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Design coming out of Tucson looked different than Omaha; design in Seattle contrasted those cities; and Los Angeles had its own aesthetic. This random imagescape was noticeable during the late 90s. What do you imagine it’s like today? Are you aware of design regionalism, and where is it most comparable? Or have we reached a point where everything’s been done so nothing looks unique, no matter which borders we cross?

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PUBLISHED ON Feb.06.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Michael B.’s comment is:

When I first read this post, I thought it said, "This random imagescape was noticeable during the late 60s." Then I caught my error. Not surprising since I've been hearing this observation --that there used to be regional styles in this country, and now everything is homogenous -- since the eighties. Perhaps the view in the rear view mirror is often the same no matter where we are.

I would suggest a counter-theory: that there has never been any regionalism in American design, and that what appear to be regional styles are actually the product of the work of a few highly visible, highly influential designers and design firms and agencies.

The eighties saw this trend in full flower: Joe Duffy in Minneapolis, Woody Pirtle and the other Richards Group alumni in Dallas, the Michaels Vanderbyl, Cronan, Manwaring and Mabry in SF, and Paula Scher, Carin Goldberg and other alumn(ae) of the CBS Records in-house design department in New York. All these local designers influenced each other, gave birth to disciples, and -- from the national perspective -- appeared to "represent" their city in a way.

The eighties also saw the rise of the AIGA as a national body and with increased deisgn publishing came the quicker dissemination of "regional design styles" outside their own markets. I agree with Jason that today there is very little regionalism, but I would have put its expiration date back in 1990.

On Feb.06.2004 at 07:16 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Our planet is getting smaller. For better or worse, regional and cultural differences are slowly becoming homogenized. Thanks to global media, the internet, world/free trade, etc.

I think most regional differences in design are now forced/stereotyped sort of things. Not that that is wrong, I just don't think it's a natural reflection of regionalism as much as it used to be.

And, as Michael points out, the biggest difference between regions in things like the Print Annual is typically a reflection of the large firms in each region, who tend to get more work published. So, the 'regional' annual, in terms of diversity, is really highlighting the different styles of the large agencies more than anything.

On Feb.06.2004 at 07:32 AM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Interesting timing of your discussion, Jason (for me). Right now I am in Cincinnati for the AIGA Origination design competition. I will be one of the jurors of the competition, and will only be evaluating work that was created by designers in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana. I can't wait to see the entries. My suspicion is that the packaging will look very much like "American" packaging, after all Cincinnati is home to Procter and Gamble. I am curious to see if anyone entered work they did for that particular behemoth, and what the reaction of the other jurors will be to the work.

But as far as the "aesthetic" here...truly looking forward to assessing that. My guess is that there is, though I have really no idea right now what to expect. If I were in Minnesota, I could say otherwise. Same for the UK or Latin America. I will keep you posted.

Great topic, Jason.

On Feb.06.2004 at 08:23 AM
brook’s comment is:

i think both of you are right. there probably are substantial regional differences still, though. it is the big or influential design firms that establish these aesthetics (though i guess it could be some other trend than aesthetics?). a reason that this continues is that designers educated within that state are exposed to it. they see the work everywhere, they go on studio tours, they learn to see it as 'good' design. educators not being from the state where they teach probably counteracts that to some degree. things, overall, really are becoming homogenized.

On Feb.06.2004 at 08:24 AM
brook’s comment is:

i should say that i am also in minnesota...and could have a seriously skewed interpretation of this. minnesota could definitely be the exception.

On Feb.06.2004 at 08:28 AM
Greg’s comment is:

I think that what everyone's saying is true, to some extent; however, I've noticed a great difference between design in places like New Jersey and design in, say, Florida. Realize that I'm not talking about those who have hired high-priced designers, I'm talking about just driving around and noticing the signage for individual businesses...some of which are popular, some that aren't.

There *is* a regional aesthetic, but as designers, I think we're the ones who tend to homogenize, for better or worse.

On Feb.06.2004 at 08:53 AM
aj’s comment is:

I cannot comment on regional differences in the US, as live in the UK, but I must say that there is a difference between American and British design.

Here in the UK, designers are a lot more conservative with colour and in their use of type.

We have a lot of great designers who do indeed break out of this "understated" rut, such as Rian Hughes, who has produced some excellent work for the Eurostar ad campaign.

When I look at US magazines on the racks in Borders, I would say that the overall impression is more colourful - I see colour combinations which would never be used in the UK - and there is a distinctly different use of type. US magazines use serif fonts more than we do, whereas in the UK we tend towards sans serif.

The UK is too small a country to have distinct regional differences, although there is a tendency towards a sort of enforced nostagia for design which promotes different regions such as Scottish or Irish, but a lot of that is related to the tourist industries in these regions. The "forced/sterotyped" idea, as mentioned by Darrel. Mostly, UK designers are based in London.

On Feb.06.2004 at 09:27 AM
eric’s comment is:

Ostensibly, this argument of regionalism is another way to talk about cultures. Whenever I’m in the Southwest — I know I’m there through marketing before the arid environment rolls over me.

Anne Conneen recently reviewed �Designing Across Cultures’ (by Ronnie Lipton) that might be relevant here. The focus appears to be on ethnicity, but I don’t see where that would differ for regional bias.

Armin, forgive my foggy memory, but didn’t you discuss the Minnesota aesthetic in your article in �migré?

On Feb.06.2004 at 10:18 AM
Jason’s comment is:

How much does culture or ethnicity have to do with it?

Both eric and aj take this discussion in a new direction.

On Feb.06.2004 at 10:33 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Eric, foggy memory forgiven — I did. I think it's kind of obvious though, CSA, Laurie DeMartino, Werner, etc., all have a very similar aesthetic. It's an awesome aesthetic and for some reason it blossoms in Minneapolis, you can see some of it in Seattle a little bit, and Madison, Wisconsin is devepoling a similar "vernacular/ornamental" language. But you don't see that kind of stuff in New York or San Francisco, much less in the Southwest.

Besides the fact that indeed this regionalism is portrayed by the more published firms in each region it would be hard to discredit it just becaus of that. There is regionalism, not as apparent as it was before perhaps, but it shows in smaller details. For example, Chicago, look at the work done by some of the more "known" firms (Essex, VSA, Crosby, Pivot, Studio/Lab, Pressley Jacobs, SamataMason, etc.). The look is very "corporate" and kind of dry, it is greatly developed and good-looking work, but it is very conservative — just like the Midwest.

I think — even though we are saying it doesn't "exist" — that regionalism is good for designers. Some designers might fit better with the clientele of Chicago and thrive with that "look" while others will be better off in colorful San Francisco.

On Feb.06.2004 at 10:40 AM
eric’s comment is:

jason: if not regionalism or cultural then please tell me what borders you're concerned with crossing in your opening statement?

On Feb.06.2004 at 10:45 AM
Jason’s comment is:


You tell me, based on your experiences and observations. That's a more interesting approach because I have my own thoughts on these matters, but want to hear what you and the others have to say.

On Feb.06.2004 at 10:52 AM
marian’s comment is:

Well, coming from Canada (Vancouver) I wish I could say we had a "look" that was perceptibly different from what I see from the US, but alas I can't see it, aside from a possilbly, er, less sophisticated approach in general. If our look is trend following, well then so be it (there seems to still be a love of the swoosh up here), but I don't consider that a regional look so much as an indication of hicksterism.

Don't get me wrong, we have some great design firms up here, but I think there's a consensus that our client base is much more conservative (our clients tend to want to look like their competitors). The designers I've spoken to say it's their american clients who feed their creative flow. But I still can't see any regional difference in that work.

Unless you count the appropriation of west coast native art, but I don't.

On Feb.06.2004 at 11:17 AM
darrel’s comment is:

CSA, Laurie DeMartino, Werner, etc., all have a very similar aesthetic.

I'd suggest that that maybe has as much to do with Duffy as it does with MN. I imagine a lot of regional styles can be attributed to large regional firms. It may be about regionalism, or it may be about designfirmalism (look! A new word!).

On Feb.06.2004 at 11:21 AM
Mark Kaufman’s comment is:

After a quick scroll through a lot of the comments. I would certainly agree with the notion that a few high profile designers/accounts in each region define what we think is a regional design aesthetic. For instance, for many, many years where I am in Seattle, Art Chantry defined the Northwest style and bore alot of disciples/imitators. A couple of years back Art picked up and moved to St. Louis. If you look at the last Print Regional Design Annual, not only is MOST of the work attributed to Missouri from Chantry's Xerox machine, but most of the clients and projects are the SAME ones he had here in Washington. So in effect anyone looking at Print for the first time would asume that Chantry is Missouri.

My 2 cents are that there is a regional design style in the US. But Designers aren't the ones that define it. And you won't find it online or in a magazine.

On Feb.06.2004 at 12:29 PM
pk’s comment is:

this happens in small ways throughout american culture. su and i were at smart bar (in chicago) last tuesday night, when a girl showed up who was clearly from knoxville, tennessee. after living there, i could just tell.

in chicago club culture, you pick a subculture and dress to those codes (whether you mean to or not, it just gets ingrained). but in knoxvillian dialect, you're just a mish-mash of everything: a little goth, a little rave, a little hippie. very eclectic. vernacular dance styles are quite regional as well.

as far as design culture is concerned, there used to be a distinct love of near-victorian ornamentation in the southern states. i don't know how that holds up any more...but god, there was some lush stuff coming from tennessee for a while. sometimes good, sometimes bad...but lush.

chicago seems to have this weird matter-of-fact thing going on right now: a greater emphasis on purpose with an overlay of style. i see this happening everywhere. i kinda blame VSA and SamataMason; their work has always been somewhat midwestern-earnest and forthright.

On Feb.06.2004 at 12:51 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Thanks pk, in that last paragraph you explained better what I was trying to get at about the Chicago style.

Here is a question: What's up with Boston? Like, they are a big city right? And like, they used to have stuff going during the late '90s, and like, there is nothing, nor any representative firm, so, like, what's goin' on up there? Everybody bummed from the Big Dig?

On Feb.06.2004 at 01:16 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Well, first of all -- I do still see regional differences. I can often spot work from Dallas, Mnpls, and LA, among other regions . I don't think work is becoming homogeneous at all. Maybe there's LOTS more of it, which breeds more derivative work, but the core of any region's work can still be differentiated due to a number of factors.

Here's three.

1. The predominant industry in the region largely influences the type of work and the voice of the designs. Minneapolis has General Mills and Target; Chicago is a publishing town; Dallas is driven by editorial, Fossil, and dept retail chains; Seattle is an odd mix of high-tech and music; SF is retail driven by Gap, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn; LA is still entertainment; etc. In any region around the country, there are unique things about each client sector's business that will always continue to drive the approaches and voice of the respective creative agencies.

2. The second factor has to do with the balance of leadership and influence between design, editorial, and advertising agencies in a region. W+K and Nike defines Portland. Work from Portland greats such as Sandstrom and Johnson&Wolverton make an impact, but they still follow rather than lead. The same can be said of Fallon's and the Target ad work in Minneapolis. Dallas on the other hand, is still very much driven by editorial sensibilities -- which can be traced back to the days of Woody Pirtle and the Richards Group. The work is illustrative, a bit conservative, and editorially narrative and whimsical to this day. Chicago is driven by both Leo Burnett's work and the publishing industry in general. SF is all about retail packaging work from Landor, and dozens of large in-house retail brands.

3. And thirdly, as eric said above -- it's about culture. Sensibilities of a region's work will likely reflect the voice, richness, and heritage of culture of that particular environment. Here in Seattle, there's still strong remnants of its hippie past. That stands in direct contrast to the conservative, redneck sensibilities of stuff I see coming from Houston, Denver, or even Atlanta.


and marian -- there's definitely a different aesthetic in Canadian work. I can spot Canadian design and photography a mile away. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but it's there.

On Feb.06.2004 at 03:29 PM
freelix’s comment is:

Duffy/CSA/Werner all shop at Strand/Oaklander's in NYC for old design books and inspiration to take back home and call thier own. To their credit MN designers do great work because of it.

The "Whimsy Factor" permeating the heartland doesnt translate well in big cities (duh), but that could be due to the "client factor".

On Feb.06.2004 at 03:30 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Tell us more about the whimsy factor in the Heartland, freelix.

On Feb.06.2004 at 03:32 PM
freelix’s comment is:

Dallas is driven by editorial, Fossil, and dept retail chains;

son, you have no idea what youre talkin about.

get the hell outta here, Tan. (If that is your real name)

Dallas' Fossil is fueled by what MN started (but its watered down); the only editorial is American Way magazine (no ripples there); and what retail do you speak of? Zero.

they do a lot of mall design, boutique logo work, barbeque sauce, Nokia, Home Depot, Pepsi coupons, Texas Instruments brochures and chili cookoff posters.

On Feb.06.2004 at 03:36 PM
Dr Feluxe Socksmell, Jr’s comment is:

Tell us more about the whimsy factor in the Heartland, freelix.

I wish I could. I lost my naive notions of swirly doo Dallas fun about 7 yrs ago. Now its all dark Subway driven , Anti-war spoutin', Rent hikin' vaguery...

On Feb.06.2004 at 03:44 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> son, you have no idea what youre talkin about.

get the hell outta here, Tan. (If that is your real name)

Dallas' Fossil is fueled by what MN started (but its watered down); the only editorial is American Way magazine (no ripples there); and what retail do you speak of? Zero.

you know Felix, it's too good of a week to pick a fight w/ you. But look who's asking who about real names here.

Yes, Fossil may mirror MN's work a bit -- but there's also strong traces of Sibley/Peteet and let's not forget where Tim Hale is from. I can point to work of that style by Good Peterson and the Richards Group that predates anything done by Duffy or Chuck.

As to editorial -- let's not forget Texas Monthly, one of the country's most award-winning regional magazines. Newspaper editorials and magazines may not be large compared to NY, but my point is that they still influence the aesthetic sensibilities of the region.

And as to retail -- Neiman-Marcus, Lord&Taylor, and Fossil are all headquartered in Dallas. Not to mention the decades of work for Parker Brothers that Sibley Peteet did for years.

That answer your question, son?

On Feb.06.2004 at 03:54 PM
Tan’s comment is:

And for the record -- I didn't say I loved Dallas design. I've always thought that most of the stuff has always been shit, with the exception of a few good people. I take it from your resentment and animosity for Dallas, you must have been responsible for a good portion of that excrement yourself, Felix.

On Feb.06.2004 at 04:12 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Tan, your point #1 seems to be missing a certain largest city in the country, also known as a bit of a publishing, business, and general media town in its own right. Too many designers, too many styles, and that's just in Brooklyn. Many feel it is a continent unto itself.

Anyway. The inference I'm seeing is, regional work is defined by the best-known designers from a given region. Or the style of certain designers becomes the most-known style of a goven region and then those who practice it become known for the famous style or that region...er, or, wait.. I had it figured out a minute ago. Somehwere a cart, horse, a chicken, and an egg are involved.


On Feb.06.2004 at 04:16 PM
Tan’s comment is:

sure, Sam. I didn't mention NYC b/c of everything you mentioned. Too many designers, a large variety of clients and category of work, etc. But it's interesting that you singled out Brooklyn. NYC is definitely a microcosm of regional design in itself, burrough by burrough.

On Feb.06.2004 at 04:26 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> the only editorial is American Way magazine

Tan already mentioned Texas Monthly... and what's the name of that guy... that does Texas Monthly and a bunch other cowboyie magazines... from, like a well known firm... he does a lot of editorial work…

On Feb.06.2004 at 04:28 PM
Redneck Tommy Boy’s comment is:

conservative, redneck sensibilities ...from Houston, Denver, or even Atlanta.

Tan, you forgot right-wing, toothless and bible-thump’n!


Then we can sit down at one of the 94 local Starbucks and sip on some chai lattes and discuss the finer points of regionalism. : )

On Feb.06.2004 at 05:01 PM
Greg’s comment is:

Hey......this stuff's made in NEW YORK CITY!!!

*various exclamations of "New York City?!?"

Get a rope.

On Feb.06.2004 at 05:05 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Hey, it takes one to know one Tom. Though I escaped redneck country, I do have my roots there.

I'm from Houston -- which means I like my chili beanless, my women big-haired, and my beer out of a can. I have a brother that owns a bass boat, a Suburban w/ a Bush bumper sticker, and a gun cabinet. Foods I miss include fried okra, crawfish boils, and creamed-stuffed habaneros. Need I say more?

On Feb.06.2004 at 05:13 PM
Dr Feluxe Socksmell, Jr’s comment is:

I can point to work of that style by Good Peterson and the Richards Group that predates anything done by Duffy or Chuck.

I worked for Stan for many years, so yes I'd like to see it, cowTan. That work was influenced by the pushpin group, which was inspired by Japanese prints.. which was inspired, aw- I justed crashed. Its derivative.

As to editorial -- let's not forget Texas Monthly, one of the country's most award-winning regional magazines.

OK, OK, Fred did win a few awards at Texas Monthly. that doesnt make TX any sort of bastion of editorial commerce. Are we talkin regionalism in regards to print magazine or regional influence? I forget.

And as to retail -- Neiman-Marcus, Lord&Taylor, and Fossil are all headquartered in Dallas.

Lord & Taylor is not hubbed in Big D.

But yes, Fossil is a newcomer to Richardson (my hometown) - theyre work is so damn stale it makes me cry TX tears. Who cares if they get featured in CA and Graphis. That only means they have a PR firm too! (big titty blondes spin tall tails indeed)

Not to mention the decades of work for Parker Brothers that Sibley Peteet did for years.

Scattergories, Taboo, and a few other were designed by the great John Evans of SP, but keep in mind that work was assigned from up north. Youre looking at Annuals and not the true, real landscape of work. Coupons are really where its at in TX. Trust me. Pepsi coupons!

That answer your question, son?

I'm impressed. But no.

On Feb.06.2004 at 05:45 PM
Tan’s comment is:

alright, Felix. You're right -- my mistake on L&T.

One of the first Duffy piece I ever saw that was done by Chuck was a poster for a benefit run or something like that. It was a group of leaves below a tree that morphed into birds -- or something like that. I remember seeing a similar poster at Good Peterson (or Richards i don't remember) and thought the poster was theirs. As you mentioned though -- the style was probably all adapted from Japanese prints anyway.

On Feb.06.2004 at 06:11 PM
surts’s comment is:

On Feb.06.2004 at 09:02 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Too much time indeed, surts. I tried a while back to comment in red--MT strips it out! Bastards!

On Feb.07.2004 at 12:11 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Sam, you can do it now, MT has a new "feature" that cleans up certain HTML tags, but there is a way to override it and put in extra tags like the font tag for color. I had changed it a month ago I think to be able to use it.

On Feb.07.2004 at 02:09 PM
Jason A. Tselentis’s comment is:

Jim Sting: [yelling] . . . back doors are not secrets!

Malvin: Yeah, but Jim, you're giving away all our best tricks!

Jim Sting: They're not tricks.

On Feb.07.2004 at 03:38 PM
Sam’s comment is:

I spent some time a while back trying to figure out Henke did this: a source url for Sketchy for the font-face tag or some shit.

On Feb.07.2004 at 05:10 PM
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

oh no...

On Feb.07.2004 at 05:32 PM
brook’s comment is:

Then we can sit down at one of the 94 local Starbucks and sip on some chai lattes and discuss the finer points of regionalism. : )

ugh. so right. not to get political...but it's so easy to love and hate this country at the same time. how can the ordinary citizen have so much but so little power at the same time!? speak up should do something around election time. something non-partison and fun. playpolitics.org is a good example of making politics fun.

On Feb.08.2004 at 12:14 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> ugh. so right. not to get political...but it's so easy to love and hate this country at the same time.

Not to get political, nor sensitive, either but just remember that this is one of the few countries where you can sit down at one of the 94 local Starbucks and sip on some chai lattes and discuss the finer points of regionalism. While national companies like Starbucks, Gap and Wal-Mart homogeneize America's landscape it is nice to know that there are still hillbillies (no offense intended) like my friend Tommy Boy here that bring each region of the US its own attitude, flavor and soul and there is no reason why that shouldn't permeate into graphic design… making regionalism unavoidable. And that is not a bad thing.

On Feb.08.2004 at 09:51 AM
Jason’s comment is:

I don't mind Starbucks, and I'm not a socialist. While we're talking about design regionalism or regional aesthetic, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and McDonalds don't inhibit these things. Their homogonized appearance and services call attention to their polar opposites. They help define Chicagoness, Seattleness, or Brooklyness because they offer somewhat of a contrast to places like Bambino's Café or Sam and Johns Super Savings or Dino's Gyros. Contrasts serve a purpose.

On Feb.08.2004 at 04:46 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Dino's Gyros does have the best lamb Gyros.

On Feb.08.2004 at 05:44 PM
Jacques’s comment is:

Nitpicking, maybe, but actually (and unfortunately) you can sit down at a Starbucks in at least 33 countries worldwide!

On Feb.09.2004 at 08:57 AM
Armin’s comment is:

You are right Jacques. We can sit down at one of the 33 world-wide Starbucks and sip on some chai lattes and discuss the finer points of globalization.

On Feb.09.2004 at 09:12 AM
Steven’s comment is:


SF is all about retail packaging work from Landor, and dozens of large in-house retail brands.

Well, Tan, as someone who lives in the Bay Area, I don't agree at all with your characterization of the SF regional look.

Landor has a very limited affect on design sensibilities of SF. And while The Gap, PB, WS, etc. do have strong brands, they're not the only influence around. And all of the above influences are very mainstream. So I think that you're not really making the right assessment, IMHO.

From my point of view, I would point to the design efforts of people like Jennifer Sterling or Martin Venezki (who used to teach at CCA(C), but I guess now is in RI?) or others. I think that there's actually a split between neo-modernist influences and the older Decon/PostStruct/PoMo influences. I actually haven't seen very much to get excited about in our region. Most designers are just trying to keep their businesses going and aren't really pushing any new defining style.

In general though, getting back to the original topic, I think that there are regional influences which come from the local environment (sunnier, warmer places tend to use brighter colors), the local ethnic cultures, local leading designers, and the aesthetic influences (intended or otherwise) of local academic institutions.

Cutting against these are the personal preferences or tastes of the individual designer and the influence of other designers from outside the immediate region (or even country).

On Feb.09.2004 at 05:01 PM
Jacques’s comment is:

Sorry, Armin, you wouldn't catch me dead sipping milky herbal tea (milk in “chai”? -- good grief!), let alone doing so in a Starbucks.

But I'm all for sitting in Luigi's (defiantly hanging in there) around the corner with an espresso talkin’ ’bout globalisation and Idaho's prevalent played-out overuse of Lubalin Graph.

On Feb.09.2004 at 07:53 PM