Sense and Sensibility

Call me old-fashioned, but I think it's important for a designer to know certain basic issues like the size of a business card and what information belongs on an envelope. Nevertheless, I see a great number of portfolios that have envelopes with phone and fax numbers, business cards that are unwieldy and oddly sized, and examples of 3-dimensional promotion that goes against the laws of physics. No this isn't the fault of the owner of the portfolio. Clearly nobody took the time to explain these basic issues. I'm guilty of this myself. I've often talked to students and assumed someone else already taught them the information.

So, I can complain and be the cranky designer who laments that world isn't what it was when I was a youngster, or I can help. When the good folks at Lynda.com asked me what course I'd like to do next, I suggested we dig deeper into basic issues of layout and composition and move into the stuff we make. Foundations of Layout and Composition: Marketing Collateral gave me a chance to start at the beginning with issues like audience, determining a budget, and what items to produce. I then added basic information on business cards, letterhead, swag, 3-d promotion, and posters.

I'm hoping the examples I use are interesting and inspiring. I rounded up some of my favorite firms like Eight and a Half and Modern Dog. But the main goal is to explain simply the most basic information with collateral. Don't get me wrong; I'm fine with something being unexpected. In fact it should be. But it's best when you know why it's not ordinary. Nobody should be in the position that I witnessed a couple of weeks ago:

Me: Why did you decide to make the letterhead a unique size?

Designer: What?

Me: I'm not sure that a 5x7 card is a poster. What was your intention?

Designer: What?

Me: Is the envelope mailable? It looks like it will fall apart and cost a ton in postage.

Designer: Why are you so mean?

American Psycho

When I decided to go to CalArts, my mother said, “Well, once you’re eighteen, you’re on your own.” I’m not sure if my parents lack of interest or support was due to my choice of school, art school over Harvard, or because they were too busy arguing to notice. They seemed confused about my college until I graduated, telling friends I was at CalTech. The upside of this was absolutely no interference with any of my own decisions. The downside was the financial responsibility to pay for college on my own.

I hate that some of my students now have similar financial struggles. This is the time they should be free to focus on becoming the best possible designer and finding their own distinct voice. I do what I can personally with the scholarship fund but this can’t solve someone’s entire college expenses. When Moo.com asked me to design a set of business cards, I was interested. They are the best quality, printed on beautiful Mohawk Superfine paper. When they told me I could dedicate the Art Center Scholarship Fund as my charity, I was thrilled.

Now, this is one of those classic “do whatever you want” assignments. These sound great, but lead to sitting at my desk staring at a blank pad of paper. So, I thought about cards I want. First, I’d love a set of nautical themed cards, and a set of vibrant patterns and color, then, disturbingly, a set of really depressing places. The nautical and pattern cards are perfectly logical. Who doesn't want nautical business cards, or bright and cheerful color and pattern.

I admit the depressing cards are odd. But I love the idea of shaking someone's hand, smiling and handing out a business card with an image of a place of despair. These are the spaces where people gave up. They stopped trying. They are about lethargy and exhaustion, places where all else failed. What could be more fun?

To paraphrase Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, "I don't ask for much." Now I'm asking that everyone spread the word, order some cards, look better when trading business cards, but most importantly, help a young designer as they struggle financially.