Gael Towey: A life in stories beyond Martha Stewart Living

After spending nearly 22 years at the creative helm of Martha Stewart Living, Gael Towey left in late 2012 to pursue something different, though she didn’t know what that would be at the time. She and Martha had practically invented the DIY revolution, encouraging their readers to craft their own lives, from cooking to sewing to entertaining. Towey led the brand strategy for everything Martha, including magazines, books, and products.

She took a much needed hiatus for six months, traveling, spending time with family and friends, and pondering her next move. Since Towey is so adept at storytelling, she decided to do documentary shorts, thus she started her next venture, Portraits in Creativity, which features artists and artisans doing what they do best. It’s an intimate look at the creative journey, through the experiences of the makers.

Here we talk to her about the creative journey from Martha Stewart Living to now, and the inherent challenges and benefits of being so intimately linked to a brand everyone identifies with.

Was it hard going out on your own after being at Martha Stewart Living for so long?

It was time to go. I knew that they were going to downsize and start closing magazines, and I didn’t really want to stick around for that. It was the end of 2012, I had just turned 60, and I thought, I’m still young and energetic and have lots of ideas, I need to have time for myself so that I can do something that’s really from my heart.

I’m so glad that I had the nerve to think that I could do something for myself. When I left, I didn’t know what I was going to do.

I knew I wanted to keep working but I gave myself six months to just decompress, travel, get together with friends who I had not seen in a long time. I almost never had time go out to lunch with friends for 22 years! That’s a slight exaggeration, but being able to do that opened a world of building relationships, and reconnecting and networking, which is good. I needed that.

I had amazing experiences at Martha Stewart. I was there for all the inventions and creativity and I feel enormously lucky. I learned so much and I was exposed to so much. Some of my happiest days at Martha Stewart Living were out shooting stories around the country: flowers and gardens, profiles of farmers, chefs and entertainers. Whether it was shooting peonies in Illinois or cheese making in Vermont or a new chef in Colorado, the opportunity to get around America and learn about makers and growers was enormously gratifying. I worked with incredible photographers, editors, and stylists to create our iconic photographs and tell stories in visually stunning ways.

At Martha Stewart I learned about creative, visually seductive storytelling. I bring that sensibility into my Portraits in Creativity series, where I have tried to capture the essence of a person in a profile that is only eight to twelve minutes long.

Read the rest of the interview at Moxie Sozo here.

 

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Jennifer Kinon, Hillary Clinton’s Design Director: What happens when the campaign is over?

Despite the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton had the most memorable branding and social media campaign ever. Michael Bierut’s design of the “H,” started it all, but the campaign branding was carried out by Jennifer Kinon and a team of 16 designers over a 16 month period. She will tell you it was the most grueling and most rewarding experience of her life.

How do you build a brand in one of the most contentious presidential races we’ve ever witnessed, with a constantly evolving news cycle and berating Tweets from the opponent? Here we talk to Kinon about the campaign branding, her team, and what happened when it was all lost in the end.

How did you end up being the person in charge of Hillary’s brand?

I was recruited by Michael Bierut. I had worked with Michael for four years before Bobby C. Martin and I started OCD, and he knew my obsession with creating identity systems. He knew me and how I lead projects, so I was flattered that he reached out and said, “This thing just went live. I’m sure you’ve heard about it. I think you should be the design director.” I was like, “Well, I have a company, haven’t you heard? I have a lot of other things to do.” He’s like, “Well, you should do this instead.” I kind of knew from the minute he called that I would say yes, but it was a long process for Bobby and I to discuss and figure out how we would divide and conquer the world at that point, knowing that we wanted to keep OCD going. We had some of our most exciting clients that we’ve ever had at that time. We couldn’t just walk away from it.

The campaign interviewed a whole pile of people, so I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to get the position. But I got the call back, and when they said yes, I knew that I would say yes, and the rest is history.

It was sort of too good to pass up, wasn’t it?

It is. I often get asked, “What do you miss most about the campaign?” It took me a while to figure out an answer. At the beginning I was like, “Nothing. I’m glad I have my life back.”

But, the real answer is, every day I knew I was doing the most important thing that I could be doing. It was a huge, exciting moment that changed dramatically throughout the experience.

Read the rest of the interview at Moxie Sozo.

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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.

 

Fred Dekker: Life at 24 Frames Per Second

Forget what you’ve heard from Old Blue Eyes about making it in New York. Hollywood is the veritable make or break town for filmmakers. If your movie’s a hit, everyone wants a piece of you and your next project; if your movie bombs, you’re down and out in Beverly Hills. The phone stops ringing, and people you thought were your friends suddenly have no time for you.

Fred Dekker has experienced both the highs and lows as a screen writer and director in his 30 year career in filmmaking. In the late ’80s he co-wrote (with Shane Black) and directed the now cult classic, Monster Squad, about a bunch of kids fighting a gang of monsters led by Count Dracula. Though it didn’t achieve box office success, it’s since gained momentum among its core audience of geeky guys, who are now in their 30s and 40s.

In the early ’90s, Dekker was hired to direct his first big budget studio movie, Robocop 3. Unfortunately, the movie flopped, and in one fell swoop, his directorial career was over. Kaput. Done. Fizzled. He has not directed a movie since.

But this is a comeback story, ya all! The kind of story Hollywood banks on. Dekker didn’t crawl in a hole and give up. Hell no! He’s been quietly and steadily working as a writer for television productions, and he’s currently working on his biggest project to date—the latest Predator movie—with his old friend and collaborator, Shane Black.

Here, he talks about the challenges and myths working in La La Land.

Although Monster Squad didn’t achieve box office success at the time it was released in 1987, it has since become a cult classic. Has that ever surprised you?

“Surprised” isn’t quite the right word since the turnaround happened over a long period of time—it just took a while for it to find its audience. On one hand it’s very gratifying, but there’s also some melancholy, because had the movie done well when it opened, I would have made a lot more movies since then. So, despite the huge fan base it has today, my career definitely suffered … and those are years I’ll never get back. Read the full interview here.

Debbie Millman: Design Matters & Beyond

Debbie Millman might be the nicest person in the profession. That’s not just my opinion—that’s a fact. I’ve heard that sentiment from many people over the years, and I’ve experienced her generosity firsthand. But don’t let that fool you. She’s no pushover. She’s a vocal proponent of using design and branding to create awareness and action for social causes she believes in. She doesn’t just sit on the sidelines observing the world, Millman gets involved and incites action in others. She’s a leader and a fighter.

Whether she’s teaching branding in the graduate program at School of Visual Arts that she cofounded in 2009 with Steven Heller, or interviewing someone for her popular Design Matters podcast, or fulfilling her dual roles as creative director/editorial director at PRINT magazine, she is immersed in the design community, speaking at events all over the world, and serving as an active board member of several organizations. She has also written six books, with more in the works. Her work clearly fuels her soul.

Millman recently left Sterling Brands, where she served as president of the design division for 20 years, working for some of the world’s largest brands. Here we talk to her about her career in branding, the surprise success of her podcast, and what’s next for this adventurous lady.

As someone who’s been immersed in branding for more than 20 years, how have your perceptions changed over the years about brand expectations and limits?

I find the role of branding now incredibly, incredibly exciting. I think that the ultimate goal of the discipline of branding is to reflect the culture in which the brand or the product or the company participates, which evokes a unique composition of sensory perceptions, which in turn create brand tribes. The extension of any one of these sensory perceptions impacts the way we think and act—and the way we perceive the brand or the product or the company. When these perceptions change, people change. I also think movements such as Black Lives Matter, is one of the most important movements to enter our cultural discourse in a long time. Design has finally become democratized, and these efforts are not about anything commercial. They have not been created for any financial benefit. Read the full interview here.

John Fluevog: Designing Unique Soles for More than Four Decades

John Fluevog has been crafting high quality, funky shoes for more than 46 years, yet he’s not a household name like Jimmy Choo, Jessica Simpson, or Steve Madden. Mainly because his shoes are not sold in department stores, and the designs are bizarrely unconventional. Let’s just say, when you wear a pair of Fluevogs, expect to get noticed. People either love them or they don’t know what to think of them, which is precisely what Mr. Fluevog has intended.

He’s kind of like the Tim Burton of the shoe design world. Like Burton’s films, Fluevog’s designs are colorful, over the top, and decidedly offbeat. He’ll never fit in, but that’s perfectly fine with him. It’s all part of his brand strategy. Fluevog has been creating “unique soles for unique souls” since 1970. The shoes aren’t just showstoppers though, they’re designed to last many, many years, constructed with high quality, eco-friendly materials. He lives his motto, “good soles leave small prints,” by specifying vegetable tanned leathers and water-based glues.

Fluevog’s mission is to bring his customers along for the fun and quirky ride. The Fluevog community, called “Flummunity,” encourages customers to submit shoe designs and create ads that reflect their own sentiments about the brand. There’s even a “Fluemarket” for buying and selling used Fluevogs. This brand strategy of involving his customers has paid off handsomely, as “Fluevogers” are repeat customers and tend to evangelize the brand mission. Every point of contact with the brand has been carefully curated from the online shopping experience, to the delivery of your product in a beautiful blue box, containing a custom shoe horn, Fluevog stickers, and sometimes a personal note from the person who shipped the shoes.

Here we talk to Fluevog about his brand’s unusual heritage, his inspirations, and staying ahead of design trends.

Did you have any training as a shoe designer?

I have been self-taught. I did not even take art in high school. In fact, I’m not sure I ever graduated from high school. I have never taken a shoe making course nor an art or design course, and have never done any post-secondary training. Art was not encouraged in my family. Music yes, art no. Read the interview here.

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Cindy Gallop: Building the Brave New World of Sex Tech

When Cindy Gallop introduced her social sex start-up concept to a live audience in 2009, she really had no idea what she was getting herself into. She unwittingly tapped into a huge global category, but found it damn-near impossible to get any backing—financial, technical, or social. It was a conundrum of epic proportions.

However, that did not deter her. In fact, if you tell Gallop she can’t do something, it will only strengthen her resolve to prove otherwise. This is a woman who likes to “blow shit up.” Her words, not mine. Having worked in business communications for more than 20 years, mainly with Bartle Bogle Hegarty as the founder and former chair of the U.S. branch, she now runs her own consulting business, as well as her start-ups If We Ran The World and Make Love Not Porn. She knows a thing or two about getting shit done and if you don’t like what she’s doing, then move along. She has no time for you.

This is not a story about sex. This is about one woman’s relentless pursuit to build an entire business category in order for her company and others like it to succeed, despite countless obstacles that would have deterred most sane people. Read the interview here.

“I am doing what I tell other entrepreneurs to do, which is when you have a truly world changing startup, you have to change the world to fit it, not the other way around.”

Jennifer Sterling Finally Gets the Last Word

Having lived and worked on both coasts, Jennifer Sterling knows a thing or two about cultural and political discourse in design. Her illustrative typographic renderings have produced praise and ignited loathsome critiques from her peers.

She experienced a profound backlash in the early 2000s for her design of the now infamous 2001 AIGA 365 Annual. No designer has ever taken such a public beating for their work as she did. And she never responded. Until now.

That catalog sent designers into a tizzy. Today, I doubt anyone would raise a brow. Sterling did what she did best: She created typographic and textural images to create meaningful discourse and showcase the work as it was meant to be seen. But, perhaps she was ahead of her time. People didn’t get it and the reaction was visceral and harsh. Today that book would be a precious keepsake, and anyone featured within would be honored.

It seemed as if Sterling—then in San Francisco—dropped out of the design world, only to re-emerge five years ago in New York. That’s not quite the case. She has continually worked, but she intentionally kept a low profile. She was never looking for the spotlight, but it found her in the ugliest of ways. Despite that, her love for design never wavered and she continued to work with clients like Adobe, Aveda, Gilbert Paper, Hillary Clinton, and more. Her work has been included in the permanent collections of The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Library of Congress, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Museum Fur Kunst Und Gewerbe, Hamburg, and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Here, we talk to her about her passion for design and typography, and we let her have the final word on that book she designed more than 15 years ago. Read the interview here.

Edel Rodriguez Doesn’t Melt in the Face of Adversity

The political discourse in this country has been at a fervent pitch for months, up until the shocking outcome November 8. Political cartoonists and illustrators have been having a field day, but none more so than Edel Rodriguez who has created two of the most talked about cover images in recent times. As a Cuban immigrant he has a great appreciation for the artistic freedom he is allowed in America, and he has a lot to say in his work.

Rodriquez immigrated to the U.S. in 1980, when he was just nine years old. He studied art and design at Pratt Institute, where he graduated with honors. He then received a Masters of Fine Arts degree in painting from Hunter College. His illustrations have graced the covers of books and magazines like TIME, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and more. In addition to his commercial work, Rodriguez’s fine art paintings voice human concerns, mortality, and cultural displacement.

Here, we talk to him about the influence art has played in his life and life work, and how visual ideas play out in the media. Read the interview here.

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Illustrations: Edel Rodriguez

Virginia Postrel on What Constitutes Glamour

Glamour is in the eye of the beholder … or is it? Unfortunately, we get a lot of our cues from celebrities, which in this day and age, can include anyone from rap stars and actors, to YouTube and reality television stars. Even our First Lady, deservedly so, is a style icon.

Here, we talk to Virginia Postrel, author of The Power of Glamour, The Substance of Style, and The Future and Its Enemies about our obsession and longing for glamour and what it all means. As an author, columnist, and popular speaker, her work spans a broad range of topics, from social science to fashion, concentrating on the intersection of culture and commerce. She has been a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Forbes and its companion technology magazine Forbes ASAP. She is currently a regular columnist for Bloomberg.

Do you think the rules of glamour have changed over the years—i.e. what people perceive as glamorous compared to 20 or 30 years ago?

Definitely. What audiences find glamorous can change for two reasons: What people long for may change or different glamorous things may represent the same longings. One example I often use is the glamorous image of feminine indulgence. In the 1950s, nothing beat a fur coat. It represented an adoring man sharing his financial success: love and money in a publicly visible form. Nowadays, the common image of feminine indulgence is a hot-stone massage or maybe a bubble bath in a spa tub. Nobody needs to know you’re there—it’s not about keeping up with the Joneses—and you probably paid for it from your own income. It represents the desire to escape the demands of a busy life. (A lot of spa tubs and bathroom remodeling have been sold with this kind of glamour.) Read rest of interview here.