August 26, 2018

Citizen Designer

What does it mean to be a designer in today's corporate-driven, over-branded global consumer culture? The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Steven Heller and Véronique Vienne’s Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility.

So, what is the responsibility of a designer when the design is impeccable but the client is tainted? Being accountable to some moral standard is the key. A designer must be professionally, culturally, and socially responsible for the impact his or her design has on the citizenry. Indeed, every good citizen must understand that his or her respective actions will have reactions. All individual acts, including the creation and manufacture of design for a client, exert impact on others. But Rand could not foresee Enron’s gross betrayal. And even if large corporations are sometimes suspect, why should he or any designer refuse to work for Enron or any similar establishment? A designer cannot afford to hire investigators to compile dossiers about whether a business is savory or not. Yet certain benchmarks must apply, such as knowing what, in fact, a company does and how it does it. And if a designer has any doubts, plenty of public records exist that provide for informed decisions. However, each designer must address this aspect of good citizenship as he or she sees fit.

Two years ago, when Milton Glaser was illustrating Dante’s Purgatory, he become interested in the “Road to Hell” and developed a little questionnaire to see where he stood in terms of his own willingness to lie. Beginning with fairly minor misdemeanors, the following twelve steps increase to some major indiscretions.

  1. Designing a package to look bigger on the shelf.
  2. Designing an ad for a slow, boring film to make it seem like a lighthearted comedy.
  3. Designing a crest for a new vineyard to suggest that it has been in business for a long time.
  4. Designing a jacket for a book whose sexual content you find personally repellent.
  5. Designing a medal using steel from the World Trade Center to be sold as a profit-making souvenir of September 11.
  6. Designing an advertising campaign for a company with a history of known discrimination in minority hiring.
  7. Designing a package for children’s snacks that you know are low in nutrition value and high in sugar content.
  8. Designing a line of T-shirts for a manufacturer that employs child labor.
  9. Designing a promotion for a diet product that you know doesn’t work.
  10. Designing an ad for a political candidate whose policies you believe would be harmful to the general public.
  11. Designing a brochure for an SUV that turned over frequently in emergency conditions and was known to have killed 150 people.
  12. Designing an ad for a product whose frequent use could result in the user’s death.

A dozen additional steps of varied consequence could be added, but Glaser’s list addresses a significant range of contentious issues. Designers are called upon to make routine decisions regarding scale, color, image, etc. — things that may seem insignificant but will inevitably affect behavior in some way. An elegant logo can legitimize the illegitimate; a beautiful package can spike up the sales of an inferior product; an appealing trade character can convince kids that something dangerous is essential. The graphic designer is as accountable as the marketing and publicity departments for the propagation of a message or idea.

Talented designers are predisposed to create good-looking work. We are taught to marry type and image into pleasing and effective compositions that attract the eye and excite the senses. Do this well, we’re told, and good jobs are plentiful; do it poorly and we’ll produce junk mail for the rest of our lives. However, to be what in this book we call a “citizen designer” requires more than talent. As Glaser notes, the key is to ask questions, for the answers will result in responsible decisions. Without responsibility, talent is too easily wasted on waste.

This book examines and critiques through essays and interviews three areas in which designers practice and in which responsibility to oneself and society is essential. Sections on social responsibility, professional responsibility, and artistic responsibility offer insight into how our peers view their practices as dependent on moral codes. The final part, raves and rants, is a soapbox, pure and simple. Our goal in editing this book is not to offer dogmatic decrees or sanctimonious screeds but to address the concern that the design field, like society as a whole, is built on the foundation of... well, you fill in the blank.

The second edition (June 2018) of Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility, by Steven Heller and Véronique Vienne, is now available from Skyhorse Publishing, Amazon, and other good booksellers.

January 10, 2018

Identity Designed, the book

The Identity Designed hardcover (published by Rockport, available from January 2019) aims to uncover the most valuable details about what it takes to create a compelling visual identity.

Since the Identity Designed website was launched in 2010, it’s been a bit of a labour of love sharing insights into more than 500 projects from design studios at the top of their game. Eight years later and I’m delighted to have signed a book deal with Rockport to bring the name to print.

The book will take readers behind-the-scenes at around 20 studios from across the planet, giving a detailed look at one of the most interesting visual identity projects from each. It will cover workflow aspects from pricing and invoicing to generating ideas and reaching consensus on the strongest direction.

It’s aimed at design students with an interest in visual identities, professional designers who want to know how their peers handle projects, and business owners outside the design profession who want to make the most of their time collaborating with studios.

Studio contributions

Each feature will be a 50/50 split between text and imagery. The images will also be split between process and final result, because it’s the sketches, digital roughs, unused ideas, and photos of experimentation that can really tell the story of how the job gets done.

Text will give an insight into the following topics:

  • The client approach — how the client was found, the first questions asked, and steps taken before initial payment is received.
  • Setting terms and conditions — key insights into how client expectations are managed from the outset.
  • Clarifying the design brief — topics covered, and what the client receives for reference.
  • Project pricing and timeframes — factors that affect the overall project fee, and how to determine the time it takes to do the work.
  • Preparing invoices and handling payments — software used to help streamline the process, charging in full versus percentage amounts, and dealing with foreign currencies and exchange rates.
  • Conducting research — what’s looked for, and where, to give the best possible chance of exceeding expectations.
  • Merging strategy with design — how a strategic approach to the visual identity is ensured.
  • Crafting good ideas — how to know when enough experimentation has been done, methods used to find the most varied ideas.
  • Avoiding copyright infringement — ensuring (as far as possible) that no existing design is infringed upon, the process of trademarking a logo.
  • Presenting the work — how clients first learn of a potential design idea, tools and software used for mockups and presentations.
  • Reaching consensus — guiding the feedback, steering clients toward the strongest idea, keeping control of the design execution.
  • Developing guidelines — the role of a style guide, whether prescriptive or flexible, how these documents are formatted and supplied.
  • Measuring success — how to determine the impact of visual identities on client businesses.
  • Studio marketing — advice on how to find your first clients.

The resulting features will be mini-lessons on the process of creating a visual identity. It’ll be quite a unique compilation, merging memorable design with lasting advice.

If there are any particular studios you’d like to see featured, please send an email:

Update: January 2019
Get your copy here. I’m so grateful for the work my publisher and the contributors put into this.

September 12, 2017

On recycled paper and “green” printing

From her new book Designing for Print, Marina Poropat Joyce answers questions on the environmental footprint of recycled paper compared to virgin paper. It’s not necessarily better to choose the former.

Is recycled paper more environmentally friendly?

A few factors need to be weighed in order to gauge the environmental footprint of recycled versus virgin paper. Is the paper mill state-of-the-art or turn-of-the-20th-century? That makes a big difference. Is the mill in a country that does not allow pollution downstream? China’s paper factories pollute more than American factories. Does the mill reuse effluents such as liquor and sludge, byproducts of the paper-making process, or does it dump these byproducts in a landfill?

How fuel efficient is the plant sorted the recycled paper? Are its trucks low emission? Are its conveyor belt motors gas-, diesel, or solar-powered? How close is the recycling plant to the paper mill? Will the trucks collecting all the recycled paper in the city have to drive a long way to the edge of the tree farm where most paper mills are located?

Is an old growth tree going to be cut down to make the paper? This should be avoided at all costs, and several groups have emerged to certify that the source of the paper is legitimate. The two most common names heard in printing are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). If you, the designer, or print buyer specify an FSC-certified sheet, then the printer must purchase from an FSC-certified paper merchant and print on that sheet. If printers are caught substituting other paper, the FSC can revoke their certification.

FSC SFI logos

How was the recycled paper de-inked (bleached) before being made into pulp? Some bleaching methods are terrible for the environment and super expensive to boot. Traditionally, elemental chlorine was used in bleaching, but because of its negative environmental impact, most bleaching processes are now Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF).

Is the recycled paper appropriate for the project? For instance, specifying a job with 100% solid ink coverage on a 100% PCW paper stock might backfire in terms of environmental responsibility because recycled papers use up to three times the ink of a virgin sheet when solid coverage is required.

What kind of paper is it? A cardboard carton? The page of a magazine? A paper grocery bag? All those objects require much less energy to recycle into that form than a sheet of fine writing paper or the page of a coffee table photography book. Most wood pulp fibres can be recycled about eight times before they lose the structure needed to be a strong sheet of paper and wind up in the sludge at a paper mill. Virgin paper is important for introducing strong fibres into the paper-making stream and complementing the mix of recycled pulp. It is also important for that coffee table book you want to pass down to your children. Let’s assume the paper comes from a state-of-the-art US mill and was chosen by a very environmentally conscious recycler in a city where all the paper is sorted close to the mill. If all of these conditions are met, then the resulting recycled paper is more environmentally friendly. Recycling is great so let’s all do our part. Buying recycled paper and specifying recycled paper creates demand. Just don’t specify recycled when you really need virgin, and remember, we need to add virgin paper to the recycling stream.

Designing for Print

Designing for Print.

Is recycled paper more expensive?

It depends. Kraft paper is recycled, brown, and inexpensive. Recycled paper that is whitish with flecks is more expensive than kraft, but less costly than a bright white recycled paper with no flecks. To make recycled paper, the mills need to buy or make pulp from paper that has been de-inked — pulp costing more than pulp from a tree. That cost is passed to the customer who can then weigh the value versus the cost.

Does the paper industry plant more trees than it cuts down?

Yes, but increasing tree farm acreage at the expense of natural forest is not equal in terms of biodiversity, habitat, etc.

Does recycling paper save trees?

When used paper is substituted for virgin pulp, it reduces demand. Recycling helps to reduce the amount of land that needs to be used for tree farms and may preserve native forests. However, a tree in a native forest is not the same as a tree on a tree farm. A natural forest differs from a tree farm in biodiversity and habitat. In ecologically sensitive areas where pressure to convert natural forests to tree farms exists, recycling can help decrease the demand that causes that type of pressure.

Marina Poropat Joyce

Marina Poropat Joyce.

Marina ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund production of her Designing for Print book (available for pre-order). She’s clearly an expert in her field, with the book covering topics such as inks, specialty coatings, finishing techniques, paper choices, colour models, choosing a printer, job schedules, fold considerations, press checks, and a lot more. Best of luck with it, Marina, and thanks for the review copy.

November 29, 2016

Swim the other way

Don’t Get a Job... Make a Job, by Gem Barton, is a book that’ll help recent design graduates find work.

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September 10, 2016

The Drinkable Book

According to Unicef, in 2015 there were 663 million people using unsafe drinking water. To combat the problem and to help educate about the dangers of unsafe water, WATERisLIFE teamed up with Dr Teri Dankovich from Carnegie Mellon to create the Drinkable Book.

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August 7, 2016

The Typography Idea Book

Steven Heller and Gail Anderson have released The Typography Idea Book, geared toward helping you evolve different typographic characters or styles.

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July 22, 2016

Ogilvy on meeting clients and prospects

In 1962, Time magazine called David Ogilvy (1911-1999) “the most sought-after wizard in today's advertising industry.”

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March 29, 2016

Things Organized Neatly, the book

Things Organized Neatly capitalises on our current obsession with photographing and cataloguing all the objects that we interact with on a daily basis.

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March 11, 2016

MIN: The New Simplicity in Graphic Design

This tasty-looking new book by Stuart Tolley focuses on a “rebirth of simplicity in graphic design.”

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February 11, 2016

Digital Print. A Bigger Spectrum.

A Bigger Spectrum is a book by Silas Amos that looks at how top brands are using digital print to increase sales.

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December 9, 2015

Logo Design Love in Spanish

A huge thanks to Madrid-based publisher Grupo Anaya for buying the translation rights for Logo Design Love.

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October 15, 2015

The Process: A New Foundation in Art and Design

A collection of 13 experimental projects designed to teach conceptual thinking and problem solving to art and design students.

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

“The projects, created by Judith and Richard Wilde, focus on developing formal excellence and a strong sense of aesthetics, along with the ability to generate new ideas. Each project is illustrated with multiple visual solutions, provided to inspire creativity and illustrate that there can be multiple solutions to a single problem.”

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

Each project is outlined with some limitations, but the results — created by the students tackling the work — show how open to interpretation every brief can be, and how the possibilities we produce for our clients are, in Steven Heller’s introductory words, “as free as air.”

Richard Wilde is founder and chair of the design department and chair of the advertising department at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York. Judith Wilde is an SVA instructor, and Professor Emeritus at Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York.

It would’ve been brilliant to be one of their students.

The Process, by Judith and Richard Wilde

The Process is available from publisher Laurence King and on /

October 1, 2015

Trade Marks & Symbols, 1973

“A comprehensive, profusely illustrated guide to more than 1,500 trademarks from all over the world.”

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September 14, 2015

Adrian Frutiger, 1928-2015

Renowned Swiss type designer Adrian Frutiger died on September 12th after a lifetime of creating some of the most useful and highly regarded typefaces in the world.

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April 3, 2015

Renoir, My Father

A passage I enjoyed from Renoir, My Father (Collins, 1962) about what life was like in 1845 when Pierre-Auguste Renoir arrived in Paris at the age of four.

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