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All You Need is Fame

Wherever I climb I am followed by a dog called “Ego.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

To be successful in design you have to have a strong niche, a good speaking voice and no shame.

—Felix Sockwell

Fame doesn’t put food on the table. It barely even gets you a better table at a restaurant. It doesn’t improve your skills (In fact, it actually made me a worse designer because I was so preoccupied with my next public stunt). Some people can handle it, I couldn’t. If you think you can, then be ready for it - it’ll change you, and not always for the better.

—Patric King from Rick Valicenti’s interview on Speak Up

Fame and Ego are provocative words. Most people seem to want fame, but their ego won’t let them admit it. At least out loud. The design business, as a discipline, seems to be fraught with people searching for validation, acclaim, redemption and recognition. Why is this? Are we insecure by nature? Does fame allow us to believe something about ourselves that we don’t intrinsically feel? Or is it simply like any other competitive field where only the famous get the best work? There seems to be a real dichotomy about fame: we seek it, yet we scorn the famous, and gleefully await their downfall. Obviously this is prevalent throughout our culture—it is apparent in Hollywood, Wall Street, Madison Avenue and 7th Avenue. But what is it about the design business that specifically elicits this craving? Some questions to consider on this sunny Tuesday morning:

—do you think that a designer’s work changes when they get known or become famous?

—do you think that people join design organizations for group interaction with their peers and for inspiration, or to get their names out and for publicity?

—do you think that graphic designers as a group want/need fame more than other disciplines?

—why are so many famous designers considered “like rock stars?”

—should designers use professional public relations to build their careers or can/should the work speak for itself?

—would you rather be considered famous for your actions, deeds and what you won’t do (i.e. Ed Fella) or your antics, personality and style (i.e. David Carson)?

—lastly, do you think that fame is a good or bad thing?

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ARCHIVE ID 1517 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Jul.15.2003 BY debbie millman
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Armin’s comment is:

>Some questions to consider on this sunny Tuesday morning

Sunny? We just had a hell of a storm and it's anything but sunny.

>Most people seem to want fame, but their ego won’t let them admit it. At least out loud.

I want fame. And it's not so much that my ego won't let me (because part of wanting fame is trusting your ego) admit it as it is the fact that people seem to frown upon people who do want fame. Why is it so damn wrong to want it? I have the ambition and the will so why not benefit from it and get some fame. I'm happy, confident to admit it and willing to say it again: I want fame. Why not? If handled correctly it can only lead to good things. If you are an unscrupulous jackass then fame might not be so tightly suited. If you are afraid of success please stay away from fame — it won't be pretty for anybody.

I have some more answers for some of the other questions but I have to get some work done — you know... to get famous. I just wanted to address that first thought and get that out in the open... I can already hear the "what a snob" comments behind my back and that's totally cool.

On Jul.15.2003 at 09:51 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Fame

I'm gonna live forever

I'm gonna learn how to fly

High

I feel it coming together

People will see me and cry

Fame

I'm gonna make it to heaven

Light up the sky like a flame

Fame

I'm gonna live forever

Baby remember my name

Fame

Now it's going to be stuck in my head all day...

On Jul.15.2003 at 09:57 AM
jonsel’s comment is:

Why is it so damn wrong to want it?

There's nothing wrong with wanting fame. It's only wrong, IMO, if you want it solely to be famous. Then you are just shallow. Our culture is all about fame these days. What most don't seem to get (i.e. all these reality show folk) is that the real goal is to be famous BECAUSE you are successful, not the other way around. Fame without the respect doesn't last long.

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:01 AM
graham’s comment is:

hopefully, work speaks for itself (otherwise why make it?); i think a lot of the 'fame' that comes to designers is to do with filling up magazines-there are a lot of them now (magazines . . . and designers), worldwide, and they need fodder. writing on design tends to fix on personality/people rather than the work itself, and this creates some kind of fame that in a lot of cases designers don't expect or even want. i think it's near impossible to make work with the sole intention of becoming famous through it-but i do think it's possible to become well known by accident or association.

alongside this is the desire to get work seen-by any means necessary. nothing wrong with that.

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:04 AM
Eric’s comment is:

i've read this twice, and before i give more thought to this 'famously' long post : do you consider there to be a gulf between success and fame?

i find myself greatly suspect of another's cloying / undeserved success. "fame" itself is just kind of cotton candy.

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:10 AM
Arikawa’s comment is:

--do you think that a designer's work changes when they get known or become famous?

I think in some respects that becoming known for one's work can pigeon-hole you into producing (or being comissioned to produce) more and more of the same (kind, style) work that made you famous in the first place.

fame can stagnate creativity (proposing a theory).

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:16 AM
kyle’s comment is:

do you think that people join design organizations for group interaction with their peers and for inspiration, or to get their names out and for publicity?

I've found that while I usually sign up for organizations/events with the intention of networking/getting my name out, the result is a great deal of inspiration + being able to commiserate with people dealing with common issues.

do you think that graphic designers as a group want/need fame more than other disciplines?

I'm not sure the goal is necessarily fame, but the fact that being well known tends to generate more business, which produces fatter pockets.

why are so many famous designers considered "like rock stars?"

I wonder if this is true in any profession--are the "rock star" accountants or realtors? I think being innovative tends to draw followers which in turn creates a sort of stardom.

should designers use professional public relations to build their careers or can/should the work speak for itself?

If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Good work may get noticed/rewarded eventually, but promoting good work speeds up the process.

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:24 AM
Sam’s comment is:

Debbie, I think you left out an important question: Is fame the same thing as respect?

I fear that the two are seen as equivalent in this tiny little design world. We tend to think we respect certain designers because we've seen their work, know that it's won awards, and have head their names mentioned in the right places. If they're famous, they must be good, therefore respected. As dear Sylvia would say, malarky barky! As DesignMaven would say, MALARKY BARKY.

Fame: light as air and about as expendable.

Respect: must be earned and therefore worth its weight in Gmund paper.

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:28 AM
rebecca’s comment is:

My gripe is that people conflate fame with talent. I'd venture to guess that most famous designers are very talented; I don't begrudge them their recognition and feel gratified that the field is getting some wider exposure. But not all talented designers are famous, and fame/fortune are not the only indicators of valuable work.

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:31 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

First of all, let's remember that graphic designers that obtain 'fame' really only are famous within the world of graphic design. As your niece or your mom who David Carson is.

And that fame, really, is simply name recognition and the occasional speaking engagement.

--do you think that a designer's work changes when they get known or become famous?

Probably. They obtain fame typically due to their style, and, as such, once they reach a level of fame within the industry, they can capitalize on that particular look/style/approach (CSA, Carson, etc.)

--do you think that people join design organizations for group interaction with their peers and for inspiration, or to get their names out and for publicity?

Professionals join professional organizations for all of the above valid reasons.

--do you think that graphic designers as a group want/need fame more than other disciplines?

No one needs fame.

--why are so many famous designers considered "like rock stars?"

Are they?

--should designers use professional public relations to build their careers or can/should the work speak for itself?

Work rarely speaks for itself in the eyes of the client. All they can see is the surface decoration. It's hard to 'see' the business benefits. As for PR, PR works for a lot of people in a lot of industries.

--would you rather be considered famous for your actions, deeds and what you won't do (i.e. Ed Fella) or your antics, personality and style (i.e. David Carson)?

David Carson is famous for his personality?

--lastly, do you think that fame is a good or bad thing?

It was an OK TV show. I haven't seen the musical yet.

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:42 AM
Noodlem’s comment is:

--do you think that a designer's work changes when they get known or become famous?

Perceptions of the work change.

--do you think that people join design organizations for group interaction with their peers and for inspiration, or to get their names out and for publicity?

If membership to the particular design organisation is "select" then definitely publicity would be a motivation. That's not a bad thing. Publicity is good. Some of my better jobs and clients have been through "word of mouth". I don't belong to any organisations and the ones around my part of the world lack inspiring interaction.

--do you think that graphic designers as a group want/need fame more than other disciplines?

I think we're just as star-hungry as any ambitous professionals in other disciplnes. We do, however, have some of the biggest egos around though. Stroke. Stroke.

--why are so many famous designers considered "like rock stars?"

The "Rock Star" Designer phenomenon is probably due to the sudden burst of media obsession with the design industry in the last two years or so, initiated in part, by the promise of a brave "new media" world that never came. It's quite ridiculous how many formulaic design-related portals there are now (can't seem to tell one from the other these days).

Design as a career, is ever-more popular (well, was) and with so many aspiring newbies and students, there is a need for Heroes, Icons and of course, The Rock Star.

--should designers use professional public relations to build their careers or can/should the work speak for itself?

Publicity is good. Whats the point of doing brilliant work if there is no audience.

It's a Rat Race like any other. Check out my work. NOW! Not when word comes around if it comes around.

--would you rather be considered famous for your actions, deeds and what you won't do (i.e. Ed Fella) or your antics, personality and style (i.e. David Carson)?

Beggars can't be choosers. What's on special today?

--lastly, do you think that fame is a good or bad thing?

Fame is good. We're all sluts.

Fame Whores I tell ya.

So, who wants to invest in my signature?

Hah.

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:49 AM
Patrick’s comment is:

--why are so many famous designers considered "like rock stars?"

What I always wonder is: outside of design circles, how famous do designers really get? Talking to a guy in a bar last week, after I described what I do, he asked me about Tibor Kalman. I was impressed he even knew who Tibor was.

Sure, Carson, Sagmeister and the like can reach legendary status to us, but I doubt Milton Glaser is treated like a rock star at restaurants. I was at a bar with Cahan once, and he had a throng of people around him, but that was during an AIGA conference, so it doesn't count.

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:51 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>Is fame the same thing as respect?

I don't think they are the same. But the best scenario would be to have fame and earn the respect of people. Like Carson Daly is famous but I have no respect for him. I probably should have used a designer for that example.

If you have fame and respect, you have more chance of making an impact in your profession of choice (be that realty or design). Would we care what Ed Fella is not doing if he weren't famous? Probably not, the fact that he is famous and that he is using his fame to let us know what he stands for is worth of respecting. Sagmeister's (man crush aside) much publicized year off clients was an example of using fame for no reason at all — other than the "Look at me, I'm fucking famous and I can take a year off with no clients and get away wih it", that is not so cool.

If I decided right now to give a lecture about whatever topic and told people about it, 10-20 people would show up. But if I were Sagmesiter-famous 300 designers would show up pad and pencil in hand to take notes. That's worth being famous for... being able to share your knowledge (if you have one) and your experience with the rest of your profession. I don't want fame to appear in all design annuals, that is just a great bonus but not something I would strive for. If fame gave me the opportunity to go on HOW, Print, CA, Eye, Emigre or whatever to talk about design stuff that would be fantastic. I really don't care if my work gets on there but — what I really want is have the opportunity to (hehe) Speak Up in a more public platform... and you can't do that without fame or respect OR balls.

One thing about the "Rock Star" stuff: I always hear "Well, they are only famous to designers, so who gives a damn?" Well... I give a damn, I'm a designer not a realtor, not a plumber and not an architect. I'm a Graphic Designer and I care about the leaders of our profession. Do I agree with the Rock Star status and treatment a la Karim Rashid? No, that's just immature. But I think that applauding the "Rock stars" is kind of important, otherwise we would just be a mediocre bunch with nothing to strive for and that is just plain stupid.

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:58 AM
noodlem’s comment is:

A bit more.

I heard David Carson speak a year or so ago. He is a decent lad.

Everyone wants fame these days. Just turn on your tv and see how many Reality Shows there are. Yes, i am a fan and I think a Big Designer Brother - would be rather interesting. "Egos in a Studio. Who's next to go?"

Ok. I'm done now.

On Jul.15.2003 at 11:01 AM
Tan’s comment is:

wow, it's been an active morning.

I do want to be famous. But I don't seek it. I don't lie awake at night thinking about it, nor do I have a journal somewhere that has notes on what to do and who to crush to get there. Like someone said earlier, I want fame, because I want-- a) recognition for my work and talent, b) validation of the impact I've made in the profession, and c) as Armin put it, the chance to share my knowledge with peers in the profession.

> Would you rather be considered famous for your actions, deeds and what you won't do or your antics, personality and style?

I'd want to be famous more for my work and actions, but also for my individual personality and style. I hope that along with unique work, I also become famous for my unique thinking and voice. So I'd find it difficult to separate the public consumption/perception of both.

And I think people who talk about egos only hint at their own insecurities and jealousy. That somehow if you were famous, you'd never have an ego, and would disclaim your own talent every chance you got. Get real.

> Sam: Is fame the same thing as respect? I fear that the two are seen as equivalent in this tiny little design world.

I don't think seeking fame is the same as seeking respect. People seeking respect are insecure about their work and their value. People who want fame are quite the opposite.

Do we tend to respect people who are famous? Sure, but for me, it goes only as deep as their work deserves.

Through AIGA dealings, I've met a number of famous designers through the years. Sometimes they are a mirror of their work and words, sometimes they are not. Personality-wise, there are some who are very generous and gracious, and there are some who are assholes and prima-donnas. I won't go into names.

But here's the epiphany: what I've realized is that "fame" is just a pass through the front door. What you do with it, and how you choose to act when you're finally in -- is the real test of talent, character, and whether you deserve the pass in the first place.

"Fame" is not the end of the effort, only the beginning.

> Do you think that people join design organizations for group interaction with their peers and for inspiration, or to get their names out and for publicity?

This is a baited question, Debbie.

I think most people who join organizations want to fit into a community. They want a voice. Call it publicity, call it networking, it's all true. And sure, they want to meet people as well as share ideas about how to design and make more money doing it. After all, it's a professional organization, not a nonprofit board.

An org like AIGA is just one big cycle. It's like the jungle watering hole where you can watch the professional circle of life run its course.

> Lastly, do you think that fame is a good or bad thing?

I strongly believe that our profession would not survive without "Fame".

On Jul.15.2003 at 11:55 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>do you think that people join design organizations for group interaction with their peers and for inspiration, or to get their names out and for publicity?

I heard "organization," I heard "fame" and I thought "AIGA." I'm sorry but I did. This might turn into another AIGA discussion, but that's quite alright by me, at this point in time nobody else is telling them any opinions (good or bad) so I'm not going to hold back. Plus, it's been a while since our last AIGA discussion.

I guess I have to start by acknowledging that some of the best designers are or have been part of the AIGA (I'm naming no names.) They have done a great job in fostering excellence from these professionals, they have positions in the boards of whichever city they are in, they get called to speak at conferences, lectures and every other event where one can sip wine. So, if there is a place for U.S. designers to turn to for "design excellence" it would be the AIGA. Think of it as a nicely designed and well PRed monopoly.

Then there is this stigma that the AIGA has had to live with for some time now: they are a tight-knit bunch unwilling to open their doors to their club. That is the perception and maybe not the reality, this is not something I'm making up. It seems to be starting to fade away as some of the older generation is starting to retire or not care as much anymore. So how does one get in? Yes, hard work, oh so much hard work and volunteering and participating and contributing and nodding all along until you are buying all they have to sell and you are good enough to be part of the club and start selling what you so appropriately bought. And its great PR for you, so why not?

Now how does this all tie into our discussion? Well, here is the best real example I can come up with and that I was there to see with my own eyes. At the start of this year the Chicago Chapter had their annual Incite/Insight Series. When I saw the line-up I was intrigued yet not attracted. Alvin Collis (who?), Bill Moggridge (huh?) and Hillman Curtis (yeah! him I know). I went to Alvin Collis' lecture not knowing who he was and it was amazing! This guy was no rock star much less a designer yet he taught me more about branding than any AIGA Chapter president ever could. The sad part? The event was not even half-full. Nobody cared to come because nobody had heard of the guy, he was not "famous" but he was fucking smart and entertaining. Sadly, I couldn't attend Bill's lecture. I did go to Hillman's and obviously it was full, packed, buzzing. I'll admit, it was great, Hillman rocks. Moral of the story? AIGA fosters "Rock Stars", their own members don't know how to apprecite the good effort that Connie (event chair) did to bring in something different, something unique. They only cared for the brand-name designer and that, my friends, is not cool.

One could say "Well, that's not the Board's fault, it's the members who are lazy and ignorant" The members are a reflection of their Board.

On Jul.15.2003 at 12:03 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Uh oh. Here we go again.

On Jul.15.2003 at 12:31 PM
David E.’s comment is:

I dont know if "fame" is really what I'm dreaming of, but I definetely want recognition for what I do. Of course I want people to write articles about me in design magazines someday; what designer wouldn't? Mostly, I think designers want to make a lasting contribution to the field and get credit for doing so. It's just part of the desire to do something creative.

On Jul.15.2003 at 12:39 PM
Sam’s comment is:

My point is, respect matters; fame doesn't. Respect is something you can earn through hard work. I don't think you can ever sit back and say, "Ah, I've achieved the respect I was seeking. My work is done." The whole point is the perpetual pursuit--same thing with talent. There should be no arriving at the destination--only always chasing toward the horizon.

With fame, it's pretty clear when you've got it and when you lose it. If you set out to be famous, what does that mean? You want to be on TV like Tibor or Cahan? You want to be president of something? You want to see your work when you walk into Barnes & Noble? No seriously, what does it mean? You want SVA students dropping your name? You want strangers e-mailing you for advice on their careers? And is there some parameter you think you can put on it--like do you want to be famous for a year, or 10 years, or what? Famous in the U.S.--or do you also want to be Big In Japan? (Oh, these are open questions, not just for you, Arminito.)

I've said it before (and I ain't going to go look it up), fame is a whore's love and a fool's errand.

On Jul.15.2003 at 12:47 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>If you set out to be famous, what does that mean?

Very fair question. I'll be very honest about what I think, some of it might be vain and some might not, I'm comfortable with it. Let's see:

- I don't care for being on TV. Besides I would sweat a lot with all those lights they shine on you.

- I would like to have a few books on Barnes & Noble, perhaps even a book signing when they come out.

- I would like to speak at a conference.

- I would love for somebody else to ask me to write a foreword for their own book.

- I don't care if people recognize me on the street or not

- Judge competitions

- All around recognition, people saying "Yeah, he is a bad ass"

- Make it to the next edition of "Graphic Design History"

For me, it comes down to this: I want to make a mark. When I'm done with Graphic Design I want people to say "Yes, Armin was a bad motherf****r, always honest and with lots of balls." Sorry for all the swearing, but Graphic Design is something I'm passionate about — and one of the few things I'm actually good at. I would be crazy, and lazy, not to make something of that passion and try to influence the way our profession works. Even if I piss off (not step on) some people along the way.

On Jul.15.2003 at 01:59 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I would also like to second Tan's motion:

"fame" is just a pass through the front door. What you do with it, and how you choose to act when you're finally in -- is the real test of talent, character, and whether you deserve the pass in the first place.

I very much agree.

On Jul.15.2003 at 02:01 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

From an interview with Tibor Kalman in Adbusters: I am an extremely privileged person, but I think it comes from the pursuit of work, as opposed to other things. People seem to pursue money, most commonly. Some pursue a political agenda, some pursue fame. I pursue the blissful moment of coming up with an idea. That makes me very, very happy.

On Jul.15.2003 at 02:32 PM
Eric’s comment is:

Armin, not to suck up to the admin or further derail the thread, but you are a total bad ass!

On Jul.15.2003 at 02:34 PM
sena’s comment is:

do you think that graphic designers as a group want/need fame more than other disciplines?

I wouldn't single out graphic design as a discipline that inherently seeks or needs fame. The creative disciplines in general seem to have their own sense of entitlement for public awards. If you think about drama, literature, and music, you can come up with a "name-brand" award for each of those disciplines. More than one, in some cases.

(That said, there are spotlight grabbers in pretty much every discipline, from medicine to law to agriculture...)

should designers use professional public relations to build their careers or can/should the work speak for itself?

The work should speak for itself, and in doing so, it finds its own audience. But hey, I'm something of an idealist that way...

would you rather be considered famous for your actions, deeds and what you won't do (i.e. Ed Fella) or your antics, personality and style (i.e. David Carson)?

I'd rather be known for my skills as a designer and for my outstanding body of work than for attention-seeking publicity stunts. (But like I said, I'm an idealist that way.) So I guess it's a very specific kind of fame that appeals to me.

why are so many famous designers considered "like rock stars?"

Who considers them rock stars? Other designers? Design students? That's a mighty small audience...I mean, how many people outside of the design field would recognize Sagmeister's name or associate it with specific work? Exactly how much of a "household name" is David Carson? Or even Paul Rand?

On Jul.15.2003 at 02:58 PM
brook’s comment is:

just do the best you can and define success in your own terms. i have no desire for fame, but every human craves recognition. who gives that to you and how much you want is how people differ. obviously i want some of the benefits, which armin listed, that come with fame.

On Jul.15.2003 at 03:05 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>but you are a total bad ass!

I can retire now. ; )

>Who considers them rock stars? Other designers? Design students? That's a mighty small audience...I mean, how many people outside of the design field would recognize Sagmeister's name or associate it with specific work? Exactly how much of a "household name" is David Carson? Or even Paul Rand?

See? That's my point exactly. Yes, rock stars among designers. I'm sure plumbers don't give a damn about Sagmeister but I don't give a damn about plumber rock stars. So, does that mean we shouldn't care about who the rock stars are or what they do or why in the hell they became rock stars in the first place?

On Jul.15.2003 at 03:13 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> but you are a total bad ass!

heeeeyyyy....easy there, Eric. You're forgetting the stuffed animals and Dunkin Donuts thing (though I happen to agree w/ his love of DD ). Let's not erect the monument quite yet. The concrete is still moist.

On Jul.15.2003 at 03:22 PM
rebecca’s comment is:

Wow Debbie, I love that Tibor Kalman quote. Thanks.

On Jul.15.2003 at 03:54 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

--why are so many famous designers considered "like rock stars?"

Darrel asked: Are they?

Darrel: I found the quote that I was referring to when I asked that question. The term used was actually "pop star" (sorry) and it is from an article

on Neville Brody in the International Herald Tribune. This is the quote: “Neville is indeed like a pop star; he was elevated very high very quickly. He could never be just an ordinary designer again. His work will always be compared to what's expected of 'Brody'. But: it's a challenge he's more than willing to meet."

On Jul.15.2003 at 04:12 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> If you set out to be famous, what does that mean?

Yes, as a designer, I'd want a lot of the things Armin named:

� Write a book or contribute a column in a magazine now and then

� Pick and choose conferences to speak at

� Judge a competition now and then (though I've done a few, and it's actually really over-rated)

� Travel more and meet other masters of the profession

� A TV appearance would be ok, though I'd rather it was Letterman or Charlie Rose rather than a segment on CNBC or E! news.

And beyond just setting a personal mark or legacy, I want to know that I actually affected and impacted the course of culture through something that I did. Like Glaser's "I (heart) NY" or altered the course of an industry like Margo Chase or Ridley Scott. At the end of the day, I guess I actually don't care if people attribute the work to me personally as long as the work still survives in some way.

But hold on here. What about being famous beyond the design world. Well that's another story:

� I want an action figure of me that's heroic looking.

� I want a wax figure of me in a London museum, or I'd settle for a Vegas casino museum.

� I want a line of cool shoes or hip clothing in my name. I'd settle for cookware or barware -- but no cheesy Foreman grill thingy.

� I want a made-for-TV biographical movie made of my life, though preferably not made by the Lifetime network. HBO or Showtime would be good.

� I want to be able to affect the Dow Jones average by what I say to the press on a certain day.

� I want a personal assistant, cook, and trainer.

Wow, this famous list could go on and on...but you get the idea. Wasn't there a thread a few months ago about this?

On Jul.15.2003 at 05:37 PM
eric’s comment is:

I’m surprised and bemused to see this warm wash of altruism from everyone. sadly, i'd use my powers for evil. well, if "bending people to your will" be evil... then so be it.

Tan, i too have a news crush on Charlie Rose. Can you just imagine people sending away for transcripts of your episode? I'd want him to wear gray tweed blazer with like a solid blue, windsor-knotted tie.

Also, I don’t understand why people are taking the "rock star" thing so literally rather than it's metaphorical usage for somebody with star power and recognition beyond localized cultural and economic classes. I believe the idea is that said designer is elevated to something of a phenom... somebody like Gehry etc. I mean if you can make the trailer park jetset trek to Bilbao to look at some rotting aluminum then i say: let's rock this mother Mr. Gehry.

Oft overlooked in the cultural wars is the relationship between crafts and the fine arts. There has always been (at least as long as there’s been a distinction) an inherent jealousy by the former to the latter. The rise of media saturation from the 80s forward has increased the salaries and visibility of designers and illustrators: Art Nouveau-riche.

On Jul.15.2003 at 07:44 PM
JasonH’s comment is:

I mean if you can make the trailer park jetset trek to Bilbao to look at some rotting aluminum

I know this is off-topic, but just for the record, the Guggenheim in Bilbao is covered in Titanium. The Experience Music Project building in Seattle, also designed by Gehry, is covered in painted aluminum and it's not rotting. Aluminum doesn't rot.

And some of us are rather fond of Gehry's work. trailer park jetset Really!

On Jul.15.2003 at 08:23 PM
eric’s comment is:

jason,

off-topic or not, you are correct that it's titanium. however it was intended to be a colorful illustration for the following rather than an structural architectural critique:

"It was then reported that Frank Gehry's spectacularly popular Guggenheim museum in Bilbao was suffering from a nasty rash that has turned large areas of its famous exterior from shiny silver to dull brown. One American newspaper claimed that just three years after it opened the Guggenheim has started to resemble the 'rusting hull of an abandoned barge'."

from the London Observer

And my point was that if Gerhy can attract people from the middle of nowhere to travel halfway across the world to see art in Bilbao, also in the middle of nowhere then he obviously has a lot of draw and star power. i don't see how that's insulting to Gerhy. Tangentially, i don't care for the work at all but i appreciate that others do.

On Jul.15.2003 at 08:50 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Fame is a funny thing...part of me thinks I want it, but then again, I'm the type of person that when I get TOO much attention I tend to ball up and fade away as quickly as possible. At the same time, NO attention also sucks.

I guess like anything else it comes down to how you feel about yourself. And not one of us is totally secure, totally fine, totally immune to what others think--so any bit of validation or support is nice. And it makes me happy that no one here denies that!

One of the worst things you can end up dealing with though if you become famous is the pressure that you put on yourself and the perceived pressure from others to "keep it up." Like Dr. Phil says, you wouldn't worry about what other people thought about you if you had any idea how LITTLE they thought about you! True as that is, its tough to comprehend because individually and personally, we don't see it that way.

But a number of people can say about some famous guy, "Oh, s/he's lost it. Not what they used to be" and while very little thought went into that statement before it was said and even less was there aftewards, the subject of such a comment could hear that and be utterly crushed. And there's no reason to.

Why someone wants to be famous results from a number of factors, among them, their age. A young guy (like, oh say...me!) would say "I want to be famous for the following four reasons: chicks, money, power, and chicks." I'd be lying to say I didn't desire any of those things...that's not enough to judge me by, but my tactics in acquiring them put me in a virtual hot-seat.

I've won awards in the past and its all very nice, when you get any sort of recognition there's a high that goes along with it and a sense of security in the reputation you develop among the crowd surrounding you. I can't say that's all together satisfying though--granted, the recognition I had was in such a micro environment as to be completely meaningless, but the way I felt about things and about myself regardless of that factor didn't compensate for other things I wanted.

At some point I realized that I was going to dig myself into a whole chasing prestige, and that I would only be truly happy when I pursued what was right. And I've found that some of the prestige things out there are not by any means the right things for me.

If you asked me what I really want, it's pretty simple: to create as much amazingly cool work as humanly possible. A good, solid motorcycle that allows me to do long-distance riding. Enough money to shed my student loans and live comfortably. And of course, to fall in love with someone and spend the rest of my days with her! Fame would be nice, but for me, if I feel like I NEED fame, I know that I personally am not where I should be. So long as I produce work that makes me thrilled and so long as I'm okay with whether or not it garners recognition, then I know I'll be in a good spot.

And I ain't there yet. It's going to take some time.

But, on the other hand...I showed a piece I did to someone, a friend of mine, and she said it was so beautiful that it made her cry. Granted, I'm extraordinarily close to this person so take her praise with a grain of salt, but ultimately, that comment meant far more to me than any faceless praise I've received in the past.

Good topic, Debbie. I've had a great time reading all the things people have written here, its great seeing people open up like this.

On Jul.15.2003 at 09:08 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Good golly miss molly, that was effin' beautiful Graham...bravo.

On Jul.15.2003 at 09:10 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> Tan, i too have a news crush on Charlie Rose. I'd want him to wear gray tweed blazer with like a solid blue, windsor-knotted tie.

Otherwise known as the Rose uniform. Ever notice how hard his guest try to look as if they just threw something on and ran out of the house? It works for Spike Lee, but the rest are laughable. Love that show.

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:22 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

AIGA. Good point, Tan, we ARE all agreeing a bit and doing the I'm okay, you're okay thing. Nothing wrong with that, but hey...c'mon.

AIGA is one of those things that established designers ferverntly urge others to join--for me, the annual membership is a steep fee and it doesn't even get me into the events for free. I might as well pay the extra ten bucks that non-members pay if I'm that interested in it.

I always that it was a good ol' boys club and that suspicion was confirmed at the Voice conference...not that I blame them, but most of the people there were in it for the reunion like quality of it. There wasn't much discussion, and what little there was took place in a total vaccuum and revolved around a tight little circle. Talking design esoterics, which is fine, but not tying it into relevant, practical applications...which is not fine, not for AIGA or a conference.

Call me cynical, but when I hear people saying, "Well, its what you make of it and YOU have to move it in the direction you want..." I get wary. Because, what, I'm supposed to PAY how many hundreds of dollars to carry a card AND put countless unpaid hours into it? Sure, its PR, but gee whiz.

I thought the mission of AIGA was to make non-designers "get" the value of design. I see it doing the total opposite. The complaints I and many others have about this profession is that its so closed off, so tightly-knit, and so misunderstood...and here we have an organization that CLAIMS to aspire to "opening it up," but that's just not happen.

I don't think people would bitch if they COULD make a difference, but for all the talk of "it's all about what you bring to it," it comes down for me to what Glaser once said about how in a battle between you and the world, bet on the world. It's very easy for someone who guides the direction of an organization to say that anyone who puts in enough effort can get desired results.

When I think AIGA, I think of a thing where anybody can talk but only certain voices will be heard. And in the case of that organization, even if my voice WAS heard I don't know that I'd really care.

My, that was a negative rant...

On Jul.15.2003 at 10:46 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, I hear ya Bradley.

I have long standing ties with AIGA, but I do acknowledge its perceived barrier for entry.

For some, this barrier is easily crossed, but for many others, it's hollow effort that like so many other things, falls low in the list of priorities.

I'm trying to find new positive things to say instead of the usual "It is what you make of it" rant -- although I still strongly believe in it.

Ok, let's look at it this way.

First of all, I think it's wrong to think of AIGA in a socialist kind of way. While it's true that one of its primary mission is to serve all of its members equally -- AIGA is not a labor union. It doesn't exist to establish equality among classes of designers. It doesn't exist to govern how you practice design.

It does exist, however, to provide leadership, and carryforward and promote the excellence of the profession to the outside world. In order to do so, it promotes and recognizes the best that the profession has to offer. It sets a standard of business professionalism and critical thinking that challenges all professionals seeking to participate and contribute to design. In other words, it inspires and encourages, rather than nurtures or tries to make things easier for everyone. It's not your mommy if you fall and scrape your knee.

So as a result -- it's true that not everyone can benefit equally from the organization. You have to strive to participate. You must earn and validate your convictions before you are truly heard. Nothing is catered to you because you pay a membership fee.

Is this fair?

To me, AIGA operates like any legislative, democratic, governing body. It's democratic. It's pluralist. It's participatory and demanding. It's capitalistic, Darwinian, and very business-biased.

But it's fair. It's open, but competitive. And it's dynamic and responsive to those who work hard to affect change. It rewards leadership in the profession. And yes, it can be elitist.

But remember, it is after all, a professional design organization and not an art guild. It supports the ultra-competitive business of design, and therefore can be a mirror of it.

You can continue to dismiss participation in the organization, citing a number of excuses. But remember that somehow, everyday, thousands of other designers find ways to make the organization work for them.

Your failure to do the same is not AIGA's fault.

----

Btw, I should go on record that this is only my personal take on the org. I'm not the voice for them here. You'll have to ask Ric Grefe for that.

On Jul.15.2003 at 11:39 PM
Tom Dolan’s comment is:

The Fame you need stuck in your head is David Bowie's not that lame TV schtick.

On Jul.15.2003 at 11:56 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Tan,

Well, more or less, that's what I like to hear about AIGA. I think in my rant I was just trying to provoke a reaction out of somebody, because personally, I see the benefits of it. I think I also came off as being FAR too negative about it as well.

The organization serves a distinct purpose and the standards it sets out are indispensible. I've had some rather bad experiences with it, but in those instances I can either choose to make them persist in their negativity, or I can leave them at what they are and build on them. I'd prefer to build, but I also think that maybe where I build from need not necessarily be through AIGA. Why? Well, maybe I'm not sure of what my goals are, or maybe its because my goals are different.

When it comes to proving convictions and abilities, sometimes I'm not sure I want to prove them to other designers. Some people have different takes on them and I'd rather others not enforce their views as the right way or declare someone else's wrong. I know many designers who've found great success through the organization; simultaneously, I've known other designers who've found equal or greater success through other routes and never gave a damn one way or the other about AIGA.

Fundamentally, I don't want to leave you or anyone else with the impression that I think AIGA is a bad thing, because I don't. There are components of it that are quite good and the profession requires them in order to be legitimate.

Personally, I'm not that enthralled with whether or not design work wins awards from other designers or anyone else. Sometimes I feel like that's one of the barriers you have to cross in order to get "in" with AIGA. The immediate counter to that statement is that I have a bad attitude towards awards, and that's frequently gone into a track that also dictates because of my lack of interest in awards I "cut corners" with my work or don't care about the quality.

That's really not the case. A famous designer I know remarked once that you'll find more success when you realize that in the long run, what you do is pretty insignificant. I don't feel that design is insignificant at all, but I also don't see it as the be-all and end-all, the solution to all problems in commerce and politics and whatever else.

Ultimately though, what turned me off to AIGA was the fact that for all the talk of "business relevance" and whatever else, they awarded Bielenberg's Virtual Telemetrix annual report which was such an obvious sham. That gave me serious pause.

But, more and more non-designers HAVE taken an interest in the organization so something, somewhere is changing there. It's one of those things where my sentiments could be regarded as aimless whining simply because I'm not a part of it; and I guess all I'm trying to communicate is that I'm not sure it's that critically important to me...either way, I'm not totally ignoring it so that says something.

On Jul.16.2003 at 12:42 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Sure Bradley -- I know where you're coming from.

AIGA ain't no cakewalk and it ain't the Holy Trinity. It's an organization mainly run by volunteers.

I've no illusion that it's filled with saints and boy scouts either. There's politics and self-righteousness up the ying-yang. But it's not the only thing in my life -- there are plenty of other things equally worth a share of my time.

> A famous designer I know remarked once that you'll find more success when you realize that in the long run, what you do is pretty insignificant.

couldn't agree more. I have something to add to that statement -- that the real deal in this profession is not fame or money, but longevity. It takes an amazing amount of dedication, passion, and sustained effort to carve out a lasting career in design. Nevermind the 15 minutes of fame -- I'm constantly in awe of old-timers who've managed to stay productive for 20, 30+ years. I hope to be so lucky.

So anyway, signing off for all you night owls.

On Jul.16.2003 at 01:09 AM
Steve C’s comment is:

My thoughts are these--

a) Charles Anderson told me once: The 'best' designers are the 'best' promoters. In other words fame WILL come if you want it and you go after it. just be careful what you wish for. Look around many 'famous' designers/firms are 'no longer' famous. A very few reach longevity.

b) fame is pressure. Okay...you've been in CA, good work, well done...now you gotta get in NEXT year...you gotta prove it wasn't a fluke. You got to pave the way to recognition. OK, you've spoke to college crowds..now you gotta speak to professionals...maintain the momentum, otherwise, people are fickle, they forget. The pursuit of fame is draining.

c) I reserve all my integrity for my work and shamelessly self-promote. I had the pleasure of going on what amounted to a mini-tour, speaking to 7 universities and colleges in Florida in a few weeks. It was a BLAST, I recommend it to everyone! It all came about because we hired an intern to promote our work being published in a book. the college tour led to several speaking / judging events. Snowballed.

c) Fame is relative-and once you taste it it makes you want more. I've been in CA 3x in a row. PRINT maybe 6X, How several times...my work has been featured in 2 books, 2 more coming out...my work has been published in about 7 books all told. I designed the logo for the blair witch project (A major cultural phenom) and I was featured in GRAPHIC DESIGN USA's in 2000 as "one to watch". NO ONE HERE AS EVER HEARD OF ME. that's fame for ya!

d) I just want to be the next Steve Tolleson. Who? Exactly, yet is one of the better consistant designers out there. One of the most under recognized designers around. You can count on him to be in CA every year, his book is my second favorite out there (behind Paula's and one in front of Stefan's) yet he's by no means 'famous' even among designers.

On Jul.16.2003 at 06:59 AM
Mike’s comment is:

Sam, It does my heart good to see somebody quote Tom Waits. This discussion reminds me of something Bill Murray said [paraphrased] "If you think you want to be rich and famous, try just being rich first and see if that doesn't do it for you."

On Jul.16.2003 at 07:20 AM
beatriz’s comment is:

This guyreally has rock star status here in Spain. Well, maybe not "rock star", but drop his name in a conversation with non-design related people and chances are that 90-95% of them know him and know some of his work (he has designed among other things, the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games logo, hotels, clubs, clothes, jewelery...). And people usually either hate or love him (his work), which I guess it always makes good publicity (does controversy help you on the way to fame?)

The thing is, it would be cool to work on the kind of projects that fame brings, but I don�t think I would be confortable with such level of public scrutiny, would make me paranoid. So only a moderate helping of fame for me thanks ;-)

On Jul.16.2003 at 07:54 AM
Sam’s comment is:

What if, and I'm just speculating here, what if there's all this defense of/preoccupation with awards in the design business because underneath it all, we suspect that our contributions to society and culture really aren't that lasting, aren't all that influential in the important ways, aren't meaningful beyond the short-term communicative and economic goals of a project? In other words, maybe awards are desirable to us now because it's all we'll get in the way of recognition because our work may actually be insignificant.

Something smells funny at my desk this morning. This troubles me.

On Jul.16.2003 at 09:02 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

re: AIGA...either you fit in with that crowd and agree with the purpose, or you don't. I see both sides.

On Jul.16.2003 at 09:21 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> It rewards leadership in the profession.

HA! It rewards only if they benefit from it. Maybe "benefit" is not the right word, let' see... they don't reward leaders that don't fit in their vision or in the grand plan. And I guess that's cool for them to maintain their mission, I can respect that. But they are quick to dismiss anything that stands up for something that is not in their volunteer manual (there probably is no manual as such, it's just a figure of speech.)

On Jul.16.2003 at 09:35 AM
Sam’s comment is:

Steve, excellent points. Do you think that geography might be a factor? That "being heard of" might be related to being in a major design market?

Also, I've seen so much Tolleson-derived work that I'd have to say he's pretty darn famous, especially with the kids. And great. His book is one of the best, I agree.

On Jul.16.2003 at 10:02 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>Do you think that geography might be a factor?

I think it plays a huge role. Not only in the "being heard of" part of it, but there are certain things to be expected from firms in certain parts of the country. Minneapolis for example, you better get your retro groove on to get noticed there — that is just a false generalization, but you know what I mean. Obviously if you are in NY you better be damn good.

If you want to be famous don't go to Delaware, Iowa, Denver or any smallish city, it will probably take longer for anybody to pay attention there. Another reasoning could be "well, if I'm good I might have a bigger impact in Denver" and that's valid too I guess. But who the hell wants to live in Denver?

On Jul.16.2003 at 10:33 AM
Sam’s comment is:

Ain't nothin' wrong with Delaware.

On Jul.16.2003 at 10:47 AM
Steve C’s comment is:

(Actually DE has House Industries.) I'd say stay out of Florida. The hottest we have is crispin in Miami (pinkhaus from years ago). Orlando tends to occupy 50+% of PRINT regional every year, and we are chock full of talent. Sam, I think location is critical. It is never easy to 'hit it big' but being relinquished to odd corners of the continent doesn't help at all. In fact I feel it's an automatic strike against you. Not in a conscious way, just, that's the way it is. Nobody's going...well how good can they be they're not in NYC, or L.A., etc...BUT for those of us who are gluttons for punishment it does present some challenges. There *are* weird little pockets; SPUR in MD, House in DE, John Sayles in IA, of peple doing fairly renowned work, but your right Armin, when is the last itme you thought of Orlando for design?

On Jul.16.2003 at 10:51 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>when is the last itme you thought of Orlando for design?

I haven't even had that first thought of design in Orlando.

On Jul.16.2003 at 10:55 AM
steve c’s comment is:

and you probably never will...unless i get REAL lucky...

On Jul.16.2003 at 12:42 PM
Bram’s comment is:

1. Yesterday, a local NPR talk show had the author of a biography of Thomas Watson, founder of IBM. I dashed off a quick email, asking about IBM's relationship with Paul Rand, noting that it "is still considered a landmark in corporate design." My question was read, but not my name; the author was not familiar with Paul Rand, assumed I made a mistake, and spoke about another Rand, some sort of system designer, somehow associated with IBM. A couple missed chances at fame there.

2. I've had friends who worked with two "famous" designers -- with some international recognition, both with books of their own; one, I held on a pedestal myself, even met him and went out for drinks. Over time, what I learned about how they treat other people, approach their fame, and maintained their position radically changed my view. The work's still good [in one case], but I lost tremendous amounts of respect for them.

3. That scene in the Ben Day movie where he's in the tub, talking to his mother about being interviewed by Communication Arts. "Well . . . they've never heard of you, either." Slams the phone down.

4. I'd rather be known among, like, ten people for my humanity, integrity and creativity [step one, I suppose, would be developing those qualities]. So many celebrities do so little that's really worth celebrating; what they are known for seems so hollow when you consider the whole. There are exceptions, of course, even in the design world -- they are the ones who deserve to be famous.

On Jul.16.2003 at 03:32 PM
felix’s comment is:

What most designers cant seem to digest is "fame": the process (I'm expounding off Tibor):

Creativity+ fame=power (+ creative ideas realized and accepted on larger scale)

fame is really reputation, in graphic design terms. famers like carson and brody and seville want ... (insert final "hand job in parkinglot" with intern joke here)

good post deb. we always come out for fame!

On Jul.17.2003 at 10:57 AM
pk’s comment is:

nobody ahs anything to say about tomato or the makelas? they are (er...were, in one case) rock stars.

On Jul.17.2003 at 11:13 PM
michael’s comment is:

"What you like is in the limo

What you get is no tomorrow

What you need you have to borrow

Fame..."

On Jul.18.2003 at 01:56 PM
Michael’s comment is:

Great discussion. For what it's worth, about ten years ago I wrote a piece for CA called "How to Become Famous." It touched on a lot of the themes of this thread. It was meant to be funny and sort of sarcastic. Some people just thought it was stupid. Some parts are out of date (very specific and silly advice about how do to a slide presentation) but some of it still seems true to me. It's too long to post, but if anyone wants to be emailed a copy, send me a note at [email protected]

On Jul.24.2003 at 12:09 PM
jonsel’s comment is:

I remember that article. I recall it had a lot to do with attitude and PR and less to do with actual talent and ability. I'll have to dig it up and reread it.

On Jul.24.2003 at 12:16 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

Actual talent and ability helps, of course. It may even be necessary. But if one's goal is to become famous within the graphic design community -- for whatever that's worth to you -- it's probably necessary to devote some time to attitude and PR. I'd be interested to hear if anyone knows of any "famous" graphic designers who seemed to have gained their reputation despite themselves, so to speak.

On Jul.27.2003 at 11:50 AM