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Steve Heller Speaks Up

This is the first interview in many and hopefully will become a big part of Speak Up. The questions posed are intended to be more than ‘who are your influences?’ or ‘what is your favorite color?’ Questions that you can read in any other place. The dialogue will be left unedited, even if the answers are not what I, or anybody else, wanted to hear. This is a place for discussion, opinions and an opportunity to set the record, and the interviewer, straight.

With that said… I had the opportunity to ask Steve Heller a few questions. For anybody who hasn’t heard of him, he is the one responsible for the majority of books that have anything to do with Graphic Design. Type his name in amazon.com and you’ll see what I mean. In this interview we discussed New York, books, September 11 and AIGA. The best response from him goes something like this: “What I’m saying is that one has to be involved rather than watch from the sidelines… bring something else to the stage.” What I liked about that answer is that it’s more than just a good sentence, I read it as a challenge to me and every other designer. Once you read the interview you’ll see what I mean.

> Read the interview.

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PUBLISHED ON Oct.31.2002 BY Armin
pedro vit’s comment is:


I do hope you continue interviewing both the big shots and the not so big shots.

It was interesting to read Steve Heller, in such a fresh and immediate media as the web, answering some of the questions posed.

I also keep the idea of "getting involved rather than watching from the sidelines...". This is valid for everything in life not only graphic design although, as graphic designers it is an opportunity that always has to be taken.

Good luck with this section and we await more of these interviews!!!!

On Oct.31.2002 at 10:47 AM
Stephen Coles’s comment is:

I wonder what he means by “the bloody web”...

On Oct.31.2002 at 01:26 PM
Hrant’s comment is:


Congrats on snagging that. Your questions were good, the answers a bit too much of the "party line" for my taste, but still informative.

> I wonder what he means by “the bloody web”...

Maybe it's a Halloween thing...

Maybe he means it's a mess with no font control, people with no "pedigree" daring to have their opinions heard by everybody, while those who have slaved for 70 years doing to same thing now having to answer for it, publishing is too inexpensive, etc.


On Oct.31.2002 at 03:28 PM
joktu’s comment is:

Steve is...a colloquial variation of Steven? Not to be mistaken with Steve Heller, another prolific writer in the field of programming?

His (Steven's) literary work forms an indispensable part of my personal library. Noteworthy is his lavish biography on Paul Rand which offers a compelling chronology of Rand's career. Another personal favorite is Heller's Design Culture, a compilation of eloquent discourses that never cease to pique deep intrapersonal reflection on the matter of design.

Will Heller care to elaborate on “...bloody web...”? This seems a surprising (albeit amusing) departure from his typically cordial prose.

In any case, the interview was a tasty morsel. I imagine it was no small feat for Armin to snag this personality for an entertaining Q&A. How did you do it?

On Oct.31.2002 at 03:35 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>How did you do it?

Well... you know... it's all that mexican charm ; )

Nah! seriously now, I sent him a letter handwritten, like in the old times before the e-mail, inviting him to join Speak Up for some good discussions. Unfortunately, for us, he is a busy man and would not have been able to 'play' with us. So we both agreed on a small e-mail based interview. All in a matter of two days. Very friendly all of it.

And, really... the mexican charm helped.

> I wonder what he means by “the bloody web”...

I think Hrant hit a good point saying that anybody can get "published" on the web. It doesn't cost anything and you can say whatever you want, even if it's about your underwear color. Best thing is, there is somebody out there interested in knowing other people's underwear color.

On Oct.31.2002 at 03:48 PM
Stephen Coles’s comment is:

On the Web...

It doesn't cost anything and you can say whatever you want, even if it's about your underwear color. Best thing is, there is somebody out there interested in knowing other people's underwear color.

Nicely put, Armin. This is the beauty of Web communication. And I hope that it's not for elitist reasons that Heller inserted bloody before it. He’s smarter than that.

On Oct.31.2002 at 04:18 PM
Hrant’s comment is:

How old is he?


On Nov.01.2002 at 11:57 AM
Armin’s comment is:

late 50's? I'm not sure, but somewhere around there.

On Nov.01.2002 at 12:05 PM
felix sockwell’s comment is:

i was just introduced to this site from friend/

associate editor of CA, Rebecca. I'm

impressed with your content and its easy

navigation. Lets keep the material free

of "age credential" and focus on insightful design topics. talk soon, felix

On Dec.02.2002 at 11:26 AM
Hrant’s comment is:

Context is everything.


On Dec.02.2002 at 04:18 PM
lyndi’s comment is:

hey Armin!

nice interview with Steven. We phone interviewed him in hank's 5am class about his book The Swastika. He is quite a powerful speaker and author. But for all that he has acomplished, and how famous he is in "our world" he still was able to take the time out for us and both

inspire and enlighten us on his perspective of design today and tomorrow. if some of you haven't read this book, read it!


On Jan.02.2003 at 07:46 PM
Sam’s comment is:

>>How old is he?

Take a look at the NYTimes Book Review design.

On Jan.02.2003 at 09:52 PM
Astrida ’s comment is:

Hmmm... Would have been more interesting to delve into Heller's book publishing a bit more I think. He's done most books with a collaborator, I would be curious about that. Are people chosen for who they are or because they bring something special to the subject?

On Jan.24.2003 at 02:10 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>Are people chosen for who they are or because they bring something special to the subject?

You mean the people we interview? I'd say both. Would you like to read about Mijail Fonenberg? or would you like to know what Madonna has to say about design? Not really, so it's important for us to find people who are interested in sharing what they know, and at the same time have a proven track record. It's more fun and productive to read about people we look up to and hear what they have to say to questions we might have.

On Jan.24.2003 at 02:27 PM
Hrant’s comment is:

Heller has a short piece in the current issue of Print about alleged similarities between the UN logo and the old Soviet crest. He uses classic local news innuendo, as well as phrases like "evil Soviets" with a straight face. Result? Disgust.


On Jan.26.2003 at 06:07 PM
Jon’s comment is:

>a short piece in the current issue of Print

I haven't read this particular issue, but I've seen a number of Heller's "Separated at Birth" columns. While I am certainly against ripping off others' ideas, I never gave that column much notice because it seemed to have too personal a slant. I'd much prefer a little more balanced commentary.

Maybe we need 'dirty laundry' like this aired in our design journals, but I think there's a better way than just to attempt to embarass someone.

On Jan.26.2003 at 11:30 PM
Hrant’s comment is:

There's a short article by Heller about blogs in the current issue of Print. What I found most comical is that the negative aspects of blogs that he points out also apply very well to his own writing! :-/


On May.18.2004 at 02:01 PM
Armin’s comment is:

One reason why "traditional" writers have a certain degree of skepticism towards blogs is because of the instantaneous ability to talk back. Questions (informed or not) are quickly shot back instead of a random letter to the editor one month after the magazine has been published. But that's just my opinion. There are many other things wrong with blogs that Heller mentioned (that I certainly agree with) that make it an unstable medium and would scare some people away´┐Ż but that's why we are here!

On May.18.2004 at 02:30 PM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

I just read the article at Barnes and Noble. Mr. Heller doesn't seem to have much faith in bloggers' ability to learn, and he doesn't seem to realize that this is the whole point of a more inclusive conversation. We are including more people in the learning process, and the results can only be positive. We have to keep in mind that discursive mistakes are inevitable, correctable, forgiveable, important, and ephemeral.

Blogging will require/produce a new maturity from a wider range of people. But we can't expect this right off the bat. Discourse requires respect, openness, and a sense of how proper argumentation works. But this understanding cannot be imposed on people; they start from where they are.

We are hypthetically suspending even the basic rules of discourse so that they might be learned, re-established, and/or modified in the mind of the individual. If we simply follow rules given to us ("you don't say this, you don't do that, you don't make ad hominem arguments, etc"), we are not as likely to have the deep understanding of the importance of respect.

This is dangerous because it can produce a person who has all the markings of a respectful participant but in fact has not learned, in a deep way, these basic principles. In that situation, argument is in danger of becoming hyper-real, with no actual consequences because this participant appears to be open when in fact he is not.

On May.18.2004 at 06:59 PM