and designers in my own city to follow and learn from.
Guest Lecture & Resource Reflections
The guest lecture this week was with Maziar Raein. I was intrigued by the way Susanna and Maziar walked the listener through the different eras of design, as I had never studied this during my undergraduate degree. It's sometimes easy to forget that design hasn't been all tablets and MacBooks. It's been greatly influenced by the technology that was available at the time.
The 1980s proved to be an interesting time for design. As noted by Raein, the 80s seemed to break into two parts:
Half of the decade was spent using production features from old technologies.
Half was spent looking forward and incorporating new technologies into design (Falmouth Flexible 2020).
With the advent of new technology, it's no surprise that the global design community also changed. While designers stood back from production more, there was an increased focus on branding and logos. This made way for the corporate design world as we know it today.
The resource for this week tied in well with this theme of the podcast. Drip Dry Shirts: The Evolution of the Graphic Designer proved to be a worthwhile read as it delved into how graphic design has gotten to where it is today. On an extremely simplified timeline, the evolution of graphic design looks something like this:
Commercial Art ➔ Graphic Design ➔ Visual Communication
Once I understood some of the pieces of the past that went into making graphic design, I began imagining what the future might hold. As stated in the book,
Modern design is about process (Roberts 2005).
What will this process evolve into in the years to come? My first thought went to artificial intelligence. I've known writers who have created computers that can then write stories by themselves. They're not very good, but they are cohesive! Could the same be done for graphic design? Or what about virtual reality? 3D-painting has already become a source of entertainment, could it prove to be useful in the professional design realm? There's a number of unimaginable things that design could become in the next few years, decades, and centuries. That's pretty cool.
Another interesting point made in the podcast was the fact that many designers draw inspiration from politics. Jamie Reid was just one of many designers mentioned in the lecture, but he is the perfect example of a politically charged designer. One of his most well-known works is the Sex Pistols artwork for "Anarchy in the U.K" (Brady 2017). While I could go on about Reid and everything he's done in his life, the idea of politics and design got me thinking: Who are some modern-day designers that use political movements as their platform? I decided to do some research of my own.
Célia Amroune and Aline Kpad make up this dynamic duo that has a large Instagram following. A lot of their work is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. One of my favorite pieces that they've done is the image below.
Image source: (Amroune and Kpade 2020)
The Black Lives Matter movement was officially founded in 2013 but has gained momentum since the untimely deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castille, and many, many more.
On January 7, 2015, two brothers made their way into the Charlie Hebdo office, which was a satirical newspaper located in Paris. Armed with guns, the two killed 12 people and injured 11 more. Upon hearing about the events that had unfolded, designer Joachim Roncin put together the now-recognizable tribute logo that reads, "Je Suis Charlie."
Spurring an outpouring of support, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie was used on Twitter more than 6.5 million times in the week following the shooting (Welle 2015). What started as a tribute to those who lost their lives quickly became a symbol of freedom of speech.
I think this point in the podcast resonated with me the most because my own country and state are going through a lot of political turmoil right now, and I've seen firsthand what beautiful designs can come from a place of despair and sadness. A short walk in downtown Madison showcases a plethora of designs and murals, all supporting a message of unity and peace, as well as equality. I've even found myself driven to design pieces from a place of political influence, and it's important to recognize that art can make a difference in this world.
Here's just a small collection of the art that's appeared in Madison because of the BLM movement.
Practice #1: Swink Inc.
Swink is an interactive branding studio in Madison, Wisconsin. We are boutique by choice. We wear many hats and answer our own phones. We sit across the table from you, ask a lot of questions, and listen before we speak. Call us and we will get to the meat of what you need, without the rigamarole (Swink Inc 2014).
Swink focuses on three main design categories: print, digital, and branding. Within their print offerings, the studio has worked on posters, collateral, packaging, direct mail, environmental, and swag. Their digital projects have included websites, user interfaces, mobile apps, and motion. Lastly, branding consists of naming, logos, and integration. Some of their more notable works include pieces done for the Majestic Theater (which is right around the corner from the studio). They’ve done posters for Sufjan Stevens, the Wisconsin Film Festival, and Pete Yorn. More indicative of their Midwest appeal, they’ve also worked with MachineryLink, which is a farm machinery leasing company, and Beloit college. The company was founded by Shanan Galligan and is run by him and his business partners, Yogie, Jarrod, and Eric.
The most interesting feature of this practice was its location. It's mere blocks from the State Capitol building in Madison, making it very centrally located. This area of town is very happening, and I can only imagine the electric city feel these designers get on a regular basis. Madison is by no means a HUGE city, but with a quarter of a million people calling it home, there are many walks of life to draw inspiration from. Within walking distance of Swink, there are two different live music venues, a large collection of restaurants and bars, a cultural theatre, and many different coffee shops and independently-run stores.
Practice #2: Distillery
Distillery is a full-service marketing and design studio. We seek the unexpected, driven by the knowledge that in each brand lives a story waiting to be told. Our approach combines strategic exploration with stunning creative to deliver experiences that captivate and ignite.
Distillery works with digital, branding, print, strategy, environment, and interactive projects. They’ve worked with Lucille’s (a popular cocktail bar in Madison), the Chazen Museum of Art, Fitch-Rona Art Crawl, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Wollersheim’s Wine, to name just a few. Their team is larger, with thirteen individuals working at the company. There are a handful of junior, mid-level, and senior designers, as well as an Art Director, Brand Strategy Director, and Content Director. The team is rounded off with two partners, Brad Nellis and Tim DeByl.
Distillery was probably the most interesting to me of the three. Their studio space itself caught me off guard, as it's located in a very normal looking house! This isn't completely unheard of for the area of town they're in, but I was expecting a design studio to be in a leased office space or part of a long collection of attached buildings. I imagine their setup within the home helps inspire their work. The interior looked comfortable, yet modern, and with all those windows, there's plenty of natural light. As an ex-cubicle person myself, I know the power of some good, old sunlight.
Besides their space, the name, Distillery, also has certain connotations to it. Wisconsin is known for all things beer: drinking, brewing, and distilling. In Madison alone, there are more than 10 different craft brewing companies. The idea of mixing different things into a final product can be used to describe design, as well as a hand-crafted beer. That's what makes the name so great! The studio has ideas and designs brewing, and given enough care and attention, they make something amazing.
Practice #3: Cricket Design Works
Design Works. It brings order to chaos. It makes the world a better place. It helps your brand reach its full potential through practical visual identities, digital experiences, strategies, physical environments, packaging, and campaigns.
Cricket Design Works handles a lot of different projects. As they say on their site, “‘Design’ is in our name, but it’s not the full scope of our game - while it informs all we do, it’s just the beginning of our capabilities.” Some of these capabilities include packaging, advertising, brand strategy, social media support, interior signage and murals, as well as illustration and photography. There are currently nine people (and one dog!) on their team. Cricket Redman serves as the Principal Designer/Manager, with a collection of project managers, creative directors, and designers that work beneath her.
Full disclosure, I chose this practice because of its name. I thought, "With a name like Cricket, there has to be an interesting story there!" I was wrong. While the other two practices drew inspiration from elsewhere, Cricket Design Works is named after its Owner/Principal Designer, Cricket Redman.
The origin story of the name left something to be desired, but the neighborhood that Cricket calls home is unique. It's an up-and-coming area in Madison that attracts a more hipster crowd. It has a Trader Joe's, a record store, and a Colectivo all in the span of a few blocks, so there's always people bustling around. Despite being a busier area, it's not like the downtown locale that Swink knows. The Monroe St. neighborhood is more spread out, and it's enveloped by residential housing on each side. As the neighborhood name suggests, there's really only one street in the area where everything happens: Monroe St.
Task 2: Design Production
Production #1: 608 Threads
Type of Business: Screen Printing, Embroidery & Design
What They Do:
They provide screen printing services for a number of different products. Their catalog includes T-shirts, face masks, fanny packs, onesies, hats, sweatshirts, sunglasses, sportswear, bags, outwear, umbrellas, and much more. They also provide custom embroidery services.
Production #2: Grimm Book Bindery, Inc.
Type of Business: Book-Binding
What They Do:
Grimm Book Bindery offers a variety of bookbinding services that include the sale of personalized leather-bound blank books, journals, and more. They also offer book repair, restoration, and new bindings. In addition, they can assist with more specialty projects, like portfolios, institutional bindings, and duplicating services.
Production #3: Grant Signs
Type of Business: Signage/Signwriting
What They Do:
Grant Signs provides a variety of sign-related services including free-standing signs, building signs, interior signs, vinyl graphics, and maintenance and repairs. They have experience in designing awnings, banners, construction signs, electronic messages, monuments, neon, and more.
It was fun to see how many different ways design production has moved into Madison. I purposefully chose production businesses that were local, smallish businesses. In addition, I made sure to choose a variety of company types.
608 Threads is very entwined in the Madisonian culture. They've been in the area for over a decade, and even drew their inspiration for their name from the city. 608 is a common phone prefix that represents Madison's phone numbers. There were plenty of larger companies that worked in screenprinting, but I hardly think that a chain with locations across the United States grasps the feel of a single city.
Grimm Book Bindery was the most interesting of the three to me, as my alma mater offered a book-binding major at one point, so I'm vaguely familiar with different bindings and styles. It was cool to find a place that could custom-bind notebooks and other materials in my backyard, and I will definitely be considering purchasing from them in the future.
Grant Signs was another good find! I was surprised at the variety of clients they've worked with. They've done the signage for the local University's golf course, as well as worked with the tourism bureau in a nearby suburb to create their town signage. One of their biggest competitors in the area, FASTSIGNS, has locations across the country, but there's obviously a large amount of community support to keep local businesses like Grant Signs open.
Written Task - Why is American Design the Way It Is?
This task took a lot of thought on my part. To make matters worse, I didn't even know where to start. Once I did a basic search into the history of the United States as a whole, pieces started to jump out to me. How did war influence design? Were there connections between cultural movements and design? What inventions paved the way for future design avenues?
After diving headfirst into American history, I can finally answer the prompt:
List 4 key evolutionary design steps that contributed to the identity of your design culture today in your country in your opinion.
To make the connections more obvious, my choices are listed chronologically
1. Benjamin Franklin and the Pennsylvania Gazette
Benjamin Franklin was the inventor of many things. He invented bifocals, the Franklin stove, and the lightning rod. He also paved the way for print advertising as we know it, creating an entire design field focused on attracting customers and generating business.
Benjamin Franklin and his partner, Hugh Meredith, purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette on October 2nd, 1729. While it was not the first newspaper published in Philadelphia, it would become the most successful across the colonies. It was Franklin who originally accompanied his text-based advertisements with imagery, making them more visually appealing to his readers (Benjamin Franklin Historical Society 2014).
In addition to his illustrations, Franklin also incorporated more white space, the use of capital and italic letters, and varying font sizes to make his ads more attractive. Franklin later went on to be the first person to print a magazine advertisement in his magazine, The General Magazine.
2. Philo Farnsworth and Television
Farnsworth showed promise at a young age. As a high school student, he took classes at Brigham Young University before the untimely death of his father forced him to forego his studies. However, in 1926, his dream of creating motion pictures became a reality. Having secured funding from investors, as well as the First National Bank of San Francisco, televised content wasn't a mere pipe dream anymore. On September 7th, 1927, Farnsworth made his first electronic television transmission (Gregersen 2019).
In the century since his successful transmission, television has greatly influenced the realm of graphic design. People began thinking of the motions that could go into designs, instead of just their stationary appearance on a sheet. Farnsworth's invention made motion graphics a possibility. The first animated series to appear on television was Crusader Rabbit. As technology progressed even further, flat animations soon became colorized, and eventually, 3D animation came to fruition. Without Farnsworth, the likes of Walt Disney Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation, and Pixar would cease to exist. The invention of the television led the way for the motion graphics industry that we know today.
3. Alexey Brodovitch and Harper's Bazaar
Alexey Brodovitch did many things in his life, but none were seen as influential in the design world as his time spent working for Harper's Bazaar. Hired by Carmel Snow in 1934, Brodovitch grew into the Art Director role over the course of 24 years. He drew inspiration from typography, avant garde photography, and illustration. From 1937 to 1940,
designs graced several Bazaar covers (Kerry William Purcell and Alexey Brodovitch 2002). It was during this time that he combined image and text into one cohesive piece. In fact, he was the first art director to do such a thing. American magazines during this time kept the two elements separate, often using wide, white margins to divide them. In addition, he ensured that his type and imagery were working together to create spreads that complemented one another. His decision to bring text and image together transformed the way designers looked at projects, and made way for more prevalent typographical elements in magazines.
4. Psychedelic Art and the Counterculture Movement
The mid-1960s brought forth a lot of cultural change for the United States. Following WWII, the combination of an economic upswing and a high birth rate brought about the Baby Boomer generation. With a majority of this group reaching adulthood in the 60s, they began questioning the country's materialism and conservative ideals.
It was during this time that the Psychedelic Movement began. Influencing everything from fashion, language, literature, and art, the Psychedelic Movement was known for its bright, attention-grabbing designs.
The goal of anything psychedelic was to give the viewer the illusion or feeling of tripping on drugs, like LSD. Swirls of pungent color and curved calligraphy are just two defining traits of design during this time. The style was most popularly used for album covers and band posters and can be seen on albums by Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, and the Beatles (Heller 2017).
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