True story: I got to say the word ‘dildo’ to graphic designer, design critic, former AIGA president and current Pentagram partner Michael Bierut. But he started it. Back in September when he spoke at AIGA/NY‘s My Dog and Pony II about the pitch he gave for the new Museum of Arts and Design logo. He’d said that despite the museum, then called the American Craft Museum, not wanting to change its name, he came up with an almost identical logo to the one used now, and convinced them otherwise. The logo seemed like such a great idea when he was designing it, but he said that the more he looked at it, the more uncertain he got — and the more it began to resemble either a whale or a dildo. The people at the museum had another thought, that it looked like a sarcophagus — at this point in the presentation, Michael said, ‘There are two things that you don’t want your design to look like. First is Nazis. Second is death.’ But the logo, as we all know, is a hit, and Michael Bierut was such a hilarious presenter that the audience couldn’t sit still for laughing.
Here is the logo in question:
I’d really admired the logo on my first visit to the museum in the summer. Sadly, the hilarious presentation left my mind tainted, and when Adri, Jessica and I made a trip to Sleepy Hollow the night before Halloween, I had to tell him that the logo would never be the same for me. His response was to laugh and admit, ‘Some things you’re better off not telling people.’ Luckily, the rest of the conversation consisted of more appropriate vocabulary, and he was so amazingly nice to talk to the three of us.
The gathering was for AIGA Metro-North‘s first official event. Metro-North is a new chapter, with a concentration on branding, so the night’s fittingly named event was Dead Brands. I’d planned on being a hermit all Halloween weekend, but this was too compelling to pass up. Luckily, Jessica lives in Tarrytown. The event took place in Sleepy Hollow, of which Michael Bierut is a resident, and the venue was the James House Mansion, a beautifully spooky place. Michael, standing on chair and lit from below, gave a list of seven of Sleepy Hollow’s most important dead brands.
Scott Lerman, board member of the new chapter and founder of Lucid Brands (also a very nice designer we got to meet), posted a video of the event here:
If you haven’t the time to watch the video (it’s only half an hour long), here are the seven dead brands:
1. Washington Irving
Yes, a person, but a wily self-promoter/brander of the early 1800s. He posted ads all over the place about the disappearance of Dutch historian Diedrich Knickerbocker, claiming that if this man did not return to make the payments he owed, the manuscript found in his hotel room would be published. Irving published his own book under this pseudonym, and needless to say, it was a huge hit, grabbing the attention of those who followed the case of the imaginary missing person.
2. Croton Aqueduct
A water system that used to run from upstate all the way into Manhattan.
There used to be a huge GM plant in North Tarrytown, and they produced Maxwell-Briscoe cars. Michael actually used to live in Benjamin Briscoe’s house (he gives the address in the video, and good-naturedly invites you to drive by). This house, Michael said, ironically had a ‘miserably tiny garage.’
4. Kraft Fudgies
There used to be a Kraft factory nearby, and these treats are supposedly amazing. But dead.
5. Pocantico Expressway
This expressway cost $7 million to build, and was funded by the Rockefellers. It is now part of a freeway. I’m not too familiar with the roads upstate.
6. Gory Brook Road
The groundskeeper for the Rockefellers wrote a book called Pocantico, which included lots of sketchy stories of happenings on this road (where Michael lives now).
7. The Village of North Tarrytown
When Michael first moved to the area in 1984, he said that there was a vote happening to change North Tarrytown’s name to Sleepy Hollow, in honor of Washington Irving’s tale. This was a huge deal, because there was a huge rivalry between the North Tarrytown High School and Sleepy Hollow High School (which was located in Tarrytown). Michael said that it seemed to him and the other ‘yuppies’ in town like a good idea, and they didn’t get why it was such a bad thing. He said things about wanting to go in and change the stationery and be able to rebrand the entire town. The vote went through in 1996.
My really scant explanations don’t do Michael’s stories justice. It’s amazing how much knowledge is in that man’s head! When we talked to him afterwards, I said that it would be so interesting if he’d do something similar for Manhattan, and he mentioned that there are two expert historians who compete with one another to know the most about the city’s history, and he would not want to get into that. I think he could surely give them a run for their money.
And now, some photos. Here’s Adri with the honor of shining the light on Michael Bierut’s face.
There was a costume contest!
I believe Frieda took second.
And, of course, Tropicana took first. The wonderful Debbie Millman was there, and we got a chance to talk to her for a moment. She’s so sweet!
More photos (better ones, taken by Scott Lerman) can be seen here.
It was a really fun event, especially for our first time attending another chapter. Michael made the announcement that he is now officially a member of the Metro-North chapter, instead of the New York chapter. The food was amazing as well. I’ve never seen such a well-catered AIGA event before! As great as everything was, for us little students, the best part was the chance to talk to so many amazing designers.
Confession: I don’t know a lot about graphic designers outside of the U.S. I don’t know a lot about graphic designers outside of New York, for that matter. But I do recognize that I’m lucky to be in New York, to be able to run around town and see all the talent and people that I’ve seen so far. Having said that, it’s so uplifting to see how my list of heroes is constantly growing like a preteen. There’s always somebody new to be in awe of, and so many kind souls to want to befriend. As a whole, I think that designers and creative people are very nice people.
They started out by introducing their work individually. Tony (below) runs a studio in London called Spin.
The work that he showed was really beautiful with a modern edge. This is one of my favorites, for Channel 4 in the UK. Like many of Spin’s other works, it uses simple forms to create something great. I loved the way that Tony said the clients kind of thought that it looked like somebody holding up a middle finger, but they liked that aspect of it. (Note cultural difference. It’s great.)
But Tony really seemed to light up when he talked about the books that Spin has worked on. He is a big collector of books, and he said that he enjoyed working on books the most. Then he met Adrian.
Here’s Adrian talking with a slide up of How To Be a Graphic Designer. He explained that after years of working at Intro, a studio he co-founded in 1989, he grew more interested in writing and thinking about design than doing it. Since then, he’s branched out to work independently as ShaughnessyWorks. This book was a result of his growing interest in writing, as well as his desire to address less-discussed aspects of running a studio, such as how time find clients, how to deal with sticky situations like payment, and so on. He said he decided to not design the book himself, which made him a paying client (to his friends) for the first time. (I actually admire designers who take a step back to let somebody else design their books, because I feel like the content gets a better chance to thrive. I love the design of this book — I began reading it just this week, after sitting on my shelf for months, and I’ve spent hours admiring the layouts.)
So the two have combined forces to create publishing house Unit Editions. Well, I’m not sure to what extent it can be called a publishing house, but the focus of it is to create meaningful books in design. Tony told a funny story in which he took his business plan to the bank to get a loan, and the man looked at it and said, ‘I cannot give you a loan for this. But if you wish to buy a car, we can give you a loan.’ So Tony said, ‘I’d like to buy a car.’
Adrian recognized that it’s quite a time to consider going into publishing when technology and the internet is what it is now. But he said that there are two reasons to make books in this age: 1. Yes, you can find everything you need on the internet. The problem is, you can never find it a second time. 2. When you’re working in design, you’re more than likely to be working on your computer monitor. Because your monitor is busy with whatever you’re working on, it’s nice to have a book open beside you.
So the first book published by Unit is Studio Culture, which takes a look at the ‘secret lives’ of studios. Including images and interviews of designers worldwide (among which are Milton Glaser and Paula Scher), the authors gave a glimpse of the contents during their presentation. This project is also a good example of how these new publishers intend to find a way for their books to have a relationship with online content. People were asked to submit images of their studios online, and via WordPress and Flickr accounts, the process of creating this book became a chance for interactivity with readers and contributors. Adrian said that yes, he’d always heard about how wonderful the internet is and how much potential it has, but after experiencing it for himself, he’s amazed by the scope of it. Post-publication, the internet is also an advantage to create updates about studios in the books that may have changed, closed or relocated since, and perhaps such supplementary content can be distributed free online or offered for $5 for a small booklet.
The book’s special edition comes with three options of different colored jacket sleeves. The book itself is also beautifully designed, with no giant title or editors’ names, which is actually why the jacket is applied the way it is. I bought a copy at a discounted price of $25, and chose the sand color because when I asked the two designers’ wives which their favorite was (they were selling the books themselves), they said it was this.
The spine is so beautifully simple (Tony spoke praises of the spine as well).
The authors were kind enough to sign copies. I told Adrian that Nina and I thought they were the sweetest presenters we’ve heard speak, and he said to Tony, ‘Did you hear that? They think we’re the sweetest.’ Then he added, ‘We’re not. We’re not very nice really,’ to which Tony said, ‘Speak for yourself!’ I told Adrian I was reading his other book, and Nina and I got into a conversation with him about how the things in Studio Culture are such a dream for us at this point. He said, naturally, that the best thing to do is try to get into a studio first to see how it operates. When I asked him if he has any advice on how to actually get into a studio in the first place, he said to read the part in How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul that addresses this. He emphasized that it’s very important to do it right, to present yourself in the right way, and to approach people properly.
They really were the sweetest and most understated designers I’ve heard speak to an audience. Perhaps it’s their innate Britishness or maybe it’s something else, but they were such a joy to hear and speak to. Their next project with Unit Editions is going to be a book about super graphics, which we learned are giant graphics that go on buildings and other large structures. I can’t wait to see that!
I forgot to include one of my favorite stories that Adrian told. He said that Erik Spiekermann said that he wished to build his ideal studio setup, which would be circular. Anyone who visited the office would have to walk through everything else to the midde of the circle to get to the receptionist and common areas, like a kitchen/break room. Then in the next level of the circle you’d have the workers and on the outside would be the idea-makers and conceptualizers. Spiekermann would sit in this outer part, and you’d be able to see everything, so that he can yell to anybody from where he sits. The way Adrian described it, it was very funny and sounded highly controlled. Imagine all the staring you’d get when you walk to the middle!
On Monday night, at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, many graphic designers were guilty of taking part in the geekiest game show ever, AIGA/NY‘s The Type Is Right. My friends were as excited as I was when the event first popped up on the events page, so we immediately signed up to volunteer.
Complete with silly game show theme and ominous thinking music, the event was emceed by Ellen Lupton, and there were four teams — the Serifs, the Sans Serifs, the Italics and I forget the last one. Each team had three designers plus a randomly chosen audience member.
Here we have a blurry Ellen, Paula, Louise, Chester, audience member, and Paul Shaw, who ruled on challenged questions and provided information when needed. He is obviously a master type history guru to be much respected.
I thought that my own type nerdiness wasn’t too bad, but the questions asked were so difficult, it shamed me. Still, the teams were able to wow us with their amazingly broad knowledge. This question was one of the few that I was able to answer.
Amongst sillier questions (like how long a certain designer’s line of cocaine was, with the answers given in points and picas — the answer was ‘D. Whatever’), there were much more difficult ones. For example, which typeface from a given list of four was designed the earliest, which designer had a typeface named after him or herself (the answer was Matteo Bologna, who was also there), something to do with the didone classification … it was madness!
But the most traumatizing question was surely the one that asked which of the following Eric Gill is said to have had sex with — A. his sister, B. his daughter, C. his dog, D. all of the above. And the answer was D! I think I may hesitate for the rest of my life before using Gill Sans.
Here we have the other two teams during Round 2. The team on the left, consisting of Charlie Nix, Patrick Seymour, Paul Carlos, were all dressed in suits. So when their audience member came up jacket-less, Matteo (on whom my classmates and I have had a crush since seeing him at the TDC’s Night of the Italians) was ready at the front with his own suit jacket, which he kindly lent him. The team on the right was the one I was banking on winning — how can you think otherwise when it was led by Jonathan Hoefler and included two of his employees, Andy Clymer and Sara Soskolne?
This question, for Hoefler’s team, asked which was Bodoni. I was torn between B and D. You can see Hoefler and Clymer standing in front of the screen to see it better. But, FOR SHAME, they chose C, which everyone around me knew was wrong. C turned out to be Filosofia, and B was the correct answer.
Still, Hoefler’s team prevailed to win by one point against Roger Black’s team in the final round, which was pretty intense. There was a trophy!