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Design Leadership

I’m currently serving on a nominating committee for board of directors of a nonprofit organization. The committee’s task is to choose and discern an exceptional list of industry leaders who would serve the organization well.

It sparked a thought — what is the definition of leadership in our design profession? What are the criterias, or balance of criterias that we use to annoint our supposed leaders? What are the yardsticks?

Is it professional success and business experience — ie. they own or run a 50 or 100+ person firm? Is it awards recognition and industry notoriety through publishing, speaking engagements, awards judging, etc? Is it mentorship and an invaluable record of service to the design community including AIGA? Or is it just random rock-star popularity?

Who do you consider as a leader in our industry and why? Is it because that person inspires? Does that person serve as a role model for the business? Does that person bring value to the professional community? What are the actions, accomplishments, or merits that sets this person apart in your mind?

We’ve had threads before asking people about their design heroes — that’s not what I’m asking for this time. Think beyond your personal preferences and consider the profession as a whole.

Name our leaders.

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PUBLISHED ON Nov.30.2004 BY Tan
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

The Speak Up authors?

On Nov.30.2004 at 03:23 PM
lara’s comment is:

For me it's definitely Steven Heller. He's so actively involved in the design community, through the books he has contributed to, his position at SVA, his membership on commitees, active role in AIGA, conference presentations,...

He explores the design process and encourages conversation among the design community. When his name is linked something, pay attention.

On Nov.30.2004 at 04:03 PM
jc’s comment is:

I am the leader, but everone else is just too ignorant to recognize my genius. They just don't get it.

On Nov.30.2004 at 05:07 PM
Tan’s comment is:

What about designers, owners, and principals in your local area (excluding NYC)? Years ago, when I first started, firm owners were regular speakers at conferences, they sponsored all of the large AIGA events, and made sure that their firms supported local design organization efforts. Kit Hinrichs is a great example of that type of leader.

It may be just my impression, but that seems to be a rarity these days. Most of the designers who give most of their time — to AIGA, to schools, to the profession — are just starting their businesses and are younger. The older veterans are nowhere to be seen or heard. They're too busy tending to their businesses, and don't realize the valuable leadership they can bring to their design communities.

>The Speak Up authors?

Sure, but I don't think any of us joined originally with the intent and purpose of becoming a leader per se. We joined to contribute our individual voice and perspective.

On Nov.30.2004 at 05:37 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> The Speak Up authors?

Specially the ones that post regularly!

> The older veterans are nowhere to be seen or heard. They're too busy tending to their businesses, and don't realize the valuable leadership they can bring to their design communities.

In Chicago this held — and still holds — very, very true. The old guard is nowhere to be seen. And I'm happy to name names with no intention of being offensive: I was really disappointed with — but understood why — designers like Greg Samata, Bart Crosby, Steve Liska, Josep Michael Essex who weren't as vocal in a community that desperately needed some leadership. I mean, these guys built an important design community some years ago, it's tough to see them on the sidelines. As someone who looks up to these guys I did try my best to squeeze something out of them; Steve Liska wrote a few business articles for Speak Up and Joseph Essex participated in our second seriouSeries and I was completely amazed by how much he had to share. It's great that thir businesses do so well and that they are kept busy but it's a shame that we don't see, hear or read more of them.

An all-time leader, for me, is good ol' Rick Valicenti. And this admiration has not much to do with his creative output. He is a devoted teacher and passer-on of wisdom. He sets an example by just doing. He talks the talk, walks the walk and rocks the boat. I only wish he wrote more.

Bennet Peji seems a great leader as well; I only know about him from what has been written and I think he is a good example of a leader in our field. He is not a flashy designer, he's just a conscious one.

More to come. (Have to buy some fish).

On Nov.30.2004 at 06:39 PM
ps’s comment is:

does a leader need to be known by name? maybe some of the best leaders are "no-names." they lead without being in the spotlight. especially when its for an industry group or a non-profit. the board as a whole becomes the leader. just pondering this thought as i'm considering names...

On Nov.30.2004 at 07:21 PM
lst’s comment is:

Bennet Peji seems a great leader as well; I only know about him from what has been written and I think he is a good example of a leader in our field. He is not a flashy designer, he's just a conscious one

Well, it's my first post, and what better way to start than to second the praises for Bennett Peji? Bennett is an inspiring voice in the San Diego design community. He is always approachable and engaging. He gives his time generously, looking to see how he can make a difference in his community. A smart business person with a social conscience, Bennett personifies good, experienced leadership. I have had the pleasure to visit his studio, see him speak, listen to his visions for the future, and discuss ways to become involved in making a better community. I think all of these qualities make him a great example of design leadership.

On Nov.30.2004 at 07:29 PM
Lenny’s comment is:

You know, I'm not sure a leader within this field (or any for that matter) has to be so incredibly loud. And by loud, I mean speaking at events or writing design books & critiques. Surely those that participate in those types of things are much appreciated and tend to be, as someone said above, "rock stars." But for me, I had a typography professor at SVA just last year named Weston Bingham who really pushed my class to consider the 'big picture' in design and how people physically, psychologically, and emotionally experience the things we create. Not many professors of design delve so far into the effects it can have on people at an undergraduate level, and for me, that changed my outlook completely.

>Think beyond your personal preferences and consider the profession as a whole.

Forcing 30-or-so design students to really really think problems out definitely has its impact when each of us brings that thinking with us wherever we may go. I've never seen such good work by my peers than in that class.

On Nov.30.2004 at 11:47 PM
marian’s comment is:

Well, I might as well do the local thing, as I'm still puzzling over the labyrinthian maze and hierarchy of American designers.

Here in Vancouver we have Ray Hrynkow of Herrainco Skipp Herrainco, who has been a leader in the community for years. Casey Hrynkow and Jim Skipp are, too, but the crown is usually worn by Ray (or rather, placed on his head, as he's just a super nice guy). I was pleased to hear that their firm was recently chosen as one of Canada's 20 most influential design firms by Applied Arts Magazine. The thing I really like about Ray is that he just gets really pissed off about certain issues and will just start firing off letters. Action man!

Matt Warburton, who is Past-President of the GDC, and Past-almost everything on the local BC board of the GDC, is another person who led by just being intensely involved in the design community for years.

But the thing about "older" design leaders not being involved anymore is true here as well. Matt and Ray and many others (incl. Dave Mason when he lived here) have, in a sense, done their time with the GDC and you can't blame them for standing back and doing their own thing for a while. Although, those two are still really active in the design community: no one is saying "where are they now?"

The whole "leadership in a community" implies, to me, activity in that community outside of the person's business. Those who practice well, but don't teach or write or sit on a board or do something active don't really seem to be "leaders" to me. They may be idols, but not leaders. Am I wrong?

But say I were choosing someone to be on a board, as Tan is, I would look for a younger designer who had shown some interest (or a lot of interest) in their profession. Again, someone who wrote, or contacted other designers about issues, or did something outside of the confines of running their business. That would seem to me to be leadership potential.

On Dec.01.2004 at 02:46 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Bennett's a good guy. Aside from AIGA, a business, and a family, he somehow finds time to serve on 4-5 nonprofit boards in San Diego. Plus, he's somehow always impeccably dressed.

>does a leader need to be known by name? maybe some of the best leaders are "no-names." they lead without being in the spotlight.

That's exactly what I'm trying to get at Peter. Big names aren't necessarily leaders. Sometimes they're just big names with big talk. Rock stars have their purpose in the profession, but it's of no real consequence IMHO.

I've known and have worked for some incredibly inspiring design leaders who will never be recognized names. But once in a while, one of them will humbly raise their hands for AIGA duty or such, and volunteer some time in the spotlight. That's incredibly satisfying and inspiring to see. Eric Madsen from Mnpls. is one such person that comes to mind.

This is not so much a call for recognition or spotlight as it is a call to action for those unheard leaders. It's also affirmation that a person doesn't need to be well-known to have great impact and influence on the profession.

>I had a typography professor at SVA just last year named Weston Bingham who really pushed my class to consider the 'big picture' in design

As prof Bingham will probably tell you — your comment is probably one of the main reason why he teaches.

We've all had academic mentors. It's an impressionable stage in a student's life, and sort of the primary role of instructors to play Yodas.

Not to downplay the impact of teachers, but let's focus more on professional mentors and business leaders.

C'mon, surely there are more leaders out there. All of you who run your own firms — who taught and inspired you to finally start your own place? Who inspires you and keeps you going when the business or career gets rough?

On Dec.01.2004 at 03:02 AM
briar waterman’s comment is:

My vote would go for Christopher Simmons in San Fran. President of their AIGA, teaches at CCAC, updates the design calendar for local events, contributes to typofile and sometimes to this site. He is also a wonderful designer, working at Alterpop and now (I think) with MineSF. He is incredibly active in the design community, is very candid with his thoughts and praise.

In Seattle I have to say that I have been most inspired by Linda and Larry over at SVC. They run this local design school here in town and they work hard to bring in out of town designers, help with AIGA events, offer classes. It is not so much that they are a school, it is more that they do a lot to transfer knowledge from working designers to the greater community.

I guess, right now, I am inspired by those who help as conduits, people who dedicate their time to not just help themselves and their practice, but who take the extra step and contribute to the greater community and dialog.

On Dec.01.2004 at 04:30 AM
jo’s comment is:

As a student just getting into the field, I'm wondering about how leaders became leaders? Does responsibility just somehow make its way to you by default, or do you actively seek it out? Or, perhaps, is it more of a function of your passions and interests?

Tangent, I know, but I'm curious.

On Dec.01.2004 at 10:45 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>I'm wondering about how leaders became leaders?

That's a great question, Jo. I think most leaders have a mixture of both things you've characterized — a bit of ambition mixed with a whole lotta passion for the profession.

You can probably characterize the same thing about all leaders in general, not just those in design.

>Linda and Larry over at SVC/Seattle

They're two of my most favorite people in the world. They set a great example for the community to follow.

So...is academic involvement the ultimate sign of leadership in our profession?

On Dec.01.2004 at 01:29 PM
Armin’s comment is:

While it is nice to acknowledge those people who in a small way inspire or lead us (locally), I think to address Tan's question — and considering the profession as a whole — a leader must be "loud". Not rock-star-loud necessarily. Leading 20 students in a classroom is not exactly leading a whole profession. I know these are extremes, but if we are to talk about leadership that affects a whole profession, a dedicated teacher can only do so much.

Not knocking the teacher's efforts of course.

On Dec.01.2004 at 01:34 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Exactly. Thank you Armin.

'Course, there are lots of "loud" designers that also teach — but one preceeds the other.

This is interesting. So if readers can't name a teacher, can't name a rock-star designer...this makes them unable to pinpoint a leader otherwise.

Maybe this points to a lack of interconnection in our profession. We think we have leaders in our profession, when in fact, we only have idols.

On Dec.01.2004 at 01:50 PM
Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

Its interesting to see that a few people mention that they dont think "name-recognition" leaders are necessary. While I;m not sure about the definition of that term, I would say that designers who design are very important to me as leaders in the field.

There was mention of Steven Heller, and while I do enjoy his books and his active participation in the profession, I can't recall anything he himself has designed (maybe it just escaping me at the moment, I apologize if its my own ignorance). To me, thats only half of being a leader. Maybe its just me and my midwest Boy Scout's mottos, but I always thought of a leader as one that "leads by example."

I know plenty of wonderful leaders and organizers in local AIGA chapters, but I personally would never hire them to design for myself or a client I was associated with. To me, those are great business managers, and I think we all agree that having one of those at a design firm is a great help. But its not everything. I don't mean to knock them personally or professionally, but am just pointing out that I personally as a designer do not look at them as my leader.

There are obviously many kinds of leaders in our profession, and I think to overlook any of them would be a disservice to our industry. That includes the designers who just do amazing work and never speak about it or get involved. Sure, theyre not organizing, but they are providing that creative push that we all need to contiinue to step up the quality in our field.

If I may, one person that comes to mind as an all-encompassing design leader is Michael Beirut. I think his work is excellent, his commentary on design insightful, and his leadership during his AIGA president years commendable. And I think he could be considered one of those rock and roll loud designers, he certainly has the name recognition in the field at least.

On Dec.01.2004 at 02:18 PM
szkat’s comment is:

i see community leaders as having a willingness to share and designing for the love of design. expressing a love for the craft and a passion for its honesty is what makes a person stand out.

when i was a student, i emailed Rick Braithwaite of Sandstrom Design, saying "i'm about to graduate. i'm not going to ask you for a job. but i want something like Sandstrom. tell me about your company and how i can find something like it in chicago." i had a list of questions a mile long, and he emailed me back the SAME DAY, answering them one by one. every last question. and encouraged me to ask more.

Rick's the president of Sandstrom Design, which i didn't know at the time i emailed him. he has a company to run, among countless other things like the rest of us, but took the time to write me two emails that i still have saved. it's like the realization that yes there are deadlines, yes there are meetings, but there is still a living breathing community that needs all the nourishment you can give it. i think leadership is a natural thing, and stepping up to that nourishing role will elevate a person when that stepping up is backed by talent, vision, and passion — all of which were obvious to me within two emails.

On Dec.01.2004 at 02:30 PM
Steven’s comment is:

I second the acknowledgement of Kit Hinrichs and Steven Heller.

I would also put forth Michael Vanderbyl, on that old-school list. He has has a very long history of academic involvement as both teacher (one of mine, back in the day) and now as Dean of Design at CCA(C), as well as a long history of being very involved with the AIGA both locally and nationally. I also admire the longevity, quality, and diversity of his career. While not the "rock star" that he was in the 80's, he's still able to inspire a younger generation of designers. And with work in the SFMoMA's permanent Design collection, he inspires non-designers, as well.

I would also offer the names of Rudy Van der Lans and Rick Poynor, who I think have both contributed significantly to the thinking and understanding of our profession, while not necessarily being acknowledged as a "design firm." (Yes, Rudy and Zuzano definitely are designers, but in a non-traditional sense as they generate work themselves, rather than the normal, for-hire designer/client relationship.) I'm sure there are other leaders that could be included in this catagory, too.

On Dec.01.2004 at 02:33 PM
ps’s comment is:


i think the topic is great. i'm stuck in meetings so i can't contribute much today but here some:

i would look for people with

-vision... realizing where the profession should go

flexibility... understanding they work for a community, which ultimately will need compromise to move forward

available time to spare... this can be alot of work. even for very small organisations.

willingness to put their personal agenda aside... to often i see individuals use a board position to push their own interest and not necessarily those of the community.

open communicators... they need to be willing to share their thought process, their reasoning.

acceptance within the field... some people will polarize the masses to the extend where it creates divide and stagnation and nothing can get done...

On Dec.01.2004 at 02:36 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Outside of the US, Robert L. Peters and Matt Warburton from Canada are two names among many. Robert is the past president of Icograda while Matt is the past president of the GDC. Both have raised the profile of Canadian design in Canada and around the world. Aside from giving their time and energy, they've just done a lot of "stuff" without looking for attention or praise.

On Dec.01.2004 at 03:18 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, what about in-house leaders? It's an extreme, but you could consider Steve Jobs as one, or Tim Hale from Fossil, or John Lasseter from Pixar, etc. What about the Gap, Coca-cola, ILM, or Target?

Or what about, God forbid, the client side? Joe Isaak from Potlatch Papers (RIP, the company not Joe) was a great design leader from the client side.

On Dec.01.2004 at 04:30 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I’d tend to say that leaders in graphic design are those that influence the conversation. Some people who write about design are on this list (Steve Heller and Rudy vanderLans and Rick Poynor have been mentioned and are clearly good choices) as are the regular speakers (ranging from David Baker to Larry Keely to David Carson. Sorry. Did I use David’s name and “regular” in the same sentence?)

I don’t think publishing is a sure route to graphic design leadership. Rudy has changed the conversation with his publishing. Marty Neumier made a good stab at it. Most design publishers facilitate the conversation but don’t have a giant influence.

I don’t think anyone’s favorite teacher can make it on the list just for being a good teacher but some people have managed some combination of longevity, mass of students taught, and other influence to have really changed the conversation. Meredith Davis comes to mind, as does Katherine McCoy. I hesitate to extend the list because then I'd start worrying about who I’m leaving out (Lorraine Wild. . . did I forget Sheila deBretteville. . . am I stuck on thinking of women or on people I happen to know and/or am I showing my American provincialism? How about Wolfgang Weingart? Whew. I’m assuming we’re talking current leaders so Paul Rand, Lou Danziger, Armin Hoffman, and a host of others miss out.)

I only jokingly said “Speak Up authors” but I do think that Armin and Bryony have changed the conversation functionally. The whole Design Observer crew has too, but Armin’s contribution is unique in that he wasn’t an established voice in writing like the DOers but this little website of his has become tremendously influential on its own and for spawning various web efforts probably including DO and AIGA’s voice. (What’s up with the reverse-order conversation there?)

Although he has some competition from several people (including some of his partners), Michael Bierut is my vote for Mr. Trifecta. (Please don’t tell me that Pentagram is several miles northeast of Trifecta.) He’s one of the people who has shaped the AIGA (giving speeches from the balcony of the organization’s building even before escrow closed), has had an enviable design career (working for Massimo Vignelli and as a Pentagram partner), and has managed to be one of the few voices in graphic design writing that is smart but still manages to stay completely grounded. Maybe he gets beat in the swim but between the bike and running he makes up the time and then some. Sorry. Am I mixing my trimetaphors again? (And saying this might ruin his reputation as a designer but he’s also a nice guy.)

Clement Mok, Terry Swak, and some others have made valiant efforts to reshape the conversation toward redefinition and toward graphic design that’s about the people who don’t happen to be graphic designers. I hope soon that they will be easy choices for the list.

On Dec.01.2004 at 05:25 PM
Denise Gonzales Crisp’s comment is:

Lorraine Wild.

On Dec.01.2004 at 07:32 PM
Randy’s comment is:

Ellen Lupton

Design. Writing. Research.

Long before I knew what design was or that it was my passion, Ellen Lupton was doing the above-mentioned and more—with humility and humor to boot. She continues to be a voice in academia, the industry, and the public.

On Dec.01.2004 at 07:57 PM
Randy’s comment is:

Most of those that first come to mind have close relationships with AIGA

Steven Heller, Sam Shelton, Abbott Miller, Dana Arnett, William Drentel, Michael Beirut

On Dec.01.2004 at 08:05 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

A design leader should and is:





Visionary (even if not entirely clear on the final objective)

Good Communicator




A Believer

A few leaders (no explanation needed):

Michael Bierut

Tan Le

Rudy VanderLans

Zuzana Licko

Ellen Lupton

John Bielenberg

Martin Fox

Paula Scher

On Dec.02.2004 at 09:07 AM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Emily Oberman

Bennett Peji

Clement Mok

Noreen and Sean

Laurie Churchman

Leslie Smolan

Cheryl Heller

Cheryl Swanson

Pamela Parisi

Lisa Francella

Pamela DeCesare

Amanda Bach

Maira Kalman

Janet Froelich

Paola Antonelli

On Dec.02.2004 at 10:00 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

...on people I happen to know (Gunnar)

That's just it. For me. I need to really know somebody before I can throw in as a follower. (Does leader imply followers? (to where?)) Or leading in the sense that they are ahead of the pack? Racing. Or there are the leaders in my tackle box which connect the line to the lure... a groaner. I'm sorry.

I am so far out of the Bierutisphere that these names... though excellent, respected workers all... don't touch me. The conversation is good. Inspiration... yes! But is that leading? If so, then we are all the same. I guess these recognized names cited are leaders in the sense that they are in the front. Could we hear from some? How do you feel about being elected a leader?

I would say they must be givers. No takers. Organizers. Maestros.

I put forth my friend Stan Massey of Roman/Peshoff here in The Glass City. For all the reasons posted thus far.

On Dec.02.2004 at 10:40 AM
graham’s comment is:

why the need for "leaders"? concerning the initial impetus for this thread-the need for a group of people to work with an organisation-why wouldn't the group cover a range of talents, experiences and ambitions, from student to retired, technician to artist, management to newly employed: a diversity of voices, working together unencumbered by the preconceptions of ethos or process that surrounds the notion of 'leader'.

more generally-those that willingly take on (whether an acceptance of others opinion or self-proclaimed) the mantle of leader tend to be the very worst people at it ('leadership'). usually there's a good dash of bitterness and schadenfreude driving the will to (piddling) 'power' that manouevres itself into the position of 'leader'. you've got to want it to get it.

given the above-if there were any to be considered seriously as driving forces whose efforts were towards the deepening, broadening and greater understanding of what design might be, and be able to do, they would certainly be working internationally towards that effort. the only name here that gets close is paola antonelli. i'd hazard at brian eno, peter rea, gert dumbar, peter saville and our very own john warwicker as possibilities, but i'm pretty sure they'd run a mile at the word 'leader'.

On Dec.02.2004 at 10:58 AM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Bryony: you've written a great list of attributes

On Dec.02.2004 at 11:16 AM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

After thinking about this topic, I realize I only respect some dead guys as leaders...

Alphonse Mucha

Lucian Bernhard

Morris Fuller Benton

The Beggarstaffs

Herb Lubalin

Paul Rand

And my only quirky nod to a living creature is Leslie Cabarga for his prolific publications.

On Dec.02.2004 at 11:50 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

...on people I happen to know (Gunnar).

That's just it. For me. I need to really know somebody before I can throw in as a follower.

Can you recognize that the mentioned leaders so far have touched many, who have known them personally? They may not be your “personal leader” but they are leaders in the field, among those that surround them, and they have influenced their followers in sufficient ways that they have an importan repercussion/influence in the world of design(ers).

why the need for "leaders"?

Simple. It’s nature.

On Dec.02.2004 at 11:58 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> Armin’s contribution is unique in that he wasn’t an established voice in writing like the DOers but

"Wasn't an established voice" sounds so much better than "A nobody"! Thanks for the nod Gunnar. I just thank the stars for MovableType. At least for getting us started.

> I guess these recognized names cited are leaders in the sense that they are in the front.

I would then add "being in the front" as part of the requirements of being a leader. Leaders, big-time leaders, need to be big-names. Granted, in our profession, big-names are small-names in comparison to the Jobseses of the world. But you can't be a leader in any profession from the basement of your house.

On Dec.02.2004 at 12:19 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

But you can't be a leader in any profession from the basement of your house.

But you need to start somewhere.

On Dec.02.2004 at 12:29 PM
graham’s comment is:

bryony: why the need for "leaders"?

Simple. It’s nature.

hmmm . . . so are many things (incest, violence, the insignificance of the human race in terms of nature). perhaps i should have said-why the need for design leaders? your list, bryony, to me describes the basic starting points of being a designer-so are all designers leaders?

On Dec.02.2004 at 12:34 PM
marian’s comment is:

they would certainly be working internationally towards that effort. the only name here that gets close is paola antonelli.

Well, in that vein, I really have to second Michael Surtees on Robert L. Peters. I think in the case of Matt and Robert both, they did more than just sit on the board (of the GDC and ICOGRADA respectively), they really got out there into the—yes—world, and invested their personal time for the good of their profession.

And yeah, in the US, I think a similar active involvement in the AIGA is an important ingredient in being considered a leader. Whatever you may think of the AIGA, it is your conduit to the design community.

On Dec.02.2004 at 12:42 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>why the need for "leaders"?

I don't know if it’s a "need" — I think the notion of leadership is an inevitable given of our society and species.

Defining leadership is not a exercise in futility and characterizing it with bitterness and power is just a cynical way to look at the world, graham.

But if what you're saying is that rather than idolize people, designers should just shut up and do it — than I agree. But even by that act of suggesting action over inaction, you have in fact, shown some leadership through challenging.

This isn't about debasing yourself as a follower or praising false prophets. It's just a simple question — on what basis would you define some of the real leaders of our profession?

>A few leaders (no explanation needed)

I'm honored, but waaay undeserving to be on that list Bryony. Your list of attributes is spot-on, though.

>I think a similar active involvement in the AIGA is an important ingredient in being considered a leader.

I’m glad to see so many people giving recognition to AIGA (and GDC) involvement as a defining part of professional leadership. It speaks to the impact and efforts of the organization(s).

On Dec.02.2004 at 01:41 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Can you recognize that the mentioned leaders so far have touched many, who have known them personally?

Of course... didn't mean to imply otherwise. Fine, loving people I'm sure. Just thinkin' locally and yes personally.

I dare say I subscribe more to the definition of leader as teacher and center over leader as loud and in front. Not that the two definitions are exclusive.

Who can speak, truly, for an entire profession?

On Dec.02.2004 at 03:02 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

I freely confess that when it comes to design leaders my mind is covered in a slowly receding sea of ignorance. However, in the realm of type design the names Hoefler and Carter spring to mind. Would I be amiss to mention them?

On Dec.02.2004 at 03:53 PM
graham’s comment is:

the way the word 'cynical' is used in marketing-no, in the american language-yes, i'm extremely cynical. i doubt things. i'm unconvinced by slogans, buzzwords, newspeak and soundbites. i'm wary of 'simple questions' and the assumptions and consequences that underlie and follow from them. to me, to speak of design is to be by definition speaking of an international endeavour that takes many forms and embraces many approaches-that's one of my (many) assumptions that doesn't seem to be shared here. the idea of involvement in a design institution/organisation as being 'defining' of or even a 'conduit to' others working in the same field, to recognition or consideration as worthy of recognition is pretty much anathema to my experience in and of design. there are very very big differences (perhaps unreconcilable, leading to enmity) here between what are considered 'inevitable given(s)' by one person or group of people and what would be considered open to question by others. this is not a question of definition (nor of definition being futile)-it is a question of principle.

so-one defining characteristic of leadership for me would be a very healthy sense of cynicism-the cynicism of "fact and knowing and memory, of wit and everyday doubt" (thomas frank).

On Dec.02.2004 at 04:09 PM
Tan’s comment is:

So..graham, you find my "simple question" as irrelevant, you find no merits in any type of professional institution/organization/of credible influence, and you basically think this entire discussion of leadership as nothing more than marketing hype and bullshit. Correct?

Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

On Dec.02.2004 at 04:27 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

your list, bryony, to me describes the basic starting points of being a designer-so are all designers leaders?

You might see this is a list that could indeed apply to all designers, as well as all lawyers, teachers, missionaries, doctors, mathematicians, basically any profession known to man. A leader needs them all, not only as part of the “formula” but as an integral part of the whole. Once they have that, what defines a leader is what they do with it.

why the need for "leaders"?

Simple. It’s nature.

I don't know if it’s a "need" — I think the notion of leadership is an inevitable given of our society and species.

Look at the way both humans and animals behave (today and millions of years ago). There is always a leader in the pack, no matter if it’s wolves, geese, ants, sharks, humans or bees.

I'm honored, but waaay undeserving to be on that list Bryony. Your list of attributes is spot-on, though.

You are the least known on the list, but one that is a great example of an evolving leader. I decided to include you in the list, for what you do, and what I believe you are going to do.

On Dec.02.2004 at 04:29 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>You are the least known on the list

How did Armin put it?...that sounds so much better than "A nobody"!

You don't have to offer me a compliment twice. Thank you....*blushing, as head gets slightly larger*...

Sorry, can't play anymore. Gotta run off to client meetings to sling some more marketing buzzwords...

On Dec.02.2004 at 05:06 PM
graham’s comment is:

tan-you're absolutely right. that's precisely what i meant. well done.

thanks for listening and responding so openly and perceptively to all sides of the discussion.

On Dec.02.2004 at 05:12 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

In previous Speak Up discussions of subjects like "who inspires you" or "what's your favorite CD cover", I've made the comment that listing favorites is akin to comfort food.

This is another "comfort food" topic.

There are all kinds of designers and all kinds of clients. One doesn't fit all. My work in music packaging has some relation to Tan's milieu in corporate identity; but I doubt he has ever had a discussion about which hair stylist to hire — and I certainly have never used the word "deliverables" in a meeting. Each one's practice is unique to themselves.

To that end, the existence of design organizations address generalities: tax code, governmental lobbying, discussions about basic competency and the like. These are the basics; like food and water. Anything above and beyond that — at least in my 19 years as an on/off/mainly on member of the AIGA — generally falls under the categories of socialization, networking and peer recognition.

Do the 'leaders' of these organizations act as caretakers/pilots or as visionaries? Given the bureaucratic nature of organizations, I would think the former.

The act of design itself is ultimately a private one; the designer synthesizes the context and goal of the project with their own experience in their own consciousness. The results can be elaborated upon by clients or other members of the design team, but even these have their genesis in an individual's consciousness. So the definition of a leader then becomes determined by their effect on this personal act of designing. Therefore a design leader is one that expands the possibility of the field.

For example, to many designers Neville Brody's work suggested another way of looking at typography — not the shapes or the layout, but the possibility. During the late 80's/early 90's he was a leader. Tibor's work wasn't about shapes, color schemes or subject matter; but how one can approach the project. In expanding the definition of what a designer can offer, he was a leader. Steve Jobs' example of how design can transform a company makes him a leader.

Design is a knowledge-based activity, and to that end design leaders are those who change how we think... about type, about color, about clients, about ourselves...

If design is a personal act, then so is recognizing a leader. There will be a degree of overlap amongst individuals, but keep in mind that being a leader usually means there are followers. And not everyone's following all the names mentioned above — thus here we are, discussing our favorite comfort food.

I also suggest that part of graham's and my hesitancy about this topic is that such an activity devalues the currency of defining leadership. This year 22 people were named as AIGA medalists, while in the past there were only a couple per year. Out of the whole list, no more than 20 fit my definition of leadership; and several of those weren't even graphic designers.

If everyone's special, nobody's special. Or in the words of Diana Vreeland: "Elegance is refusal".

On Dec.02.2004 at 07:30 PM
Kris Angell’s comment is:

Well Said Mark

I want a design leader to push the boundaries of what's possible. It helps to know who they are (you can follow them easier that way), sadly most good design doesn't come with a name tag.

Outside our very own subculture design has very few stars. Within the NY Times the same 10 designers are seen over and over again. These are good stand-ins for others equally capable, many of those in the Times have been named above.

We should be asking ourselves where the others are. Some of you have mentioned the all stars from your home towns, the do-ers, the overachievers (odd to associate these terms with the artist archetype). Are those all stars known outside of the design community? Are they known for exceptional design?

How does celebrity help the little guys; does it raise the level of good design in the industry; and does it do more for

the celebs, the industry or Joe Citizen.

Good or bad our very nature defines how we select and applaud our leaders. It could also be the reason very few designers are known to the Mom and Pops out there.

On Dec.02.2004 at 11:09 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>Do the 'leaders' of these organizations act as caretakers/pilots or as visionaries? Given the bureaucratic nature of organizations, I would think the former.

I agree Mark. That's why I asked people to help define what leadership can or should be. I hadn't defined it for anyone, but simply put forth the topic for discussion.

I also agree that design is a very personal thing — but the paradox is that none of us ever truly work by ourselves. There are always clients, vendors, audiences, and peers involved somehow, someway in the process. A community. Speak Up is one such manifestation. So the fact that you're questioning the role of a supposed leader in our profession, and his or her value on an individual basis as well as a community one — is a very relevant reply.

>I also suggest that part of graham's and my hesitancy about this topic is that such an activity devalues the currency of defining leadership.

Yes, I suppose that in some ways, it could. But my original intention was to define real leaders, not just idols or celebs. Not comfort food. This isn't a feel-good, applaud your favorite designer kind of thread. It's not about medalist recognition either — it's about finding and discussing a varied list of people who contribute significantly to the profession. And why. Readers should understand what that means, and how that's different than picking names out of a design annual or magazine.

I'm sure that my perspective as a print and packaging designer is completely different than yours, an interactive designer's, or an environmental retail designer's, etc. That's great. I never asked for a concensus.

And it doesn't have to be as negative and pro-establishment as graham seems to think it is.

I still contend that it's a simple question and topic. I have my own curiosity and motive for asking, but that's irrelevant.

On Dec.03.2004 at 12:53 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

There have been a few graphic designers who have been leaders by the force of their design work. In the last twenty years or so, the face of graphic design has been changed by Woody Pirtle, April Greiman, Neville Brody, and David Carson. In each case you could name the people who led the leaders—those designers were Elvis to the R&B guys like Stan Richards, Wolfgang Weingart, etc.—but it was their graphic design work that changed the look of things. I don’t know who has done that in recent years. There are a few stars but is there anyone who has made a lot of people completely reassess the formal possibilities?

On Dec.03.2004 at 02:54 PM
Robin’s comment is:

I've struggled with this question too. If we truly believe that a leader is someone who can both inspire and mobilize the "masses," then they should be judged by their impact. Maybe it's because our profession is so young that we are just now seeing the real impact of some of those well-known designers mentioned in previous postings. Or maybe it's a question of size... most designers I know haven't built an empire the size of famed advertiser David Ogilvy, and size is one way to get the breadth needed for impact.

Our profession is rapidly changing, so strong leadership is as important now as it ever was. Personally, I'm looking for the same traits in a design leader as I would towards any leader. Do I connect with what they feel is important? Do they have a clear vision of where they want to go and why? Do they have a plan to get there and are they flexible enough to respond to new changes? Do they motivate others to get success?

On Dec.05.2004 at 10:56 PM