Where are they now?

This article was originally published on the HOW magazine website in January 2018. HOW has since ceased publication.

In the early ’90s, the graphic design landscape was undergoing a dramatic shift. Desktop publishing was in its infancy and everyone was making it up as they went along—some better than others—while trying to keep up with the new technology and software. Then in 2000, the dotcom bubble burst, and in 2008 the worst recession since the Great Depression hit. Many studios weathered the storm, while others simply closed shop.

Here, we talk with the survivors of the past few decades, many of whom have reimagined their careers, and in some cases, started new vocations altogether. (Poster design by Modern Dog.)

Cahan & Associates, 1984 – 2009

Bill Cahan, San Francisco

Remember when “annual reports” was an actual category in design competitions? No? Well, I do, and Cahan & Associates always earned top honors and swept the category. Bill Cahan and his designers changed the game when it came to designing the dreadful annual report. But, in 2009, Cahan closed shop after a near-death illness. As he says, “After 25 years of working like a maniac, I saw the illness and the economy crashing as a sign from the universe to change my life. I let go of everyone in my company and gave all the work we had to two associates, who started their own firm, with the caveat that they rehire everyone.”

He took a year off to reassess his life and get healthy, and in the process ended up meeting his future wife, and eventually having a son with her in 2011. Cahan also co-founded a nonprofit called NARPP, to help advocate for individual savers by creating a universal savings plan to help people get access to a 401k plan.

“The changes over the last 20 years have inspired me to shift my priorities. It started with a thought of how can we harness the power of design to solve big social challenges that can impact people’s lives in meaningful ways? And that lead to me working with an interdisciplinary team of experts in communication theory, behavioral finance, and choice architecture who collectively have a deep understanding of the behavioral and cognitive barriers to people making decisions in their best interests,” he explains. “I have seen the impact of this kind of work, and believe this shift could be a requirement for more effective design in the 21st century.”

And Cahan adds, “On a personal note, when I am not working, I am with my family. Being a stay at home dad and husband has been humbling and challenging in the best of ways—I am learning to listen more and talk less.”

AdamsMorioka, 1994 to 2014

Sean Adams, Noreen Morioka, Los Angeles

“In 1994, when we started AdamsMorioka, our goal was to clean up the world, make design accessible, and focus on optimism,” notes Adams. And they did. Their work for Sundance, Nickelodeon, and Disney, to name a few, was bold and bright in a time when much of the design was going dark and goth. The duo was covered extensively in trade publications, they were traveling and speaking about their work, and winning design awards.

They were not only busy running their own successful agency, but selflessly supporting and serving their professions, with Adams serving more than two terms as the National AIGA president, and Morioka as AIGA Los Angeles president. Adams had also started teaching design at ArtCenter, and he fell in love with it. It was too much of a good thing and something had to give. Late in 2014, Adams and Morioka went their separate ways.

Adams is now Executive Director of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, and he teaches online courses for Lynda.com/LinkedInLearning. Design education is his passion, and he sees so much potential in design thinking and how it can change the world. “I want designers to be the people in the room who see the big picture and challenge the status quo, not merely the person who can make a pretty logo. A software program or new technology can’t replace smart thinking and real innovation,” Adams notes. He also runs his studio, Burning Settlers Cabin and has written several books.

Morioka became a partner and creative strategist with her wife, Nicole Jacek at NJ(L.A.). But she has a very different perspective than when she was at AdamsMorioka. “There is a very obvious sexist perception about a women-owned company from clients and peers,” Morioka notes. “Nicole and I were surprised that most potential clients would expect a male team member to handle the financial and contract needs. Even more alarming was the perception that women creatives could only handle ‘boutique’ projects.” As a veteran designer, she had hoped that the industry had moved past this. “Not only do we need to be aware that our profession does this, but we need to stop pretending that it will eventually go away. Better yet, we need to give more opportunities to women so their successes can evolve and eliminate this sexist perception,” she says.

They recently left Los Angeles, and moved to Portland, Ore., to lead the design studio at Wieden+Kennedy. “Nicole and I never thought in a million years that we would leave the warm weather of L.A., but W+K team have their own unique way of turning up the heat with their talent and thinking.”

David Carson

Art Director, Ray Gun magazine 1992 – 1995

Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Carson became the poster boy for breaking the rules in graphic design for his misappropriation of type and images as art director of Ray Gun magazine in the early 90s. People either loved or hated it, which was just fine with Carson. He did what he wanted to do and picked up many design awards along the way. In 2014, he was awarded the AIGA Medal for his unique design signature and his influence on the next generation of designers. Carson is still doing design his way and staying close to the beach so he can surf when the tide is right.

Much of his work of late reflects his passion and respect for the ocean and its wildlife. He recently created posters for Kill the Fin Trade, whose mission is to ban the shark fin trade in Australia, and he’s designing a line of surfboards for Starboard. The trademark Carson influence is evident in his designs. You can see the thought process and deliberation in his work, and it’s something he doesn’t take for granted, although he thinks a lot of designers aren’t using their heads enough. “There’s a gentrification of design,” he says. “Software and computers continue to make designers lazy, letting the computer make decisions for them. This will only get worse as large scale projects are in beta testing right now, and that will eliminate a lot of current design jobs.”

Jennifer Sterling

Jennifer Sterling has worked on both coasts, designing for clients in a variety of industries including fashion, editorial, luxury goods, and high tech. She is known for weaving textural images and typography in interesting ways to create depth and discourse. Unfortunately, many thought she took it too far in the 2001 AIGA 365 Annual, and she experienced a profound backlash from her peers for the way she portrayed the images. “I cropped the images to show why a piece was lovely. All annuals had been, to this point, a cover and a spread which really showed you nothing,” she explains. “I wanted the end reader to see the remarkable use of tactile devices, if that was what was prevalent, or the lovely calligraphy, or the juxtaposition of photography. It was all to honor these designers, many of whom were my heroes.” Needless to say, she wasn’t prepared for the reaction she received. Today, this design would be praised for its ingenuity.

Since then, she has worked on many life-changing campaigns including branding for “Vital Voices,” a non-governmental organization to promote female ambassadorships founded by Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright, and an online interactive piece for Yahoo to deliver the AIDs vaccine to third-world countries. Currently, Sterling is based in New York City, still experimenting with typography and seeing how far she can push it using technology. “While my firm has spanned two decades I have witnessed a great deal. The Internet eliminated a major constraint to accessing and sharing knowledge. Because it is in the hands of 3 billion people worldwide in the form of portable devices, it has also eliminated the need for a central or permanent location for creating and organizing information. This and the staggering advances in media compression has made innovation in all fields (not just design) quicker and easier to build on,” she says. “As far as challenges for the future the design arena has ultimately been responsible for one of two things: The product or the message. As AI (artificial intelligence) and VR (virtual reality) become more commonplace in society the questions and responsibilities of how and why will become more necessary, both as a consumer and as an innovator or citizen.”

Sayles Graphic Design 1985- 2008

John Sayles and Sheree Clark, Des Moines, Iowa

Sayles Design, 2009 – present

This Midwest firm grew fast and steady in the ’80s and ’90s. John Sayles had the creative chops, and Sheree Clark ran the business side, wrangling new clients and nurturing those relationships. As a team, they were unstoppable … until the economy crashed in 2008. “We found our clients downsizing. The contacts we had established over the years were being let go. It became apparent we had to re-establish our approach and our connections,” Sayles explains. “Sheree and I had to face that the business could no longer support the overhead of the business, which included seven employees.” They closed SGD. Clark shifted gears to pursue her new passion which revolved around nutrition and healthy eating. Sayles took time to “breathe and reset” before starting over as a one-man shop, J. Sayles Design.

In addition to his agency, in 2015 he started a vodka company called Swell. It’s now the second fastest growing Iowa Spirits company, due in large part to Sayle’s branding expertise. “This is what I have been doing for more than 25 years. I know how to market and promote a product without spending millions of dollars.”

Clark’s journey is quite different. She’s gone from running a design business, to helping people design better lives for themselves. “Fork in the Road [her business] is truly a crescendo of all my life experiences. I work with clients to problem-solve, and ultimately to transform their health, reclaim vitality and mental focus, and help ensure they gain clarity on their vision and purpose. These are all things I have done for myself over the course of the last six-plus decades of life.”

Oh Boy, 1994 – 2002

David Salanitro, San Francisco

Oh Boy Artifacts, 2001 – present

Oh Boy, founded by David Salanitro, was one of the hottest agencies in the late 90s producing elegant corporate communications and branding materials for companies like Mohawk Paper, Schwab, and West Coast Industries. In 2001, he launched Oh Boy Artifacts, a beautiful collection of high-end notebooks, journals, gift wrap and other fine paper products. These coveted items were an instant hit and designers couldn’t wait to get their hands on them. But, just as quickly as the Artifacts collection came on the scene, the agency was struggling. “Nearing the end of 2001, the recession came upon us, and the studio quite suddenly shed its clients,” Salanitro says. Artifacts carried the studio for a little while, but it wasn’t enough, so he closed shop and moved to the East Coast to continue the Artifacts collection.

He took some time off to reflect, read, and write. In the ensuing years, he returned to the West Coast and lectured at the Academy of Art University, then he moved to Chicago to work for Avenue as the executive creative director, and then ended up in his hometown, Fresno, Calif., where he currently resides. Lucky for us, he’s launching a new Artifacts collection in 2018 through Kickstarter.

“This time I see it differently, I see that it can be important,” he says, adding, “There is a certain beauty evident in a thing by the measure of care people invest in it. It’s a simple if/then equation: if we care enough about what we make, if we go all in and put the whole of our capacity into it and consider it in a larger context—the way something catches the light, the grain of its surface—then others too will pause and take notice. The consideration I give to a simple thing like a notebook, or our part in grander gestures that inspire people to forgo the paper sack and return to wrapping gifts, is evidence of that care that we pass along. I don’t want to sell paper, I want to bring back the sense of event to gift giving and encourage people to pause and grin and share a few extra moments of appreciation—of one another. … The ground is shifting. More people are trying to take better care. We are trying to craft our lives in ways that allow us to recognize beauty and smile. I’m in this for the grins.”

Modern Dog 1987 – present

Robynne Raye & Michael Strassburger, Seattle

Every designer in the ’90s envied Modern Dog, led by Robynne Raye and Michael Strassburger. They designed posters for local theater companies and musicians such as Liz Phair, The Pretenders, Better than Ezra, and The Roots, among others. They made it look so cool and easy. “I think at one time—in the ’90s— we were working for five different theaters in Seattle,” Raye recalls. “There’s a very small percentage of people that go to live theater, and it was weird for us, because we were trying to get the same people to the different theaters. We were essentially competing against ourselves in this genre, and we wondered why they didn’t just hire other designers. That was very strange.”

Things sailed smoothly through the early 2000s, as well. In fact, in 2007, the Louvre requested five Modern Dog posters for its permanent art collection. Raye and Strassburger couldn’t believe it! Then in 2011, everything changed. One of their designs was ripped off and repurposed on Disney merchandise sold at Target. The two decided to sue the big corporations for copyright infringement—perhaps against their better judgment. To pay their attorneys, they sold the Modern Dog building, let go of the few employees they had, and moved the business into Raye’s basement. Although they eventually won their case, it took three years and nearly bankrupted them. Modern Dog is now a part-time venture, with its principals taking on new roles.

“I do about 8 -12 projects a year,” Raye says. “Currently I’m rebranding a small hair salon, designing a poster, and conducting a workshop at Amazon. I divide my time between teaching at two Seattle Colleges—Cornish College of the Arts (Jan. 2000 to present) and Seattle Central College (April 2015 – Present)—and doing design work through Modern Dog.”

Since 2012, Strassburger has worked full time at the Seattle Aquarium. He is still technically Vice President of Modern Dog, though he is not involved in the day-to-day activities. He also has a new company called Living Fancy. “I’m not the young buck I used to be, and after decades as co-founder of Modern Dog helping design products for clients like Blue Q, I needed to settle things down a bit,” he explains. “The most natural evolution for me was to start my own line of products as Living Fancy. Now I am my own product developer, art director, and designer! I can’t help it. I just love doing this stuff.”

You had to be there: Steve Frykholm

Herman Miller is the master modern furniture maker with eclectic, ergonometric products for home and office. For more than 100 years, the company has enjoyed economic highs and weathered economic lows. No one better captured these highs and lows than Steve Frykholm, former vice president of creative design, who for three decades told the tale of Herman Miller through stunning annual reports.

Among the finest ever made, Steve Frykholm’s annual reports for Herman Miller are far more than summaries of financial data; they are stories of people and the products they make. Frykholm demonstrated his love for the men and women of Herman Miller with annual reports that swept awards and became collectible. Today, these books stand as text book examples of design at its best: human connection through creative courage, audacity, ingenuity, and flawless execution. “It was never just about me,” he reminds, “I was surrounded by talented men and women who brought these books to life.” Humility is perhaps the least acknowledged secret to success—and longevity.

Now (sort of) retired, bearded, and bespectacled, Frykholm contracts with Herman Miller as spokesman for the company’s design and culture. Speaking at the the 2017 Hopscotch Design Festival in Raleigh, NC, he did what he has done his entire career: he left the audience wanting more. Afterwards, we contacted him to ask him if he’d share more detail that time in Raleigh did not permit.  Below, more of Steve Frykholm’s fantastic stories about his favorite annual reports.

1979 – Spinning the red wheels

This shows the inside of the report, but all the “action” was on the wheels inside the diecut. Even though it was a good year, for fun I printed a lot of it in red ink! The CEO, Hugh De Pree, sent me to our legal counsel for approval of the whole idea. I’ll never forget what he told me to ask the attorney. “Don’t ask him if he likes it. Ask him if we can do it.” Hugh liked the report, and he wanted something special and original because he was appointing his brother, Max, to become CEO. It was Hugh’s last report. Jim, the attorney, gave us the green light. I never did ask him if he liked it or remembered it. In the last few years before his death, I would run into him and his wife at the Ballet. He was always a gentleman. Creative director: Frykholm; Design: Gary Cronkhite; Words: Melissa Brown

1992 – Getting to the know the new CEO

We were inspired by literary philosopher Michel de Montaigne and the way he went about storytelling. The CEO, Kermit Campbell, was brand new to the company, and we wanted to get to know him, so he and another writer, did the short essays within the report. The essays were on different topics and roles at Herman Miller, so there was something for everyone at the company. We also changed the format. It’s more like a paperback. Design: Frykholm and Yang Kim; Illustration: Guy Billout

1993 – Testimonials from happy customers

This one was designed while the report was at the printer. The CEO showed us a little note that he got from a shareholder, and he said, “What can we do with this?” It was a relatively decent year, so we asked the employees if they had any “atta boys” that they were really proud of, and we got a slew of them. So we categorized them and reproduced them. If they came on company stationery, we reproduced it and made it look real. It was fun, but it was challenging at the printer, trying to collate the pages and keep track of what went where. I also learned about these sensitive scales at the end of the line, and if one page was missing, it wouldn’t weigh the same. It was production gymnastics. Design: Frykholm and Yang Kim

2002 – Weathering the Storm

Nobody was happy with the year’s performance. I wanted to print the report on a garbage bag. I prototyped it to fit, I knew we could do it, but I didn’t know who could do it. We did find a supplier to put it on a garbage bag, but they wouldn’t meet our deadline. So I had to go in a different direction. Deborah Sussman was in the office one day and it was raining, and she had one of these cheap ponchos that she bought at an event, so that’s where this idea came from. We printed the report and attached a cheap poncho on the front in a bag that said, “Thanks for weathering the economic storms of 2001-2002 with us. We’re grateful for your loyalty. When you need this poncho, remember that stormy weather never lasts forever.” Creative direction: Frykholm; Design: Brian Edlefson

 

1985 – The Grand Slam

This was the year that all employees became shareholders in the company, so we photographed every single employee. Remember, this was pre-computer. My original thought was to put everyone in an arena and take a group shot – around 4,000 people. These people were from all over the world, so we had to have a procedure to do this. I was talking to Sara Giovanitti, she was my design shrink—full of positive affirmation. She worked with us for several years on different projects, and she was the one who figured out how to get all these people photographed. It took a few weeks to get all the photos taken. It was kind of like the photographer at the mall shooting babies. We needed some squeaky toys or something to get these people to be more animated. We had one guy doing cartwheels and running around to loosen people up.

All the photos were outlined by some photo stripper in the stripping room. He probably had carpal tunnel by the time he was finished. And then we integrated people, so someone who worked in the plant, was standing by the CEO. But, I forgot a very important concept. You couldn’t tell the tallest from the shortest person in the group. Everyone is the same height!

This report won every design competition it was entered in and it was reported on quite a bit. It really irritated me how often it was imitated. Why can’t people be original or at least make it better? Design: Frykholm and Sara Giovanitti; Words: Nancy Green

The Fundamentals of Graphic Design

Timothy Samara is a New York-based graphic designer and educator. He has taught design at the college level for nearly 15 years.

As the author of eight graphic design books for Rockport Publishers, his academic reach spans the globe.

All of his books have a common thread—they address the fundamentals of graphic design. “The fundamentals always surface for consideration, no matter how advanced the student or complex the project,” he says. Here he discusses the importance of understanding the core elements of graphic design.

What are the basic fundamentals of graphic design?

The fundamentals of graphic design are about seeing (and understanding) how the qualities of visual material—shapes, images, color, typography, and layout—work, and work together… and then being able to decide which qualities of each are relevant and engaging and useful for visualizing a particular idea or solving a certain problem. Read the rest of the interview here.

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The site functions as an online brochure for a family-owned construction firm, showcasing projects and providing basic company information. The choices of bold iconography and photographic image elements, together with a strong layout grid, geometric visual elements and an industrial, slab-serif typeface all allude to the precision of the company’s work, nations of architectural detail and tools, and the family’s heritage—in a nod to Italian International Style modernism.

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.

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Aaron Draplin: Being Productive Anywhere, Anytime

Meet Aaron Draplin: Award-winning designer, noted conference speaker, frequent flier and to-do list crusher.

Aaron Draplin likes to keep busy. He’s been the proprietor, designer, janitor and receptionist at Draplin Design Co., in Portland, Oregon, since he opened shop in 2004. And that’s just the way he likes it.

Draplin’s identity work has been recognized by leading design publications and he’s often asked to speak at industry conferences. This year alone he’ll be doing a workshop at Design Ranch in Austin, Texas, speaking on the main stage at the HOW Design Live Conference in Chicago, and presenting at TYPO Berlin, among many others. And when he’s not doing work for clients such as Timberline, Union Binding Co., and Gnu Snowboards, he’s making his own DDC merch and selling the products on his site.

This big man – in life and personality – has a relentless travel schedule, so we caught up with him to find out how he manages his projects and conquers his daily to-do list, all while staying true to his character. Read the rest here.

 

Sweden’s Snask is Sweet, Filthy, and Full of Life

Everything about Snask, a snarky Stockholm-based creative agency, is an anomaly. Their work ranges from handmade objects to digital commodities for clients near and far, and they take on so many self-initiated projects—like starting a record label, running their own design festival, brewing their own beer, writing a book, even designing a custom pink bike—that it makes you wonder how they have time for anything else. But they do. Creative director Fredrik Öst talks about the Snask philosophy and why it’s not cool to overwork your staff.

What does the word Snask mean?
Magnus Berg and I started Snask as an idea while we were studying in the U.K. We talked a lot about eye candy and that the design we wanted to make should be that. Snask means candy in old Swedish, but it also means filth and gossip, which we find brilliant. Basically, from 0-12 years old, you’ll do anything for candy, and from 12-70 you’ll do anything for filth. When you’re 70 and up, you gossip about children, grandchildren, and others, so Snask means life, in a way. Read the rest here.

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Meet Montreal Design Studio Valleé Duhamel

Montreal-based designers and art directors Julien Vallée and Eve Duhamel continually surprise and delight their clients (and their clients’ customers), by creating complex narratives that marry lo-fi, hand-rigged objects with high-end production techniques. The results are often mind-boggling and leave the viewer to wondering, “How’d they do that?” Their video and animation work for clients like Reebok, Hermès, MTV, Coca-Cola, and The New York Times Magazine, as well as a smattering of niche design publications and events, has garnered awards from Adweek, Communication Arts, and Applied Arts, among others. And Vallée, who’s also a Young Guns winner, has already had his monograph Rock, Paper, Scissors, the Work of Julien Vallée published by Gestalten. Read rest of story here.

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AKU and the Rise of the Great Estonian Design

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, isn’t home to many designers, which is perhaps why AKU has attracted such a wide range of clients. From microbreweries and music festivals to the more buttoned-up Estonian parliament, founders Alari Orav, Kaarel Kala, and Uku-Kristjan Küttis have already made a name for themselves in their mother country—but the international design community is getting to know them, too. At first glance, their work is startlingly simple, but upon further inspection you begin to appreciate the intricacies involved in color choice and type placement, as well as the use of illustration and graphics. This spare yet exquisite layering of details is the result of years of experience—Orav, Kala, and Küttis have been honing their design skills since they were teenagers. We recently caught up with them about the growing design scene in Estonia, how they collaborate with local artists, and their special recipe for particularly exciting work. Read the rest here.

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