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Andrew Blauvelt Speaks Up
Can graphic design save itself? What exactly do we need to save ourselves from? Questions like these plagued me after reading Andrew Blauvelt’s essay in Emigre #64 Towards Critical Autonomy or Can Graphic Design Save Itself? This wasn’t the first time Blauvelt’s writing had incited me. Building Bridges: A Research Agenda for Education and Practice called for a refinement of graduate study and practice in graphic design. We should push beyond the limits already experienced. And that’s where his Emigre article put a bigger fire under me. Change what we do, not how we do it. It’s more about point of view than visualizing your point, with a great opportunity for revolutionary work. Obvious? For me it wasn’t.

> Read the interview.
Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Feb.19.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Armin’s comment is:

Great interview Jason. Very thoughtful on both parties.

I accepted the position and left academia because it was an opportunity to practice what we had been theorizing and teaching in the graduate program.

During TypeCon Andrew presented the work done by designers at the Walker and it was amazing. I think that (above quote) may be the reason why the Walker's design is so good, it seems well informed, non-comformist and driven by something other than commercialism or decoration. I am also very surprised that their work evades the heavy regionalism of Minneapolis.

And it must be great to work at that museum. Specially with the new wing coming up.

Designers, when they are good, possess unique talents that they take for granted: problem-solving, problem definition, visualization, organization, etc. Most people are deficient in these skills.

Amen to that. Those are the qualities that separate great graphic designers from the rest. So intangible, so subjective…

On Feb.19.2004 at 03:55 PM
Jason A. Tselentis’s comment is:

Double amen. It is a gray range of talents, subjective in nature. Oftentimes, designers want to do it all. That's wonderful. But more and more, I'd like to be true to a singular and unique talent. Find one thing, and make myself better and better. That's what mastery is all about. There's a lure to do everything, but sticking to that one thing, that unique talent builds mastery. At the Walker, it seems Andrew has a knack for doing a lot of different things very very well. That's impressive, and a huge challenge.

On Feb.19.2004 at 05:43 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

It'd be great to master something, but, the reality is...I think designers will just have to do more and more disparate things in order to thrive and survive. The opportunities are many and the demand that we meet all of them with the best solutions humanly possible higher than ever. It is our job, after all, to do whatever it takes to communicate ideas, information, and messages that will further our clients' objectives.

This is, ultimately, a good thing. Its good for our businesses and better for our profession as a whole to HAVE to do more.

Design itself--the tangible application of it, not the airy and arbitrary "process" of it--can and will serve a lot of purposes for culture, social issues, and of course commerce. The greatest rewards will be reaped by those who actually do it, those who find the opportunities and execute something of meaning and value.

I like this guy because he gets shit done, yet has a healthy respect for the process necessary for completing it. Very cool.

On Feb.19.2004 at 11:26 PM
Brady’s comment is:

I was fortunate enough to have Andrew as a professor while I was attending the School (now College) of Design at NC State.

Fortunate in that Andrew allowed me to participate in two graduate classes and one graduate seminar as an undergrad.

He opened my naive eyes/mind to the fact that design was more than pushing type and pictures around. To this day, I usually spend more time thinking about the problem than producing the results of that cognitive process.

Also to this day, I am still amazed - not surprised - at the historical depth and theoretical complexity with which Andrew writes. At one point I wondered if the man ever slept.

Thanks for the interview, Jason.

On Feb.22.2004 at 09:39 PM
Elizabeth’s comment is:

Thanks for the interview. Just a quick comment regarding Armin's question, "There's contention that graphic design has been demystified because its tools are in the public's possession. If the public has the tools, and the boundaries that define design regionalism are thinning in our pluralist landscape, then where do you expect fresh or emerging areas of practice to evolve from? What can educators do to stimulate this evolution?"

I was pretty frustrated with Blauvelt's comment, "The mistake is to confuse design with its tools," because that doesn't, in fact, answer the question of how we get clients to listen to us when they are inundated by people who claim to be graphic designers, devaluing the design process by doing just that: defining design by its tools.

This puts professional designers on the perpetual defensive—we are endlessly under-bid by under-educated designers. We all know that good designers distinguish themselves by their work, not their ability to use software. But in this era of PowerPoint and the five-minute presentation, we are often overpowered by the bullet-points and one-dimensionality of said "public with tools." Further, many potential employers have already been convinced of "the power" of corporate blue, drop shadows, and the Nike swoosh.

Without having to recite Philip Meggs to each and every one of our clients, those of us who graduated in the past few years would find helpful some occasional leadership from our "design elders" in the area of how to market ourselves.

On Mar.02.2005 at 04:22 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Without having to recite Philip Meggs to each and every one of our clients, those of us who graduated in the past few years would find helpful some occasional leadership from our "design elders" in the area of how to market ourselves.

I agree with that sentiment, Elizabeth. But, allow me to present this analogy for your consideration. As a long-distance runner, I've spoken with experienced athletes and runners for tips and advice about how they've managed to always place 1st or 2nd at marathons or 10Ks. Usually, they’re very open about training methods, but they don’t tell me anything new. Mostly I hear about issues that any runner can learn about with adequate research or a subscription to Runner’s World magazine. Why would they want to lose an edge by giving secrets, methods, or tricks? Why help the competition?

It’s no different in design. We work in a very crowded arena, one where most designers hate each other's work for one reason: competition. But, not all designers are guilty of withholding leadership or harboring their methods from young and ambitious designers. Look deep.

To quote http://www.karlssonwilker.com/ " target="_blank">karllsonwilker, “There’s no bad publicity.” Marketing yourself is a personal venture, one where you must develop a communication style (verbally and visually) that distinguishes your talents and value. Be yourself. I suggest you look to marketing and public relations books/zines/sites/courses for some tips, crossing disciplines can reward you with fresh information and direction. Ultimately, you will separate yourself from the others by being you.

Define your values, worth, experience, and share those things.

On Mar.02.2005 at 04:45 PM
Elizabeth’s comment is:

Thanks, Jason. [And btw, I meant to say earlier, regarding Jason's question, not Armin's... sorry.]

I think you're right, but I suppose I expect more than catty competitive natures to be helping to delineate good graphic design.

I suppose my frustration lies more in the fact that Andrew Blauvelt and other well-established designers seem to find under-informed design an irrelevant aspect to their everyday work. They have clients and audiences who demand more than the obvious and the cliché.

But it is indeed a very real and frustrating part of the world of design for the rest of us. I was actually very lucky to get the full-time job I have now, but I came here from a corporate environment at which I was constantly expected to justify why I was there, which took away from the limited time I had to create the concepts.

My question for Blauvelt and others is how can we confront people's ill-conceived assumptions about the nature of our professions without using up all our billable hours?

My favorite thing to circulate in that prior job was Tufte's article, "Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely." At least it got me out of having to learn PowerPoint.

On Mar.04.2005 at 06:06 PM