Damn the Torpedoes, Full Steam Ahead!

Last Friday night, I was awarded the AIGA Medal at the AIGA Centennial Gala. As Nancye Green said after the first AIGA gala, "This is like the best high school reunion with everyone you've ever known." It was the most successful gala in AIGA's history and proves that we still care about design and designers above all else.

Michael Bierut summed up the essence of the evening by pointing out that almost every Medalist talked about someone in the room who gave them his or her first job, or someone in the room they had hired. That AIGA is about our community was made exceptionally clear at this event. There was no mean-spiritedness, envious disregard, or minimizing of another designer. Nobody had the attitude that success was finite and another's meant less for them. There was an honest sense of pride and pleasure for everyone's successes. We may think, as designers, we are competitive and cut-throat, but compared to other professions, we're pussycats and pretty damned supportive of each other.

There's been a huge amount of discourse over AIGA's direction over the last year. Last term, a student in an Art Center class asked me why there was so much arguing. But this isn't arguing. It's discourse. It's what happens when people are deeply committed and passionate. It's what every organization hopes to have. The opposite is a listless disengaged community. We have emerged from a major shift in AIGA's history that will lead to decades of stability and vitality.

As designers, we all have the predilection to critique and analyze. We may have various opinions on the day to day issues of the community, but it was clear at the gala that, in the end, we are all working to the same goal.

As I was sitting there, watching the other Medalists accept their award, I found myself feeling that sensation we all share; seeing something wonderful and having that contradictory sensation of the joy of discovery and that twinge of envy that someone else made it. I tend to use one too many sailing metaphors, but in this instance, going forward, I can only think of Franklin Roosevelt's quote, “To reach a port we must set sail. Sail, not tie at anchor. Sail, not drift.”

Angela Jimenez Photography:

Color Me Mad

I believe I’ve found the root of one of my issues. Yes, it’s the bad taste in color issue. I wish I could be like Michael Bierut, or Chip Kidd, or Dana Arnett, and work with sophisticated and elegant tones. It’s always my goal, but as many of you have noticed, the train always derails and I end up with violet and fuchsia. Why is this? What has driven me to this aberration? My parents had flawless good taste in color. Navy blue and beige were acceptable, pink was okay during the summer, but only tasteless people wore turquoise or purple. My grandparents had a thing for red, white, and blue during the bicentennial, but then it was back to off-white.

The answer is On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’s credit sequence. I saw this when I was six. Isn’t that the age when individuals begin to form creatively? If you want to mess someone up big time, don’t you begin locking him or her in closets at five or six? The credits are clearly (no pun intended) designed to impart the idea of infinity. Let’s look at the facts, though. It’s 1970. Most of the audience was probably on some kind of dope. This was a psychedelic trip visual. And I sat there, soaking up the garish combinations. Now I am ruined, unable to maintain a desire for beige or taupe.

Note: bypass the singing and jump to 1:30. This is where Barbra Streisand begins to fly like the Flying Nun and the drug induced graphics begin.

The Angry Dog and Soft Core Porn

Last week at the AIGA Pivot Conference, Command X was, as always, a huge success. The young professionals who are contestants are the bravest people on the planet. There is no way in hell I would get up in front of 1,500 designers and defend my choices. This year’s group, Spencer Charles, Wendy Hu, Matt Hunsberger, Susan Murphy, Mark Nizinski, Jesse Reed, and Sarah Sawtell are remarkable designers with nerves of steel. The judges, Ellen Lupton, DJ Stout, Michael Vanderbyl, and guest judges, Karl Heiselman, Chip Kidd, and Matt Munoz had the unenviable job of determining who moved on to the next challenge. Michael Bierut hosted the competition, and I mentored and filmed the behind the scenes updates.

Behind the scenes, drama ensued. Michael Vanderbyl was reprimanded by an attendee for suggesting the use of a shamrock on a piece. Supposedly this is deeply offensive to Irish people. I asked Command X contestant, Susan Murphy, who is an actual Irish person, if she was offended, and she was fine with it. In fact, she suggested many names and comments that could be quite offensive to the Irish.

And then another speaker attacked my great friend Bonnie Siegler for Command X. According to an onlooker at the party where the bloodthirsty attack occurred, Bonnie stood defenseless as this person became increasingly furious. As this onlooker said, “it was like a chained angry dog who was let off its leash. There was spitting, snarling, and lunging.” I didn’t realize that “fun” is clearly a filthy word we should never use. Design should be laborious and we should refrain from making artifacts. Charts and meetings are the future.

As usual, nothing shocking happened to me, except for the scandal in Marian Bantjes room. Marian needed to learn how to tie a tie. I can’t do it backwards, so I sat behind Marian to teach her. The result was a photograph that looks like a cover of Viva or Oui magazine, or a soft-core porn film. Thank God it was Marian and I wasn’t teaching one of the Command X contestants how to tie a tie.

Terror and Courage in Memphis

the back of Michael Bierut's head at Command X

I’m sitting in the Admiral’s Club at DFW on my way home from the AIGA Make Think Conference. While spending time with friends is the best part of a conference to me, Command X was a highlight. Similar in structure to Project Runway, Command X works this way: seven contestants are assigned a project, such as redesigning the Cap’n Crunch cereal for adults. They present their solutions and four judges ask questions and make comments. Two contestants are retired on each episode, leading to the final winner. This year, I took the “Tim Gunn” role, interviewing and mentoring the designers in their work area. I did this because Tim and I have the same hair color. Each morning at 8am I met the contestants in their work area and we filmed an update. We then rushed the footage up to the main stage to be presented to the audience during the morning sessions.

Last season's Command X winner, Nichelle Narcisi works here at AdamsMorioka. I asked her about the experience before coming to Memphis, and she downplayed it. But  this is hard. I don’t have the courage to do what these young designers did. They took on a challenge, produced a solution in 24 hours, presented it to a daunting group of legendary designers (Host, Michael Bierut, judges: Bonnie Siegler, Chip Kidd, Paul Sahre, and several guest judges), in front of 1500 designers, and then defended the finished project. Oddly, they had little problem doing this. I was more nervous for them, than they were themselves. The solutions worked, and sometimes they failed. But, this was less important than the overriding emotion in the audience: awe and respect for these incredibly brave young designers.

The final challenge, to design a piece for civil rights, created three unique and successful solutions. Monina Velarde left the stage as the winner after receiving a standing ovation. I watched from the wings as they announced the decision, and tried to give all of them a measure of support when it was all over. I asked them if they were OK, and glad it was finished. They all said they were too exhausted to feel anything, but I’m pretty sure the odd gaze on their face was shell shock.

It is easy to minimize this as a funny reality show, but these seven designers threw themselves to the mercy of the judges, the audience, and the blogosphere. It is far easier to stay in the shadows and never risk public criticism. Few people have the courage to stand in front of the moving train of public opinion. Nevertheless, finalists Alison Yard Medland, Monina Velarde, and Ryan Fitzgibbon collectively said it best backstage just before heading out for the final decision, “Someone out there might be inspired, or feel a little better about their work.” Damn those kids and their remarkable nature.

Matthew Carl, Elmont, NY

Ryan Fitzgibbon, San Francisco, CA

Bobby Genalo, Brooklyn, NY

John Graziano, Lewisville, TX

Alison Yard Medland, Silver Spring, MD

Monina Velarde, Wheaton, IL

Katherine Walker, Chicago, IL

Many thanks to Alissa Walker at www.withgelatobaby.com and www.160over90.com for some of these images

The early morning interview, Ryan Fitzgibbon and Sean Adams

Ryan Fitzgibbon

Alison Yard Medland

Bobby Genalo

The Cap'n Crunch solutions

Alison Yard Medland, Ryan Fitzgibbon, Monina Velarde

Katherine Walker, John Graziano, Matthew Carl, Bobby Genalo

Designers in Black, Part 2

Marian Bantjes and dapper Stephen Doyle

Continuing on from yesterday’s shallow posting about the attire at the AIGA Design Legends Gala in New York, I want to make sure that we don’t cover the articulate messages, inspirational medalist stories, or engaging conversation. So back to the issue everyone has on mind, who looked good and who looked like hell? I’m actually too nice to do the worst dressed list, For the most part, everyone looked purty darn snazzy. There were a few missteps, but I’m sure some would find these “adventurous”. I’m too old school and think there is nothing wrong with the classics. The best fashion moment happened the next day, when Marian Bantjes and I went to Debbie Millman’s really amazing house for cocktails. After a couple or more G+Ts, Debbie agreed to show us her second choice dress that didn’t make the cut. I’ve never seen Debbie in orange, and she should wear it all the time. For a moment, we felt transported to a glamorous evening, Palm Springs, 1971. Debbie, I strongly advise you to wear the orange dress to every client meeting.

Jennifer Morla and Chip Kidd stylish in stripes

Connecticut bigwig Kim Rogala sleek and slim

Glowing and silky Louise Sandhaus

Lovlier than her logo behind her, Lynda Weinman

Emily Carr proves that designers CAN wear color

Terry Irwin silver fox

Madame President Millman in 2nd choice dress

Slim Aarons, Palm Springs 1971