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Small Design Ephemera: The Endeavor

As Bryony and I settle UnderConsideration as a working day-to-day business in its official digs, we have been moving things around, rearranging this that and the other, and, inevitably, getting rid of stuff we don’t need — like my collection of 32 (and growing) empty tins of peppermint Altoids (verdict: it lives!). There is one pile of belongings that has survived this recurring cleansing process for more than eight years, and three major moves, despite my acknowledgment of its place in the Stuff We Don’t Need category: My Design Stuff.

A stack of dusty, bent, folded and otherwise imperfect pieces of design ephemera that range from paper promotions, to illustrator self-promos, to type specimens, to self-published thingies, to a myriad of booklets that I have handpicked from conference goodie bags, to completely aleatory pieces of printed communication. For the most part, I like all of them… For different reasons. Some have been given to me as gifts. Others are personal projects, done in limited runs and/or from savings spent. And a few have intrigued me for their content, even if I have not consulted them in, like, ever. Most are well designed and enjoyable to see and hold. For space considerations, I have organized and separated this collection in lumps of Small, Large and Extra Large and have them scattered throughout the house in available nooks and crannies. Over the weekend I had the urge — perhaps fueled by the fear that one of these days I might dump them in one of these mad rushes for order — to go through the Small section.

There is something heartwarming about a small piece of design ephemera. It feels precious in your hands, as you hold it and wield complete control over it. You can feel the spine, the cover, and the edges of the paper in a single motion. Small pieces of design can also be indicative of the financial restrictions under which it may have been created — a 5 inch x 7 inch saddle-stitched, one-color job carries the hopes of a small budget with big dreams. The use of typography and visual elements become crucial as every space counts… And, yes, this is more than enough rhapsodizing about ink on paper; let’s just say that I am sucker for these small vessels of message and design, whatever it may be in whichever form it may take. So

As I was going through these I was thinking of the stories these pieces had to tell and that some, revisited many years after they were created, could be fodder for interesting flashbacks — for example, to a time when more than two uncoated paper mills owned every uncoated paper on the market or when majestic dot-coms were veering the future of design with their print materials — and renewed consideration for what these type of design projects can achieve, both at the time of their creation as well as years later. After wondering all this, I decided to separate some of my favorite Small Design Ephemera into a new pile:

Design Ephemera Introduction, Stack

In the coming months I will document some of them, alone or in groups, and see what kind of thoughts and associations they trigger. I am guessing that sometimes it will be a simple design crit of the piece, or waxing nostalgic about what it meant to me the time I first viewed it, other times I might decide to interview the designer, and I might use certain pieces as springboards for spin-off topics. I am, by no reasonable measure, sure what I would achieve with any of this but as a framework for writing about design it seems as conducive as any other set of criteria. Look for posts that start with “Small Design Ephemera:” as part of this series, and you can start making bets now on how many of these you think I will follow through with. In the meantime, here are some yummy close-ups of stuff. Oh, and if there is anything, in this size class, that you have designed or think I would enjoy, feel free to send to my attention.

Design Ephemera Introduction, 01

Design Ephemera Introduction, 02

Design Ephemera Introduction, 03

Design Ephemera Introduction, 04

Design Ephemera Introduction, 05

Design Ephemera Introduction, 06

Design Ephemera Introduction, 07

Design Ephemera Introduction, 08

Design Ephemera Introduction, 09

Design Ephemera Introduction, 10

Design Ephemera Introduction, 11

Design Ephemera Introduction, 12

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Oct.24.2007 BY Armin
ralph’s comment is:

Throw away the pots, pans and dishes... but NOT the ephemera!

On Oct.24.2007 at 12:56 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Keep the goodies, Armin, or throw them away now that you'd photographed them. Either way, I see the benefits of incorporating, because this new job sure allows you a lot of free time---like documenting your belongings and cleaning up your house.

On Oct.24.2007 at 01:26 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

Ha! Glad I'm not alone.


On Oct.24.2007 at 01:54 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> because this new job sure allows you a lot of free time

I wish. Apparently, running a design firm takes a lot of time. Who knew?

On Oct.24.2007 at 02:30 PM
Michelle French’s comment is:

I have a stack with some of the same items—I got up to see what I had in that little muslin drawstring bag. I've divided it into the stuff I'm keeping and the stuff that the young designers who come to help me pack get to keep.

Oooo, Joe, don't ya just love that little chunky book (upper middle of your photo, stripes, with a soldier standing on top of it) that has all the PMS chips of Corporate America? And how many are all the same? I've actually used in in discussions with clients.

This stuff does, occasionally, come in handy.

On Oct.24.2007 at 02:36 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:


Good-eye! I'm Australian now. Haa! Baa!

Vegemite! ?!?!?! Anyone?

Land Down Under


On Oct.24.2007 at 03:25 PM
Zinni’s comment is:

I can't wait till you do the Rick Valecenti / 3st one... He is an alumnus of my school so I am a huge fan ;) I even have emotion as promotion signed !

On Oct.24.2007 at 08:49 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Is that a Cranbrook viewbook in that little bag? I love those things.

On Oct.25.2007 at 11:09 AM
frances’s comment is:

and I was just thinking about throwing out all of this stuff...but just couldn't get myself to do it!

On Oct.25.2007 at 01:51 PM
BWJ’s comment is:

Nice collection. Thanks for sharing it.

I just recently relocated from SF to Chicago and my moving van was broken into the day I was supposed to leave. Everything I own(ed) was stolen. And the thing that hurt the most was losing my box of design ephemera that I had collected over the years.

Of all the valuable things...that box was priceless and I can never rebuy any of it. The business cards I collected over the years, and the samples I picked up traveling through Europe...


I love the box set of Utopia books. I read Sagmeister's "Year Without Clients" many times.

On Oct.25.2007 at 07:18 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Jumping Jehosephat! Fourth image down has Emigre's NotCaslon..thanks, Vit....it's like spotting a snow leopard in the hills of design stuff...now I am content to die happy...well, at least to get drunk tonight....

On Oct.26.2007 at 12:36 PM
Joe M. ’s comment is:

Tell us--why, why, why the re-designed KFC dixie cup with remnants of Diet Coke and gravy? If anything, Landor's old design is a collectors item since it was only in production for a few years.

On Oct.26.2007 at 06:18 PM
Louhead’s comment is:

I have got to get my wife to read this. She doesn't understand why I wont part with all the manuals, books, magazines, business cards, flyers, posters, photos, etc. I have cluttering my home office.

On Oct.28.2007 at 04:13 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Is that a Cranbrook viewbook in that little bag? I love those things.

Hmmm, unfortunately no... But now I want one of those.

> Jumping Jehosephat! Fourth image down has Emigre's NotCaslon

Pesky, indeed. And it's by a fellow Emigre contributor, so your typeface is in good hands.

On Oct.28.2007 at 07:37 PM
szkat’s comment is:

my heart skipped a beat seeing

1. the UN book, the little grey bit of fun i kept with me for years, and even wrote the manufacturer for more copies

2. the design camp drawstring bag (i've been at AIGA MINN's design camp every year since 2001 except this one).

i've gotten rid of so many of these things, and it's a funny comfort to learn that you're not the only person who knows about these little facets of design-land :) thanks for sharing your stash

On Oct.28.2007 at 08:39 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

Joe Brother,

Love the gravy! (But not getting fat. If you know what I mean …)

And red suspenders, better than a black tie! Ha!!!


On Oct.28.2007 at 09:24 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Great! Just give me a hundred dollars and I'll sign it for ya, Vit...

Hey, any of you cheap design bastards need an illustrator? ...laughing.....

On Oct.29.2007 at 07:46 AM
alex’s comment is:

I'm pretty sure that all graphic designers do this. It's a part of who we are, which is obvious from all the candid comments left. Sometimes I get annoyed with myself for saving every little piece of paper that catches my eye, but maybe it's hard-wired into us for a reason. We are the collectors, the documentarians, and catalogers of all these nostalgic little nuggets. The question is will the ever be of use?

Armin I think you've dug up a more poignant topic than just design ephemera, but the saving addiction as a whole. That's what I think you should write about. What is it about the graphic designer's brain that won't let us part with these things? Because I for one, do it with things not related to design as well. Is it all to blame on being right-brained?

On Oct.29.2007 at 07:03 PM
Dave Burney’s comment is:

Ah yes! We are all a little O.C.D. aren't we? My wife hates my stash(es) of ephemera laying all over my office at home. And my space at work is cluttered as well, but I love to surround myself with good design. More fuel for the fire.

On the other hand, I agree with Alex's point. It seems we have this insatiable addiction to collecting and keeping this paraphernalia. I too seem to be unable to throw away things like computer cables, hard drives, all manner of geek stuff. And clothing tags - holy crap that drives my wife nuts. I'll keep the tags because I like the way they are put together, the structure of the tag, the weight and color or design used. Sometimes they lay around for months until my wife inevitably tosses them.

As far as documentarian, I think we are a bit of that as well - not formally - but in spirit. We tend to see the importance in the tiny details that are often overlooked. We want to preserve that. The common line of thought with print is that it just gets tossed in the trash - and most of it does. Perhaps that's why we strive to grab every little interesting bit. Of course, I always tell myself that it may come in handy later. Or that it will inspire me down the road. Who knows? I do think it makes us all better designers.

On Nov.06.2007 at 09:55 AM