Art Chantry: Design’s Anti-Hero Receives AIGA’s Highest Honor

As a guy who rose to popularity for his crude album cover designs for bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, The Sonics, and Mudhoney nearly three decades ago, Art Chantry is still trying to figure out the design world. In fact, he’s adverse to most design these days and resists technology as much possible. The man prefers to work with his hands, manipulating materials, images, and type in a way that the computer just can’t do, in his opinion.

Chantry is an outspoken critic of modern design and designers, but despite that, he’s being honored as a 2017 AIGA Medalist. The irony hasn’t been lost on him. It just goes to show that good work is good work, and you can be welcomed into the club even if you’re an outsider with a bad attitude. Even he couldn’t believe it when he received the call from AIGA.

Here he talks about what’s wrong with design today, his hoarding habits, and why he’s such a pain in the ass.

Do you like design today?

That’s a loaded question. I do like SOME design done today. But, frankly, I look at old design, not new design. Old design, pre-computer design—when the IDEA was the coin of the realm. I look at contemporary design annuals and see this incredibly high level of mediocrity. Page after page of beautifully rendered (crisp and clean) design that all looks the same. About every 10 to 20 pages one piece will pop out like a huge sore thumb. At first you can’t figure out why. Then you realize it’s because it actually has an idea being presented. Most graphic design today is not really design. It’s decoration. Graphic decoration. It just has to look nice, or pretty, or cool. It has to fit in to a very high standard of production values that only computers can give you.

Any design work that doesn’t look exactly like your ‘comp’ is pounded down like a nail that sticks up. Ideas are erased so fast in an environment like that. These are all things that I try to avoid in my work. Strangely, ideas are all I have to offer any more. Computers don’t have “idea” buttons (yet).

Read the rest of the interview at Moxie Sozo.


Joe Duffy: Reflecting on his contentious debate with Tibor Kalman 28 years ago

At the 1989 National AIGA Conference, Tibor Kalman took the main stage and talked about what was wrong with design. He then proceeded to point the finger at an ad Joe Duffy and Michael Peters put in “The Wall Street Journal” as an example of bad design. Duffy, who was in the audience, was stunned and completely caught off guard.

It was unprovoked and unfair, to say the least. After the onstage debacle, Duffy called for a session in which he could respond to Kalman. It was perhaps too little, too late. Kalman’s wrath had already gone viral, or as viral as things could go in 1989. So, Print magazine’s editors invited the two to sit down in their New York office, with Steven Heller as moderator, and published the debate. It’s recently resurfaced online, so I wanted to talk to Duffy today, 28 years after the fact, to get his take on it. Kalman, of course, passed away in 1999, and was feisty til the end.

Duffy is still designing, but his son and daughter—who are his business partners—are mostly running the show at his Minneapolis-based office. He prefers to paint as much as possible.

Tell me what happened at the conference?

Tibor was a different guy. I was in the audience. We knew one another, at least by reputation back then. I think I was on the national board of AIGA at the time. He knew I was going to be there. He took it upon himself to tell the audience all the things that were bad in design, and as a summation he projected this full-page ad that I took out with Michael Peters and said, “Now here is a perfect example of what’s wrong with design,” or something like that.

It was a cheap shot, to say the least. It was like this 12 year old boy on the playground that was jealous, basically.

Read the rest of the interview here.

The Many Sides of Robynne Raye

If you know anything about Robynne Raye, you know that she’s outspoken, passionate, and a fierce advocate in the design community. As cofounder of the now legendary design studio, Modern Dog, her poster designs have been regularly lauded in industry publications, and the firm’s tongue-in-cheek package designs for Blue Q (among other clients), put them in an enviable position among their peers. For more than 25 years, Modern Dog was at the top of their game.

Then from 2011 to 2013, Robynne and her partner, Michael Strassburger, became embroiled in a copyright infringement case against Disney and Target. It nearly bankrupted them financially, and broke them spiritually. Fortunately, they persevered and the big corporations settled, but the firm was fractured and displaced, and Robynne and Mike were exhausted. Although Modern Dog still exists, it’s now a part-time venture for the principals, who have since taken on new roles.

Mike is an art director at the Seattle Aquarium and Robynne has been teaching full time and taking on projects of her own. If you ask her, though, she wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s busier than ever and she loves it. “When you’re running a studio, you’re managing people and projects, not actually designing. Design is what I love, and I’m happy that I’m able to do it again without the hassle of running a studio. I don’t see myself ever going back to that,” she says. “For 27 years at Modern Dog, I felt like I was taking care of other people. Now I only want to take care of myself.”

And she still likes to be part of the design conversation, especially when she sees something she doesn’t agree with. A few months ago, she unintentionally started a debate over an AIGA event in Seattle called Woman Up, that featured a panel of leading female designers discussing challenges they’ve encountered in their careers. Robynne was disturbed by the intent of the event, so she posted this on Facebook:

“If women designers are on the same level as men, why are we being separated? I saw this [event announcement] earlier today and thought, ‘Oh no, not again.’ Not that I have anything against any of the women on the panel (all talented and some of them I’m lucky to call friends), but I am dismayed that in 2016 we are still (collectively) separating women, and giving them their own ‘women platform.’ Why not just call this a leadership panel? Gender really has nothing to do with their talent. … I look forward to the day that this kind of thing stops.”

There was backlash and support, as the thread wound down the Facebook chain. Robynne will tell you any day of the week that it’s the work that matters, not what’s between your legs. “People were contacting me and telling me that I have to be a role model for women. I am a role model,” she asserts. “The truth is, at Modern Dog, I always got way more attention than Mike, and I think part of that is because I am a woman. I don’t see how it’s hurt me in any way. In some cases, I think my business partner got overlooked because he was male. I find it almost offensive when the AIGA is asking for women to get together and discuss gender issues, when the AIGA is about promoting design. Why leave the design element out of it?”

“Sexism is not a unique part of being a female graphic designer, it’s part of a challenge a person deals with if they are born with a vagina. If I’m going to attend an event that includes smart, talented women designers, then I would like to hear them talk about their work. If other people would rather talk about sexism and gender issues in the field of graphic design, then I’m not attending.”

Robynne acknowledges that sexism exists—in any field—but personally, it’s never been an obstacle for her. She believes you’re either a good designer, or you’re not. If you’re good, you can come up with a solution for any problem. Case in point: She teaches graphic design at Seattle Central Creative Academy, in Seattle, and she recently assigned a male student to design the packaging for a healthy herbal supplement that eases menstrual cramps. “I always think it’s funny when people assume you can’t design outside of your demographic. There isn’t any reason why this guy can’t do this,” she says.

As a teacher, she is mentoring and nurturing the talent of young designers, and she loves it. She hears first-hand the frustrations from students who need guidance, because they feel pressured to be good at everything. “It’s become a badge of honor to list 15 different things you can do, but 13 of those things you don’t really love, and it will show in the work. I tell my students that there’s nothing more satisfying than being good at one or two things. If you’re good at what you do, the work will come.”

She’s also compelled to educate her clients, and let them know when they don’t need something. For instance, a few years ago a former client asked her to redesign a logo she did for them ten years earlier. “They thought it was time to update it,” she says. But after looking at it, she told the client that there was no way she could make the logo work better than it already did. They said OK, and they didn’t change it. “I could’ve made money doing it, but I felt like it would have been irresponsible to try to take something that’s already working really well and make it different.”

In a similar vein, she’s doing several projects for a cannabis company. Originally, they wanted her to redesign the packaging, but she couldn’t find anything wrong with it. “It’s really quite brilliant. It doesn’t use a lot of resources—no glue, no plastic—so it’s already sustainable; the graphics are good; the simple diecut holds the product securely. There’s no reason to change the packaging,” she says, adding, “It just needs to work a bit better,” which is what she’s doing.

“I’m at a point in my career where I’m not desperate to take money from someone. I feel better telling someone what I really think, and it’s a good place to be as a designer.”

Command X: Design’s Ultimate Reality Show

Each year Command X, AIGA’s reality show-style, live design competition pits seven young designers against one another in daily elimination challenges, and is one of the most anticipated events at the AIGA Design Conference. Last week we introduced you to the contestants, and just a few days ago we sat rapt as the host, the ever-charming and enigmatic Sean Adams (former president of AIGA’s national board) and a star-studded panel of judges—Aaron Draplin, Robynne Raye, Gail Anderson, plus a special guest judge each day—took over the stage. Read the rest here.

Command X contestants awaiting their fate.

Design as a Change Agent: New Orleans 10 Years Later

Having recently passed the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it’s evident that New Orleans is still recovering from the devastation caused by the storm. Although the city has come a long way in rebuilding, there are still so many underserved areas in the city with infrastructure problems and a lack of available resources. But one group that’s actively working with community groups to provide design solutions to areas in need is Tulane City Center (TCC), led by Suzanne-Juliette Mobley, who will be part of a panel at the AIGA Design Conference in New Orleans called “Central City by Design: Community-Driven Change in Action.”

As TCC’s community engagement manager, Mobley does a little bit of everything. “I help identify potential community-based and university partners, develop our strategy on projects, work with students on research techniques, manage events hosted in our storefront, develop panels on critical issues facing our city, and right now, I’m working on an exhibit that will be up during the AIGA Design Conference.” Read full story here.


Controlled Chaos: Parallèle Graphique Keeps Order in Their Wild Design House

The work of Parallèle Graphique might be described as controlled chaos. While some projects by the French studio are sparse and contained, others almost seem to go off the rails with beautiful, illustrative elements juxtaposed with custom typography, often confined in tight compositions.

Before joining forces, partners Marceau Truffaut, Chloé Plassart, and Thomas D’Addario collaborated on BimBaam!, a showcase of their personal work with comments from like-minded creatives. In 2014 this partnership blossomed into a business because, as Trauffaut points out, “It can be very painful to make money and find clients on your own, so by collaborating we share a network of contacts and we’re able to do bigger, more interesting projects.” Read the rest of the article here.


Hubert & Fischer on Pushing the Limits of Book Design

Operating out of studios more than 6,200 miles apart, partners Philipp Hubert (New York) and Sebastian Fischer (Stuttgart, Germany, but soon to be Berlin), of Hubert & Fischer (pictured above), have managed to create an enviable portfolio of exquisitely executed book designs, primarily featuring the work of artists, while subtly (or not so subtly) emphasizing the artists’ eccentricities on the page. They’ve garnered a bevy of awards for their editorial and type design from the Type Directors Club, Design Observer, from us at AIGA, and internationally from the Czech Republic, Japan, Germany, and Moscow. Read the rest here.