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Eye on Design was founded in 2014 by Perrin Drumm. We are a not-for-profit venture published by AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest design membership organization in the United States. With more than 70 chapters and 20,000 members, AIGA works to enhance the value and deepen the impact of design across all disciplines, and on business, society, and our collective future.

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We love our members. Join as a Leader for $500/year, and receive a free subscription to Eye on Design magazine (including access to members-only videos and online content) plus deep discounts on the design products you’re currently paying full price for—all while supporting the world’s leading organization advocating for you and for designers around the world. EYE ON DESIGN


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FOUNDER AND EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

Perrin: Heya, it’s issue #01, and we’re making a big splash by going Invisible. So savvy, right? At least if no one notices us on the newsstand, we can say we planned it that way. Your beloved editors will talk more about why, out of all our brilliant ideas for a theme, we went with this one. But more importantly, why’d we go with a magazine at all when we can publish to our hearts’ content online (going long and strong at eyeondesign.aiga.org since 2014)? As the oldest and largest association for design, AIGA has a long history of print. But in the 1990s we sort of stopped the presses when funding for Steve Heller’s AIGA Journal dried up. Now the Eye on Design team has blundered its way into enough of a budget to publish a new kind of design magazine for a new era of design reader. Created as a companion to the daily stories we publish online, this tri-annual magazine format gives us the breathing room to dive deep into one specific theme, covered in a wide range of ways.

SENIOR EDITOR

Meg: Scattered as we are across countries and time zones, the first chance we got to talk face to face about this magazine was after slipping away from the 2017 AIGA Design Conference in October. Initially we wondered if Invisible was counter-intuitive for a magazine about design, a profession that makes systems, entities, and messages visible. But the more we discussed it, the more it revealed itself to be a perfect framework for thinking about some of the industry’s most important issues today—those of representation, identity, attribution, and security.


MANAGING EDITOR

Liz: That idea extends to our digital lives, where unseen lines of code power the way we experience the world, be it through communication tools, surveillance efforts, or the software we use to create beautiful designs. In this issue we peel back the layers, and look at code and data as creative media.

SENIOR EDITOR

Emily: And we wanted to hear from the unsung heroes of the industry—the ones who quietly keep it ticking over, but don’t find their names on flashy decks, portfolios, or conference schedules. We find out what they get up to, giving credit where credit’s due.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Maddy: But sometimes, we also realized, it’s better not to be seen at all. In a time of pervasive governmental and corporate spying, it’s becoming harder and harder to maintain our privacy, and remain unseen. So we’re celebrating the designers finding innovative solutions for keeping our data securely hidden.

DESIGNER

Tala: So here it is: In your hands you hold the polished results of months of editorial and design planning—from tentative flat plans to proofread mockups to an end design rendered brilliantly by our guest designer, Maziyar Pahlevan.


04

EDITORS’ LETTER

06

DESIGNER’S LETTER

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SIDEWALK TALK

14 GREETINGS FROM THE INVISIBLE BORDERLANDS Could antiquated spy techniques be the securest form of communication in the age of digital surveillance? BY MADELEINE MORLEY 32 BEHIND EVERY GREAT DESIGNER A set builder, studio chef, and masseur to font engineers step into the limelight BY EMILY GOSLING 44 DATA DESIGN IN 3 ACTS Three designers on how to find, access, and evaluate data (and your own biases) BY MARGARET ANDERSEN 52 ON SEEING AND BEING SEEN As one designer goes blind, another emerges from under his shadow BY MEG MILLER 64

COMIC BY ANTOINE COSSÉ

72 BAUHAUS MEETS BINARY How an MIT research group turned computer code into a modern design medium BY LIZ STINSON 84 PORTFOLIO The history of digital art and design informs the work of artists today who view the computer as a material, tool, and collaborator BY MARGARET RHODES


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CODE BREAK!

90 HOW NOT TO BE SEEN A fucking didactic educational .PDF file (an homage to Hito Steyerl) BY TALA SAFIÉ 96

RESURRECT THE REJECTS

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DESIGN HISTORY ISN’T REPEATING ITSELF — SO WHY IS THE WAY WE TEACH IT?

116 A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXANDRA BELL 120 GETTING RID OF THE GRID Needed then deleted, even the strictest design devotees want to keep their system-building weapon a secret BY LUC BENYON 128

PHOTOS BY NATE LEWIS

136 DESIGNING A MORE PERFECT UNION The best road for underrepresented workers to march down might be the one less traveled WORDS BY PERRIN DRUMM ILLUSTRATIONS BY ERIK CARTER 150

LOVE LETTER

156

DELAYED GRATIFICATION

Table of Contents


SIDEWALK TAL K SIDEWALK TA LK SIDEWALK T ALK SIDEWALK TALK SIDEWAL K TALK SIDEWA LK TALK SIDEW ALK TALK SIDE WALK TALK SID EWALK TALK SI DEWALK TALK S IDEWALK TALK SIDEWALK TAL K SIDEWALK TA LK SIDEWALK T ALK SIDEWALK TALK SIDEWAL K TALK SIDEWA LK TALK SIDEW ALK TALK SIDE

The secret language of cities is written in neon


COURTESY CHELSEA AVERY

Chelsea Avery was biking to work early one morning in Chicago when she noticed the city’s utility locators, armed with spray paint, marking up the dark asphalt with colorful symbols. She’d seen the results of their work before, splayed out on sidewalks, lining sewer grates, dividing up intersections—the coded language of a city, decipherable only to those who maintain it. The symbols provide instructions to utility workers excavating the urban landscape, warning of the pipes and infrastructure hidden underneath. “I take photos of the ones I find most bizarre or charming: red arrows pointing out in all different directions from a manhole, green sewer markings, the rare deep purple symbols indicating reclaimed water or irrigation, neon pink for survey, and blue for potable water,” says Avery, a photographer who also works for the American Institute of Architects. Most common are markings that denote the “buffer” zone on either side of an underground pipe so that diggers can locate it. Though information about the color-coded utility key can be found in various places online, there’s no centralized resource for the layperson—so

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Avery has been interviewing utility locators, diggers, and surveyors for a guidebook that translates the urban hieroglyphs for the people who walk over them every day. An ongoing project from Marina Willer also draws people’s attention to a city’s underground infrastructure, through an exploration of its gatekeeper: the manhole cover. With her project Overlooked the graphic designer and Pentagram partner makes large, striking prints out of the rubbings of street covers all over London. Marked by flowering or geometric patterns, as well as the name of the foundry that cast them, the iron covers belie their industrial origins with ornate Victorian patterns. Willer chose to emphasize this paradox by rendering her prints in bold colors—fluorescent pinks, oranges, and reds—making the urban history cast onto London’s manhole coverings impossible to ignore.

COURTESY MARINA WILLER/PENTAGRAM

EYE ON DESIGN


And in New York, the glowing red and green orbs at the tops of the subway stairs speak volumes, even if they don’t always make sense. In the 1980s, transit officials started a color-coded system to help prevent muggings: a green lamp meant the ticket booth was always open, yellow for a part-time attendant, and red for no entrance. But about a decade later the yellow lamps were nixed in favor of simplification, and in 1994 the introduction of MetroCards allowed turnstiles in the red-lamped station exits to become entrances as well. It no longer mattered as much if there was an attendant on duty. To further complicate things, after complaints that the colored lights didn’t give off enough actual light, the city responded by installing lamps that are only half-colored, with a white-light bottom. Loud, neon, glowing—cities are full of nonverbal communication. You just have to speak the language.

PHOTO BY TALA SAFIÉ

Sidewalk Talk

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GREETINGS FROM THE INVISIBLE BORDERLANDS

BY MADELEINE MORLEY

Could antiquated spy techniques be the securest form of communication in the age of digital surveillance?


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THE KANDINSKY COLLECTIVE, AKSIOMA, LJUBLJANA, 2017. PHOTO: JURE GOŠIČ


There is a hidden message in this article. Read on for the code; the cleverest of you might just be able to uncover it. These days, securing and breaching is the territory of cyber security engineers, data-savvy cryptologists, and anonymous hacktivists. Secret messages written in invisible ink and coordinates snuck into crossword puzzles belong to the wrinkled pages of espionage novels, just as dusty and the stuff-of-stories as a magnifying glass-wielding detective in a trench coat. The CIA, at least, deems these techniques to be obsolete: In 2013, it declassified WWI recipes for invisible ink and other covert weaponry, apparently deciding it had more complex crypto-codes to crack. Our story begins in 2015, far away from the impenetrable CIA headquarters, in a small, open café in Rotterdam. It’s morning, and graphic designer Amy Suo Wu sits and scrolls attentively through a newspaper article detailing those innocuous, declassified recipes. The designer, activist, and visual communications teacher at the Willem de Kooning Academy is committed to reclaiming the overlooked and near forgotten, discovering potential in technologies deemed out-of-date. She sees them as forms of resistance to the exponential rate of technological change and relentless cycle of capitalist production, always demanding new throwaway things to replace old throwaway things. In 2006, the Netherlands’ rich history of graphic design drew her to the city of Rotterdam from Sydney, Australia, where she emigrated to from the small town of Shantou in China with her artist parents at the age of six. In the neighborhood café, Wu sits with a pencil in her hand and takes notes on the obsolete form of communication. Perhaps she writes, “Invisible ink from bodily fluids like blood, saliva, sweat, and urine are developed by heat. Prisoners of war used these organic inks to communicate, often writing about their conditions in captivity. Possession of ingredients is not proof of guilt.”—and wonders if such obsolete ink might be used productively today.

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Greetings from the Invisible Borderlands

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EYE ON DESIGN


In a time when crypto-makers and crypto-breakers are playing an unending game of tag, finding DIY ways to protect your information feels near impossible, unless you personally have a cryptologist’s technical expertise. The big brother of today doesn’t so much want to watch you as sell you; the fact that companies mine our social lives for valuable information has become so commonplace as to be largely ignored. And since most platforms are free, giving away personal information has at times felt like a small price to pay in return for communicating instantly across the globe. The wool’s been pulled over our eyes, though, as the daily activities of hundreds of millions of people has become a form of value production that’s not reciprocated with wages. Disconnecting doesn’t feel like an option, since it means rejecting your networked community and the quickness we’ve become accustomed to. Partial disconnection could be a means to circumvent surveillance— at least for a moment. That’s what draws Wu to half-forgotten, analog forms of communication like invisible ink; she sees in them an accessible way to resist always-on culture, while still maintaining the conversations and community that we crave. She’s conducted years of research into the field of analog steganography—the art of hiding a message within a seemingly ordinary one, and the extraction of its secrets—as a means to develop secure and accessible communication methods in a time of pervasive corporate and governmental spying. Could methods like invisible ink actually be one of the few secure forms of communication in the age of digital surveillance? “Looking at the invisible ink recipes, I wondered whether resorting to paper and ink was a smart option,” says Wu as we speak over the distorted buzz of Google Hangouts, four years after her initial breakthrough reading the newspaper in the Rotterdam café. Not only could notes written in invisible ink—dipped in nitrate, soda, and starch as soldiers’ handkerchiefs once were—communicate in a literally invisible way, but their very categorization as “obsolete” designates them as harmless. No one thinks to test for invisible ink anymore— and we all know that the best hiding places are the least expected ones.

Greetings from the Invisible Borderlands

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SEEING WHAT’S BEEN THERE ALL ALONG Ovid’s advice to young women in first century Rome who were watched closely by their parents: “A letter too is safe and escapes the eye, when written in new milk / Touch it with coal-dust, and you will read.” The classical poet recommends hiding these love notes between the sole of your foot and the heel of your shoe. After the Pearl Harbor attack during WWII, U.S. intelligence formed a counter-steganography censorship organization dedicated to destroying suspicious material. Suspect items banned or destroyed when in the hands of the postal service included: crossword puzzles, chess games, student grades, stamps with numbers on them, and children’s handscrawled Christmas lists. The numbers might designate a key in an “nth letter code.” “Authority cannot control what they cannot see,” writes Wu in her publication The Tactics and Poetics of Invisibility: A toolkit of analogue steganography, due to be published in 2018. In it, she details recipes and methodologies for circumventing digital surveillance, dreaming up ways to combine disregarded antiquated techniques with digital platforms to form useful, intuitive hybrids. After spending time presenting at CryptoParty gatherings in Rotterdam in 2015—a community event that teaches the basics of internet privacy to anyone interested—Wu is all too aware of how encryption software asks too much of people with average computer skills, which is why she’s turned to analog and digital mixes. Her text, written just as much for the graphic designer as the everyperson, follows in the footsteps of centuries of manuals, dictionaries, and cookbooks recounting homespun recipes for secret communication that anyone could follow. Wu herself cites the 1558 guide Natural Magick by Italian scholar Giambattista della Porta as an important resource. The book includes useful chapters such as “How you may write in an egg,” and recipes so that “letters may appear upon crystal by strewing on of fine dust.” There are also grisly steps informing one how to “shut up letters in living creatures.”

EYE ON DESIGN


Greetings from the Invisible Borderlands

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“You could use anything to create a grille,” says Wu during our Google Hangout. “A piece of paper; a scrap of plastic; a cereal box; a sheet of uncooked lasagna that you later cook and eat.” Perhaps you could even use a page in a magazine…

Reading Wu’s findings, and discovering that I can mix invisible ink with items in my own pantry, I stir lemon juice and water together in a bowl, and with the thin end of a Q-tip, write a missive to my partner on a stickynote and put it on the fridge. Only by holding it to a hot bulb will its message be developed and revealed: “Oh no, we’re out of lemons.” As I wash the lemon pulp from my hands, I wonder how practical Wu’s solutions are in our current era of surveillance. Are analog forms like invisible ink a nostalgic kind of information obfuscation, especially when few letters are still written by hand on paper? Or are these recipes prompts, a method that Wu uses to teach others about the importance of privacy? I turn to the chapters in the toolkit where Wu explores how analog methods might be updated and combined with other kinds of media. First she explains that the fundamental principle of steganography, analog or digital, is a combination of three moments: think of a door, a key, and the reveal when the door opens. There’s what’s called the “cover object,” which is innocently out in the open for anyone to see, as well as the not-so-innocent key, or the code embedding a message into the cover object. It might be a password, or a place, or a series of numbers, or a piece of cardboard dotted with holes. To reveal the secret message, you’ll need the cover object and the all-important key: When combined, you can see what’s been there all along. The techniques that Wu revives mostly stem from her own designled experiments and media art projects; for example, she’s experimented with filling a printer’s ink cartridges with invisible ink, an interesting attempt at entering steganographic inks into the realm of reproduction. She publishes her research so that others can grow upon and add to her ideas, finding new contexts and functions for recipes old and new. The toolkit is a manual: just as useful to the censored artist as it is to the community activist or a pair of star-crossed lovers whose parents have access to their social media accounts.

EYE ON DESIGN


For anyone needing to communicate in a way that’s undetectable, Wu recommends using a twenty-first century version of the Cardan grille. First developed by the French polymath Girolamo Cardano in 1550, the grille is a method of communicating secrets using a framework made of cardboard with holes cut into it. How the grille works is perhaps best explained with an anecdote: One morning in 2016, all of Wu’s closest friends and collaborators woke up to find a strange email in their inbox. “Greetings from the invisible borderlands,” the subject heading enigmatically read. Wu sent a postcard in the mail to each of the interested email recipients, a bright orange and blue greeting card that was in fact the grille (a.k.a the key). Instructions were detailed in Wu’s email: “1. find and cut out 5 blue blocks. 2. resize your browser to the size of the postcard. 3. visit the url provided on the postcard. 4. place the postcard over the browser and the message should appear.” Those who managed to get there—finding themselves on Google Maps street view overlooking a neon sign in a nighttime New York City—finished the sentence and emailed its secret contents back to Wu. The bright colors of the postcard chimed with the sign’s own lights, a little hint that you were close to the reveal. “You could use anything to create a grille,” says Wu during our Google chat. “A piece of paper, a scrap of plastic, a cereal box, a sheet of uncooked lasagna that you later cook and eat.” Perhaps you could even use a page in a magazine…. “By using two separate communication channels, the Postal Service and the internet, the work maneuvers within the ‘invisible borderlands’— the uncharted cracks between online and offline communication Greetings from the Invisible Borderlands

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infrastructures,” says Wu. It’s here, wedged between the on and off, between the everywhere and the nowhere, that we can speak most freely and—for the first time in a long time—we can speak in silence.

READING BETWEEN THE LINES Nü shu translates to “woman’s writing” from Chinese. Nüshu is a writing system created and used exclusively by women in a remote part of China. Traditional, patriarchal Chinese culture forbade girls formal education, so Nüshu was developed in secrecy over hundreds of years in the Jiangyong county of Hunan Province. Some of its characters are taken from Chinese, though most are invented, rendered in a more cursive, thinner form than the more square-shaped Chinese characters. Nüshu is read right to left, not top to bottom. During the summer of 2017, Wu was hanging blankets on washing lines in Beijing’s hutongs, residential alleyways lined with siheyuans, the traditional courtyard residences. “Maybe it’s because of my design education, but I always see blank areas in a city as potential communication vehicles,” she says. “I’m always considering how I might use something as a placard, a poster, a billboard.” She’d been invited to Beijing for an artist-in-residency program at a gallery called I: project space, where she spent three months developing “The New Nüshu.” This meant publishing zines explaining the history of Nüshu and running collaborative workshops inventing new writing systems, as well as tracing the evolution of Chinese characters to their pictorial roots. Wu also hung washing during her time in Beijing. Lots and lots of it. “Within the hutongs, blankets can be read as a transgressional object migrating between the public and private sphere,” writes Wu in one of the many zines published during her stay. “They’re also a mundane household item that moves inside and outside of the confines of the house without raising any alarm bells. In this way, the blanket is a perfect cover, literally speaking, but also as an unsuspecting agent that can smuggle and ‘air out’ private information into the public.”

EYE ON DESIGN


After reading stories about the “slave quilt code”—with which African American slaves may have navigated the Underground Railroad in the mid-1800s by following directions woven into blankets hanging from windows—Wu saw potential to interpret the tactic as a covert publishing platform. She designed and printed blankets detailing her own research at I: project space, and strung them innocuously across neighborhood lines. And as washing and quilting is traditionally women’s work, Wu imagined a scenario where a decorative, unassuming quilt blowing in the wind and “airing out the dirt” might be used by women talk to one another in the community—invisibly, but for everyone to see. This idea is one that Wu strung out during her time as resident in Beijing, most provocatively and effectively in a self-styled “walking zine” called Thunderclap. This steganographic design utilizes unsuspicious fashion accessories to distribute the anarchist writings of a largely forgotten Chinese feminist to passers-by on busy streets. He-Yin Zhen (or He “Thunderclap”) was deemed radical and dangerous when she published during the early 1900s—the last decade of the Qing dynasty— and her texts were gradually erased from historical records. By printing slogans from Zhen’s forgotten texts in their English translation onto fashion accessories, like funky patches you’d find in a dollar bin and billowing black and white ribbons, Wu created yet another Trojan Horse, another migrating, guileless decoration deemed just as frivolous and harmless as the patterns on a humble quilt.

“THUNDERCLAP,” 2017. PHOTO: AMY SU WU

Greetings from the Invisible Borderlands

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And what did the final message say? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to crack the code on p.18

“A lot of people visiting Beijing notice that high-street clothing is riddled with English text, often in bold Helvetica or Arial reminiscent of a brand like Supreme,” says Wu. With this in mind, she designed her fashionable patches and ribbons. Underneath English translations of Zhen essay titles, she included a QR code that would take the interested party to the entire Chinese version of the text—uploaded to a private, European server developed by her former professor at the Willem de Kooning Academy to bypass Chinese censors. Other Helvetica tees camouflage the English text when worn out in the city, and Wu explains that the QR code is also ubiquitous in China, unlike in the West. “Homeless people don’t write on signs, but instead hold up QR codes so that you can pay straight into their bank accounts,” she explains. According to Wu, the QR code “has become a ‘habitualized’ mode of information access, and as a result its pervasive visual presence inadvertently provides an inconspicuous cover.” Wu tells me one last story from during her time in China, explaining how a queer, feminist arts collective called Q-Space wanted to run a lesbian sex–position live-drawing event, but no gallery would host the exhibition out of fear of the censors. “I came up with a solution,” she says. “Artists would use invisible ink to create the images, and then we’d give all the gallery-goers the key to viewing them. The drawings wouldn’t even need to stay in the gallery that way: We could hang them everywhere, even on the streets.” With her covert hacks, Wu’s not invested in communicating to everyone, just to the few who cannot speak freely. It’s visual communication for the underdog.

EYE ON DESIGN


Greetings from the Invisible Borderlands

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THE KANDINSKY COLLECTIVE, AKSIOMA, LJUBLJANA, 2017. PHOTO: JANEZ JANÅ A


A MESSAGE FROM TOMORROW Militant jihadists have been reported to run pornographic websites as a cover for hidden communication, with secret messages woven into porn images, almost like Morse code. Rumor has it that during WWII, the artist Wassily Kandinsky was recruited by British Intelligence Services to smuggle secret communication— in the same manner as flag signs—by encoding them into his abstract, symbolic artworks. Wu kneels on a checkerboard floor, wearing a brightly colored, tailored jacket of yellow, orange, and blue—almost like a human Rubik’s cube. She wields a hairdryer in one hand, and has a bottle of some kind of liquid in the other. It’s 2017 and she’s at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Ljubljana, Slovenia at her first solo exhibition, though the sign on the wall says it’s 2018. It also says that the show is put on by the world famous Kandinsky Collective—though no one in the room has ever heard of them. This is where it all culminates. The Kandinsky Collective is a piece of speculative fiction written and designed by Wu; it draws together all the threads of her research into analog steganography, privacy, surveillance, and the instrumentalization of art and graphic design in activism. Set in the near future when privacy has become a crime, Wu’s story is that this exhibition is, in fact, a staged one: Activists posing as a contemporary art collective are smuggling their secret messages into works and circulating them using the art market. What’s displayed on the wall is actually an underground communication channel, hidden in plain sight, and the audience has got to decode it. The people invited here discover grilles, hairdryers, and chemicals to activate invisible inks, along with other instructions. Spraying at the show’s introduction text, its true message appears in browning handscrawled letters, informing all that a widespread resistance has arisen and this is a part of it. As audience members warm up artwork tags, codes appear, explaining that the abstract symbols hanging on a mobile

EYE ON DESIGN


actually designate letters, and that work that repeats the word “miracle” across it actually says something else completely. One secret word is encoded into each of the six “artworks” on the wall. Read together, they spell out one important sentence. “It was wild,” Wu recalls. “When the real purpose was revealed, the atmosphere completely changed.” Wu is not the detective in the trench coat, nor the cryptologist running in an endless hamster wheel, trying to keep up with new software and technologies produced at ever-greater rates in the name of innovation. She’s a different kind of hybrid: a patchwork of artist, storybook spy, media researcher, activist, hacktivist, and classic graphic designer. In “championing the obsolete,” Wu’s experiments teach people about security, access, and privacy, past and present, allowing for cyber security issues to become understandable, accessible, and even less frightening, especially for those who are most marginalized and without much of a voice. Perhaps what is most interesting and pertinent about Wu, though, is how she turns the themes of privacy away from the knotty, difficult, and alienating, into something strangely enjoyable—a puzzle, a game of escape the room. As new-media theorist Florian Cramer notes in an essay on The Kandinsky Collective: “Fun with steganography bears genuine political potential because it could be a working counternarrative to the way corporate apps and hardware gadgets—from Facebook’s social networks to Google’s Gmail and the Android smartphone operating system—make their users trade in privacy for enjoyable user experiences.” Wu appreciates the importance, politically and personally, of working things out and passing on secrets, so that some things can be kept a mystery.

Greetings from the Invisible Borderlands

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Q: If we’d been communicating in secret messages during our Google Hangout for the interview, what would have been the best way to do so? A: Generally speaking we could use code words or an invented language that we’ve already developed and established prior to our Google chat. This language, of course, can be a colorful combination of jargon, emoticons, netspeak, links to music, articles, etc. Remixing these ingredients can generate an abundance of obscured ways to send and receive messages depending on the conditions and specificities of each scenario. For example: Slang, underground terminology, or an innocent conversation that conveys special meaning because of facts known only to the speakers is considered “jargon code,” such as the one used by Syrian citizens to mask political content to evade surveillance and censorship. In her 2013 paper “Syria’s Arab Spring: Language Enrichment in the Midst of Revolution,” Nassima Neggaz, a doctoral student in Islamic studies at Georgetown University, shows how Syrians have developed and used codes over the past four decades to speak about taboo subjects under Assad’s oppressive dictatorship. These codes are shared within tight-knit groups of trusted people— relatives, close friends—and used behind closed doors, out of fear of neighborhood informers. Expressions such as “It is raining,” or “We are having a party,” might be used to indicate that a demonstration is going on. Gunfire from Syrian forces is described as “heavy rain.” If a person is “coming out of the hospital,” he or she is emerging from hiding. “Coordination” is the blanket term for revolutionary groups. Similarly, an argot is a secret language used to obscure language to prevent outsiders from understanding. According to Anna Tee, (author and artist, currently a Ph.D. candidate researching the proverbial

closet), since at least the sixteenth century, LGBTQ communities have created their own camouflaged languages, falling under the wider category of “lavender linguistics.” She writes, “The reasoning behind these creations is constant and common: the production of safer spaces of communication and contact between members of marginalized minoritarian groups who have traditionally been persecuted or faced legal punishment, or the threat of medical correction.” For example, Kaliarda is a Greek homosexual slang. In his book Kaliarda: An Etymological Dictionary of Greek Homosexual Slang, published in Athens in 1971, researcher Elias Petropoulos estimates that Kaliarda has about 5,000 words, 3,000 of which he included in his book. In the same vein, Polari was spoken by gay men and actors in England before 1967, when homosexuality was illegal. Social steganography is a term popularized in a 2010 article by Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd, which describes the coded language teens use online to prevent their parents from spying on them. She cited an example of a young girl posting lyrics to Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” to keep her mother from knowing she broke up with her boyfriend and getting overly involved. In the Monty Python movie Life of Brian, people were about to be killed when they sang the song, and the girl’s friends who knew this reference contacted her independently.

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Greetings from the Invisible Borderlands

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BEHIND EVERY GREAT DESIGNE R BEHIND EVERY GREAT DESIGN ER BEHIND EVERY GREAT DESIG NER BEHIND EVERY GREAT DESI GNER BEHIND EVERY GREAT DES IGNER BEHIND EVERY GREAT DE SIGNER BEHIND EVERY GREAT D ESIGNER BEHIND EVERY GREAT DESIGNER BEHIND EVERY GREA T DESIGNER BEHIND EVERY GRE AT DESIGNER BEHIND EVERY GR EAT DESIGNER BEHIND EVERY G REAT DESIGNER BEHIND EVERY GREAT DESIGNER BEHIND EVER Y GREAT DESIGNER BEHIND EVE RY GREAT DESIGNER BEHIND EV ERY GREAT DESIGNER BEHIND E VERY GREAT DESIGNER BEHIND EVERY GREAT DESIGNER BEHIN

BY EMILY GOSLING

A set builder, studio chef, and masseur to font engineers step into the limelight


Every day, across the world’s design agencies, the big wheels of lofty design-thought keep a-turnin’; cogs oiled apparently by little more than speedy Wi-Fi, a shit ton of Post-it notes, witty/earnest Slack chats, and an Adobe CC subscription. But what really runs the design industry? It isn’t “life hacks,” or Bulletproof coffee, or the nootropics that tech blogs would have us believe Silicon Valley bros are popping like breath mints, or even nice shiny Macs. Like stagehands, dressed in black, discreetly dashing around behind the curtain to change the set, the people we don’t see are the ones who make sure the big-name, blog post–writing, conference-gracing design folk get through the day. The New Yorker’s creative director, Nicholas Blechman, recently spoke about the publication’s long-serving and indispensable mailroom guy, Bruce; how his work (and, often, design opinions) is a quiet yet invaluable tour de force. It got us thinking: Let’s bring these people out from the shadows, the mailrooms, the workshops. Sadly, we couldn’t chat with Bruce—“He is more comfortable existing invisibly, behind the scenes,” Blechman said. But we did track down some of the other delightful design industry cogs, in the shapes of a masseur, a set designer and builder, and a famed Pentagram chef. So, this one’s for you, mail-folk, HR dwellers, best boys, recycling sorters, personal trainers. This is your time in the sun—go ahead and bask. We asked three designers to nominate a behind-the-scenes person they couldn’t do without. Then we sent them a Fujifilm disposable 35mm camera with a flash, along with some very loose photo-taking instructions, and asked them to document their person and their person’s work station and mail back the film. Here’s what we received.

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ADI GOODRICH, COFOUNDER AT SING-SING It’s so important to mention the set builders and everyone else who works on a project, and not many people actually talk about them. For a long time Dustin only worked with me, then for the last year or so he’s worked with other people. He’s my main guy. Sometimes I have to work with other people now that he’s getting work with other creatives, to work with other people now that he’s getting work with other creatives, but it’s a real bummer as we do have a language that no one else understands. He knows instinctively how I want things to be built, and things like the distance I want people from me when we’re working. We’re both both very veryChicago. Chicago:There’s there’saaspecific specifickind kind person—it’s a really ofof person—a really straightstraightforward a no-bullshit person. havereally, to work really, forward person, person, a no-bullshit person. We have We to work really fast. really I have to come creatively come up with sets over and hand I havefast. to creatively up with these setsthese and hand drawings over drawings that arethat halfway only sense to Dustin. that are halfway done only done makethat sense tomake Dustin. Working like that, Working like to that, have to be myHe’s breed of human. He’s a little wild people have be people my breed of human. a little wild sometimes, but sometimes, but you have to be. you have to be. When I first started working with Dustin, I was only doing set design, and now I work with Sean, my partner, and we do photography and set design. Dustin’s gone through thatthat process of career change with us.us. set design. Dustin’s gone through process of career change with I’m always always super superanxious, anxious,but butDustin’s Dustin’salways alwaysjust justlike like“Don’t ‘don’tworry.” worry.’ I’m He never seems seems to to get get stressed. stressed.He Healways alwaysknows knowswe’re we’regoing goingtotobe beable able toitpull off, got he’sitgot it figured I don’t how he does to pull off;ithe’s figured out. Iout. don’t knowknow how he does it. It’sit. It’s of like a dad where gonna of you. ‘Don’t kindkind of like a dad vibevibe where he’she’s gonna taketake carecare of you. “Don’t worry worry it,’got he’s about about it,” he’s it.got it.

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DUSTIN RUEGGER, ART DIRECTOR, PRODUCTION DESIGNER, AND SET BUILDER I’ve been working with Adi of Sing-Sing for four years or so here in L.A.; before that I was making fine art projects here and there and doing sign painting. Adi hooked me up with a gig and it worked out really well— I quit my job within a month of working with her. Adi respects me and trusts that I know whether something’s physically possible or not. With a lot of projects there’s a huge array of materials and repurposing of things, so I have to be creative about how we go about doing things, and I like that challenge. I’m kind of a set builder, but the sets we do are different. They don’t function as reality; I’m not building the interior of a kitchen or something, I’m making a weird environment that doesn’t have a right or wrong, so Adi’s open to feeling that out throughout the project. All the stuff we do is really graphic and fun to play in and fun to be in. It’s work, for sure, but it leaves everybody with a good taste in their mouth. We try not to do much stuff in post; we’re still trying to deal with the tangible world. That’s the sort of thing I want to do: figure out problems with my hands. I need to do physical things in my work, and the tactile quality is important to me. As for being invisible, there’s definitely an ego thing you have to think about for sure. I come from a fine art background where I am the creator, but for 10 years I was doing sign work for big corporations. I’d spend two weeks on a thing that would be slapped on billboards for Behind Every Great Designer

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people like Walgreens, so it’s cool to be able to point at things like that when you’re going along the highway and say “I made that.” Now it’s more about a person to person exchange. Working with Adi, it’s my job to take people’s cartoons and make them in the real world. That’s where I want to be, and that’s kinda cool whether or not my name is on it, and hopefully I get compensated when I need to be. I don’t work for free; my paycheck is usually pretty good. It’s strange, the thing I think about more than being invisible is when people get it wrong about what I actually do. People say I’m just a builder dude, but if I were just a builder dude that would mean I can’t communicate between a designer and a person who is just a builder dude: I have to be able to do a little bit of all those things. I’m happy to be part of it and invisible simply because if I was to make something solely mine it would be so much weirder. With the sort of projects we take on, it takes a village to do the thing. It’s important to rely on each other for our strengths and recognize our weaknesses. It’s about being able to communicate.

EYE ON DESIGN


PHOTOS TAKEN BY ADI GOODRICH, DUSTIN RUEGGER, AND SOMETIMES SEAN PECKNOLD, INSIDE AND OUTSIDE A SET-IN-PROGRESS IN L.A.

Behind Every Great Designer

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MARIANNA PASZKOWSKA, FONT ENGINEER AT FONTSHOP BY MONOTYPE I’ve been at Monotype for just over a year, so I’m still quite a fresh addition to the team, but I’ve been visiting Thomas, our masseur, since the beginning. When I joined the company, and heard there was the possibility of getting a massage, I got excited that a healthy and balanced lifestyle is part of the working culture here. As soon as I joined, my colleagues said, ”You have to go to Thomas, he’s amazing.” And he is. He uses the best organic oils, and he’s started making his own. He is also creative; he reads the body very well and does something different every time you go and see him. I’ve gone through several heartbreaks since I’ve lived in Berlin, and we can always talk about those things: He’s an amazing person to open up to. Maybe it’s just me but I have a sneaky feeling that from all the years he’s worked with us he knows more about the company than anyone else. It’s wonderful to have that sort of break in the working day. We have a massage room in the company, and that’s where Thomas prepares the oils and hot stones and all what’s necessary. He also helps guide us on things like the best positions to sit in. When you’re a font engineer, you spend a lot of time in front of your desk, and you’re not always aware how you sit; so he’s very important to me in saying the sort of exercises practice yoga. I have a tendency to do after work or motivating me to practise to not keep my spine straight. Thomas works in half-hour sessions, and you have to sign up on a list. You pay, but it’s much cheaper than a normal massage. It happens during office time, but we have flexible hours. My work is quite technical, and it’s easier to focus when your back isn’t hurting. I’ve always had problems with my back, and the tips Thomas gives me really help me to adjust my position. I like to go to him hitm if I have a challenging week, especially when I am giving a talk, as I get crazy stressed out every time. It calms me down and helps me collect my thoughts.

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THOMAS ZETZMANN, MASSEUR AT MONOTYPE’S BERLIN OFFICE I’ve worked with Monotype for almost 20 years, but I’ve been doing massage for almost 30 years now. I was swimming and there was someone on my team who was working at Monotype and said they were looking for a masseur; they just wanted to offer something good for their employees. Obviously the firms also know that after a massage people have more energy, and so they work better. The best thing about massage is that it balances your body. If you need energy, it gives you energy; if you need to be calm, it calms you. It works on every level—massage always gives you what you need. People tell me a lot of things; I think because during a massage you’re very close to a person in a physical way, you also get close in a psychological way. I know a lot of things about my clients that I imagine even their lawyers or wives don’t know. I come from a background as an Ayurveda therapist (a system of alternative medicine with Indian historical roots), so that informs my ability to look at a person and know what they need. For instance, during a massage some people need to be pushed, others need to relax, so I try to take from them what’s too much and give them what they need. With Ayurvedic medicine you learn to treat different body types: some people always have cold hands, so they need warmth; others always have heat, so you have to work more with cold. Designers don’t really have a particular body type, but I have noticed they very often have the same sense of style. You see the way they dress, and you know they’re creative or have something to do with the arts. You can feel it. Of course, they wear a lot of black. And you notice at conferences they’ll have the same style of bag and things. Their hairstyles are often similar—something a little bit different, but nothing too crazy. Now I’m at a level where I’m never really surprised by what people tell me. Some people tell you things and others don’t, and that’s also to do with body type—I can get a good idea of someone’s personality by looking at their body. Some people hold things in, so IIhave haveto tomake make Behind Every Great Designer

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make comfortable them comfortable enough to relax. If there’s I feel there’s tension say, them enough to relax. If I feel tension I say, I“This “This youroff, time my responsibility, let go things go now.” is youristime it’soff, myit’s responsibility, you canyou letcan things now.” Sometimes I have to repeat that every five minutes during the massage: Maybe after two minutes I feel the tension come back and sense that their mind is working, that they’re thinking about the last task they were working on. So I have to help them feel like they can let go.

PHOTOS TAKEN BY MARIANNA PASZKOWSKA AT THE MONOTYPE OFFICE IN BERLIN. THOMAS’S PHOTO, ON THE OTHER HAND, WAS TAKEN AT MACHU PICCHU IN PERU. HE’S CURRENTLY ENJOYING THE SUMMER IN LIMA, WORKING AS A PART-TIME AYURVEDA & YOGA THERAPIST.

MICHAEL BIERUT, PARTNER AT PENTAGRAM Anne’s not just a background person, she’s an absolute star. Every single person who’s worked here for the last almost three decades has known her. She’s energetic, chatty, warm, personable—she’s a flat out wonderful person. I think the tradition of having a chef at Pentagram started in London. There’s some practical reasons, and some cultural reasons, too. Even though we all sit in an open-plan office, our teams often don’t get time to spend time with one another because of our structure: each partner has a group that functions autonomously. The lunch period provides a chance for everyone to sit side by side. In a lot of companies, that’s usually reserved for special occasions, or as a once-a-year holiday thing, but we do it three days a week.

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Anne has to feed more than 100 people, and the food is ambitious. Here, we’ll get a hot entree with vegetarian and meat options, multiple side dishes, different breads, exotic cheeses, amazing fruit—it’s really well considered, Anne takes it really seriously. Occasionally I’m out of the office over lunchtime and I’ll say, “‘Can you make three plates?”’ and when she plates the food, it looks like it’s ready for Instagram. If you visit Anne when she’s cooking and start idly gossiping, without the blink of an eye she’ll be able to keep up and say funny things. She won’t ever say, “Get outta here, can’t you see I’m making lunch!” She’s so welcoming. People will sometimes go in and help—maybe a couple of designers or staff will be cutting vegetables just for the fun of it in the hour running up to lunch, and Anne’s able to do it all with inexhaustible good cheer. In my 27 years here, I’ve probably had 100 people move through my team, but if I bring someone in at lunchtime, whether they left in 1996 or 2011, they’ll recognize Anne. And the astonishing thing is that she’ll know them by name; it’s amazing. We’ve just moved from the office we were in for 22 years, and in all that time Anne was doing all this out of a tiny, cramped kitchen. It’s just shocking what she was able to do in this tiny space. In our new office, we’re building out a proper kitchen outfitted with professional equipment. The smell of Anne cooking is the beautiful heart of the office. It’s an invitation for everyone to come together. Too often in American businesses it’s seen as a kind of badge of honor when you don’t have time for lunch. You eat at your desk with one hand, and I’m sure in the long run that’s counterproductive. Sit down and spend a nice 45 minutes or half hour with people you know and like, and just share a meal with them. Anne orchestrates that every day, and that’s a miracle.

Behind Every Great Designer

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ANNEFERRIL, FERRI, ANNE CHEF AT PENTAGRAM NEW YORK I’ve been at Pentagram for 34 years, so I’m the longest serving member of staff. It’s the perfect partnership for a creative person, because no no one really tells what to do. They give space to create one really tells meme what to do. They justjust give meme thethe space to create something lovely, and it’s so rewarding. That’s why I’ve been there so long—it’s like dancing with a wonderful dance partner. The people I feed here are very very open open to to trying tryingnew newthings, things,and andthey’re they’reaacaptive captiveaudience. audience. and II try try to to give give them them as asmuch muchvariety varietyas asI Ican, can, but I really respect that and within thatthat I keep it simple: theythey justjust have oneone choice, it’s it’s notnot likelike but within I keep it simple: have choice, to give give them them something something of of great greatvalue valuethat’s that’spleasing pleasing a buffet, so I try to to a lot of people. It’s crowd-pleasing food that’s diverse. That’s my my challenge that’s my fun. challenge andand that’s my fun. I often start start the the day day not notknowing knowingwhat whatI’m I’mgoing goingtotomake. make.I’llI’llwalk walkto the market, see what’s there, there, and doand an inventory for myself: “What “What would to the market, see what’s do an inventory for myself: I like toI like eat?to Which clientsclients are coming in?” I go to Iago nearby marketmarket called would eat? Which are coming in?” to a nearby GardenGarden of Eden; a small I like it’sthat independently called of it’s Eden; it’s astore, small and store, andthat I like it’s independently owned. Mostly what I make depends on what’s seasonal, the weather, gluten-free I’ll and any special considerations with clients; if someone is gluten free I’ll maybe substitute with quinoa. For years the the favorite favoritemeal mealwas waschili—I chili—Imake makeaareally reallygood goodchili. chili.It’s It’slike a restaurant when a chef can’tcan’t everever taketake something off the like a restaurant when a chef something off menu. the menu. a special kind of of salad Any pasta pasta dish dishis isgood, good,too, too,they theylove lovesoup, soup,and andI do I do a special kind Niçoise. What What I try toI do is make fresh,fresh, healthy thingsthings with lots salad niçoise. try to do is make healthy withoflots of vegetables. I don’t make health food, but I make healthy food so that people have enough energy to do good work.

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PHOTOS TAKEN BY ANNE FERRIL, MICHAEL BIERUT, AND VARIOUS MEMBERS OF BIERUT’S TEAM. FULL DISCLOSURE, AT THE TIME OF THESE PHOTOS, PENTAGRAM NEW YORK HAD JUST MOVED INTO A NEW OFFICE WITH A KITCHEN THAT WAS STILL BEING BUILT. ANNE PUT ON A VERITABLE RENAISSANCE FEAST ANYWAY.

People do talk to me a lot, absolutely, and I think that’s a special part of the job because I’m slightly removed from the overall office. Being a chef, there are aspects of the job that are a bit like being a mother and offering that kind of emotional support. I’ll give people advice, but mostly it’s just listening, and that’s an important component, being the office mom, in a way. At Pentagram, they give me the kind of freedom they give their designers. They respect and trust me, and that’s a nice feeling, and it’s quite unusual, I think. The staff don’t pay for their lunch, and I hope that what I make for them is a high-quality meal. What’s my favorite meal to cook? That’s like asking a painter what their favorite color is! I like feeding people and making people happy, that’s why I do this. Making the positive energy that helps people create is really a joy. Behind Every Great Designer

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DATA DESIGN IN 3 ACT S DATA DESIGN IN 3 AC TS DATA DESIGN IN 3 A CTS DATA DESIGN IN 3 ACTS DATA DESIGN IN 3 ACTS DATA DESIGN I N 3 ACTS DATA DESIGN IN 3 ACTS DATA DESIG N IN 3 ACTS DATA DESI GN IN 3 ACTS DATA DES IGN IN 3 ACTS DATA DE SIGN IN 3 ACTS DATA D ESIGN IN 3 ACTS DATA DATA DESIGN IN 3 ACT S DATA DESIGN IN 3 AC TS DATA DESIGN IN 3 A CTS DATA DESIGN IN 3 ACTS DATA DESIGN IN 3 ACTS DATA DESIGN I

BY MARGARET ANDERSEN


When it comes to understanding complex data, there’s often an inherent willingness to trust the information provided to us in the form of a chart or an infographic. Numbers don’t lie, right? Yet while numbers might be neutral, the way in which those numbers are gathered and represented can be misleading or even biased. From language and layout, to the use of specific colors, a designer’s intentional or unintentional choices have a significant impact on the way information is conveyed through data visualizations and how an audience responds to them.

Edward Tufte said that extraneous visual elements were to blame for bad information design. “Chartjunk,” as Tufte called it, was only remedied through his set of spartan design principles that followed a strict “data-ink ratio.” Any borders, colors, or graphics beyond the minimum amount of necessary visuals were a distraction and a disservice to the design and the viewer. While Tufte is still considered a pioneer in information design, access to data and the process for visualizing it has greatly expanded since he wrote The Visual Display of Quantitative Information in 1983. Big data has ushered in a new era of information design, where graphic designers and visual journalists now contribute to a field that was once reserved for data scientists alone. And while the discipline has certainly evolved, the same ethical and conceptual challenges remain. How do you know the data you’re using is accurate? How can you be sure the way you represent that data won’t be misinterpreted by your audience? How do you keep your own cognitive and cultural biases in check when visualizing data? We spoke with three data viz experts to find out how graphic designers can continue to advance the visual representation of data while also becoming cognizant of their own internal biases and how those biases affect their design process.

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01

MONA CHALABI: FINDING DATA

Mona Chalabi, the data editor for the Guardian, got her start with numbers in the world of finance, when she worked for the Bank of England analyzing large datasets. From there, her skills as a journalist coupled with a background in international relations afforded her several opportunities working for organizations such as Transparency International and the International Organization for Migration, as well as The Economist Intelligence Unit. She went on to write about data for Nate Silver’s site FiveThirtyEight, and eventually for the Guardian. Chalabi prefers to hand draw her visualizations, replacing homogenous pie charts and scatter plots with humor and an approachability that makes both global and hyperlocal issues not only understandable, but relatable. Cruise Chalabi’s Instagram and you’ll see bar charts depicting the harriness of the average woman and pie charts that show just how much pizza Americans eat for breakfast [Hint: It’s a lot]. “If I can get people interested in the drawing, then hopefully I can get them interested in numbers, too,” she says. So where does a newbie information designer turn to find data as idiosyncratic as morning pizza consumption? For food-related queries, Chalabi says the U.S. Department of Agriculture is often a great resource. Information that isn’t available publicly can be accessed by filing an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request with any federal agency, but it’s surprising how much is already available online. Aside from national governmental sites, she says many cities maintain amazing local data portals. Sites such as New York City Data has information on everything from where tickets are issued for littering or public urination to noise violations and regions where people have reported rats or cockroaches. For more general numbers, like unemployment data, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is her go-to source. International health data is collected by the World Health Organization or the United Nations, while U.S. health numbers can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If she’s looking for something more obscure, like eczema rates by age, she’ll consult the National Institutes of Health

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or browse medical studies via Google Scholar, which cuts through the noise on the internet by limiting search results to only academic publications. Chalabi says over time designers will start to familiarize themselves with what a reliable data source looks like, and they’ll realize that finding good information sometimes requires a deep dive. “The research process is about learning to not necessarily trust the first page of Google,” she says. Knowing a few tricks can make research a lot easier, too, like the U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder site, which can limit Google search results by typing “filetype:pdf” (for reports) and “filetype:xls” or “filetype:csv” (for spreadsheets). Non-profit news site MuckRock also combined with an open-source platform called FOIA Machine that takes the hassle out of filing public records requests by creating custom FOIA forms through a handy online generator. Importantly, Chalabi says there’s no shame in admitting that you’re having trouble making sense of a particular dataset. “If you’re stuck, honestly just doing the basic journalistic legwork of picking up the phone to talk to an expert can be crucial in interpreting data,” she says. “And an expert might simply mean interviewing someone or a group of people who are in that demographic range you are researching.”

“AVERAGE FEMALE HAIRINESS” BY MONA CHALABI

Data Design In 3 Acts

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KIM ALBRECHT: ASSESSING THE DATA

So now that you’ve found the dataset you’re looking for, how do you know it’s the right one to use? How do you assess if the data itself is unreliable, outdated, or biased? Information designer Kim Albrecht says confirming the validity of a source is easier if you rely on reputable scientific or academic journals. Both he and Chalabi suggest checking out the “About” page of organizations, which can help unravel the mystery of where they were founded and how they are funded. Not all organizations have pure intentions, and sometimes all it takes is a quick Google search to reveal ulterior motives. “Data is like any other research reference that designers or journalists rely on,” he says. “You need to go through it, find out where it actually comes from, see who created it, and how it was shaped before using it in a project.” Albrecht works as a visualization researcher at Harvard’s metaLAB, where he spends his time studying the intersection between artificial intelligence and culture, as well as finding new representations of cultural collections through design. He says the notion of truly unbiased or neutral data is a bit of a misnomer. “The origin of the word data comes from the Latin datum, a plural noun meaning ‘something that is given,’” he explains. “However, data is never given. It’s always something that’s created or designed.” In his data visualization titled “Cultural Interflow,” Albrecht maps the ebb and flow of global migration patterns, and illustrates how borders are social constructs whose physical boundaries have shifted over the last 4,000 years. He explains that one of the datasets he came across in his research was extremely well organized, with data collected on various ethnic groups from all over the world. Upon further inspection, he discovered that the information had been gathered by Christian missionary operations primarily in Asia and Africa. “For me it was disturbing to realize that some of the best historical data out there is going to be attached to this legacy of colonialism,” he says. “It’s so important for designers to understand how the data they’re using is politically motivated, and they have to make a choice as to whether or not they want to rely on that data based on that realization.”

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Data Design In 3 Acts

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0 3 NORMAN SHAMAS: CHECKING YOUR OWN BIAS Once you’ve found the data and determined it’s good to use, how do you design an infographic in a way that’s responsible and not misleading? How do you strip your designs of your own biases? Is that even possible? For Chalabi, misinterpretation is something she thinks about constantly. “It’s a challenge to produce visualizations that are fun but are also robust in meaning, leaving no room for ambiguities in interpretations,” she says. Albrecht agrees, explaining that “even if you find a truthful dataset about all the borders in the world, it will still be made by someone with a specific political perspective.” Norman Shamas, a design educator who consults on privacy and security issues, says having self-awareness about internal bias is the first step in avoiding misguided design decisions. Data visualization is a form of storytelling, and designers must remain aware of the narratives they are creating. Shamas recommends receiving feedback from outside audiences during the prototyping phase to ensure the final design won’t be misconstrued. He says bias can creep into a visualization through the data we select, the design decisions we make, and the language we use. Recently, he worked with the Information Safety & Capacity Project (ISC), which provides mentoring and support services to NGOs, human rights activists, and independent media in countries where freedom of expression and online communities are under threat. During his time with ISC, Shamas worked with queer rights activists in South Africa, where he found the nuances of language played a large role in how people responded to visualizations. “If you use a term like LGBTQIA+, you already show that you’re an outsider to the community,” he says. “The goal is to try and build empathy through your visualizations, so you need to understand the local lexicon and remain aware of how the language you’re using sounds to people outside of Western culture.” Shamas says designers can broaden their scope of knowledge by reading other perspectives from history and literature or critical theory. “Basically, don’t forget that the humanities exist as a discipline,” he says. “Because that methodology

EYE ON DESIGN


for interrogating information will only strengthen your work as a designer.” Bias isn’t just an international affair, though. It’s prevalent in everyday life, from the way a city’s wayfinding system is designed to the apps you use on your phone. Shamas believes in the coming years, designers will need to start thinking about the way technological systems are developed, and the biases that creep into them. As designers rely more heavily on data generated from artificial intelligence, algorithmic bias will become an inherent part of the datasets designers use. The role of graphic designers might seem far removed from the work of coders seeking to correct algorithmic bias, but their position as visual gatekeepers to that data can determine what is included in the exchange of information between scientists, and the public at large.

Data Design In 3 Acts

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ON SEEING AND BEING SEEN

BY MEG MILLER

As one designer goes blind, another emerges from under his shadow


ALVIN LUSTIG AND ELAINE LUSTIG COHEN. COURTESY: THE ESTATE OF ELAINE LUSTIG COHEN

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On Amazon, you can buy a new, hardbound copy of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for $1,788.01. The play is one of Williams’ most famous, and allegedly his personal favorite. But the reason behind the price tag is more likely the cover than its contents; a milky galaxy wraps around the spine, and the monosyllabic words of the title stack up the center like a chimney. At a talk in 2013, Elaine Lustig Cohen, who was widowed by the book’s famous designer, Alvin Lustig, turned to Steven Heller, her interviewer on stage. Pausing to locate the cover in her memory, she said, “The jacket that you’re talking about for Tennessee Williams, that was very late. And that was a jacket that Alvin actually never saw.” Elaine wasn’t referring to the final jacket, published the year that Alvin died at just 40 years old. What she meant was that Alvin never saw the jacket at all: not the initial sketch, not the paste-up, nor any of the proofs. By the time Alvin was designing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he was virtually blind. The diabetes that had plagued him since childhood had damaged the capillaries behind his eyes, and for about two years before his death a thick veil of fog gradually obscured his vision. By the year 1954, he no longer sketched his designs

because he no longer saw them. Instead, he would verbally dictate what he imagined in his mind’s eye to Elaine and the assistants working at his design office. “He would tell us go down a pica and over three picas, and how high the type should be, and what the color should be,” said Elaine. Sometimes his reference points were past projects—“the beige that we used on such and such”—or the colors of furniture he’d picked out for interior jobs. In one particularly poetic instance, he described the shade of yellow he wanted to use as “the dominant yellow of Van Gogh’s sunflower.”

EYE ON DESIGN


COURTESY: THE ESTATE OF ELAINE LUSTIG COHEN

On Seeing and Being Seen

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Elaine became a visionary designer in her own right, and the selfappointed preservationist of Alvin’s legacy decades after he died in 1955. Before her death, Heller called Elaine “a living link between design’s modernist past and its continually changing present ” in an article honoring her for the AIGA Medal. She died a renowned designer and painter, and one of the very few mid-century women designers who are celebrated at the same caliber as their male contemporaries. However, it wasn’t until after Alvin that she was seen as a designer, or even considered herself one. Elaine got her first taste of a r t a s a t e e n a g e r, w h e n o n e day she stumbled upon Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in New York City. She had come into Manhattan from New Jersey for an orthodontist appointment. The exhibition was of Wassily Kandinsky’s work and the music piping through the gallery speakers was Johann Sebastian Bach, who also worked through fading vision. “I still remember walking in there,” she said in a 2009 oral history with arts journalist Grace Glueck. “I didn’t know what it was all about. I had no idea. It blew me away.”

When Elaine met Alvin, she was nearly 21 and volunteering at an art gallery in Beverly Hills. He was 12 years her senior and already an established designer, famous for his designs for the New Classics book series from publisher New Directions. In her first year of marriage, Elaine taught art at a public school in L.A., but found it a drag to leave the apartmentslash-office that she and Alvin shared on Sunset B oulevard— full of high-profile clients and interesting conversation—to go to a classroom of 14-year-olds. So she quit. She helped run the office, where she later executed Alvin’s verbal instructions. Around age 27, Elaine became the only person who knew how long her husband had to live. The doctor told her first, and she told Alvin when keeping it to herself became unbearable. “The last year was the most difficult, as you can imagine,” she told Glueck. “He was impossible. I was impossible. He didn’t want to be helped, but he had to be helped.” Still, Elaine was devoted, describing herself once as Alvin’s “blind disciple.” As his eyesight worsene d, Elaine’s tasks went from purely administrative to doing the physical labor of design at the time; she learned how to order type, make

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a mechanical, make paste-ups, design a page in a book , and specify it. Later on she would drive Alvin up to Yale to teach, and would pass the time by sitting in the back of Josef Albers’ classes, listening in on his lectures. When Alvin’s rapidly degenerating eyesight could no longer be kept a secret, the couple threw a cocktail party for their friends and clients to break the news. Nobody seemed to doubt that the confident, well-known designer could complete their commissions blind. “[We announced] that he was losing his sight and that he was going to continue to design,” Elaine described. “Everybody said,

‘Of course. Fine.’” The architect Philip Johnson even gave him a new project: the signage for the Seagram Building in New York.

PHOTO: MAYA DEREN

On Seeing and Being Seen

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Alvin was a skilled illusionist from the beginning. In high school he became a magician, teaching himself design by making the promotional posters for his shows. He was bored in class—far smarter than his peers—so his teachers let him skip class to tour other schools performing magic tricks. Then one teacher, whom he later described as “enlightened,” introduced him to modern art, which had a profound impact on him. “This art hit a fresh eye, unencumbered by any ideas of what art was or should be, and found an immediate sympathetic response,” Alvin wrote in a 1953 issue of the AIGA Journal. “This ability to ‘see’ freshly, unencumbered by preconceived verbal, literary, or moral ideas, is the first step in responding to most modern art.” As a professional designer, Alvin trained his eye on books: His work played a major role in elevating the book jacket from something purely promotional to a vehicle for artistic expression. His own style of jacket design was constantly evolving, from photographic and pictorial imagery to eclectic typographic compositions, to total abstraction, and, later, to the simpler geometric forms that he produced while blind. From 1945 to 1952, his designs for

the New Classics series rejected the popular commercial styles of the time for a system of abstract symbols in the vein of Paul Klee and Joan Miró. For Noonday and Meridian Books, he took a quieter, more Swiss approach to a series of academic paperbacks. The publisher, Arthur Cohen, who would later become E laine’s second h u s b a n d , c re d i t e d A l v i n w i t h opening his eyes to the importance of design. “A young publisher such as myself was characteristically prejudiced and blind,” he said. Until meeting with the designer, he felt that the text was “all important,” and that the physical book was a much lesser issue. Although Alvin is most famous for his jackets, his approach toward design was holistic, and his talents were incredibly wide-ranging. In his 20s, he studied under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin East, before becoming frustrated with the lack of freedom and running away in the middle of the night. In L.A. he was friends with the Eameses and Richard Neutra, and often took on architectural and industrial design projects alongside his graphics work. His office in New York worked on book covers, museum catalogs, magazine design, identity design, as well as architectural, furniture

EYE ON DESIGN


and fabric design projects, too. In the late 1940s he even designed a helicopter for the aerospace company Rotoron. “I always think of Alvin as a visionary,” Elaine has said. “He saw himself as using design to do everything with; to change everything in the world.” E laine has described Alvin as clever and playful in private, but in the public eye he was reserved and distinguished, serious about his craft and aware of his talent. A l v i n h a d a l ways a s c r i b e d to the Bauhaus idea of design as a curative force, but once he knew that he was dying, his ambitions verged on messianic. His ability to think in both two and three dimensions no doubt helped him d rea m up c o mp osi t ions even without the benefit of sight. His confidence in his ability to master any design discipline, coupled with his near-religious conviction that visual communication could solve the world’s problems, drove him to continue working when he easily could have stopped. In his final years, as his health eroded and vision dimmed, Alvin designed the inaugural Industrial Design magazines, numerous New Directions and Meridian covers, the interiors of several apartments, On Seeing and Being Seen

a Lightolier showroom, and an identity for the Girl Scouts, among other things. At the end of his life, he planned to travel to Israel, believing that his skills could positively impact the country. He’s rumored to have felt Christ-like; he believed that he had a sense of power and responsibility as a designer. As his abilities began to fade, Elaine’s sharpened. She learned the technical aspects of design out of necessity, becoming the invisible hands carrying out Alvin’s vision. But when it came to the actual design process—the creative direction, the conception of images and forms—it was all Alvin, up until the end. As was common at the time, Alvin was the only person in the office who designed. Of course, if your boss is blind, there are certain liberties; I va n C h e r m a ye f f, w h o b r i e f l y worked as one of Alvin’s assistants, once told the designer Art Chantry that Alvin wasn’ t such a good colorist, so he would secretly tweak the palette. “Who knows whether we did what he wanted, I don’t know, but we did it,” Elaine admitted. “I was learning more, but still I wasn’t designing. Not really. I was one of the office slaves.”

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COURTESY: THE ESTATE OF ELAINE LUSTIG COHEN

EYE ON DESIGN


J o h n s o n’s S e a g ra m B u i l d i n g signage was never completed by Alvin. It was done by Elaine, who took up the office’s unfinished commissions after Alvin died. “I did not even think whether I was capable [of designing]. It never crossed my mind. There were so many people telling me I could do it that I guess I just struggled through the beginning,” she said. T h e S e a g ra m p r o j e c t w a s mostly a matter of carrying out Alvin’s wayfinding vision for the famous New York building. But w h e n C o h e n a s ke d E l a i n e t o c o n t i n u e d e s i g n i n g t h e fo r t h coming titles for Meridian, it was a different situation: For the first time, she had complete creative control—a terrifying prospect, but one she was more than prepared for. “Of course, I was immediately prejudiced by everything I learned that Alvin prefered. It took me a while to really make my own evaluation of what I liked.” Elaine emerged from her late husband’s shadow with a distinctive style. Her design work is often sharp and serious, heavily concept-driven, but also bold, colorful, clever, and experimental. Her book jackets combined modern geometric and organic elements, and were influenced by movements like Constructivism On Seeing and Being Seen

and Dadaism. With Johnson’s help, she picked up more clients, among them the architects Eero Saarinen a n d Rich a rd Me ie r, a n d so on closed Alvin’s office to become one of the only women designers to run her own freelance business in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Like Alvin, she “worked on the edges,” as she termed it, forgoing the more lucrative advertising proje cts for b o ok c overs and museum catalogs. One of her best and longest clients was the Jewish Museum, which was at the center of New York’s avant-garde design scene at the time. Even while doing some of her biggest commissions—and much of the work she’s now famous for— Elaine still claimed to feel largely unseen, if not exactly bothered by it. “People say to me, ‘What was it like being a woman designer?’ I’d say, first of all, there were so few of us. The male designers couldn’t have cared less about me. They never talked to me. They never included me in anything, and I never thought about it. I just did my design.” After several years, E laine became bored of doing the same sort of design and shifted her focus to her art and Ex Libris, the rare artbook collection, gallery, and bookshop she ran with Cohen

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(whom she married nine months a f te r A l v i n’s d ea t h ) . H e r f i rs t husband never encouraged her to paint—“He always said painting was dead. That was one of his slogans. The other was calligraphy is dead”— but Arthur did. Elaine’s paintings and collages have been hung at reputable galleries, among them the Julie Saul gallery, where she held a show called “The Geometry of Seeing.” By the time she died in 2014, Elaine had produced a lifetime of artistic production sp anni n g s eve ral d isci p l ine s, despite her late start. And shortly before her death, she was finally recognized by the design community, though by that time she was focused solely on art. In addition to her own prodigious output,she also preserved and sustained Alvin’s legacy. Forgetting is also a kind of blindness, and E laine was vigilant ab out t he upkeep o f t he design world’s collective memory.

Elaine was 28 when Alvin passed away in 1955. When she gave Gleuck the oral history in 2009, she had every bit of the bravado that Alvin had when announcing to his clients that he would design blind. In the interview she looks back on her life with the confidence, clarity of thought, and generosity of someone whose artistic vision had evolved over a lifetime, and had strengthened with each new phase. She spoke like a woman who knew her worth. “I always say a really terrible thing,” Elaine told Gleuck. “I always say that either I would have remained this shy, unproductive person, or I would have grown up and divorced [Alvin] if he hadn’t died. I don’t know, because the person that I became would have never put up with what I was doing. But we’ll never know.” Whatever the case, Elaine was left with little choice but to start designing. After Alvin’s passing, there was only $400 left in their bank account. “When he died, the two people that called me immediately were Philip Johnson, who said, ‘Okay Elaine, you do it.’ The other person who called, because he was in love with me, was Arthur Cohen, and he said, ‘Okay. You do it. Do all the jackets. Finish this.’ “And me, I’m very practical. I said ‘Okay.’ And I did it.”

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COURTESY: THE ESTATE OF ELAINE LUSTIG COHEN

On Seeing and Being Seen

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BY ANTOINE COSSÉ


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EYE ON DESIGN


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BAUHAUS MEETS BINARY

BY LIZ STINSON

How an MIT research group turned computer code into a modern design medium


JOHN MAEDA, “MORISAWA 10” (1996)

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Code is a tool—a string of numbers, glyphs, and letters that when arranged in particular order can be wielded like a screwdriver. But code is a visual medium, too, like illustration or sculpting, that in the right hands can create something visually evocative. Poetic, even. Since the 1960s, artistically inclined computer scientists and scientifically inclined artists and designers have programmed computers to make work that’s impossible to craft by human hand alone. For these so-called “creative coders,” the computer is an interpreter, responsible for translating impossible ideas into visual form; and code is a material that can be bent and broken to that vision. The history of computer-generated art and design begins in research laboratories equipped with high-powered machines, where computer scientists like Bell Labs’ A. Michael Noll and visual artists like Vera Molnar created experimental forms that hover somewhere between art and scientific inquiry. In time, as computers became cheaper and their programming languages less esoteric, even more artists and designers started using the machines to push their respective fields in wildly new directions. An inflection point for this new medium occured in the mid-1980s, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where a group of likeminded designers were at work in Muriel Cooper’s Visual Language Workshop (VLW). Cooper, who left MIT Press to start the workshop in 1974, was an early believer in the power of programming to transform the field of graphic design. Through the research conducted in her workshop, she inspired a generation of designers to explore the intersection of design and technology, and in the process built a lineage of creative programmers who, to this day, are shaping the fields of interaction design, graphic design, and new media art. This is their story, in their own words.

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In the mid-1980s, Muriel Cooper’s Visual Language Workshop moved from a building on the outskirts of MIT’s campus into the I.M. Pei building that housed the MIT Media Lab. The change in location marked an important transformation for the VLW. Armed with some of the best computers in the world, the designers in Cooper’s workshop shifted their primary research from printing presses to their new digital tools. Cooper’s workshop, while something of an outlier at the tech-focused MIT Media Lab, quickly gained a reputation as a safe space for experimental ideas in design. Its proximity to other Media Lab groups attracted science students like David Small, who joined after completing a degree in cognitive science, and John Maeda, who never formally joined the workshop but was heavily influenced by Cooper and the VLW’s work. People: * John Maeda: Head of computational design and inclusion at Automattic | Former director of the Aesthetics + Computation Group (ACG) at the MIT Media Lab * David Small: Interaction designer | Student in Muriel Cooper’s VLW and Maeda’s ACG | Founder of Small Design Firm * Lisa Strausfeld: Information artist | Student in Cooper’s VLW | Principal of Informationart and Senior Research Fellow at The New School

LISA STRAUSFELD (1994)

Bauhaus Meets Binary

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John Maeda: I was on campus, and I saw what Muriel Cooper was doing with her team. She was thinking about how design and publishing could impact computers. She was the one who boldly believed that someday you’d read Helvetica on a computer screen. People would laugh at her because it was a 5x7 dot face just blinking at you. David Small: I was an MIT undergraduate studying science. I was into brain science and cognition, or at least I thought I was, but I was always really interested in photography. I had started taking photography classes, and the VLW was across the hall, so I just started hanging out more and more and getting interested in what people were doing. When I finished my undergrad work, I thought: What they’re doing at the VLW is so much more interesting than what they’re doing in cognitive science. Muriel recognized earlier than anybody that computers were where it was at. She could’ve continued be the design director of MIT Press forever, but she was like, no, these computer things that everyone thinks are lame are going to be really interesting. Maeda: The VLW was full of designers trying to figure out how to use

computers in interesting ways. I came from computer science, and I was interested in this design stuff, but I didn’t have any of it in me. It was Muriel who told me to go to art school. She knew what I was looking for, which was classic design [training]. Lisa Strausfeld: Muriel just had this incredible freedom. She didn’t really assume the page, in the same way she didn’t assume the computer screen. She was deliberately very agnostic about technology even though she was at MIT and the Media Lab. She just wanted the content to be whatever it needed to be. Small: The VLW had been in an old industrial building on the edge of campus where they were doing a lot of work with printing. The printing press did not make the leap into the new building, but suddenly they had a lot more computer equipment. There wasn’t a graphic design department anywhere else that had a million dollar computer budget. Strausfeld: We were all expected to have computing skills. For students who were less able to code or were a little rusty, it wasn’t ideal. You had to have that facility under your belt to really make it worthwhile, because there was no discussion of it

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[programming]. It was just a means to another end. Small: We were very interested in what the computer could do to create stuff that no one had seen before. Different kinds of transparency and bringing things in and out of focus. If you looked at what we were doing and compared it to what real graphic designers were producing at the time, it was terrible. The tools weren’t good, and we weren’t necessarily good designers. We just kept saying, ‘computers are the future of design.’ People didn’t necessarily think we were crazy—a lot of people did realize that it was going to be true—but they still looked at what we were doing and were like, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s not graphic design.” Maeda: In the ’90s, when I was writing computer code to draw things, it wasn’t a normal thing to do. A lot of people had these visual art ideas, but they couldn’t write software to do it. Steve Jobs had just released his NeXT computer, and I went out in bought one. I opened it up, started running code, and suddenly I was making stuff that no one had seen before. I was making things that changed or were ultra-complex. I was Bauhaus Meets Binary

combining a deep understanding of computer science with what I had learned from my classical design training. Not a lot of people had traveled that route, visually speaking. I was drawing millions of lines, and people would look at what I made and say, “how did you make that?”

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In 1994, Cooper unexpectedly died from a heart attack. Maeda, who had left MIT to study graphic design at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, returned to MIT in 1996 to start the Aesthetics + Computation Group (ACG) at the Media Lab. The ACG was meant to continue Cooper’s mission of exploring the intersection of design, art, and technology. But where Cooper’s research pushed at the boundaries of graphics and information design, Maeda was interested in learning how code could be used to create new, unseen forms. During this time, Maeda developed Design by Numbers, an interactive toolkit that simplified computational design for non-coders. His goal was to democratize programming by teaching designers simple commands that could produce dynamic images in a 100x100 pixel box on screen. Compared to the technical tools his students were using at the ACG, Design by Numbers was simplistic; but it set the stage for Casey Reas and Ben Fry to create Processing, a more powerful tool that artists and designers still use today to create interactive work. People: * Golan Levin: Artist | Early student at the ACG | Director of Carnegie Mellon’s STUDIO for Creative Inquiry * Ben Fry: Information designer | Early student at the ACG | Co-founder of Processing | Principal at Fathom Information Design * Casey Reas: Artist | Student at the ACG | Co-founder of Processing | Professor at UCLA * Elise Co: Interaction designer | Student at the ACG | Principal at Aeolab

Maeda: Muriel Cooper had died and there was a search for faculty; someone to carry on her mission. At the ACG we took up all her assets. All the space became our space. It was an exciting time because it was the last time that academia had the edge on computing. We had the most advanced computers on the planet, and I got to recruit people who were the best in the world at knowing what to do with these things. People like Ben Fry, Casey Reas, and Golan Levin. Golan Levin: One thing that was really interesting about John’s Group at MIT was that it was called the Aesthetics and Computation Group. It wasn’t called the design and computation group or the art and computation group. There was a certain agnosticism about whether we were artists or designers. We were form makers, we were form-seekers. We were heavily inspired by the kinds of experiments made in the Bauhaus. We were trying to understand the fundamental principles of computational visual form. It meant you could have someone like Peter Cho who was working on typography and someone like Ben Fry who was working on information visualization, and someone like


GOLAN LEVIN, “FLOCCUS” (1999)

Bauhaus Meets Binary

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Elise Co who was working on wearable electronics. Elise Co: Something we’d always discussed amongst ourselves, and something John would talk about, was the idea that we were designers who could use computation and code directly to make the things we wanted to design rather than using Photoshop. It was about computation as a material rather than a tool. Casey Reas: At the time, the barrier to learning how to code was extremely high. I don’t think it was really on the radar for most designers. Maeda: I wanted to broaden who could code, so I created this language called Design by Numbers. I intended to make it easier for people, who are what I call mathematically challenged, to program. Levin: It was essentially this really reduced world of 100 x 100 pixels and 100 levels of grayscale. It was more of a pedagogical tool than a tool for doing anything “useful.” When Ben completed his Master’s degree, he and Casey began to think about what it would be like if DBN was actually more than just an educational exercise. People wanted things like color and more pixels, and

that was a reasonable request for design students who wanted to do more interesting things than what they could do in a 100 x 100 pixel, grayscale world. That was the birth of Processing. Maeda: I remember when DBN came out, Ben and Casey built the second version of it. They said, “I think we need something more powerful.” And I was like, “What? This isn’t good enough?” I remember thinking, maybe you should work on your thesis. I’m so glad that I was wrong. Ben Fry: Later in the course of DBN, we were seeing how people would stretch it in different ways and try to build ridiculous things with this incredibly limited environment. As the maintainers of the software, we did a lot of toying with how we would approach it differently, or how we would use some of the nice things we liked about DBN and then expand it and get it closer to our own process for creating work. Reas: For me, the idea of traditional foundational studies was really important to Processing. I thought it was another Bauhaus moment. I thought, in the same way that during the Bauhaus era we moved from arts and craft production into industrialized production it was time to move

EYE ON DESIGN


f ro m i n d u s t r i a l p ro d u c t i o n into the computer software, information-based production. I also wanted to change how software was integrated into arts and design education. I thought t hat t he way schools were teaching students how to use Photoshop and Illustrator was entirely surface and didn’t even begin to explore the possibilities of new media. I wanted there to be a deeper understanding of the medium, rather than just using it as a tool. Fry: A lot of people would say having to write the code to produce the page and images is actually a huge step backwards from having a tool to do it. But one of the ways John put it that always struck me was this idea that you

wouldn’t have someone who’s a painter who doesn’t know how to mix paint themselves or work within the medium. In part it was a response to tools like Photoshop and Illustrator that allow you to build things, but really they separate you from the medium in a way that’s not always helpful. More importantly, you’re restricted by what the companies building those tools are making available to you. That ’s a significant problem in terms of your creative output being controlled by a company whose priorities might not be aligned with you and your best, most interesting, and most challenging work.

BEN FRY,“GENOME VALENCE” (2002)

Bauhaus Meets Binary

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Throughout the early 2000s, Processing started to spread as professors used the toolkit to teach a new generation of artists and designers how to code. While Processing became a foundational tool for creating expressive code, other toolkits began emerging in order to account for different programming languages and artistic needs. Zach Lieberman, a student of Levin’s at Parsons and co-founder of the School for Poetic Computation, developed openFrameworks, a tool based on C++. Meanwhile, in 2013 new media artist Lauren McCarthy created p5.js, a webfriendly continuation of Processing that runs on JavaScript. These tools have pushed the creative boundaries of what is made with code, and at the same time they’ve expanded the notion of who can create with code.

CASEY REAS, "RGB-056-006-080-823-715" (2015)

People * Lauren McCarthy: Artist | student at MIT | founder of p5.js | Assistant professor at UCLA * Zach Lieberman: Artist | co-Founder of School For Poetic Computation

Lauren McCarthy: Back in 2012, I’d heard this lecture by Zach Lieberman at Eyeo Festival. He was saying, “I know open source is mostly men right now, but if you’re a woman, you’re welcome, too.” It was the first time where I was like, oh, I’d like to sit at the table. It hadn’t gone through my mind before. Levin: The environments were put out there by Casey and Ben and Zach in order to democratize the creation of interactive graphical environments. It was an open invitation for anyone to make stuff with these tools, but there wasn’t an open enough invitation for anyone to contribute to the environment, to the tools. Zach Lieberman: I think it’s still a problem in that these tools tend to be made by a lot of white dudes. I think it’s really important to have a more inclusive and better community. These tools are trying to make it easy for people to get started and make things. We want more voices and more people at the table. Levin: The important thing Lauren did, in addition to creating a Javascript flavor of Processing, is that she also was keenly attuned to what one could call inadvertent omissions of approach in the open source the communities


behind openFrameworks and Processing. The ways in which these communities did not adequately address issues of diversity and inclusion. McCarthy: p5.js is a reinterpretation of Processing. It’s trying to take the initial goals of Processing and ask, what does that mean for today? It means using HTML, JavaScript, CSS, APIs, and mobile webcam—that kind of stuff. But also in 2013 when we were thinking about it, I was hearing all these conversations about how we can incorporate more diversity into these projects. Instead of trying to retrofit those ideas into a project, we wondered, can we try to build values of diversity and inclusion into the code from the getgo? We were making decisions in every moment, asking who are we privileging here? Who are we excluding? Who are we including? How do we make our message more explicit? Lieberman: Today we have better tools and better communities. It’s broadened in some ways. If you were doing this stuff 20 years ago, you needed to be at the MIT Media Lab or be in some place of academia, and now it’s really different. Bauhaus Meets Binary

At one point this stuff was new. It’s not new anymore. And I think that’s also really exciting. When the technology is new, a lot of what you’re doing is very formal; it’s about figuring it out. But as the medium establishes itself then it’s really more like artistic expression—what does code mean and how can we use it to tell really meaningful stories? I think we can make better work. Now that we know what the medium is, we can use it in a more expressive way.

ZACH LIEBERMAN, “DAILY SKETCHES” (2017)

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The history of digital art and design informs the work of artists today. Here are three artists who view the computer as a material, tool, and collaborator.

BY MARGARET RHODES


SOUGWEN CHUNG ◑ Studied: B.F.A. in graphic design, Indiana University; visiting artist and research affiliate, MIT Media Lab

◑ Tools of choice: Faber Castell pencils on paper, machine learning, and computer vision. “My drawing partner is a four-axis robotic arm.”

“DRAWING OPERATIONS UNIT, GENERATION 2” (2017)

“When I was in school as a child, I learned to write through penmanship. Last year, I read that penmanship is dying—not surprising. Digital tools today often shape how we navigate, communicate, gather information. By using machine learning and computer vision to train a neural net on my drawing styles, I can teach a robot to draw like I do. It is a drawing duet between myself and a robotic arm. By doing so, how do I regard my own drawing process differently? And moreover, how does my drawing change by collaborating in this way?” Portfolio

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RACHEL ROSSIN ◑ Studied: in the art department, Florida State. Started teaching herself code at the age of eight

◑ Tools of choice: Virtual reality, Java languages

“AFTER, CRYBABZY” (2017)

“I had been making all these sculptures in VR that had no body. But for this, I heated up the plexi glass with a blowtorch and then used my body to give it these painful hugs, so the glass is distorted in the shape of my body. The images on there are all renderings from 3-D environments. I had been thinking about the body as a tuning fork, just in general, what that means in physical reality. The fact that most of our lives are lived through the lens of technology.”

EYE ON DESIGN


ANDREA WOLF ◑ Studied: Journalism and communications, Universidad Católica

de Chile; Master’s degrees in documentary filmmaking, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (2005); digital arts, Universitat Pompeu Fabra (2006); and interactive telecommunications, NYU (2011)

◑ Tools of choice: Virtual reality, Java languages

“WEATHER HAS BEEN NICE” (2017)

“My work explores the relationship between personal memory and cultural practices of remembering. For this series, vintage postcards are slowly broken down into their basic elements, using a pixel sorting algorithm that generates a dynamic glitch. Mailed from around the world, these postcards, with their exaggerated colors and iconic images, depict non-places—at the same time unknown and familiar. The custommade application triggers a transformation, creating a system where the elements are continuously regenerating and composing new images. Each postcard reacts differently according to its own pixels.” Portfolio

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Ever since it launched in 2016, SuperHi has redefined how creative people learn to code. Its friendly, accessible classes make it easy and actually fun (we know, we’ve taken them) for anyone from newbies to naturals to master the mysterious language of brackets, tags, and curly braces. Now founder and CEO Rik Lomas and design and brand director Milan Moffatt have hit pause on their more practical efforts to share three fun games, created to demystify code while decoding the language behind your favorite sites.

Coding—or recoding—a website is as easy as 1-2-3


Care to try your hand? Instructions 1. Go to any site in Chrome. (We recommend a site with a white background and lots of text and images, such as newyorker.com, nytimes.com, or another news site.) 2. Type Cmd+Alt+J on a Mac (or Ctrl+Alt+J on a PC) to open the Javascript console. It might already have some info in it. Ignore it. 3. Type in the code below and press enter. Watch out for capitalization, brackets, and quotes. Try them individually or all together.

Game #1 var h = document.querySelectorAll(“*”) h.forEach(t => t.style.setProperty(“transform”, atob(“cm90YXRlKDE4MGRlZyk=”), “important”))

Game #2 var j = 0 var g = function () { j++; document.body.style.background = “hsl( “ + j + “ , 100%, 50%)” ; requestAnimationFrame(g) } g()

Game #3 var i = 0 var p = document.querySelectorAll(“img”) p.forEach( i => i.dataset.r = Math.random() * 10 - 5 ) var r = function () { p.forEach( r => r.style.transform = “rotate(“ + i * r.dataset.r + “deg)” ) } var go = function () { i++; r(); requestAnimationFrame(go) } go()

Code Break!

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HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NOT TO BE SEE N HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NOT TO BE SE EN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NOT TO BE S EEN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NOT TO BE EN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NOT TO B EEN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NOT TO BEEN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NOT T O BEEN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NOT TO BEEN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NO T TO BEEN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW N OT TO BEEN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NOT TO BEEN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HO W NOT TO BEEN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN H OW NOT TO BEEN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NOT TO BEEN HOW NOT TO BE SEE N HOW NOT TO BEEN HOW NOT TO BE SE EN HOW NOT TO BEEN HOW NOT TO BE S EEN HOW NOT TO BEEN HOW NOT TO BE SEEN HOW NOT TO BEEN HOW NOT TO B

BY TALA SAFIÉ

A fucking didactic educational .PDF file (an homage to Hito Stereyl)


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O O E O N E EYE ON DESIGN


How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013) is a satirical instructional video by artist and critic Hito Steyerl. In an automated voice and with wry humor, the work highlights different ways to become invisible in an age of surveillance and severe image overload. Steyerl suggests different strategies, from “hiding in plain sight,” to being female or over 50 years old. The following is a tribute to Steyerl’s piece. Using Photoshop filters and borrowing techniques from linguistic steganography*, this typographic manual suggests different ways to make the “picture that broke the internet” disappear.

1. MAKE YOURSELF INVISIBLE FROM THE CAMERA HIDE REMOVE GO OFF SCREEN DISAPPEAR

How Not to Be Seen

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2. MAKE YOURSELF INVISIBLE IN PLAIN SIGHT PRETEND YOU’RE NOT THERE SCROLL WIPE ERASE SHRINK PIXELATE

3. BECOME A PICTURE CAMOUFLAGE CONCEAL DISGUISE WAVE ZIG-ZAG RIPPLE

EYE ON DESIGN


refer to Amy Suo Wu’s toolkit p.16

4. DISAPPEAR LIVE IN A GATED COMMUNITY LIVE IN A MILITARY ZONE BE IN AN AIRPORT, FACTORY, OR MUSEUM BE A SUPERHERO BE FEMALE AND OVER 50 SURF THE DARK WEB

5. MERGE IN A WORLD MADE OF IMAGES HIDE REMOVE GO OFF SCREEN DISAPPEAR

How Not to Be Seen

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The design process can be a slow, messy, and frustrating one, littered with false starts and dead ends. Though it’s the stories of success we usually hear about, the designer’s daily lot is more often about failure. It comes down to trying, then trying again, and not always breaking through. These stories are hidden away in dusty black binders. They stack up as neglected JPEGs on the desktop. They’re buried deep in email chains that we’d really rather forget. But is there anything to be learned by looking closely at these lost designs? This portfolio celebrates the work that never was, for better or worse. Through fire projects, we see a tantalizing hint of what could have been. We’re asked to judge the work with a client’s eyes: Do we share the designer’s frustration, and wonder why the project was scrapped? Do we agree that the work was beyond repair and best thrown away? Will we discover lost gems that deserve a second chance? A rejection might feel like a slap in the face to some, but to others it can open a route to something exciting and new. It shows us that it’s the things that don’t work, just as much as the things that do, that ultimately make a designer. Without failure we can’t really appreciate the triumphs.


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RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECT S RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJEC TS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJE CTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJ ECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE RE JECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE R EJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT TH E REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT T HE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURREC T THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRE CT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESURR ECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESUR RECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RESU RRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RES URRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS RE SURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS R E SURRECT THE REJECTS RESURRECT THE REJECTS

Presenting five designs that never were


EYE ON DESIGN After I’d heard Modern Guilt, I thought the cover should be big, monumental, and natural—less driven by technology, and a bit more textural. There were a variety of cover options, and each referenced some older, airbrushed vinyl and sleeve traditions, but the woodblock typography became a kind of case study for me at that time. I think the label was pulling for me, or for illustration anyway, but I don’t know what decisions led to the cover that was ultimately chosen. I desperately wanted to work in music when I graduated, and in a lot of ways, having work for Beck in my portfolio was the validation I needed to break into that space. A number of the concepts I designed actually were chosen as tour merchandise, so I felt comfortable enough posting the sleeve development work online. There was a lot of debate weighing the unused sketches and the final sleeves in design communities at the time. I think I’ve gone on to work with many musicians by virtue of some of this early, unpaid pitch stuff. I think the next big sleeve was with Carson Ellis—who is amazing—for the Decemberists. I listen to every album I work on artwork for now, and listening to unreleased music never gets old—it’s among this industry’s most precious perks, I think.


Resurrect the Rejects

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MARIO HUGO, HUGO & MARIE MODERN GUILT BY BECK Back in early 2008, I was contacted by Beck’s label, which was Interscope at the time. Honestly, I was excited out of my head. I’ve worked with many musicians since, but it was my first big music project. I remember the brief being something along the lines of “Beck has a new album, we have a title [maybe] that is subject to change [almost definitely]—also, we’re afraid you can’t hear any music yet, because we want to avoid a leak.” Leaks were a big deal before streaming, and music was too valuable to distribute to some kid the label didn’t know. It was only after the first round of pitching that I was asked to come in and listen to the album. It was in a small, unremarkable conference room at some office or other. This was a long time ago now, but I’m pretty sure I was given a physical CD player and headphones, because I’ve recorded the memory of how strange that felt, even at that time. Dangermouse co-produced the record, and I remember it sounding a bit spacier or poppier than I’d imagined, so I went back to the drawing board and contributed a couple more illustrative covers, but with a kind of kitschy, occult, Popular Science vibe.


EYE ON DESIGN

Babel

We were asked to do a poster, and merged the image we had from the nineteenth century painting of Mount Fuji—that’s where the red comes from—together with a graphic interpretation of the Babel painting. It’s a bit new to do this, as we usually don’t make images for the museum in that style. They thought it was one step too far, since the painting is so famous, and if we didn’t use the painting it might be difficult for the audience to understand what the poster was about. They thought it was a bit too young and might not attract the audience that would be likely to go see the seventeenth century paintings. I think they do have a point, but we still love the artwork. This was a very specific moment; they really had asked for a poster without the painting, and then when they saw it, they decided it was too much. For us, the specific question of making imagery without art isn’t so common in our relationship. We have a system of working with the image and working with the type, so we wanted to do something new, and often it’s rejected so we come to a compromise. They’re one of our best and favorite clients, so we don’t mind too much.


Resurrect the Rejects

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NIKKI GONNISSEN AND THOMAS WIDDERSHOVEN, THONIK, MUSEUM BOIJMANS VAN BEUNINGEN BABEL We’ve worked with the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen for the last 10 years; for books they work with other designers, but we do all the comms for them. The style of those is based on Lance Wyman’s 1968 Mexico Olympics logo. What I really like about the identity is that the logo is very natural, but we put the program titles across the three lines, like Wyman’s, so it’s very ornate, like op-art. That mixture of neutrality and ornate is quite uncommon: There’s such a strong identity in typesetting the program, and it’s such a natural identity that works with the name of the organization and institute. We’ve made more than 300 programs for exhibitions in that style. This assignment was to create a poster celebrating that “The Tower of Babel” [the c. 1563 painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder] had been brought back to the museum. It’s one of their most famous and important paintings, about the tower that was built to the sky for people to be closer to God. Then God got cross and punished the people by giving them different languages so that they couldn’t work together anymore, because they couldn’t understand one another. The painting had recently gone to Japan with a lot of the museum’s other highlights. concept presentation When it came back to Rotterdam, the museum wanted to tell people. Since Japan was so fond of it, they wanted an image that said, “Why oude meesters + terug uit Japan don’t you have another look?” ↓↓

↓↓

+

Pieter Bruegel = old dutch masters icon

Similarity in shape and colouring

Utagawa Hiroshige = japanese masters icon


EYE ON DESIGN If you look at most typefaces, the “g” can be so wild. It’s one glyph where you have a lot of room for experimentation. We were trying to imagine how the stroke of the pen might work, since it’s kind of supposed to be cursive but an invented cursive form—something we hadn’t seen before. I was looking at my own doodles and hand-writing and noticed this weird curlicue kind of loop, where there’s a round bowl at the top and it descends in a horizontal way, almost like the lowercase “y” might. This “g” starts in the middle and loops around counterclockwise before switching directions and finishing off below the baseline. I don’t know that that’s the natural way to write a “g.” I think Jonathan Hoefler always thought it was a little bit off. It read okay in the context of words; when you read it in the middle of a word, your eye would be able to recognize it as a “g.” But if it was at the start of a word, or if there were two in a row, it really didn’t feel right. For a while, I was trying to convince him to keep it, but I think we both knew it was a little out there. If you really study the shape of it, I don’t know if it really looks like a “g.” If I had to guess what it was without any context, I don’t know, maybe it would even look like a really strange “s.” Is it upside down? Is it backward? What is this thing?


Resurrect the Rejects

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ANDY CLYMER, HOEFLER & CO. OPERATOR We had been working for months on the upright roman version of Operator, and we knew that there needed to be an italic companion to it. There were a couple different ways the italics could have gone. A lot of times you might expect the italics to look like a slanted version of the upright roman. The other option was really going for it, adding more script and cursive elements in there, like you see in old typewriters. The “g” was a really tricky glyph. It took a lot of work. At minimum, a lowercase “g” needs to have a round shape at the top and something below the baseline. That’s what we were trying to do here with this form. You’re removing details to find the part of it that still looks like a “g.”


EYE ON DESIGN in our design careers. It felt like an affirmation that we weren’t just kidding ourselves and that we were making good work that people outside of Manchester, UK were sitting up and taking notice of. I feel like I bragged about the whole thing to friends too much in retrospect, though, so I guess it taught us not to talk up potential projects until they are signed off.


Resurrect the Rejects

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MARK EDWARDS, DR.ME SURVIVAL & RESISTANCE BY ADRIAN SHERWOOD We got a brief in from Stephen Christian who is head of A&R at Warp Records toward the start of 2012. It was pretty informal, which I guess you would expect from an independent music label like Warp. He asked us to do the album artwork for British dub record producer Adrian Sherwood’s “Survival & Resistance”—Adrian’s friend was supposed to be doing the commission but had gone AWOL. Stephen basically just sent us an outline of what they were looking for, along with some screenshots of reference images, as well as some of our own work that he had seen featured in a write up in Creative Review and liked the look of. Then, of course, he also sent the record for us to listen to. As big fans of Warp and a number of the acts it’s released over the years, we were really flattered to be approached. DR.ME was still an incredibly young design studio at the time. To start the commission, we experimented with a few different directions that we thought would suit the title—“Survival & Resistance”: this meant trying to create something using two elements, symbolizing the combination of the two words. We sent Warp and Adrian some ideas: They liked the concentric geometric shapes we were using, but weren’t sure the imagery was quite right. They suggested something a bit more punk. So in response, we found some images that we felt had more of that energy and urgency that punk possesses—but not in a safety-pin-through-the-nose kind of way. Once we submitted the final image, we didn’t hear anything for a week or so, which, given the fact that we were on quite a tight deadline, meant we were prepared for the bad news when it came. We were pretty gutted. We had worked up a piece that the label and Adrian were happy with, only for his friend to appear with finished artwork at the eleventh hour. Stephen let us down gently, and sent us a care package of Warp albums, which was good of him and probably says a lot about the label. In the end, the experience was mainly positive, as we were still early on


EYE ON DESIGN After the third round you just don’t hear back for a little while. That usually requires my follow-up. I have a two-step process of going onto Amazon, seeing if it’s up yet, and then writing a note. But now seeing where they landed, I completely understand why this was rejected. I was going almost too vague, too wrapped up in tone. I went with a much more ethereal feeling. I didn’t nail Florida. I rested on the fact that the title saying “Florida” would be enough.


Resurrect the Rejects

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RODRIGO CORRAL FLORIDA BY LAUREN GROFF Since we’d worked on Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, the art director came back to us to work on Groff’s new collection of stories, Florida. We had a quick conversation on the phone. It was very open-ended: “Riff off of what we successfully did on Fates. But also, if you have an epiphany and want to try something new, go for it.” I jumped into the text, and went back to Florida quite a bit. I love so much how she tackles the personalities of the people there, and how she describes her neighbors and the people she writes about. When I read a book for an assignment, I highlight the things that I think are interesting, then come back to it a day later and reread them to make sure I still feel strongly about it. Then I’ll be strategic about ideas: This idea covers a historical element of Florida, this covers the quirky characters of Florida. This other one covers the more impactful aesthetic and ambient qualities that could be Florida, and that will just make a striking cover. I went the animal route; I used a turtle. She has a crush on an explorer in one of her stories, and wants to go back in time to meet him. He was also a writer and an artist who did some beautiful watercolors, so I borrowed one of his images of a turtle. We did quite a range. As you can imagine, once you get into round three, you sort of run out of reasons why things might not be working. I couldn’t help but be pulled back to what I thought marketing would want, which is playing off of what we successfully did with her last book. So I went for tone and mood and got wrapped up in this idea of storm clouds and how they could just be a reflection of all the different quirky Florida personalities that she writes about. I’ve spent years thinking that, from a publisher and marketer position, the approach to choosing a cover is “What’s the idea?” That’s still how I approach it. You have to be inspired. You’re not just decorating, it has to be born of something. But I think from a publisher’s perspective the approach is really more “Is it striking? Does it feel impactful? Does it feel like we’re linking to the previous books enough?”


DESIGN HISTORY ISN’T REPEATING ITSELF — SO WHY IS THE WAY WE TEACH IT?

There’s little disagreement that the traditional graphic design canon is chock full of white, educated males from the West. For many, studying design in school means learning a history that doesn’t include them. We asked four design educators to address the ways in which schools should approach this problem, and how we can push for more equal representation. The result is three different pieces that come at the topic from various points of view—ranging from a call for the democratization of the canon to not teaching the canon at all.


WE SHOULD WORK TO RECOGNIZE THE WOMEN DESIGNERS WHO NEVER GOT THEIR DUE

1. WITH HER FRIEND MARIA BIRD, LINGSTROM CO-CREATED LEGENDARY CHILDREN'S SHOWS ANDY PANDY AND THE FLOWER POT MEN.

BY RUTH SYKES In the UK, the latest government statistics report that only 29 percent of graphic designers are women; meanwhile, many of those in senior design positions who are considered leaders in the field tend to be men. Yet for decades the number of female graphic design students in higher education has been similar to male—and today, women make up 60 percent of graphic design students. (This proportion stays the same when international students, who are less likely to work long-term in the UK, are taken out of the figures.) This contrast between students and professionals is concerning. There aren’t enough jobs for all who train for one, and who gets and keeps them should be decided by ability, not gender. So what action can graphic design education take to equip students to deal with gender disparity in the profession? For one, the curriculum can feature more graphic design by women, to demonstrate that innovative and valuable graphic design can be generated by any gender. Educators can explain the historical processes in the development of the profession and its historical documentation that leave women’s work less likely to be celebrated. This can be done in both a creative and critical way, as graphic communication design students at Central Saint Martins, where I am an educator, recently demonstrated. In December 2017, a group of students, from first year undergraduates to final year masters, both male and female, made an exhibition related to gender disparity in graphic design. Supported by me and Sarah Campbell, curator of the Central Saint Martins Museum & Study Collection, the students made new work in response to graphic design pieces displayed in the museum by eight female alumni and staff of the college. As the students weren’t previously familiar with the women whose work they responded to, even though much of their graphic styles seemed familiar, they named their exhibition “I Don’t Know Her Name, But I Know Her Work.” The female designers they chose had careers making graphic design for important clients, competing against designers such as Edward Bawden, Abram Games, and Barnett Freedman—men who are far better remembered today than are their female peers. They include Freda Lingstrom, who started her own graphic design business in the 1920s with British and Scandinavian clients, and became head of BBC children’s television in 1951 1. Another is Dora Batty, who worked for the

Design History Isn’t Repeating Itself— So Why Is the Way We Teach It?

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In the last decade, campuses across the United States have seen a dramatic increase in the number of international students3. In the undergraduate Communication Design program at Parsons School of Design where we teach, the increase reflects a broader university-wide figure: Close to half of this academic year’s

EYE ON DESIGN

3. A REPORT FROM THE INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION OPEN DOORS DETERMINES THAT THE POPULATION OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS IN THE U.S. NEARLY DOUBLE BETWEEN 2006–2015

BY CASPAR LAM AND YUJUNE PARK

2. SECOND COUSIN THRICE REMOVED OF NONE OTHER THAN KARL.

WHAT CAN INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS TEACH US ABOUT DESIGN EDUCATION FOR ALL?

HTTP://GRAPHICS.WSJ.COM/INTERNATIONAL-STUDENTS/

prestigious Curwen Press and designed publicity materials for large UK businesses such as Mac Fisheries and Clarks in the 1930s and ’40s. Enid Marx,2 who also worked for Curwen, designed book covers for publishers including Penguin books in the 1940s, and stamps for the Post Office in the 1950s and 1970s. Each of the eight female alumni featured had work commissioned by London Transport, creating a total of 150 posters between them (an exhibition of this work by the London Transport Museum, in fact, provided inspiration for this show). Much of their design work was produced during wartime and post-war periods, when women graphic designers in the UK were prevalent, even though their contributions do not get the same attention today as those of their male counterparts. Research into these women’s careers inspired the students’ final outcomes, and we displayed both the new and the historical work at the entrance to the college. The students referenced the issue of under-valuation of women in graphic design, and they broadened their design references to include female designers—but they also became familiar with the media, methods, and styles of these pieces. Including as diverse a range of designers as possible in design education is essential to teaching the whole history of the craft and profession. Importantly, the study of role models and the reasons for their historical underappreciation may also help students build the resilience required to achieve long, creative, and high-level careers. It can help explain that, fair or not, the reception of their work may be influenced by more than just how accomplished they are as designers. The more we can teach students to recognize the inequality in their chosen profession, the more equipped they’ll be to change it. Ruth Sykes is cofounder of REG Design, an associate lecturer at Central Saint Martins, and a postgraduate candidate at the Royal College of Art.


matriculating class is comprised of international students. We face the unique challenge of educating students of diverse cultural backgrounds, each with a different idea of what it means to be a designer and how to achieve that in their time here and beyond. For some of these aspiring designers, studying at Parsons enables them to pursue opportunities in the U.s. For others, opportunities back home beckon. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we too often assume our students will be making work in a context receptive to design and for audiences open to manifold ways of seeing. For graduates who do not or cannot work in such favorable conditions, how do we enable them to translate their visions for radically different cultural contexts? Fundamentally, we should teach our students how design and its discourse can be shaped by different living contexts. Our graduates enter a world where the globalization of material culture and, specifically, the expectation of conformity built into our digital experiences erodes cultural characteristics. The need to operate both locally and globally forces them to face the challenge of evolving visual forms that can be translated across media, time, and place. Increasingly in our upper-level critiques at Parsons, students not only address what a design is but also where a design might live. This question has broader ramifications than simply determining a design artifact’s audience. While the latter considers design as an object for consumption, the former addresses design as a living entity, part of a changing material culture. Teaching students to work in this way is challenging. It requires graduates to create with clarity and firmness of purpose. They can’t idle in the fantasy of the master-apprentice model. Instead, they have to recognize and hone their own authorship and agency, reflecting on the motivations that drive their creative impulses. As design educators, we watch them search for tools and prod them to create methods that amplify their talents. We trust that they will recognize how much there is to discover in their own body of work: for themselves and for others. So far, we’ve touched upon the skills all design students in today’s globalized world need, but the growth of our international student population has forced us to renegotiate how these skills can be maintained post-graduation. We’ve taught so many international students who want to take what they have learned back to their own communities. While some of the visual forms they learn to produce in school may not be relevant, they find resonance with the ideas and methods underlying the production of such forms. But what they really yearn for is a community. More and more, we have found it necessary to teach graduates how to sustain their convictions by finding sympathizers and allies that can allow their ideas and work to grow and flourish. One of the most notable examples of this is in the growth of the Arabic type community Design History Isn’t Repeating Itself— So Why Is the Way We Teach It?

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4. FOR MORE COMMUNITY-BUILDING INITIATIVES, SEE CONNECTING SPACES, A TRANS-DISCIPLINARY, EXPERIMENTAL ARTS SPACE IN HONG KONG BY THE ZURICH UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTS THAT HAS A DISTINCT CROSS-CULTURAL FOCUS.

HTTP://WWW.CONNECTINGSPACES.CH/

spearheaded by intrepid individuals and by organizations such as the Khatt Foundation. Learning from these community-building initiatives and bringing these techniques into design education can allow our graduates to form lifelong communities that become forums for debate and creation. For designers, seeing is believing. While the narratives from design history can offer them inspiration that fuels their imaginations— about how their interests and predilections can be successfully channeled toward certain creative ends—creative communities4 can serve as cross-cultural conduits for understanding how design lives in the here and now. In a field as rapidly evolving as design, these communities can respond to and advance changes, often in a more agile manner than that of larger institutions. If the role that designers play is to imagine possibilities, then at the very least we should provide our students the means to imagine such possible futures. Caspar Lam and YuJune Park are partners at Synoptic Office, an internationally recognized design studio operating in the space between design, technology, and education. They serve as assistant professors of communication design at Parsons School of Design.

BY JULIETTE CEZZAR

EYE ON DESIGN

HTTP://TYPOGRAPHYSUMMERSCHOOL.ORG/

This has been a banner year for the “unsung.” My inbox and my social media feeds are finally full of monographs, retrospectives, and awards that celebrate the underrepresented, diligently painting back into the picture heroes and heroines who seem to have accidentally fallen out. But the structure is the same: So-and-so is a genius, now acknowledged, because the old gatekeepers have now been usurped. I’m happy that we can finally acknowledge our biases, but I’m also troubled, because we’re still substituting lists of people for the larger narratives that we all contribute to. Now, rather than five or six “titans,” we have a pantheon of gods and goddesses to choose from and that pantheon looks a little more like us5. When we all choose our own heroes and heroines, however, we have even fewer shared stories or references. And without common references, we strip our shiny new historical people of context. To see this in action, go into any design classroom and ask: “What is modernism?” If there are international students, the question

AS WELL AS TYPOGRAPHY SUMMER SCHOOL, AN EXAMPLE OF SMALL GROUPS OF PRACTICING DESIGNERS ENGAGING IN SMALL WORKSHOP-LIKE CLASSES HELD IN DIFFERENT LOCATIONS

LET’S TEACH A HISTORY OF IDEAS, NOT THE HISTORY OF INDIVIDUALS


5. ERIC HU, HASSAN RAHIM, AND ERIK BRANDT DISCUSS DESIGNERS CONSTRUCTING THEIR OWN HISTORIES IN THIS VIDEO:

HTTPS://EYEONDESIGN.AIGA.ORG/WHAT-IS-DESIGN-EDUCATION-ACTUALLY-FOR/

6. MACIEJ CEGLOWSKI GAVE AN EXCELLENT TALK ABOUT THIS IN 2014:

HTTP://IDLEWORDS.COM/TALKS/WEB_DESIGN_FIRST_100_YEARS.HTM

is complicated before you even begin to address design; the student from Denmark has a different understanding of modernism than the student from India, Turkey, or Brazil. American students will generally give you a stylistic explanation like “it’s keeping things simple,” as if it is an expression of personal taste. Someone will offer “form follows function,” without knowing where that phrase comes from, what it was responding to, or what its own mostly xenophobic defenses were at the turn of the twentieth century. How do we make sure what we make is shaped by where we are in the history of ideas—how we answer the big questions. How do we see the world? What are the rights and responsibilities of individuals? What do we value as a society? What is our relationship to technology? As designers, we encode these ideas into what we make. When we encode these ideas, to a certain degree, we endorse them. When I make a “clean” layout, for example, I add one more vote for universal meaning and hygienic form; one more vote for a world that believes in progress. But in order to understand what I am saying yes to, I need to know where these ideas are coming from, what they rose in reaction to, and how they’ve been questioned. We also need a shared understanding of where the machine ends and the human begins in the process of design, and how this has changed over time. It was the invention of the flashbulb, not just individual photographic genius, that made the muckraking images of Jacob Riis possible. Almost all of the technological developments of the last 30 years that have changed our day-to-day lives have to do with communication. We still ride 747s6, but the entire structure of how we get information from one brain into another has irreversibly changed. Instead of fully acknowledging how those advancements have changed what we make and how we think, we have lost ourselves in the nostalgia of the pre-digital. Our contemporary communication landscape—even offline—is almost entirely constructed by templates and algorithms. How this all came to be is relevant, crucial even. Yet we turn our attention to the biographies of Toulouse-Lautrec and Dieter Rams, hoping there are some secrets to genius there that we can use in our own quest to matter within this new paradigm. Meanwhile, we mostly regard postmodernism as a bad dream (“David Carson! Can you believe it?”) and forget to talk about what happened after, and how we got to our present moment. When we add women to our conversation, we don’t discuss their husbands or the family they were born into because it ruins the story of the individual genius in a meritocratic culture. Don’t get me wrong, teaching history through biography can be a useful tool. In elementary school, kids are introduced to history through characters that they can empathize with, before they develop a database of big-picture events to connect to. As grown-ups, though,

Design History Isn’t Repeating Itself— So Why Is the Way We Teach It?

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we are fully qualified to discuss and debate ideas. And substituting hagiography for history is itself an American obsession that we should consider letting go. It’s connected to our most corrosive idea, one that is currently enjoying a renaissance: We are a culture of winners and losers; the winners always deserve to win, and the losers deserve their punishment. If we valued the history of ideas as much as the history of individuals, if we understood design history in its full economic, political, and social contexts, we would also value more the work of the archivist, the moderator, the facilitator, the teacher, and the producer. And when future educators describe our time, what will they say? Will they again make lists of people, and try to make sure their accounting shakes out okay? Or will they say that we all contributed in making this new world, and talk about how all of our contributions—whether in words, pictures, posts, or spreadsheets—mattered in that making? Juliette Cezzar is a designer, writer, and educator based in New York City. She teaches at Parsons School of Design, where she was the director of the B.F.A. Communication Design program from 2011–14. She served as president of the board of directors of AIGA/NY from 2014–16. Juliettecezzar.com

EYE ON DESIGN


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A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXANDRA BEL L A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXANDRA BE LL A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXANDRA B ELL A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXANDRA BELL A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXANDR A BELL A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXAND RA BELL A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXAN DRA BELL A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXA NDRA BELL A CONVERSATION WITH ALEX ANDRA BELL A CONVERSATION WITH ALE XANDRA BELL A CONVERSATION WITH AL EXANDRA BELL A CONVERSATION WITH A LEXNDRA BELL A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXNDRA BELL A CONVERSATION WIT H ALEXNDRA BELL A CONVERSATION WI TH ALEXNDRA BELL A CONVERSATION W ITH ALEXNDRA BELL A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXNDRA BELL A CONVERSATIO N WITH ALEXNDRA BELL A CONVERSATI

BY TALA SAFIÉ


Artist Alexandra Bell reveals hidden media bias with her series Counternarratives, which explores the impact of language and editorial design in formulating cultural narratives. Her work has been shown all over New York City, from the Clinton-Washington Avenues subway station to MoMa PS1’s courtyard.

When did you start working on Counternarratives? In August 2016, after a number of police shootings. I kept trying to turn over the language that was being used in the news; something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on was amiss. I started playing around with the text, seeing if I could keep the intended meaning of articles while maybe inferring something else. Can you talk us through your process? I read the newspaper, find something that’s off—a word choice or photo misplacement—and flag it. I then recreate the article on Indesign from scratch and mark it up. Some of the notes I add are commentaries, while others are instructions for the second half of the project, where I recreate another article. You typically intervene on news pieces that aren’t too recent, which makes your work seem more reflective than reactive. How do you choose your content? In all the content that I end up picking, the writing is usually pretty sound but there’s a “hiccup.” The New York Times article about Charlottesville [“White Nationalist Protest Leads to Deadly Violence”] isn’t poorly written, but the visual aspect of it on the front page diminishes the importance of it. When I see things like that, I’m curious: Is there someone at the paper who is being really shrewd about the subject matter, or is there a desire to make white criminality invisible? Why is this getting this kind of treatment?

You don’t simply rely on text edits then, you also focus on photographic choices and layout hierarchy. In your opinion, which is the most impactful design decision? I think people are really moved by visuals. Images are important for relaying something, as long as they operate within boundaries of fairness. For me, it’s about layout and placement just as much as it’s about the image. Can you tell us more about the annotating process? For every edit I make, I ask: Is there a reason behind this decision? What is interesting is that sometimes I make a lot of notes about things that I don’t end up changing. In the Charlottesville article, for example, there are a number of moments when I question the language being used, flagging expressions like “racial skirmishes” and “racial taunting” that feel weird to me. Although I don’t necessarily find an alternative, I want people to think about how the article talks about racism. You work in printed media. What about digital? I feel like you can’t see a lot of bias online. I think the hierarchy’s violations are clearer in print: this article is in color, this one is in black and white, this one got the front page, this didn’t. I can contend with that a bit more. I also think there’s a different type of impact with something that publicly circulates in that kind of archival sense. Things are different online; you have the SEO to contend with. In papers, you don’t. And the public art component is important. I’m interested in the collective reading.

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“CHARLOTTESVILLE” (2017)

EYE ON DESIGN


“CHARLOTTESVILLE” (2017)

A Conversation with Alexandra Bell

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GETTING RID OF THE GRI D GETTING RID OF THE GR ID GETTING RID OF THE G RID GETTING RID OF THE GRID GETTING RID OF TH E GRID GETTING RID OF T HE GRID GETTING RID OF THE GRID GETTING RID O F THE GRID GETTING RID OF THE GRID GETTING RI D OF THE GRID GETTING R ID OF THE GRID GETTING RID OF THE GRID GETTIN G RID OF THE GRID GETTI NG RID OF THE GRID GETT ING RID OF THE GRID GET TING RID OF THE GRID GE TTING RID OF THE GRID G ETTING RID OF THE GRID

BY LUC BENYON

Needed then deleted, even the strictest design devotees want to keep their system-building weapon a secret


Grids: the guiding principle behind good design, whether for books or buildings. Yet their actual construction—that of a dynamic set of intersecting lines—rarely sees the light of day. Erased from view, deselected; grids are confined to hidden layers in Adobe files or the faint pencil marks of works-in-progress.

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GRID AS PHILOSOPHY

JOSEF MÜLLER-BROCKMANN, GRID SYSTEMS

Swiss Style and, subsequently, the modern grid system, emerged in the 1950s as a result of the particular circumstances of Switzerland’s demographics. With three official languages—German, Italian, and French—the Swiss needed to communicate trilingually at a federal level. Since each language has different word and sentence lengths, they devised a system that ensured that in every government announcement, letter, or brochure, each translation was given equal weight.

As such, Swiss designers became adept at creating these types of organizational structures—a craft explored in journals such as Neue Grafik, and famously, Josef Müller-Brockmann’s Grid systems in graphic design, first published 50 years ago in 1968. As Müller-Brockmann’s book explains, a simple grid is a useful tool for enabling the layout of a page. But to have a grid system enables one to apply the grid across a series of executions, allowing a design to adapt to new environments and guiding it through change. It’s as important a brand marker as a logo or color palette— yet it permeates, rather than punctuates, our consciousness.

EYE ON DESIGN


NEUE GRAFIK

Müller-Brockmann and his peers created this force behind grids. Looking back at publications such as Neue Grafik, it may seem that the grid is a shackle, restricting design from freedom of expression. But these publications were themselves exercises in exposing the grid, testing it to its extremes. For Lars Müller, a student of Müller-Brockmann’s and author of a retrospective on the designer, Grid systems isn’t just a guidebook, it’s a philosophy. “Let’s say the book is a tool now, but the meaning of it has changed. It has lost its ideological or dogmatic attitude or meaning,” he says.

GRID AS READING AID While the effect of the grid may be seen in the columns and rectangles on the pages of newspapers, readers rarely notice the rules that make up a publications modular grids (e.g., always beginning a story in a particular module). For most, being guided across a page by its layout is a subconscious act rather than a conscious one. “The most accomplished use of the grid system is in newspapers,” says Müller, identifying David Hillman’s work for the Guardian in the 1980s as a turning point. “That’s Swiss modernism in Getting Rid of the Grid

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NEUE GRAFIK

a British paper with a modernist attitude. Having Helvetica headlines… how amazing was that for a newspaper?” Designer Mark Porter agrees. He’s worked as an editorial designer for 30 years, including at the Guardian. “British newspapers by tradition had been completely chaotic, filling every space with stories around other stories and so on,” he says. When the Guardian introduced their modular grid system, it was radical; by creating both visual order and a mechanism for placing stories, the system had a calming effect on the communication of news.

GRID AS HIDDEN TOOL As Müller-Brockmann describes, the size ratio of grids is determined by the size and shape of the “A” paper sizes. In digital applications, this relationship between grid size and paper disappears. With responsive design, width is determined by the user. The vertical height is potentially infinite, rendering any relationship to page size redundant. And yet, the grid pervades. Tools such as InDesign treat grid creation as the first step, while popular web and mobile design frameworks like Bootstrap are predicated on grids.

EYE ON DESIGN


JOSEF MÜLLER-BROCKMANN, GRID SYSTEMS

In print design, a grid can always be altered or ignored completely. Digital design frameworks don’t allow for that flexibility. “Theoretically, digital ought to be able to respect the grid more [than print] because in most cases, when you start with a template, you have a container and you’re pouring content into it,” Porter says. “In print, you also start with a grid, but if you want to break it, it’s much easier.” For Porter, the mark of a grid’s success is as an enabler for communication, though one that should stay in the background. “Grids are useful as a means to an end, which is information design and editorial hierarchy,” he says.

“But beyond that I don’t want them to be exposed and visible That’s of interest to graphic designers, but it’s not the kind of thing that’s relevant to a mainstream audience. I don’t want to see design, I want to see stories, people, and events.”

Getting Rid of the Grid

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GRID AS EXPOSITION

OCTAVO, ISSUE 7

Not everyone agrees. For example, the graphic design collective 8vo, comprised of Hamish Muir, Mark Holt, and Simon Johnston, explored the nature of graphic communication through their publication Octavo (1986-1992). Issue seven (1990) famously displayed a yellow grid that dominated the page, clearly underpinning the typography and images. For 8vo, the form of a design was a result of the content, and in a journal about design, it made sense to expose the mechanism.

Either way, the grid enables communication, creates hierarchy, and gives the designer a structure to work within. Mßller-Brockmann’s grid systems are enablers, giving the designer a framework. In digital design, with infinite lengths and variations of content and myriad screen sizes, the grid keeps us grounded. It provides much-needed logic in a world of overwhelming information. Omnipresent, haunting a design, users feel the effects of grids, even when they see no trace them. For those reasons, grids are less ghost, and more guardian angel.

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NATE LEWIS

Nate Lewis is a mixed media artist who primarily works with paper and photography. He recently exhibited at Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, Loyola University, Mass College


of Art and Design, and his work is a part of Claudia Rankine’s Racial Imaginary Institute. He also has a Bachelors of Science in Nursing and worked as a critical care nurse for nine years.

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DESIGNING A MORE PERFECT UNION

WORDS BY PERRIN DRUMM ILLUSTRATIONS BY ERIK CARTER

The best road for underrepresented workers to march down might be the one less traveled


Designing a More Perfect Union

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“You look around and it’s hard to find real full-time work anymore. How do people expect you to make it?” said Linda Borucki, a part-time worker for the past 13 years. Fellow part-timer Laura Piscotti put it more bluntly: “These companies all have a formula. They don’t take you on full-time. They don’t pay benefits. Then their profits go through the roof.” While both statements could easily have been made by designers working today, Borucki and Piscotti were members of the Teamsters union during the 1997 UPS strike, which went down as one of the most significant strikes in American history. It took place during the supposed economic boom of the Clinton administration, yet despite the president’s vow to help the working class, “he broke every major promise to the labor movement and regularly used his authority to prevent workers from striking.” From 1993 to 1995, more than 8.5 million people lost their jobs as a result of corporate downsizing and mergers. Clinton’s first secretary of labor, Robert Reich, later admitted the White House “collaborated [with] and responded to the business community.” Sure, there was a boom for Wall Street, but as Newsweek noted in 1996, “The public is scared as hell.” But they weren’t powerless. There was one large organization on the workers’ side that knew how to talk down corporate bullies and lobby in D.C. for legislative change. Recently David Weil, the former administrator for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division under President Obama, noted some eerily similar economic trends. Today, a growing number of companies are cutting costs by using contract workers, whose rights to fair wages and overtime compensation are more likely to be violated than those of their full-time counterparts. Data from the Freelancers Union (which, confusingly, isn’t technically a union) indicates that this shift toward “alternative work arrangements” means that as many as 55 million people or one-third of the U.S. workforce is made up of freelancers and independent contractors. And we can expect it to increase to 50 percent in just two years. If that number seems high, consider that in 1996 two-thirds of UPS’ quickly expanding workforce was part-time, with a staggering 83 percent of new jobs going to part-timers. Meanwhile, UPS was reporting profits of over $1 billion, a company record it was expecting to beat in 1997. And yet its part-timers hadn’t seen a pay raise since the ’80s; wages were still hovering around $8/hour. There were other grievances,

EYE ON DESIGN


too, such as the lack of job security and a pension plan that UPS was threatening to dip into. By the summer of 1997, with union negotiations going nowhere, 185,000 Teamsters across the country decided to go on strike. For nearly three weeks, they hoisted picket signs painted with slogans like “UPS means Under-Paid Slaves” and “Part-time America won’t work.” Packages piled up in warehouses around the country, and other carriers couldn’t keep up with the overflow. Support from the media, the public, and other unions poured in. “The rally felt like being at a revival—a revival for the entire, long-beleaguered U.S. labor movement. . . . It was the biggest multi-racial strike in a generation that traversed what we now call the ‘Blue State–Red State’ divide,” according to Jacobin. After UPS lost approximately $800 million, it grudgingly agreed to create 10,000 full-time jobs, authorize the largest wage increase in the company’s history, offer protection against subcontracting union jobs, and promise to leave the full-time pension fund in tact. It was a huge, hardwon victory, but it didn’t exactly make life easier for the union. As he walked out of their final talks, the UPS chief negotiator whispered to the union leader, “You’re dead . . . and you will pay for this, you son of a bitch.” To be fair, many union negotiations are civil and handled by the book, but it’s the heated and dramatic conflicts that make history—and history has an uncanny way of repeating itself. Take our friends in the parcel and shipping industry. You think they’ve learned anything from the UPS strike? Amazon is currently being sued by contract drivers who want employee status, and FedEx just went through a round of similar lawsuits that cost it almost $250 million. Now that the gig economy is bringing issues like fair wages, benefits, and job security to a head across many industries, workers in every sector, from Teamsters to the tech industry, are making a case for better employment packages, and employers are finally starting to respond. Design, and any industry where designers work—media, advertising, publishing—is next in line. It’s not about quelling the demands of independent contractors while giving preferential treatment and heaps of benefits to full-timers and full-timers only. It’s not about fighting against the freelance business model, either. It’s not even always about fighting the unions—it’s about Designing a More Perfect Union

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new competition, too. There are just too many other companies offering a quality work experience for full-timers, part-timers, and gig-workers alike for anyone to accept a raw deal anymore. That means the bargaining power is shifting to the workers, but their efforts are scattered at best. Rather than try to patch up the inevitable splintering of the workforce ad hoc or force an outdated union model to work, might it not be a better use of our time, and in our best interest, to find a way to offer benefits and simply protect people who work, no matter where, when, how often, or what they’re called? As problem solvers personally invested in this problem, might not designers be best suited to solve it? This isn’t as idealistic as it seems. Weil, of the Obama administration, is a fan of portable benefits that would essentially follow a worker wherever they go. He’s also optimistic that such a proposal could win bipartisan Congressional support and even improve the president’s approval rating. “If the president-elect is serious about fighting for these workers, I would hope he and his appointees would take on these causes in a creative way that ultimately gets back to the principles of protecting workers in a way our laws have always stated,” he said in an interview with Fast Company.

EYE ON DESIGN


As quickly as the labor force has changed in recent years, it’s only going to keep changing. As soon as 2030, we can apparently expect AI to comprise a whopping 50 percent of the workforce. Whether that happens or not, one thing that’s clear is the way we classify workers will become outdated almost as soon as we can all agree on terms. If we apply obsolete rules to this new workforce, then the 55 million freelancers of today will become the hundreds of millions of beleaguered, lawsuit-threatening strikers of tomorrow. It’s vital for both workers and companies to be protected. While forming a union might not be the best option for the design industry, there’s certainly a lot designers can learn from what the union model gets right and what it gets wrong. Designing a More Perfect Union

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The first surprising lesson? Unions aren’t as outmoded as you might think. When digital writers at VICE, MTV, HuffPost, Gizmodo, and The Intercept recently sought higher wages, editorial protections, and benefits for part-time workers, they joined the Digital Writers Union in partnership with the Writers Guild of America East (WGA-E) and used the power of collective bargaining to enact real change. “People were fed up and broke and anxious about the future, and the union gave them a way to take control and force things to change,” said Kim Kelly, an editor for VICE’s music and culture site, Noisey, in an interview with the New York Times. The WGA-E’s executive director, Lowell Peterson, recognizes that while unions carry negative baggage for an older generation familiar with the highly publicized stories of corrupt leaders from the ’60s and ’70s, that doesn’t faze a younger workforce. “Perhaps it is true that archaic stereotypes of unions—you know, rigid institutions bent on imposing clunky rules to hamstring the world’s job-creators—would not seem to have any appeal for workers who deploy wit, are tech-savvy, and rely on creativity and nimbleness rather than brawn and routine,” he said in a recent HuffPost article. “But the commonplace notion of retrograde unions ignores the reality of the modern labor movement, which has thought long and hard about how to adapt to the contingent, flexible economy of the 21st century, and to the real needs of the modern workforce.” It runs counter to “assumptions about younger Americans’ lack of interest in such collective action and the inability of unions to lure whitecollar millennials,” as Peterson puts it. Media companies that are betting against this “mini-trend” may soon find themselves on the wrong side of history. At the time of this publication, Vox Media refused to follow in the footsteps of other editorial sites and acknowledge its writers’ union, so the digital media staff staged a series of strikes—not by taking to the streets and refusing to work for days on end, but by boycotting Slack and Twitter for specific hours. They are hoping to reach a resolution soon. For every new union gain, however, there’s a setback. When the writers at DNAinfo and Gothamist voted 25-2 in favor of unionization, the sites’ owner, Joe Ricketts, closed the entire operation, sparking headlines like the Times’ “A Billionaire Destroyed His Newsrooms Out of Spite.”

EYE ON DESIGN


Unions tend to gain power in times of economic uncertainty, and decline during economic upswings or once an industry’s specific need has been met. As a country, America saw unions decline during the Roaring Twenties and then rise again during the Great Depression. In a precarious economy, where sudden sweeping changes from the government or a mercurial startup founder could mean the loss of a job, hours, benefits, or pension, today’s young, agile, community oriented workforce is finding strength in numbers. If digital media writers can do it, can designers, too? Allan Chochinov, chair of SVA’s M.F.A. in Products of Design, thinks designers are up to the challenge. “If clients treated designers well this wouldn’t even be a thing. Unions are a monopolization, but have we reached the point where employers have asked for this?” he says. “There are great studios, of course, but we’re approaching levels of workforce abuse where designers are signing away IP to big companies, there are overreaching contracts, 20 percent time, permalancing gone mad—and with no hope of benefits. We hear a lot about how the gig economy is good for designers who want flexibility, but it’s really only good for management, who never has to look after anyone again.” Darryl Mascarenhas, a partner at creative agency Lively Group, acknowledges that workforce abuse is rife at agencies, where designers are often working against tight deadlines. “Some agencies don’t care because they’re under client pressure and will just move on to the next designer. But take a group like [freelance talent agency] Working Not Working, which a lot of agencies use. Those people don’t get run into the ground because it’ll get around. I suppose unions could upgrade declining payment rates and provide things like insurance and 401Ks, but the structure of a union would have to change; it’s just so outdated. Maybe the general designer should just learn their worth and how to negotiate their rates.” In an industry where it’s easy to be taken advantage of, most designers and illustrators become accustomed to looking out for themselves. “When I was starting off, I worked around the clock for teeny amounts and with no idea what work was valued at,” says illustrator Wendy MacNaughton. “When I started working with a commercial agent, which I don’t anymore, I learned more about how rights work, about limitations and renewals, things like that. Having understood that earlier would Designing a More Perfect Union

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have been helpful. We all struggle with valuing ourselves and figuring out how to charge, especially early on. If there was some kind of floor, that would be helpful, especially for women illustrators who tend to undervalue our work.” MacNaughton also notes that for artists and designers who value autonomy and independence in their work life, being a part of a union can mean more compromise than they’re used to. “Am I worried about losing some independence for the good of the group? Of course. But I also realize it’s worth it. Our field has changed so much in the past 10 to 20 years; maybe it’s due for a restructuring that benefits all its members, not just the favored few.” Maria Rapetskaya, creative director of design studio Undefined Creative, is more skeptical still. “Pay regulations would be great, in theory. Most small companies I know are such fragile ecosystems that heavy-handed, broad strokes regulation would decimate our operations. Our rates and pay structures are intimately tied to our specific sector, our client base, our average budgets, and our production cycles. For example, instead of merit increases, we instituted cost-ofliving raises and profit sharing to ensure that everyone gets a really nice end-of-year bonus to boost overall earnings without endangering the financial solvency of the company year-round with salaries. On top of that, rates don’t always translate to the quality of work or creativity, speed, efficiency, communication, etc. So I’ll gladly pay more for freelancers who may be less qualified on paper, but are a fantastic fit. Unfortunately, we’ve also paid high rates requested by artists who appear exceptionally qualified and then can’t deliver. Creativity is far too subjective to be standardized.

EYE ON DESIGN


Here’s a fun game: substitute “performer/performing” and “actor/acting” for “design/designer/designing” in this FAQ from SAG-AFTRA, the union for screen actors and other performers. CAN I EARN A LIVING AS AN ACTOR? It may take several years for a beginner to earn a living

jobs. Success in this business is an unpredictable

as a performer. You must have a substantial cushion of

combination of talent, training, residence, “look,”

savings to fund your quest and/or secure consistent

energy, attitude, and the completely uncontrollable

alternate work to support you during the early stages

factor—luck!

of your career.

a working professional may not earn their income

Even the most talented performers may do

everything right and still not end up with acting

Designing a More Perfect Union

You must not take rejection personally! Even

performing in just one medium.

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“The real problem of the creative industry as I see it isn’t that we can’t pay fair salaries, the problem is in the perceived value of our services that’s been spiraling down,” continues Rapetskaya. “That’s a ‘buyer side’ issue, and isn’t something you can regulate with unions. Buyers who want cheap services would go directly to non-union artists, driving pricing down further among small businesses that can’t navigate yet another set of bureaucratic hurdles and expenses.” That’s only true if we carry the baggage of existing unions with us. If traditional unions might provide value to designers but traditional union models are out of date—and we’re talking about designers here— why can’t we assess the major problems and design an optimal organizing body for our industry? What if we treat the problem of fair wages and better working conditions like a design brief? Here, we’ll start you off. These are just a few of the current problems to consider: 1. Designers have a hard time negotiating their rates. Pay rates and scales are not made readily available. 2. Designers have a hard time negotiating terms and scope with clients. There is no visible general consensus on project standards and timelines. 3 Design interns are often unpaid, or choose to work for free in exchange for a learning experience that is not delivered. 4 Designers often work crazy hours. It’s assumed that a designer will work around the clock before a deadline without receiving equivalent time off in the form of felt days, for example. 5. The value of design is not perceived by those outside the industry like it is for other creative professions (e.g., architects, film directors, actors, writers, etc.) If this doesn’t describe your experience or your company, that’s great. Unfortunately, it’s a reality for many, especially at the junior level. And if you have had a more positive experience, all the more reason

EYE ON DESIGN


to show your support for fair standards that regulate bad actors in the industry. By joining together with hundreds and thousands of other designers and creative professionals, “what you gain is the muscle of collective action,” says Hoyt Wheeler, a professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina, who’s now a labor arbitrator. With that muscle you can negotiate wages, health and safety issues, benefits, and working conditions with management. That same muscle can constrain members, too. The flip side of job security is that union members sacrifice individuality by belonging to a group. You may disagree with some of the union’s decisions, but you are bound by them. When design expert Steve Heller was the art director of the New York Times, he was obliged to be part of a union he couldn’t wait to get out of. “You’re essentially stuck with a bunch of other people that you’re not agreeing with all the time,” he says. “What will strength in numbers actually accomplish? Having a revolution is not in the graphic design DNA.” Whether or not you agree with that statement, or are at least more optimistic, the history of union friction has shown that getting broad acceptance among a large group of people, or simply “joining together,” isn’t simple at all. Plus, design “lacks the history of film unions, for instance,” says Heller. “We’d be starting from scratch, which is problematic and requires the education of lots of people, from small to big businesses. There’s a logistical problem there.” Few people know first-hand just how complicated these logistical problems are better than Ric Grefé, who was the executive director of AIGA for 20 years and oversaw its growth from a small New York– centric club to a nationwide organization that now represents more than 24,000 members. “If you become a union, you become an enemy,” he says. “Historically, union members can become intractable when it comes to employers. Unions work well for freelancers who feel they have no rights, but what’s good for the freelancers is bad for the studios, and if AIGA became a union it would be caught in the middle while attempting to represent both.” Without this kind of bargaining power, AIGA offered the Salary Survey as a means of disclosing pay rates to better inform those working across the industry. At best, nonprofits like AIGA, or like the Freelancer’s Designing a More Perfect Union

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Union, can create resources for its members and advocate on their behalf, but they can’t set regulations or enforce pre-existing ones. “The best thing AIGA can do,” says Grefé, “is establish a perception of designers that is up the value chain in terms of concept, strategy, and being multi-disciplinary, so they can have a greater influence with their clients. It’s better to have a moral high ground than lock clients into a union agreement.” Moral high grounds are fine and good, but unless it’s in the contract it’s often as good as forgotten. Also, might not a regulated set of professional standards actually improve the public perception of the value of design, as it has for other unionized creative industries, like film and TV? “At one point unions were looked upon as godsends,” says Heller. “They set standards. Belonging to a union was a validation of someone’s abilities. Personally I’d like to see an organization that has certain standards, and in order to be part of that organization you have to fulfill those standards, through an apprentice period, like architects.” SVA professor Chochinov also sees the value in requiring graphic designers and illustrators to meet a basic requirement for practice. “Short of licensing a profession, could there be a set requirement?” he wonders. “Then benefits like collective bargaining start to become interesting, because there’s a guarantee of competency and quality.” So, not a union, and not professional license, but an industry-wide standard of proficiency? Sounds kind of like a guild. Guilds date back to 1080, but rose to prominence in the fourteenth century, when a young person was required to apprentice under a master for a set length of time before they were admitted to the guild and thus marked as a professional. “I like the idea of a guild more than a union,” says Mascarenhas. “For the amount of people who claim to be designers, the percentile you’d want to work with is actually pretty low. It’s one thing to kern some type, but it’s another thing to understand a brief and know how to collaborate with a team. My main questions about a guild would be: Does it fit into the modern working world, and when that changes, can it adapt over time?” Still, a guild can only make recommendations that its membership

EYE ON DESIGN


can use to develop a standard—it can’t legally enforce them. So how do we hold people accountable? We could start by asking designers to hold themselves accountable by opting in to an oath, of sorts, or some kind of design manifesto. All independent contractors and business owners who vowed to adhere to these standards could mark themselves as “Design Oath Compliant” on their sites, and anyone who didn’t proclaim themselves as “proudly DOC” would incur wrath on Twitter. Enforcement by public shaming might even be more powerful than enforcement by unions. Plus, who doesn’t love a good acronym? Of course an oath isn’t enough, not by a long shot. If we can learn anything from the shortcomings of medieval guilds or the mistakes made by twentieth-century unions, it’s that a new model is needed— something that takes the working parts of all these collectives and leaves the broken bits behind. “You know, if you really wanted to do design a service after you’re done writing about this,” says Chochinov, “you could prototype a working model.” Anyone good at group logistics?

UNIONS BY THE NUMBERS

10–33%

Average increase in pay rate U.S. union workers make

over non-union workers (factoring individual, job, and labor market)

of the National Education Association, the largest U.S. union

20–25%

Average additional cost for a unionized operation vs.

85%

a non-unionized one

$50–400

Average annual union dues (the equivalent of two

hours of work per month times twelve months)

2,731,419

Number of public school teachers who are members

Union membership in Iceland, the country with the most

union workers per capita

10 years

Length of the longest strike on record, staged by 130

workers at Chicago’s Congress Hotel

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NATHANIEL RUSSELL, “TOGETHER”

Love Letter

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The Marber Grid, the classic layout used by Penguin Books and designed by Romek Marber in 1961.

EYE ON DESIGN


Wim Crouwel grid for Stedelijk Museum, 1967. His determination that all of the museum’s work should be created with the same compositional structure earned him the nickname “Gridnik.” Grids

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Regular quad paper as found in the classic graph composition books. Memorably used by Susan Kare to sketch the first Mac icons in the ’80s.

EYE ON DESIGN


The Villard Diagram was sketched in the thirteenth century by French artist and architect Villard de Honnecourt. It’s remains a guiding principle for producing page layouts with margins of fixed rations. Grids

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DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATIO N DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATI ON DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICAT ION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICA TION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFIC ATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFI CATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIF ICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATI FICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRAT IFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRA TIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GR ATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED G RATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYE D GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELAY ED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DELA YED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DEL AYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION DE LAYED GRATIFICATION DELAYED GRATIFICATION D

Catching up with famous design couples through history, and the women we get to know. Eventually.


RAY & CHARLES EAMES “Some people think that Charles was the real designer but Peter Smithson told me of the enormous dependency that Charles had on Ray, and how he had once arrived in London without her and spent countless hours on the phone (a very expensive thing at the time), unable to make a decision on some detail of a chair they were designing. Peter said Charles couldn’t really function without Ray.” —Beatriz Colomina to Andrés Jaque for Superpowers of Ten exhibition catalog

SONIA DELAUNAY & ROBERT DELAUNAY “The problem with Sonia was that when you first met her, she would say, ‘Yes, you’re interested in my work, but I must show you Robert [Delaunay]’s first.’ She spent all those years after he died really promoting his career and organizing exhibitions. You know, it wasn’t till she was 78 that she had a large exhibition at a museum in Paris. In the years 1913 to 1919 she exhibited widely. However, she spent much of her time after that doing work that would help support the family: costumes, stage sets, clothing, books, fabrics, and other decorative arts. After WWII she returned to painting fulltime.” —Elaine Lustig Cohen, speaking to Grace H Glueck for the Elizabeth Murray Oral History of Women in the Visual Arts Project

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SYLVIA KUSHNER & HERB LUBALIN “The marriage lasted until Sylvia’s death in 1971. In a widely reported remark made in an interview, Lubalin described her as the most talented student ever to come out of Cooper Union: ‘Unfortunately, we had three children right away so she was never able to exploit her talent. She was a very fine fashion designer. And just recently as the kids have grown up, she’s going back to designing and she gets involved every now and then in fashion design problems. And she’s also a very fine painter. She wins all kinds of awards for painting.’” —Adrian Shaughnessy, Lubalin

COURTESY OF THE LUBALIN FAMILY

EYE ON DESIGN


CIPE PINELES & WILLIAM GOLDEN “The year was 1948, and despite repeated nominations from wellknown ADC members, she was continually denied membership to the venerable organization. When the ADC invited Pineles’ husband, CBS designer William Golden, to join, he refused and emphatically stated that the ADC could not be considered a ‘serious, professional organization if it would not admit his wife, a well-qualified, award-winning art director for many years.’ According to Martha Scotford’s biography of Pineles, the club extended an invitation to both Golden and Pineles the next day, they both immediately accepted.” —Debbie Millman in Leave Me Alone with the Recipes PHOTO BY ED FEINGERSH

DENISE SCOTT BROWN & ROBERT VENTURI “When Venturi got the Pritzker phone call . . . his sursurprised reaction prised reaction was to was ask: to What ask:about WhatDenise? about Denise? ‘Denise’ ‘Denise’ is Denise is Denise Scott Brown,Brown, Scott who had who been hadVenturi’s been Venturi’s intellectual intellectual collaborator collaborator since the early nineteen-sixties, since the early nineteen-sixties, and a partner andin a partner the firm in since the firm 1969,since deeply involved 1969, deeply in everything involved in it had everything done. Scott it hadBrown done. was Scott the Brown one was who’d the one been who’d drawn been todrawn Las Vegas, to Laswho Vegas, set in who motion set inthe motion project the that culminated project that in culminated ‘Learning in from ‘Learning Las Vegas,’ from who Las Vegas,’ createdwho the studio created class, the studio which class, led to which the book led tothat theinfluenced book that influenced a generation a generation of architecture of architecture students. students. . . . .More . More importantly, importantly,the theideas ideasatatthe theheart heart of Venturi, Scott Brown—the notions that bucked modernism and and reconnected reconnected American American architecture architecture with older with older traditions—were traditions— were developed developed by thebytwo theastwo a team, as a team, or, as or, Scott as Scott BrownBrown has put hasit,put as it, joint ‘a as ‘a creativity.’ joint creativity.’ But Scott But Scott Brown Brown was awas woman a woman and, worse and, still, worse still, married to Venturi. married(When to Venturi. it came (When to the it came perception to theof perception outsiders, of outsiders,wife’ ‘architect’s ‘architect’s trumpedwife’ ‘architect.’)” trumped ‘architect.’)” —Gareth Cook, “What About Denise?”, The New Yorker, April 2013 DELAYED GRATIFICATION

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Eye on Design magazine - Issue #01 "Invisible"  
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