interview with @sougwen goes up tomorrow, here's her photo from our talk at Falai

I first met Sougwen at Joey Roth’s Sounds Like talk. She had been invited by Joey to draw on a set of speakers and was on the panel to talk about it. I really liked what she had drawn on the speaker so over the weekend I took a closer look at her drawings. Later that week I interviewed her hoping that our conversation would shed some light on why I liked her work. Below is a condensed and edited version of our conversation that we had in a small dinner over coffee and tiramisu.

On Drawing and Performance
S: I’m pushing a process with my work that counters the preciousness that some designers find fascinating. My performances are expressions of drawing as an activity, not about making a pristine or perfect image.

MS: A lot of music in it’s final form is perfect, but if you hear it at a live performance you’ll hear little errors.

S: Right, coming from a background in classical violin and piano inspires my approach to drawing as small exercises or meditations on form. At the end of the Sepalcure – Everyday of my life drawing video, it made a lot of sense to just rip up the piece as it’s not really about the composed image. The intent of the video was never about the final piece as a piece, the focus was supposed to be the performance. It was a bit of a dramatic statement to rip it all up at the end. However, I’m moving on from the live drawing for the moment — I feel that they’re a bit too static. I’m interested in working with motion artists and programmers to start animating the lines or creating some sort of drawing tool that I can perform with. I want to make it more exciting. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the economy of simple tools but coming from a background of digital design, I want to push it further.

MS: It’s like experimenting and trying to do it in a new way.

S: Years ago, when I started producing the work that I do now, I was struggling find my own voice in design. There are a lot of beautiful styles out there but to me it was never really gratifying or satisfying to mimic other people’s work. In order to develop my process, I started by scribbling on these little gridded notepads, filling all the pages. The ephemeral scrappiness was helpful in easing the pressure to be a really good designer and come up with a masterpiece. Through constantly drawing and getting into that headspace I found a love of form exploration that I’m developing further every day.

MS: That’s interesting when you noticed that shift.

Tools, Archiving, Traveling and Process
S: I’ve been cataloging a lot of these quick experiments online. It was useful to me to see how the work was developing, which I started probably five years ago or so.

MS: I read in a different interview with you that you packed your scanner with you.

S: I’ve spent the past year traveling a lot between Stockholm, Amsterdam, and NYC. I think I’m the only person at customs who a carries a scanner in her purse, as well as a laptop, a digital camera, three notebooks (a personal journal, a sketchbook & one for random ideas), a book that I’m reading… and my violin. I’m getting really good at packing.

MS: I’ve seen four or five videos with you on Vimeo drawing. How comfortable are you drawing in front of a camera?

S: Two years ago, I started live drawing after being contacted by Rabbit Content & Q Department Studios about drawing at their event. It was something that I had never really done before, and it ended up turning out really well. I think live drawing and that process of creation lends itself well to how I draw, which is by experimentation through markmaking. That I never have an idea what the final image will look like when I begin is a process that might be a bit harrowing for some digital designers.

MS: So how do you know when to stop?

S: My work is borne from a very exploratory intent, which I think gives them a kind of kinetic energy. I seldom have an idea of when they could be considered done.

MS: Yeah, in one piece I noticed that you ripped it up in the end. So how did you know when to do that, and did you even know ahead of time that you were going to do that?

SG: Most of my drawing videos are done in thirty minutes. I try to keep it to the challenge of half an hour and you’re done.

MS: So basically you’re time boxing it?

S: Yeah—exactly. It can become really meditative, though I’m looking to push the performance aspect a bit further. In January, I’ve been selected to contribute to a Visual Music Collaborative Masterclass at Eyebeam sponsored by Ghostly International. It’s going to be this crazy week of programmers, designers, and musicians coming up with audio/visual tools, instruments, visuals.. I’m excited to see how that week will evolve my thinking and approach to performance.

Working with Others
MS: Do you collaborate a lot with musicians? It seems like a lot of the stuff that I found out about you was with them or electronic artists.

S: I think one of the reasons for that began with my involvement with Ghostly International. I’m one of Ghostly’s visual artists so I do a lot of work with them, most recently a design for their new Dark Arts Apparel line. Between being in the particular label’s sphere and designing sites like Percussion Lab, which curates live dj sets…. I guess I have done a lot of music-centric design.

When I was working on the Spectal Sound covers, I went through numerous different iterations, integrating illustrative line-work with the numbers 50 and 51, representing their catalog. I would send them five or six different intricate and unique renditions of what in could look like before we landed the final design.

MS: So for a project like that you’re the illustrator. If you were to flip it around with your design background is it easy to shift gears between being an art director to illustrator?

S: The two disciplines have always been fairly separate for me. It’s something I’m actually quite happy about. My design work doesn’t have anything to do with my personal projects. The two don’t really meld, especially lately, as I’ve had the opportunity to delve much more into interface design and information design.

In my personal work, I’m moving away from traditional mediums and more into a 3D space. I’ve been exploring a process of creating form inspired by texture through displacement maps. It’s been really rewarding, taking my line drawings into that space and using form to make something sculptural that inhabits an environment.

MS: I’ve been using my blog essentially as a learning tool. It’s like throwing things out there and experimenting.

S: In general, having an online presence has enabled some of my earliest collaborations. I’d seen Joshua Davis speak a few years ago, and somehow he was my friend of Flickr. When he favorited “Afterthoughts” on my photostream, I emailed him and asked him if he would be interested in working on something with me. We collaborated on this quick but visually successful piece, combining my ornamental forms at the time with what he was working on at the time. It had his palette and code, and my forms. It was a new experience for me to collaborate with someone of a different skillset to produce a generative visual series.

Talking About Reading One Book a Week for a Year, the Interview

I’ve been friends with Inaki Escudero for almost a year now. He’s a creative’s creative in that he’s extremely genuine, curious and open to new ideas. While a lot of people are living in an outdated model to pursue ideas, Inaki is embracing everything and anything which I highly respect. Many months ago he told me about how he was going to read one book a week for an entire year. The year is now up and he has indeed read 52 books. Inspired to perhaps try such a thing myself in the new year I had to find out more about how he accomplished the readings and why. Below is our email conversation.

Michael Surtees: How did the idea of reading one book a week happen? What were you hoping to gain from doing it?

Inaki Escudero: The idea came from the combination of two different events. In October my wife @hazeliz gave me for my birthday all the books that I had in my cart at There were about 25 books that I had been “saving” to read for years.

Also, last December, I saw an article n the New York Times by one of the press correspondents on board of Air Force One. He talked about the personal relationships that the press develops with the president and how the president and the reporter had gotten engaged in a private reading battle, to see who read the most books in a year (Bush 28, the reporter 36).

I remember thinking: Wow, if the president can read 28 books… being so busy… why not me?

52 books in 52 weeks is really a consequence of chance. My wife bought the books, the president gave me the challenge. At the beginning I just wanted to read as many books as possible from the pile I had at home, but I also wanted to remember what I found interesting in each book, that’s why I created the blog at I have a horrible memory and I wanted to be able to go back and remind myself of what I had learned from each book.

MS: How did you actually read one book a week. What sort of process did you have, did you read a certain number of pages a day, or read at different speeds?

IE: Each book was so different that my early attempts to having a method or process disappeared quickly. Some books I couldn’t put down, and I would read 60-100 pages a day. Other books were slower to read because of the subject or the style and I would read 20-50 pages per day.

I read mostly during my commute; 30-40 minutes each way, Q line: 7th ave -23 st. Train delays and unexpected stops became friendly “events”.

Whenever the day gave me “down time” I had to be ready to open my book and read. Having the Kindle for the iphone (free app) also helped me a lot. First I thought that it would be impossible to read an entire book in such a small format but I ended up reading 9 books on the kindle. They are cheaper (sometimes even $15 cheaper) and more convenient than the printed form, but I still prefer the real thing.

MS: What were your top five books and why.

IE: I have been asking myself that question too. Which ones were the best?

The honest truth is that I learned valuable lessons from the 52 books. They all revealed something to me that made me think differently about the world. The books with the most impact are the ones that cause that effect more often.

These 6 books helped me have a wider and richer perspective about our country and Lincoln’s leadership, the incredible intellectual depth of a comic, the new world of communications, humans (good) nature and understanding innovation.

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott Mccloud

Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide by Henry Jenkins

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists by Susan Neiman

Weird Ideas That Work: How to Build a Creative Company by Robert I. Sutton

MS: Would you recommend other people doing it? How did you stay disciplined?

IE: I highly recommend it. Its a fascinating challenge. Selecting the books, reading them, knowing that there is another one coming right after… the sense of dedication, commitment, discipline… I loved it.

What I’ve learned during this year is that if you like doing it, you can do it everyday with passion. I love reading, I’m curious and I love learning, so reading so much wasn’t necessarily a question of discipline like say, training for a marathon in the winter.

MS: How did you choose your books?

IE: I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with rules, so I decided to have just two… don’t start a book until I finished the previous one, and don’t select the next book until I finished the previous one.

I guess I did this to stay focused on the one book I was reading, trying not to get ahead of myself… but it really worked well for me.
Looking back, I have collected lots and lots of intelligent quotes, everyday wisdom and insightful observations, but one comes to mind that relates to this: if you don’t use your ability to read, then it’s as if you couldn’t read.

I know we don’t see it as a privilege anymore, but if I’m able to read, why not put it to practice?

Interview with Alex Haigh of HypeForType

Alex Haigh quote

HypeForType Buy Fonts, Try Fonts, Exclusive Faces_1257289298979

A couple months ago I started receiving emails from Alex Haigh of HypeForType. As is described on the website, “the vision was to create a type foundry showcasing the best in today’s typographic talent, as well providing a platform for keen eyed creatives to find and buy truly unique, hand-crafted fonts to complement their work”. Curious to know more I asked Alex for an interview through email, below is our conversation. …And yes, the pull quote above is from HypeForType’s BAQ Rounded.

Surtees: With your first email back in June you mentioned that you were “frustrated with the lack of quality and original typefaces within the design community” which in turn lead you to start It’s now been a couple months since the site went live. What have you learned in that time that was unexpected? Has the foundry been successful as you hoped? How has the collaboration between yourself and others manifested?

Haigh: I’ve learnt that some things are a lot harder than you’d imagine, and I have also learnt that one of the most important aspects of having an online store is making sure you’re looking after your members. The foundry is taking shape now and getting a lot of interest which is great. The collaboration between HypeForType and the exclusive designers at first was difficult to initiate. The reason for this was because before the launch it was purely a concept, however now that it’s become an idea a lot of people are interested in this and we are getting some very exciting offers for future contribution.

Surtees: Now that you’re on the inside of the typefoundry business as opposed to just another designer purchasing typefaces, what could you share about the business that those that aren’t a part of it know?

Haigh: Well one thing I can share, are some of the plans for the future. As I’ve always said HypeForType will never be a huge foundry with 50/60,000 fonts, it’s not the idea that’s going to work for me. What will work however, is slowly building up a beautiful catalogue of well designed and well put together fonts, and looking at new ways of doing things. I’ve been speaking with some brilliant type designers over the last few weeks in order to build up the back catalogue. I’ve also started to understand that moving forward, keeping things fresh, and helping members is absolutely key in order to progress. A lot of our customers know that this is just the start and they’ve all be fantastic in helping to spread the word, and now that is giving me the opportunity to think of new ideas and new ways to really elevate typography.

Surtees: How do your type collaborations come about? Are you contacting people or vice versa?

Haigh: Initially it was a very trick process to kick things off. A lot of the exclusive designers I was in talks with at the start understood the concept, but from an outsiders point of view, that’s all this was at the time, a concept. Now that’s turned into an idea it’s giving me more opportunity to work alongside some great designers and studios to keep the volumes evolving. What I’m really looking for with the Exclusive Volumes, is something unique. The whole philosophy about the Exclusive Faces is purely to introduce something unique into the type market. A great example of this and currently our best seller by far is Neo Deco, by Alex Trochut. A beautiful complex yet completely unique typeface that’s been a great start for the volumes, and also for setting the standard for future collaboration.

Surtees: In your original email you mentioned that “it’s been the hardest project I have ever single handedly produced, and I found myself sleeping on average 1 – 2 hours a night.” Are you back to a normal sleeping schedule?

Haigh: Well, I still have the dark circles under my eyes, but luckily normal sleeping patterns have returned. I’m still sat in front of a mac for the majority of the week, but how can you complain when you enjoy what you do so much.

Surtees: This time next year where do you hope the foundry will be at?

Haigh: Keeping everything moving forward is always going to be the philosophy behind what HypeForType stands for. With that, upon building the foundry I also thought of a way in which to reach thousands of designers, especially designers who are in education and learning about typography and design. This idea also ties in with a charity in the UK. I don’t want to go into this in too much detail as it’s a huge project, but it is a project which can help young designers to evolve, and also maybe even change the way we view typography in general. I’m hoping to kick this off next year, it will be very exciting and possibly ground breaking if I take it in the right direction. Other opportunities I am also looking into at the moment include a community, large site development, and lateral ways of moving forward.

QuadCamera and ToyCamera Interview with Takayuki Fukatsu, creator of iPhone Apps


Takayuki Fukatsu Interview

Takayuki Fukatsu Interview


Takayuki Fukatsu Interview

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In mid January of this year I came across a photo app for the iPhone called the QuadCamera. Soon afterwards I blogged about my experience Shooting with the QuadCamera. A number of day later I discovered the Quad Animator for the QuadCamera. And lately I’ve been shooting a lot with the ToyCamera. I can’t think of two other iPhone apps that more people have asked me about that I use. When I use those apps exploring the city it’s rare that I’m not getting a great image (the first image I took was from the window of my apartment as shown above). Curious to hear how those iPhone apps came to be I interviewed the creator of the QuadCamera and ToyCamera Takayuki Fukatsu. I just wanted to make a special mention that he was willing to talk to me via Japan at 12:30 am via IM…

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Michael Surtees: Could you tell me a bit about your background? Where are you from, where you’ve gone to school etc.

Takayuki Fukatsu: I’m Japanese born in Kanagawa, near Tokyo. After graduating University in Japan, I went London as an international student for two years.

MS: How long ago was that?

TF: About 5-6 years ago. Now I’m 29

MS: Cool–I’m 31

TF: Almost same generation.

MS: Ha, almost.

TF: In London, I studied Product design in Central Saint Martins.

MS: What type of education do you have, you seem to balance tech. and design really well.

TF: Ok, however when I finished first year of BA, I had gap year and went back to Japan. Because I got job in Japan as flash designer / developer.

MS: Did you teach yourself flash?

TF: Yes. self studied. Until then, flash was a kind of my hobby but one of the design studio ask me to work.

MS: Are you still working at a studio or do you work for yourself?

TF: Now working for studio, but will become freelance designer next week.

Takayuki Fukatsu Interview

MS: One of the reasons I really wanted to interview you is because of the QuadCamera, QuadAnimator and ToyCamera. Could you talk about about how they came to be?

TF: Yes. As I told you, I studied both Product design, and now doing digital / interface things. I want to marge those two fields. When I got an iPhone, I wanted to make something that is both product and interactive thing. The first thing I was interested in is camera. Yes so I thought, there is something, that I can make it more fun. The first concept of ToyCamera is that, make iPhone’s camera more cheap. I dont think cheap is bad. Sometime cheap is very attractive. That’s why I decided to make ToyCamera. ToyCamera like lomo or holga is very cheap.

MS: ToyCamera and the QuadCamera have made it easy to take great pictures in NYC…

TF: Thanks. So as a first step I want to suggest that “cheap and uncontrollable is fun”. That’s why ToyCamera only has random effect. I wanted to pick up the essence of uncontrollable fun of actual ToyCameras. Also I want to make my ToyCamera as Camera not application. Thats why there is no Undo, Redo, and import taken photo from album.

MS: That’s interesting, is there a philosophy behind that idea aside from just not wanting to be an application?

TF: I think because I wanted to do something Product design, not programming. Also I don’t think functionality is always good.

MS: Why?

TF: For example, I think like other camera app. E.G. CameraBag, it’s great app, but seem people sometimes tend to concentrated on just editing, not on photo shooting. It seems that functionality of undo and post processing selection, setting prevent people from just enjoying photo shooting. I want to go other direction.

MS: Ok, but with toyCamera you can cancel the image before it processes, isn’t that like an undo button?

TF: Do you mean preview interface before processing?

MS: Yes

TF: If possible I really want to remove it but I can’t change given default interface.

Takayuki Fukatsu Interview

MS: I had no idea—so was the processing screen part of the experience that you wanted to create? When i take a photo with the toycamera, there’s a delay to see the final image, it almost feels like I’m waiting to see it be developed like a polaroid. Was that part of the experience you wanted to design?

TF: Yep—Its half I want and half technical problem processing image takes time. So I used the image and feeling of poraloid, to make waiting fun.

MS: Have people been giving you a lot of feedback on how to improve things?

TF: Simply many people want import from library and iPod touch support. Other is flicker upload and high resolution.

MS: I have one problem with the ToyCamera, why do i have to take an image before i can change the settings?

TF: Do you mean, you want to have a setting button on the camera interface?

MS: Yes, it would save me a lot of time

TF: Good idea, and I really want to do it. What I really want is fliping left and right on the camera screen. And select the effect mode to Random or individual.
MS: Do you have set time periods when you want to release new features for your apps?

TF: If possible, I want to update QuadCam and ToyCamer every two weeks.

MS: With the QuadCamera, I really like the different grids that you can use. Was there any particular reason for those proportions?

TF: No not really, just current one is fit to the iPhone’s aspect ratio. Technically it is possible to add different type of grid.

MS: Can yo talk a bit about what you want to do with the QuadCamera?

TF: I want to add animation generator on the iPhone.

MS: That would be great, i know people that love animating there images. Are there other photo programs that you want to design?

TF: Timelapse app is interesting. Also slit-scan camera.

MS: What’s slit-scan camera?

TF: Something like this—capture screen line by line.

MS: Very cool. Do you remember how long it took you to create the QuadCamera after you had the idea?

TF: I think about two weeks. Around 20th Dec to 4 or 5th of Jan.

MS:That seems really quick!

TF: Thanks. At that time my hired job was not so busy and I can spend most of my time to the project

Picture 83

MS: I see, I also saw on twitter that you did this

TF:Yep I joined the project

MS: So how were you involved?

TF: In this project, I mainly do flash technical things. Making TV comercial its self is not my work

MS: To be honest I’m not a huge fan of flash, but I really enjoyed that experience

TF: Thanks—my job is 99% flash, and my field is moving too many things very fast.

MS: Are there any consistent steps or a process that you do when you’re creating things?

TF: I think about making a lot of prototypes.

MS: Does it start on paper or on screen?

TF: Mainly on screen, I need something animating stuff. Coding itself is kind of sketchbook for me.

MS: What direction do you see yourself in now?

TF: I think I need more study. Now I’m more interactive programmer than designer. I need more design study.

MS: What type of projects do you want to do? Would you rather make things that people can use on a hand held device, or does it really matter what the interactivity is?

TF:Many but now interested in something with educational content.

MS: Why education?

TF: No special reason, but just I like studying. But there is no sophisticated digital study resource for art and design.

MS: That’s interesting. It seems like most people that are really good on the tech side have some sort of self training or learned experience. Why do you think that is?

TF: You mean, why I like studying?

MS: Yes—learning.

TF: I think until I went to London, there is noone who interestied in making something. So I have to study everything by my self.

MS: And by learning from that you would like to create a resource for others to study art and design?

TF: Yes

MS: Do you have an idea how you would do that?


TF: As a first step I will rebuild my old project That is my personal project done by 3 years before.

MS: That’s really fascinating

TF: You can drag and rotate all poses.

MS: Do you have an idea what step 2 might be?

TF: I think having pose or anatomical reference on the ipod seems interesting. Now I got some money from ToyCamera and QuadCamera. and I can buy some 3d data, I think.

MS: I was wondering about that. Do those apps allow you a lot more freedom to work on what you want? I imagine a lot of people have bought them

TF: I thinks so. I’m not going to use those money from my app to just for buying cars or foods. I will use them to next project.

MS: That is really great to hear.

TF: Imagine this. If there is 10000 people on the world, who are happy to pay 10$ for his project per year. He can spend all of his time for making something.

MS: Exactly!I imagine you’re pretty tired so I won’t keep you up much longer. This sounds like a great way to end the interview.

TF:Thanks for your interview

MS: Bye

TF: Bye!

Alissia Melka-Teichroew (@alissiamt) Interview: designer, founder of byAMT, curator, and maker


amt quote 1

Explaining how this interview came about could only happen today—it was via twitter. Alissia had started following me a couple months ago and as any curious designer would do I clicked on her link from her profile to her site. I was really impressed with her work and some of it seemed familiar like I had seen before mentioned on other design sites. I was an immediate fan. We’d chatter back and forth on twitter every once in a while. Time passed, then as I normally do on the weekends I was walking down the Hudson river. One thought that came to me was how I should really do more design interviews on the blog like I used to. Immediately I thought about approaching Alissia to see if she was interested. She was quite enthusastic about it, so we planned to talk via IM because that’s how everyone communicates these days (right?).

Below is a condensed version of that conversation. I decided to leave a lot of the “haha’s” and smiley faces in because that’s as much part of the conversation as the more serious stuff that we covered. Some of my favourite bits of the discussion wasn’t so much about pure design as much as how she’s using tech. like blogs and twitter—just like everyone else.

What is sadly missing from this conversation is some of the stuff that we talked about (along with her husband) when we met in Williamsburg on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was fascinating to hear how the dutch government encourages design and the culture of design as a profession. Maybe we’ll have to do a part two of the interview down the road. Hopefully you enjoy the conversation. If you want to learn more about Alissia Melka-Teichroew I’d check out her main site at, her great blog at and even her tweets at

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Michael Surtees: I had mentioned on twitter that I was excited to be talking to a pretty good industrial designer…

Alissia Melka-Teichroew: It’s funny since I do not see myself as an industrial designer.

MS: Yes, I wasn’t sure what to “label” you… What would you call yourself?

AMT: Designer

MS: Is there a difference between industrial designer and just designer?

AMT: No I guess there isn’t, however I see designer as more general and more open. Not in a box yet – so because of the jewellery I am a jewellery designer according to some people and then other want to call me an industrial designer because some pieces are in production, I worked at IDEO and studied what at RISD they call industrial design. When i say designer at least it’s in the middle—but i don’t really care. I guess I maybe have a bit of a negative thought when i hear the “industrial” word?!

MS: Makes sense, I’m not a big fan of labels like that either.

AMT: But realistically, who really cares 🙂 It’s your work that counts in the end.

MS: Are most of your projects self started or are manufacturers asking you to solve a specific issue?

AMT: That’s another thing, in my line of design (since I am not doing medical or anything for the greater good (let’s face it)) – I do not believe in problem solving. But to answer your question, I would say it used to be self-initiated mostly and has moved to being both. Sometimes I am still in sketch phase but you’re speaking with a manufacturer and they will want to know what you’re working on – they might build an idea of something they want you to do based on your own sketch. So then it’s kind of collaborative in a way—to come back to the problem solving, I feel like it’s an American approach to design.

MS: So is it design or art?

AMT: The design that I do (and my husband and Maarten Baas, Stephen Burks, Hella Jongerius etc,etc…) is not about problem solving. I believe it’s definitely design. But it’s just not based upon a “problem”. My diamond rings… There wasn’t a “problem” with the existing ones. I just question the fact if people really still remember the original value (not the diamond, but the act of asking someone to marry you) that is not a problem I think, that I solved. It’s just one of many ways to look at it.

MS: Were you engaged when you thought of the ring?

Alissia Melka-Teichroew interview quote


MS: Married?

AMT: No, I was in a relationship with someone back in The Netherlands while I was at RISD.

MS: k

AMT: Usually designs are not that personal. I mean they do not grow out of something that just happened to me personally.

MS: I noticed your ring on your site after you started following me on twitter. I thought the idea was great. I probably won’t be wearing that ring anytime soon since I’m a guy and like to keep things simple. but i def. would put one on my wall at work.

AMT: I made clear bands for my husband. He didn’t want to wear the diamond either 😉

MS: Does that design sans diamond have the same status? There’s something playful with the diamond that’s recognizable.

AMT: It’s his wedding band, since guys often don’t like wearing rings – this one is plastic, we have 100 of them and it’s clear plastic – so it sort of works for someone who doesn’t want to wear one. Also it’s the silver one that is sold or gold. So if someone buys the diamond ring in gold, silver or platinum sometimes they also want the band, whch is the same width for themselves. That is not longer really about the “fakeness” of the diamond ring. It becomes more serious then I guess it’s the life the product gets in a way – or in this case the line of products.

MS: Makes sense, there’s a personal significance to it. the obvious question to follow up with is what’s on your hand. Are you wearing one of those diamond rings as your wedding ring?

AMT: Actually (this story might be a bit long, i’ll shorten it)


AMT: I usually forget rings once I take em off at night -but IF I wear it yes – I wear a gold 4mm diamond ring as my engagement ring and the clear plastic 1/8″ ring as the wedding ring to match my husband’s but I picked the gold one as a temp ring since I asked him to marry me via SMS in 2006 when I was sitting on a stoop in Williamsburg on my way to Greenpoint. He was in The Netherlands, in Eindhoven. It was 11pm there and he was in the tub – he SMSed back with “Ja” = yes in Dutch. I got on the bus but we still hadn’t spoken on the phone just messaged when i got to Greenpoint we did finally talk and decided not to tell people yet, since it was a bit weird and sudden and we were both completely freaking out but after 2 days, we couldn’t take it anymore and told our parents. That’s when Jan told me to pick a ring I had a gold one that was miss-ordered so I took that one I felt I deserved that but I actually want another one. (haha). So that is the story.

Alissia Melka-Teichroew interview quote

MS: That’s awesome. Do you design for yourself, have a person in mind or something else entirely?

AMT: Something else entirely I think, however it’s like buying presents. You usually buy something for someone else that somewhere you also enjoy because it is more fun that way—it’s more genuine if you do it that way. So yes in the end I do design things in a way that I believe in it but i do not design it with myself or a specific other person or target group in mind unless it’s a commission and they are looking for something specific or when i was working at IDEO or Puma of course. But I also believe that by designing using focus groups for instance is not the solution either.

MS: Are there consistent patterns that you come up with in the design process or does inspiration just strike you and a perfect design is completed quickly?

AMT: No i am slow, I ponder, but that is actually the problem – well I see it as a problem. Because of sales and manufacturing I am basically multitasking all day. There is no real time to develop anymore and i cannot stand that because I need to sit on things, play with material, play with the shape, figure out if what I am doing is really the essence of what my concept is – or just a side thought. So what happens lately, is I am mostly trying to block out the sales, “things i HAVE to do” and try to focus on a design. And depending on how i wake up I am successful at that. (haha) How frustrated do I sound? (hehe)

MS: The “hehe” changes the tone completely. Do you work a lot with your husband? Do you bounce ideas off of him or do you tend to be more solitary about it?

AMT: hmm it depends on the project. If it’s a quick project I will bounce ideas off him. If it’s (like the ball joint designs) I will do so less because i want to stay in my thought process and not ask someone who has completely different views on things. So i will tend to chat to other people about it more but i guess i am a solitary designer. Iwork well alone. However the TreeTrunk Stool was designed with another designer and I do work with Jan on projects.

MS: Are you constantly evolving how you design or is every project kind of unique it makes it impossible to design the same way all the time?

AMT: Hmmm hard one. I think each design is unique because of the circumstances. If something needs to be done quick, vs something that’s been in my head for years, vs a group project , vs being in school or out etc. But then again you always evolve you become faster, you understand your thoughts quicker as you become more experienced. So I would say a combination.

MS: Nice—are you typically sketching things out and using the computer to finish things off or playing around inside the computer?

AMT: ha well that is the other BIG frustration that i tend to keep quiet. I am not a good drawer I also dont take the time to practice so i tend to do all necessary to communicate an idea. Sometimes it takes me a while I wish i had more time to draw but we never learned it at the design academy. We had some classes but they were probably the least strict ones we had the teacher was super mellow.

MS: Drawing classes?

AMT: Yeah, it was only in the first year (structure is completely different then here in University/College) so the importance was not high as long as you could show what you meant that was the objective. However our final designs had to be far more polished and finished then here in design schools. So I play in computer, sketch, make models or have models made, etc, anything to make it clear.

Alissia Melka-Teichroew interview quote

MS: When you’re working out a concept, are there certain things you tell yourself or constraints that you put on yourself?

AMT: The most important one is that the object/design has to be strong enough to reflect the basic idea of the concept without me or the packaging telling the story so I find it very important the the story makes sense behind the design (for me – the viewer does not have to see the WHOLE concept/story) and all my choices: material, colour, shape, etc have to have a reason (I think i am very perfectionistic in a way, but also a purist sometimes in a sense – but maybe not) hah.

MS: If I compare your ring to your bags, there’s a certain playfulness or fakeness to it that’s pretty cool. Is there a certain philosophy to that idea?

AMT: I believe that humor is a very important element in life. I think it’s important for people to be able to humor themselves. I think that is why I always have this little element in there btw the bag was designed together with my husband. He is more responsible for that “fake” part than I am. I worked more on the carrying part – a man wants to hold the bag by the small handle, not hang it over his shoulder, like the woman would do.

Alissia Melka-Teichroew interview quote

MS: Do you find that your blog and even twittering change how you design at all?

AMT: Actually the blog is more like snippets like you used to photocopy things from books and tear things out of a magazine so i am trying to post things that i want to remember. I love it when people follow my blog of course, but i am trying to do it for myself, so i can go though it sometimes and remember things that i found. Twitter however I am still not certain about. I love meeting new people, connecting with them and staying anonymous with others but I must say sometimes twitter frustrates me. I start not liking people or what hey post or their links just from what they type on twitter. That’s not good (haha). Twitter should not be basis for me to like or dislike people I try and stay off it and only go on when i have a minute and want to find interesting posts or say hi to my friends abroad.

MS: I think the same thing can happen with blogs too—or at least for me.

AMT: Really? How? (I am new to blogging).

MS: Well it is important to try to separate the person and their thoughts, it’s easy to think of them the same. You disagree with an idea – you might not like the person when you’ve never met the person and they could be kind of different.

AMT: Right – makes sense, however on a blog I tend to not judge people because they are posting things for a reason and decided they needed to share with twitter it’s shorter more instant, things you normally do not share on your blog—I broke my toe–ate ramen–sat next to stinky dude etc…

MS: haha

AMT: Those short quotes can become pompous too–which deters me a bit sometimes, ok enough of that haha (o and i don’t like the suck-up mentality on twitter – last thing i will say).

MS: What i was trying to figure out is when you’re designing and trying to to tell your “story” for the concept, are you actually writing a lot, is it more of a mental exercise? Jjust curious if you’re creating briefs for yourself, or more reacting to your environment when you design things?

AMT: I create briefs, that sometimes are coming from reactions to my environment. If i do something on commission, and it needs be done fast I will draw from my environment then create a type of constraint – a brief. But it’s often only in my head, especially when you don’t have much time or scrambled in a sketchbook somewhere in English or/and Dutch.

MS: I was going to ask you about that—what’s your first language?

AMT: French, well that’s the first I learned. Then my dad decided i was correcting him too often so switched to English. But when I lived in the Netherlands I learned Dutch on the street. Now Dutch + English but when I came here in 2002, definitely dutch. It’s weird I can’t stick to one in my sketchbook usually not french though unless a french intern is here which has happened a couple times.

MS: Do those language sensibilities help or hinder your ideas?

AMT: I think both because of semantics being more important than i realized then again it’s not only the language but the cultures (around a language) that do of course inform me about things. Since my parents are both linguists it makes the semantics bit kind of funny sometimes I am very picky.

MS: Picky in terms of what?

AMT: Words—how to describe something.

MS: So that’s why you use haha and hehe a lot ( :

AMT: haha—I think that’s because i like to tell you that i am smiling since we’re not face to face 🙂

MS: For sure

AMT: Chat can become impersonal otherwise – or unclear or misunderstood, but maybe that’s me. I mean I am picky with words when trying to describe work things.

MS: Very true – hopefully i’m not coming across to cold, you come across as quite energetic.

AMT: That’s funny, nope no worries, I am from the country of “DROOG” = dry 🙂

MS: Of course

AMT: Our culture is dry in humor but also in people. We’re sober peeps I would say in a way, not very extrovert.

Alissia Melka-Teichroew interview quote

MS: Do you think some of your designs are seen the same way whether they’re in North America vs. Europe?

AMT: I got the bubbly part from my mom’s North African side. No not really. However I do feel like things are finally changing here in the US and the designs I make are not always seen as Art any more. I do believe that people have less affinity with design here and less imagination in a way. What you see is what you get – is a big thing here. People are not taught to think further, to try and understand what this might mean so people actually pick up the acrylic diamond ring and will ask me what it’s for. That would never happen in Europe.

MS: eek

AMT: Then again, this non-affinity makes for great conversations with people and you can see that you can educate them in a way and educating means change, change in the way people perceive things (does this still make sense?). Uhm why “eek”?

MS: About people wondering about the ring.

AMT: Yeah, I know it’s not only the ring it’s many things. Hang out at the gift fair and you will run into these peeps.

MS: I bet, kind of depressing?

AMT: Sometimes, sometimes it’s just super funny.

MS: Ha

AMT: And just unbelievable.

MS: Some of your designs have a lot of different dimensions to it, both physically and metaphorically. I like all the different things that the coffee cups and lids can do with Savarona. Was the clear idea, or did you realize that there could be multiple purposes?

AMT: That was the idea as you probably saw I was inspired by moulds, and how moulds in themselves are often interesting objects. Somehow that got me thinking about the multiple uses for one object. It’s funny you mention that one, since me and my husband were not really sure about that one. Maybe too complex and too simple/boring at the same time. Not sure why I guess that’s what happens with two designer’s in the house.

MS: As a studio, do you plan to grow in size with more designers or continue as is?

AMT: Actually I would love to grow and that is what I am struggling with now. I have someone helping me on the sales end, a couple days a week, but sales are down, so I cannot have this person coming in as often. Then once I don’t have to deal with that end anymore (she’s new so we’re still working on things together) I would like to move into having more interns or maybe a design partner. But growing is hard in my opinion.

MS: Stupid question from me—how do the sales happen? Is it mainly via your website or from somewhere else?

AMT: I used to do only wholesale so via email, fax or phone people contact you or vice versa, but now I also have an online store.

MS: Almost finished – don’t want to take up too much of your time since it’s such a nice day out.

AMT: It is, but cloudy now 😉 Actually I’m working after this.

MS: Just noticed that, my back is to the window.

AMT: Well lunch than work. I’ve actually moved spots 2 times (haha). Vacuumed a bit and just grabbed a sweater (hehe).

MS: What a multi tasker! What do you want to design that you haven’t yet?

AMT: I like multitasking—think better too, ooooh. Many things. Not anything specifically however i would like to design FOR companies. I guess more furniture, a carpet, more textiles but i think all things will come in due time. I would love to design a jewellery line for a high end brand. Have a piece with Cappellini.

MS: Is there something that you’re working towards?

AMT: Yes and no. I want to be successful at what I do. Would like to have designs manufactured by different manufacturers, want to grow my company and mostly want to keep doing what i love to do. Not do too many things that I don’t so just to bring in some money sometimes we have to do things we’re not really happy about, but I try to do little to none of that try to make the things that I do not believe in, into something I do when possible.

MS: That sounds like a perfect ending for this interview. Merci!

Interview with a Cookie Designer

Photograph by Aasulv Wolf Austad

Sure, we all like eating cookies but how often do we actually wonder who designed the cookie that you’re enjoying? Recently I came across cookie designer Mischief Mari Cookies website The cookies looked pretty good and seemed like there was a lot of thought and care put into what she did. So I emailed Mari Pfeiffer and asked if she would be interested in talking to me through email about her cookies, the way she designs and other things edible. Below is the ensuing conversation… If you’re one of those people that would prefer to read this interview on paper, you can download a pdf of the interview HERE.

And if you find this interview interesting, check out my other interviews at

What goes into designing a cookie from scratch to the final icing? A lot of planning. A lot of back-breaking, labor-intensive work. Once I’ve decided on a design, then I have to make sure I have the ingredients. I always start with the icing, a simple white royal icing made of confectioner’s sugar, water and meringue powder, which I make the night before I start any new project. The next morning, I pull out the ingredients for the dough, and once my butter has reached room temperature, I mix everything together, roll it out, chill it, cut it and bake it. While I wait for the cookies to cool, I divide my icing into small batches, color each one, pour them into parchment paper cones and start decorating. Depending on the complexity of the design, I’d say that it takes between four and six hours to complete the whole process.

How do you decide on a color pallet? It really depends on the design, but generally speaking, my approach is to not use colors normally associated with the images I create. For example, last Christmas, I made square cookies with blue and yellow trees on them, and I used blues and pinks as the tree ornaments. My dog cookies, as you’ve probably seen, are in bright shades of blue, orange, pink. I guess I like the unexpected.

Do you make your own colors? About half of the time, I do. A friend gave me a color wheel not long after I started decorating cookies, which has been very useful. Gel paste coloring, which is a highly concentrated form of food coloring made for edible decorating, comes in very standard colors like red, blue, yellow, green and black. Those colors are fine, but I’m always more interested in making something different, unexpected. I use the color wheel as a guide to making different shades of each color.

For the shapes of the cookies, are all cookie cutters the same or are there different quality types? How do you decide on a shape? There are several kinds of cutters. I’m not deeply picky about what to use. Copper is the most durable and beautiful, and I buy one of those a year. Why one? I’m building a collection that will represent the animals in the Chinese Zodiac. So far I have the Sheep, the Rooster, and the Pig.

There are also aluminum tin cutters, and these are probably the most common. They are usually pretty inexpensive, and I like these the most. They cut very well, and the variety of shapes available is endless. They require a little more care, since they can rust.

Then there are plastic cutters, which are pretty good, too. They are the easiest to care for in terms of cleaning. I have a few of those.

I decide on a shape after I’ve decided on my design. I imagine it’s similar to the way a graphics designer works. I have a space and I need to figure out how to fill it, how to make it appealing to the eye and how to convey some kind of feeling or message in that space.

Are some shapes easier to work with than others?
Absolutely. The more intricate a cutter is, the harder it is to use. A few years ago, I was at Williams-Sonoma looking for a new tablecloth when a box of animal cookie cutters caught my eye. Naturally, I forgot why I was in the store and came home with just the cutters. I couldn’t wait to try them out. I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating it was to cut those shapes only to break off a lion’s leg or an elephant’s trunk in the process. It took quite of bit of research and a few more trials before I got it right.

How does the look of the cookie affect the taste? For me it doesn’t. It’s essential that the cookies taste as good as they look. In 2002, when I was starting out, I tried numerous recipes for both the cookie dough and the icing before I got the right the combination. Friends and family acted as taste-testers and gave much needed feedback on each cookie. The biggest problem was the icing: royal icing is very sweet, lacks a distinct flavor, and hardens to a rock-like consistency. But the recipe I found and use is just right.

What’s the typical production time on a run – how many would you usually make for an order? I usually make a baker’s dozen (thirteen) at a time. But I’m such a nice gal that I often throw in extra cookies.

Are there other cookie designers that you look at for inspiration? There are a few cookie designers whose work I look at and wonder, “How on earth did they do that?” A good example of this is a guy named Gerhard Jenne, a German pastry chef who owns the Konditor & Cook bakeries in London. He wrote a book called Wacky Cakes and Kooky Cookies that blew me away the first time I read it. His work is filled with color and whimsy and his book taught me that mistakes or imperfections can be part of the overall design. This is wonderful advice, because when you work with perishables like icing and cookies, you can’t really erase what you’ve done. Though I hate to make mistakes, I often use them as an opportunity to try something new or go in an unexpected direction. Some of my best work has been the result of a few mistakes, like my blue dachshund cookie. As I was finishing him up, I ran out of black icing and had only pink left. That’s when I decided to give him pink toenails and have him stick his tongue out. In terms of new materials, what’s green that you’re considering? A lot of them are still in the early stages and aren’t ready for production yet. Often they’re being created in someone’s garage in middle America and are still being tested. People are reading about the materials, but they don’t work yet. It’s confusing for us b/c they’re available.

Where else do you look for ideas?
Actually, most of my ideas are born from stories. I’m a writer – a freelance journalist, copywriter and screenwriter – and usually I get my ideas for cookie designs from the stories I cover, from people for whom I write, from research I do for my screenplays or from my own personal experiences, and I chronicle most of how those ideas germinated in my blog. Years ago, my older brother and I went traveling through Indonesia where I saw and ate a hammerhead shark. When I heard that the area where we had traveled was hit by an earthquake last year, the memory of that trip gave me the idea of creating a cookie with a hammerhead shark.

When and why did you decide to do this as a business? In 2002, I gave cookies to everyone and anyone whenever I could to promote myself. One friend took some of my cookies to another friend’s party, and another guest, a very powerful and successful lawyer, called me the next day and asked me if I could make some for his girlfriend for Valentine’s Day. He wanted me to make a set of decorated letter cookies that spelled out a rather, ahem, raunchy message. I did it. He paid me. That was my first sale. (Oh, and by the way, he married that girlfriend).

At the time, I was working at a film festival and writing a screenplay on the side, so I didn’t have time to make a go of this as a real business. Then I lost my job, and with the blessing and encouragement of my husband, I worked on my screenplay full-time and took freelance reporting assignments when I could. Occasionally, I’d get some cookie business. I always write my stories at the public library because it’s quiet and there’s no internet to distract me. Before getting down to writing, I’d procrastinate a little by reading books about starting a small business or cookbooks and learned a lot about the business side of the pastry business. I also visited a Small Business Association center where the volunteers gave me a lot of advice; I talked to professional pastry chefs and bankers and came to the conclusion that if I were to make this a business that could support me, I’d have to really do it full-time, hire employees, and so on. I love baking and decorating but for now, not enough to do it full-time.

Where do you want to take your business? I’m going to keep my life the way it is. I am still a writer first, a baker second. And as I get more writing assignments, whether reporting or copywriting (and I’m starting negotiations for a possible screenwriting deal), I have less time to devote cookies. I’m also in the process of making some massive changes to my website that will better reflect all of the things I do (writing, baking, storytelling), so I’m very busy with that. I hope to get the new website up and running before the holidays hit, because that’s always a busy time. As a one-woman shop, the baking has been a very seasonal occupation, really. And honestly, if I added up the hours I put into baking and decorating, I’m certain my hourly rate would come out to less than minimum wage. I don’t know any chefs – cuisine or pastry – who do what they do for the money. It’s competitive and as I said before, labor intensive. And not worth it unless you do it full-time.

Thanks for doing this!

Photograph by Aasulv Wolf Austad

An interview with Ilkka Terho, CEO of Valvomo

Ilkka Terho

Last week Ilkka Terho, CEO of Valvomo located in Helsinki Finland took some time out of his trip to NYC to have lunch and talk design with me. If you don’t know much about Valvomo, you can see their work at MoMA or places like MOSS in NYC. I found Valvomo almost by accident. I was walking through the meatpacking district on a Saturday afternoon during design week. Noticing a building with a sign that mentioned Finnish design I stopped right away and walked on in. Taking a number of pictures that would eventually find themselves on flickr, Illka mentioned something on one of my photos. A conversation through email ensued and as luck would have it, Ilkka was going to be in NYC. So on a Thursday afternoon in June he came to visit Renegade where I work and then found our selves at the high line for lunch. Below is the conversation that followed.

You can also download a pdf of the interview for your off-line viewing pleasure at (1.0 MB)

Ilkka, can you talk to me about Valvomo. We’re 7 designers, been together for almost 15 years. We meet while in school studying architecture in 1989 have been together ever since. We’re a large group of equal partners. It’s almost by coincidence that we’ve been together for so long. We rented a small space to enter some competitions which then led to the creation of the company – we ended up liking to work together. At the time it was the deepest recession in europe during 93/94 – there basically was no work, so we had to find something – that lead to designing products and interiors.

Did you have a business plan when you started? We were just trying to do anything, not really a plan, just a bunch of guys in their twenty’s trying everything. It was through the little breakthroughs, especially the media around the world who have published some of our more exciting work – a lot of the attention comes through the exhibitions that we attend in different countries. Since the last show in may in NYC over 25,000 people have hit our website b/c of the attention of blogs, web publications and other outlets – over 3,000 a day. And through that attention lots of people are contacting us – between manufactures interest, media, people looking for work – and most rewarding are the common people just wanting to let us know that they like what we do. How has technology influenced how you market the company. In the last couple of years we’ve been very aware of technology in the plan. We’re primarily looking for assignments to design products and interiors, especially in NYC.


How does the process start for a project? In the case of an advertising agency they’re either moving or expanding. The work needs to be done anyways, so they look to the best designers to do it – it becomes corporate identity if the architecture is done well. Since we’re one of the best in Finland we’re often asked to come along to see what it would cost – through discussion and quote we’ll start working. The project time often varies, though it can be up to a year. How many partners will work on a project? Usually there’s two to three partners on a project – they don’t have to say much to each other b/c we understand each other so well. If that’s the case are you still learning? Yes everyday we’ll learn something new.

There’s a lot of talk about green today in the media. Are clients in NYC/Europe asking for more sustainable green materials? Yes, we encountered those type of questions a lot in NYC and Chicago – the show that were at everyone was talking about it – but to be totally honest i think it’s totally hypocritical in some cases – the amount of things being thrown out w/ out being recycled , it’s nominal and looks horrible to the outside world. Do you think that waste material process to create new spaces – will that be taken into account – yes. For an interior space to be considered more sustainable – the design in general is timeless that you can use, let’s say a chair that you can use for a couple generations – that’s sustainable, it’s not so much the materials that you use. Even a plastic chair is sustainable if you can use it for a couple years if it’s nice enough. There’s so many variations, the environmental is a natural consideration – it’s hard to give a general answer. We do think of coatings, they need to be as environmental as possible. Many of our products are half accident, the materials are both recyclable and and we only realized it afterwards.

What is design in Finland like? In the 50’s just like Italy it was one of the leading countries in design – after the 2nd world war it was government policy to use design as a marketing policy to market Finland – and then it went away for a couple decades – and then within the last 15 years finnish design is out there a lot – magazines around the world – there’s a lot of Finnish issues. It differs a lot from Swedish design for example – there’s more of a pure and strict line. There’s some sort of angle to it, humour or stories – we like to make it more colourful, then again more pure in form and function. In terms of language – how is that expressed in terms of relating Finnish to english? – do you need to understand Finland to get the joke? Not really, we recognized that a long time ago – for example the chip lounger. A New Yorker sent me an email that I saved – he mentions that he bought it within a minute of contemplation at Moss – when he comes home he smiles about it – because it’s humorous. The chair itself is a colourful lounger that sits on the floor, so it’s like a rocking chair that you lie on. It’s got a very human quality to it.


Considering where the company is now, where do you see it going within the next couple of years? We’re thinking about that right now actually, the last couple years we’ve been in a recession though in the last year and a half we’ve been growing again. It was a difficult time, most companies were looking to each quarter as opposed to thinking of their future in terms of marketing dollars. That made us think how to grow internationally. An old friend has joined as a business consultant who’s going to help the company – currently we feel like seven creative directors and no workers, that’s a funny combination. How did you become CEO? It was just my personality, its about leadership – I’m more of a leader then a manager. My friends and colleagues feel comfortable with that and so do I. I like to be in charge, it’s natural to me.

How do you stay informed of everything that is going on these days? Internally and externally – it’s up to individual designers to decide how much they want to look at what other people are doing. Some are keen to go to all the design fairs and photographing everything and learning all the time, and I’m on the other opposite end. I don’t want to look up to what other people are doing. To not get confused. There’s so many influences for design in life in general, I don’t need to waste my time on what competitors are doing. I’d like to make up my own mind. City, nature, movies etc – it can be anything that is an influence.

How small is the design community in Helsinki – does everyone know each other? It is very close, in part due to the Design University. Though we’re bit of the outsiders because we went to the technical university to study architecture. and the design university is very much like a family. We’re a part of that, but mainly outsiders. What are some of the things Finland exports? Nokia though most people might not know that – they don’t advertise that they’re a Finnish company , IT and electronics in general, steel, machines, and forestry.

In terms of new materials, what’s green that you’re considering? A lot of them are still in the early stages and aren’t ready for production yet. Often they’re being created in someone’s garage in middle America and are still being tested. People are reading about the materials, but they don’t work yet. It’s confusing for us b/c they’re available.


What is a favourite product Valvomo has designed? One of the best is a wall panel system – acoustic aesthetic (SOUNDWAVE®), 100% recyclable – and made with 100% recyclable material – it’s from the technique that you use to make car and train door panels technique. It’s a porous soft fiber, soft cushion, heat pressed with a mold into a hotter felt. That’s how the panel is made. How did the design come together, was it a happy accident or was there a purpose that you were able to execute on? It was a typical thing, we were visiting a plastics factory in Finland. We saw them making these car/train panels and we loved the material. It felt like “felt”. A couple months later we were designing a restaurant in Helsinki and the were acoustic problems so we thought we needed something to help with the problem. One of my colleagues came up with the idea to make sculptural panelling out of the felt material for the panelling system and that’s the start of the success story. The Swedish company that manufactures it sells over 50,000 panels a year, it’s a great number for us. The panel is sold in 25 countries around the world.

Will a manufacturer come to you with a specific need, or is it that you have something and are looking for someone to specifically manufacture and distribute it? It’s really difficult, for years we tried to push ideas to manufacturers, but the only way to get them interested in what you do in general and wait for a brief. They have a need for something for “x” purpose “x” purposes and then we give them ideas, that’s how it goes. Because there’s a 100 times more designers then there are design brands, so everyone is sending their design portfolios. Do you ever want to just manufacture things yourself – in the 90’s we did that, we had our own brand but it became a confusing story so we decided to manufacture things elsewhere and concentrate on being designers.

One last question – what is your favorite design item that you personally own? A couple years back I went to Germany and bought this 71 Mercedes Benz convertible, the one that they drove in the television series Dallas. That’s a nice piece of machinery. Once I bought it I drove back to Finland, it took a couple days. Finland is a cold country, we have short summers – sometimes mostly not. But I try to make the most of it by taking these instant holidays every-time the sun is shining, I take the roof off and go for a spin. It’s nice.

Canadian designer gone NYC, the interview


A couple weeks ago I received an email from Rani Razeli asking me if I’d like to do an interview for the magazine D.O. Magazine -Design Only- that’s published in Israel, discussing Canadian design and what it’s like working in NYC. With his permission I’ve posted our discussion here on my blog as the final text will be in Hebrew. At the end of the interview is more information about D.O. Magazine…

Rani Radzeli: Where do you live?

Michael Surtees: I’m currently living in Manhattan (NYC) and working at an agency called Renegade ( I’m originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (Canada) and had been living in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) for the past nine years before the move.

RR: Where did you study design?

MS: My first three years of design school was at Medicine Hat College, then I moved to Edmonton and earned a Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication Design from the University of Alberta.

RR: What do you design?

MS: Before moving to NYC when I designed in Edmonton I divided my time evenly between print and interaction design. On the print side there were annual reports, brochures, posters etc. On the interaction side there was websites and interfaces for software applications. Ultimately it was about asking the right questions for the design issue and implementing the appropriate action whether it was for print or web. Now in NYC it’s almost all interaction design. At Renegade I’m part of the team that is redesigning Panasonic’s website. Another project that’s almost complete is the design for the non profit Children for Children’s website. I’m really happy to be able to have designed a community based website that CFC will ultimately change the way they communicate to their various audiences.

RR: What are the graphic elements that characterize Canada graphic design?

MS: That’s a really tough question to answer, but since I’ve had some time away from Canada now that I live in NYC it might be easier to answer. We’re in an interesting period of time where a lot of the usual print communications are going online. First and foremost there’s a practical desire to solve problems without a lot of flashy graphics. There are always exceptions to generalizations, but the work that tends to get published in design annuals from Canada seem to reward clean sans serif typography, strong photography or illustration and attempt to connect it with a strong message. Sometimes it works, sometimes it seems a bit contrived.

RR: What is it’s influence?

MS: I think it depends on the time period. If you look back thirty or forty years ago the influence would be strongly European. Most of the colleges and Universities that were accredited in design had teachers from Switzerland, Germany, England among many other countries. The past couple of decades would suggest a strong American presence. As commercial art evolved into graphic arts and then into graphic design, the big companies that created corporate design like IBM, CBS or International Paper were looked at as examples of what to do. For myself as a design student in the late 90’s, I Iooked to the ideas published in Emigre and social activists like Grapus from France. That evolved to looking at people that were more on the strategic side like Clement Mok, IDEO and Frog and more recently those upcoming designers that aren’t really well known but are the ones that are really defining what it means to be a designer today.

RR: Is there any change in Canada graphic design in the past few years?

MS: Technology is the biggest difference. Like I mentioned before a lot of the print work is moving towards the web. A lot of communication pieces may start of as a brochure or poster, but it will also find it’s way into an email or website download. Sadly annual reports are not treated with the same priority as they once were. Part of that argument could be attributed to the Enron scandal, but a more likely reason is that the financial information is available quickly on the web. But on the flip side there’s also a swing back to the art of silkscreening which is a direct reaction to all the digital output today.

RR: Which are the most important and biggest schools of graphic design in Canada?

MS: If I were to go from the east coast to the west coast, these are some of the schools that I’m familiar with: NASCAD, OCAD, York/Sheridan, Red River College, the University of Alberta, ACAD, MHC, Kwantlen, and the Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design. The thing is, there’s a lot of other schools out there, it’s just that you don’t hear about their programs as much and hence their not talked about as much as they’re deserved to be.

RR: Which city is “the capital of graphic design” in Canada?

MS: That’s a bit of a contentious question (for me at least). I think it depends on where you live in Canada for the answer. Most of the national companies reside in Ontario, so Toronto get’s a large piece of that business. In terms of of a city doing the most challenging and aesthetically pleasing work, Montreal is definitely up there. Vancouver and Calgary also have strong business communities and hence have a lot of design studios with recognizable names.

RR: Do you have some information about Canada graphic design history?

MS: A good place to start would be the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada website at It’s not a perfect, but it’s a resource that’s out there.

RR: Who are the most important designers in Canadian graphic design history?

MS: That’s a tough question too, a lot of Canadians would look to American designers before their own. But for me, Allan Fleming’s name should be high up on the list – his railroad identity for CN is one of those timeless works that should never be changed. Other studios that I respect include Herrainco Skipp Herrainco, Samata Mason, Rethink, karacters design group, paprika, TAXI and GOTTSCHALK+ASH. Where they land in Canadian graphic design history is too soon to say.

RR: What’s the difference between Canada and the USA from graphic design aspects

MS: Most of my Canadian design experience comes from Edmonton, so if I had lived in Vancouver or Montreal my Canadian perspective would have been different in terms of comparison to designing in NYC probably. The biggest difference is scale, size and speed. The largest Canadian design company that I worked for peaked at twenty I think. Renegade where I work in NYC is over seventy people. That sounds like a lot of people, but I know most of them. Work wise, things move incredibly fast. I think in any job you need to get better everyday or you risk moving backwards, but here in NYC it really is about being better than the day before. The people I work with are quite professional and you don’t want to let them down b/c you know how hard they’re working too. There’s visual stimulation everywhere. Whether you’re on the street or inside a building, there’s so much to take and file away for an idea at a later date. For the most part I’ve found people extremely helpful, especially designers I don’t know. I do a lot of interviews on my blog ( and people are quite open to talking. On a practical side, project budgets are a lot more, but there’s also more people working on the typical project and the cost of business is a lot higher.


D.O. Magazine -Design Only- is the premier design magazine published in Israel. D.O. is a member of a large magazine network, publishing over 30 leading local and international magazines including: Forbes, Cosmopolitan and P.C Magazine.

D.O. Magazine covers all aspects of design in an elegant, bi-monthly publication of 180 chromo pages. Among the areas covered are interior design, industrial design, architecture, graphic design, textile and fashion. The magazine also features international and local news, innovations and trends, and provides a highly regarded platform for designers to share ideas, concepts and knowledge.

D.O. Magazine targets the business and professional communities, as well as affluent readers with an appreciation for fine design interested in keeping up with the latest trends.

Senior Editor for D.O. Magazine is Tali Barzilai – Sonnenfeld, whose twenty years of journalistic experience include Forbes Magazine and Maariv, Israel’s second largest daily newspaper, as senior economic journalist. Before joining D.O. Magazine, Ms. Barzilai – Sonnenfeld was Manager of Israel’s largest loyalty club retailer. She holds academic degrees in Arts and Design.

D.O. Magazine’s unique, well-balanced and knowledgeable team of contributing writers include Israel’s leading design journalists, with hundreds of years of combined journalistic experience and a variety of backgrounds

An interview with John Gargiulo, owner of Swich in NYC


For the last couple of months I’ve been making it a habit to visit Swich (104 8th Ave between 15th + 16th, NYC) for lunch. There’s a rotation of three swiches I really, really like. There’s the Karate Chicken, Steak Monster and Thanksgiving Every Day that come highly recommended. Aside from the flavour of the food there’s something else about the environment. Everything seemed considered and designed, more so than usual from what I’ve noticed when a business opens for the first time. One thing led to another and Noah Brier introduced me to John Gargiulo, the owner of Swich. Thinking that this would be the perfect opportunity to learn about Swich, John agreed to do an interview through email about all that is Swich.

Michael Surtees: How did Swich come to be, what was your involvement? What were you doing before?

John Gargiulo: In my life before Swich I was a creative at an ad agency called Cliff Freeman and Partners. It had always been my dream agency and it was a thrill to get to work there. My Art Director partner at Cliff, Matt Woodhams-Roberts and I created and shot Print and TV spots for clients like Snapple, Sports Authority, and Quiznos. Matt is a great designer and has helped me with some design for Swich.

I always said on my 30th birthday if I hadn’t yet taken a big risk in life and started a company or something big, I had to quit my job on that day and figure something out fast. I guess I got anxious because on my 26th birthday I walked into Cliff’s office and retired from advertising. I developed a business plan, found an investor, and a year and a half later in December of last year, we opened our doors.

MS: When I walked into switch for the first time, it seemed relaxed yet the environment and experience seemed extremely considered. What is the philosophy of Swich and how did it come to be? Has the idea changed once the doors opened?

JG: The credit for the design of Swich has to go to the firm that came up with it- a happy group of people called The Apartment. I knew I wanted Swich to be a forward-thinking, future-leaning kind of place, but I also wanted it to feel comfortable and accessible. Homey-chic was sort of what I was thinking. I feel like The Apartment delivered that feel perfectly. It’s a huge credit to them that your experience walking into Swich was precisely what all of us intended! A warm, happy, hip little place to get your sandwich fix.


MS: Everything about Swich is designed yet it doesn’t feel over the top. It doesn’t scream of anyone’s signature design style that I’m aware of. How did your concept for Swich turn into a reality. Were there designers involved? How did the collaboration work out?

JG: Looks like I should have been reading ahead on these questions! Yes as I’ve said the collaboration with the Apartment worked out great. When I was bidding the project I wanted to choose a design firm that I might have to pull back a little, rather than one I’d have to nudge along. What I love about Stefan and his team is that they have the guts to throw just about anything out there that they think could work. No matter how bizarre or impossible some of their ideas may seem at times, they are all original- which immediately puts them ahead of 95% of other creative firms, in my opinion. And many of their ideas are quite brilliant!

MS: What was the process like in choosing the company name? Was it fun, difficult? did you hire writers or let friends and family put in their ideas or did you know it was gonna be Swich from the get go?

JG: Oh my god there were so many names we went through. I asked all friends and family, as well as The Apartment to come up with a name, as well as working on it myself. There was “Stacked”, and “Flaterie”, and about 250 others. Oh! And for a while the name was “Made” which I sort of liked, but we found there was a chain of places in Iowa that the trademark lawyers said sounded too similar, so that got killed. I love the name Swich. It’s clean, simple, catchy, and represents the product.


MS: I think people really enjoy the conversational tone of the experience. All of the sandwiches have funny yet no so obvious names. Where did the sandwich names come from?

JG: I wanted the personality of Swich to come through in almost every aspect of the experience. It may have been more direct if I had called the Swiches Buffalo Chicken and Steak Sandwich, for example, but I think it’s easier to identify with a favorite sandwich if it’s got a name like Buffalo Hot Pants or Steak Monster. It gives each Swich its own little personality.


MS: Along with the sandwich names you’ve taken the opportunity to have a talk with the person eating the food. There’s writing on the stickers begging to be read, there’s more writing on the paper that covers the trays. How has the feedback been on this? It almost seems like it could evolve into a two way conversation, have you considered any options to hear what others think of Swich?

JG: Having a talk with them is exactly how we think of it too. It’s conversational. Every brand is like a person. Mercedes is the guy at the party in the Gucci suit striding up to every girl, Jamba Juice is the hyper-hypo California guy bouncing off the walls, and so on. We want Swich to be just a normal, stylish, totally down to earth guy that doesn’t take himself too seriously. That’s the tone that comes out in all our copy on those cups and trays and all of our branding communication. We absolutely love to get feedback and hear from our customers what they like about Swich and suggestions they have to make it better. On some of our cups we ask that people email us at to keep the conversation going. And I think at some point when we catch our breath, I will start a newsletter type of thing as well. I think listening to your customers is vitally important.


MS: There’s a couple great peripheral elements that help make Swich unique such as all the green and white color, the magnetic wall near the front door that has the welcoming type, the large menu display, there’s a plasma tv playing Swich tv, another plasma showing the music that is on, an interesting seating arrangement with a long table. How did all these things come to be?

JG: Well from the beginning I wanted to do SwichTV as well as the screen showing what song is playing. I think music is the most underrated part of the restaurant experience. It totally sets the mood for the place and taken a lot more seriously than just pumping in satellite radio or something. I choose all of the songs that play in Swich very carefully. For the menu display and the type on the walls the credit has to go to the Apartment, who also convinced me to paint the ceilings green by the way, which I’m glad we did.

MS: Why Swich tv? What have you learned by making videos? Any plans to extend what you’ve started?

JG: Making the bits for SwichTV was some of the most fun I had during the whole year and a half lead up to opening the first shop. I just wanted it to be weird, original stuff that you couldn’t stop looking at. I noticed at other fast-casual chains there was never anything to look at while you waited for your food. People would stare at their feet, look for their sandwich, or if you were lucky you would have your iPod and just zone out to that for a while. Part of the Swich experience is entertaining people, and SwichTV I think adds to that. We are definitely making more videos in a couple of months. I want to get our employees involved, as we all think it would be extra funny to look up and the guy who’s making your Swich is dancing on TV or doing some other strange stuff. We have a great, fun staff and they’re totally into it.

MS: The food is great, almost every time I’ve been there I see people swapping bites with their friends. How did the menu develop and what type of process do you have in place to make the food even better? How often will you update the menu?

JG: The Swiches I just worked on over and over again for the year and a half leading up to the opening. I tested every Swich at least 15 different ways before choosing the best tasting, most complete version. My wife Sidney and family and friends helped a lot in that process. We just completed two months of further “real world” testing of every item in our kitchen, and we made a couple of tweaks here and there, and added the Earthy McGee deconstructed. But after so much work on getting the variety right in the menu and making sure the taste profile of every Swich is as perfect as it can be, I would like to keep the menu as static as possible. It also simplifies operations and helps us make sure we can get people their Swiches faster and more efficiently.

MS: What was the biggest learning experience that you’ve had since starting Swich?

JG: I’ve learned time and again during this process that the best thing you can do when starting a business is surround yourself with great people. I have the absolute smartest, nicest, most hardworking team I could have ever asked for. From my restaurant consultant Lisa Chodosh, who teaches a great class at the New School, to my real estate broker to my GM Steve Hardy, I couldn’t be happier with my team. The goal was to build a core group of people who would be sort of the support team in growing Swich out as a national concept, and I definitely have those people behind me now and that makes all the difference in the world.

MS: When you’re not eating at Swich, what is your favourite restaurant in New York right now.

JG: It’s a tie between Pearl Oyster Bar and Blue Ribbon.


MS: How do you think design and marketing plays a role in Swich’s success?

JG: I think that they play a big role. I think first of all as a restaurant concept, your food has to be good. That’s a given. But I think design, maybe second to music (which permeates the entire room at all times) is the most underrated thing about a restaurant’s success. In fact I think right now, and this is beginning to change, but design is one of the most underrated determinants of any retail business’s success. Design for Swich helps us stand out, and it helps define who we are. The marketing, from the stickers on the cups to how our take-out bag looks sitting on someone’s desk in their office 10 blocks away, are also ways in which we present ourselves to the public and have an opportunity to stand out.

MS: In a couple years where do you want to Swich to be? Are there other types of experiences that you would like to take on?

JG: Going forward I am working on making the Swich on 8th Avenue and 15th the best prototype it can be. When the time is right, which I think will be a matter of months, I will get back out there and start looking at locations to roll the concept out further. I can’t tell you how many people from all over the city have written me asking for one in their neighborhood.. But right now I’m just trying to improve the model we have now little by little every day. We just started delivery a couple of weeks ago and it’s been going really well. Next up is catering, where we’re going to differentiate ourselves as best we know how from the competition.

I’m having so much fun doing this every day, and I think going forward Swich will only get bigger and better!

MS: Thanks for taking the time to do this John. You know I’ll be back. I’m looking forward to watching this grow into something better than it already is.

The Person behind Nooka: an interview with Matthew Waldman


The story behind this interview with Matthew Waldman, the person behind the timepiece company Nooka is interesting as he was quick to get back to me with my questions. Just before Christmas I talked about Nooka’s watches on a blog post. Tina, though some of you may know her as Swissmiss mentioned that she knew him, and that he was quite a help when she started to design in New York. She also mentioned that she would be happy to introduce me to him.

There was only one thing that I wanted for Christmas and my wife Tamara was cool enough to get me a ZenH. It’s one of those watches that makes you just rethink a lot of things. Stuff just looks different when you change your mindset. Then I noticed Matthew’s name while I was checking out the roster for Pecha Kucha New York last week. I figured that was the perfect time to do an interview with him, so I asked Tina for the virtual handshake. Very quickly I put down the questions that had me interested in the watch as I was wearing it. Matthew responded incredibly quickly and I’m very grateful for that. Enjoy

Michael Surtees: What made you want to design watches?

Matthew Waldman: I actually never set out to design watches. Nooka is just one result of an internal and ongoing dialog I have about the nature of intuitive design combined with my questioning of accepted norms. Here is a rough outline on how it happened in my brain:

Inline skates become popular in the early 1990s causing me to have a “why can’t I rethink a product like that?” moment…

I fell into web design as a profession after creating web pages on my own as a hobby. I founded an interactive design studio in 1997 where I was part of the birth of information architecture as a discipline. This got me obsessing over intuitive design [over aesthetics]. (There was a similar movement in product design 15 years earlier when people were obsessing over ergonomic design)…

Unrelated, my intellectual brain was re-ignited after reading a chapter on Riemannian Geometry in Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace in the mid 90’s. Kaku used geometry as an example on how people do not question enough especially in his field of physics. His argument was something like this: Everyone thinks of Euclidian geometry as the geometry of the real world, but Euclidian geometry does not work on curved surfaces. There are curved surfaces everywhere in our world. Riemann, a 19th century German mathematician solved this problem but no one is taught Riemannian geometry in High School…

Waiting for a client in a London Hotel [The Landmark in Marylebone] staring at a wall clock gave me a flashback to learning how to tell time in first grade. I remembered learning it as part of math class and we had little exercises to do to learn time telling. This led to another flash back to fifth grade when digital watches and clocks became popular and we were taught how to read a digital display. Adults don’t think about it much, but time is calculated in base 12 [or base 24] when almost everything else we calculate is base 10.

These concepts are difficult for some children and must be taught. If something must be taught, then it is not intuitive…which brought all the background processes above together and I questioned why there were only 2 ways to represent time.

I sketched some ideas on a napkin, went back to New York and showed them to my IP Lawyer who thought they could get design patent protection. There were some other steps, and then a watch!

MS: How long does it usually take to design a watch – how do you know when it’s complete?

MW: The design takes little time to conceptualize. I then work out the proportions and function sets on the computer. We then do the 3-D models and spec which is sent to the factory for prototyping. If the movement is standard or something we’ve already produced, the whole process will take between 3-6 months. If a new circuit/movement is necessary, it can take 6 months to a year from concept to product.

MS: Once you have the idea, what steps does it take in production to get made?

MW: see question 2.

MS: I have the Nooka ZenH. I knew I wanted a Nooka but it took me a while to decide on the one. Ultimately it came down to the fact that it didn’t have any numbers on it and it read from left to right. Could you talk about how this watch came to be? If you could design that one again, is there anything that you would change?

MW: The Zen-H is my personal favorite and was designed expressly with the goal of producing a timepiece that would be easy to understand without numbers. I am actually redesigning the Zen line for a 2008 release when you will see the answer to the 2nd part of your question.

MS: What watch are you wearing right now?

MW: A blue Zub Zen-V.

MS: Where would you like Nooka as a company go? Why did you start it and what are your goals for it?

MW: I started Nooka to capitalize on the good press I was receiving when Seiko had licensed my designs but then dropped all of their sub-brands. I was encouraged by retailers who had carried the Seiko versions and wanted to work with me.

As a new brand and company, I want Nooka to expand into more markets so we can achieve the momentum and resources necessary to develop more products and sponsor cultural/educational activities that reflect my philosophy. I would like to see Nooka become a fashion brand and product think-tank with an inventory of concepts to license to other companies and collaborators.

MS: Are there any other products that you would like to design?

MW: Yes! Watercoolers and shoes.

MS: What keeps you inspired?

MW: Biology. Evolutionary biology is one of my other obsessions, and unlike the cliché of “i find natural forms to be very inspiring”, I am inspired by the processes and events that shape organisms and biological relationships.

MS: Do you read any blogs, and if so which are some of your favs?

MW: I read yours. I also read a lot of music blogs. I had a blog for my art project, the fairy labor union, but can’t remember where I had it hosted. If anyone can find it, please let me know.

MS: In your bio it mentions that you teach. Why do you teach and was there one teacher that influenced you more than any other?

MW: Teaching is great for so many things. First, it keeps me articulate about my process and what I do as a profession. Second, it gets me out of my apartment and office. Third, I get a jump-start on finding talented interns and potential designers for my studio. And of course, the students benefit from being taught by a working professional with a focus on creative process.

I was very lucky to have very colorful New York City public School teachers throughout grade school and High School. One teacher that inspired me a lot was Mr. Gupter, my High School architecture professor. I was a typical depressed art/angst teenager [they call them Goths now right?], and spend one whole senior semester writing poetry in his studio where I should’ve been working on his projects. When it came for him to collect finals, he asked me to hand in the notebook I was writing in. At first I thought he was trying to embarrass me, but he said very directly “You’ve been writing in that book all semester and I have to grade you on what you did in my class” He gave me an “A” and told me that all good design is about inspiration and composition. He thought my poems were inspired and well composed. He thought that the ability to write poetry would serve me well as a designer.

This experience helped me see how interdisciplinary all the arts are – something that I hope is apparent in everything I do.

MS: As a native New Yorker, what’s the one thing that you can do over and over again and always enjoy yourself?

MW: Look at people on the subway, ride my bicycle up the Hudson River Park and in Central Park.

MS: Thank you so much, it was fascinating to hear how Nooka came to be and I’ll be looking forward to seeing what you come up next with Nooka.

Design Interviews from DesignNotes


Doing interviews on my blog is one of my favourite things. But I don’t do it as often as I should, but w/ the encouragement of friends like E. Tage Larsen I’ve continued on slowly. So, I’m pretty excited to mention this upcoming Monday that I’ve got a new interview ready to go. The criteria on picking people to talk with is pretty simple. They’ve done something that I’ve found interesting and I would like to know more about them. Though the first interview I did was by accident – sort of.

Back in the day when I was using blogger, I was just experimenting – using it as an excuse to put up cool links. Then Target ClearRx came out. The only information I could find came from New York magazine. I linked to that article and soon afterwards I was getting a lot of web traffic to my site from others searching for more information just as I was. So soon after that I contacted Deborah Adler for an interview b/c I simply needed to know more about the system and thought others could benefit too from hearing her. Of course now there’s a ton of stuff out there about ClearRx, but at the time there wasn’t.

Below are all my other interviews, just be sure to come back Monday for the next one. I really enjoyed doing it, and I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

Deborah Adler ClearRx Interview

Pasqualina Azzarello Interview

A great conversation with Tina Roth (Eisenberg)

Plastique Life

DesignMaven Revea!ed (Part One)

DesignMaven Revea!ed (Part Two)

Pasqualina Azzarello Interview

Paintings from Pasqualina Azzarello

In mid October I discovered Pasqualina Azzarell through flickr. Someone had posted a number of images of her art on the walls of a construction site in DUMBO. Looking through those images I noticed that one of the walls had her e-mail address. Intrigued, I e-mailed her asking if she would do an interview with me. Not only did she say yes, she also invited me to the D.U.M.B.O. Art under the Bridge Festival that was being held at the time. Not knowing anything about the festival since I has just moved to NYC, I thought it would be an interesting adventure for Tamara and myself. We weren’t disappointed, and we got to say hello to Pasqualina. Below is the interview that was conducted through e-mail.

You can view more of her work at my flickr set that I took during the festival at

Michael Surtees: Thanks again for doing this interview Pasqualina. I noticed your artwork through flickr where someone had taken a couple pictures of the walls you had painted at a construction site. One of the images had your e-mail address on it and that’s how I contacted you. Have you received a lot of interest through e-mail, or if you had just left a phone number do you think the response would have been the same?

Pasqualina Azzarello: I value making use of public spaces when making and sharing my art. Whether I am making a mural, creating a proactive public dialogue through performance, or selling my artistic wares on city streets, I appreciate the integration of object and place. I have noticed that I tend to make use of a similar approach when it comes to announcements, that is, ‘getting the word out’ about a project or an upcoming show. Once upon a time, I would include only my phone number as a means of contact. And people seemed to use it mostly in regard to practical matters (ie: directions to a gallery, etc). What is nice about email, however, is that the range of communication has expanded. People are less shy and are more inclined to share their feelings about the work and tell their own personal stories. Because of the nature of this community-oriented project, I felt that my email address was the most appropriate means of creating a dialogue, aside, of course, from the conversations that happened on the street while the work was being made.

MS: In the NYT article, it mentions you painting 500 rocks and placing them around where people would find them the next morning, and then you have the painted walls outside of a construction site. Could you talk about what public interaction with your art mean to you. Is it important that the work be seen outside in public or is that not much of an issue?

PA: It is clear to me that context affects how a work of art is seen and experienced, and by the same token, nothing is truly neutral. Even the white window-less walls of a gallery or museum create a culturally potent backdrop. So yes, the context I choose to share my work in is critical. In the case of the 500 painted rocks or the painted flowers around the construction site in Dumbo, I was interested in the element of people, while in the throes of the mundane of the day-to-day, being able to happen upon something that was blatantly handmade. I believe that a certain disruption occurs when that which is automated is juxtaposed with that which is created and vital. I find that creative disruption compelling and incredibly important.

MS: When you’re painting, do you have an initial theme that you want to express, or is the process more stream of consciousness?

PS: While working in my studio, my process tends to be incredibly free and as a result, the images almost seem to take their own form. When making public murals, however, there is almost always other people involved in some aspect of the project. In this case, because of the nature of the working with others, I tend to create a sketch or model upon which to base the final piece. Even with this approach, though, I make sure to leave room for the surprises which inevitably come along the way.

MS: How has your artwork evolved over time?

PA: Very much so. I suppose like all things created and all things alive, change is an integral aspect of development. There are, however, shared threads which carry my mark and my vision that can be seen throughout my work, even across different genres of painting, performance, video, and installation. It is interesting, too, to look back to when certain visual tendencies begin. I think sometimes I make certain assumptions about when my artistic career began, but recently I looked through a number of drawings from my childhood, and there were symbols and arrangements of images in them that still exist in my work today.

MS: How would you characterize your technique for painting, and has there been other artists that have influenced your style?

PA: I consider myself a folk artist. A contemporary folk artist, who, like all folk artists, makes work that reflects upon one’s immediate world in a direct and immediate way. As for other artists whose work speaks to me, there are many. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jean Dubuffet, Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, Ana Mendieta, William Pope.L, and Swoon to name a few. Also, John Steinbeck, Charlie Parker, Patti Smith…

MS: Do you have plans to move on to other construction sites to paint? Are there any new projects in the works that you can talk about?

PA: I would love to continue to paint the walls that surround construction sites. As neighborhood development becomes more and more common, and as it continues to affect people, communities, and culture in very real ways, I am interested in the potential that exists in the overlap of urban development and public art. Throughout the project in Dumbo, which surrounded the site of the tallest residential building in Brooklyn to date, it was clear that the art provided a platform for a personal public dialogue. It was incredibly successful in this way. I think that other communities could benefit from these connections and conversations taking place alongside the changes in their neighborhoods…

As for upcoming events, I am excited to announce that the painted panels from the construction site in Dumbo will be exhibited at Retreat, located at 147 Front Street in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Many panels will remain in their original 4’x8′ form, while many others will be cut into smaller sizes. All panels will be for sale. The exhibition will run from December 1, 2006 – January 31, 2007. The opening reception will take place on Friday December 1, from 5-8 pm. All are welcome!

MS: What do you hope people can take away from something that you’ve painted, and why do you paint?

PA: I paint because it serves as an effective and efficient way to communicate what I see and what I care about. In the same way that I am reminded of my strength and purpose when in the presence of another engaged in their craft, it would be humbling to know I could inspire the same for somebody else.

MS: Thank you so much for your time. It was great to get the chance to understand some of your thinking behind the art. Best of luck in the future!

Paintings from Pasqualina Azzarello


Steve Portigal, a fellow Canadian and instructor at CCA passed me on to Katie, a student wondering about bloggers and blogging for a future project she’s doing. Here’s how the intereview has progressed so far. It kind of gives insight into why I do what I do here.

Kate Bailey: What is the name of your blog?

Michael Surtees: The name has evolved at bit. First it was d*notes, then it became design*notes, then I switched it to SidewalkPressed and now I’m back to design*notes.

KB: When are you bogging?

MS: Usually in the morning before ll am, once in a while it will be later in the evening after 10 pm.

KB: How often do you post?

MS: I try to post at least once a day, though I tend to try to take a break on the weekends.

KB: How does a post start, where does that impetus come from?

MS: Usually it comes from me thinking about something that has caught my attention, though sometimes I feel the need to just get something off my chest. Essentially it’s something that I feel is important to mention and I haven’t seen it floating around the blogosphere.

KB: How did you start blogging?

MS: There were two reasons. I didn’t really have any expectations about blogging in the beginning, so I just wanted to try it out and see where it would lead. I also wanted to create an archive of links that I found interesting and was looking for a method to remember them. I thought a blog might help.

KB: Who’s your blog for?

MS: First and foremost it’s for me, having the opportunity to publish what ever I want is something that I think is really cool. The wider audience is people interested in the idea of design, though they might not be designers themselves. I wanted to get away from the traditional design blog that talks about what sucks. I wanted to explore the notion that design as an idea is much broader than what the design media (ie. magazines) tell people it is. It’s not just about fake fame, expensive products or awards. But with that said I will post stuff that isn’t even close to being related to design. It is for me after all.

KB: What did you imagine that you’d accomplish by blogging?

MS: When I first started I didn’t know what I was getting into. I’ve been blogging since February of 2005 and a number of cool things have happened. I got my design job in NYC b/c of it, I’ve been interviewed in a Canadian design magazine, meet some really cool people and it’s helping me just think about things better.

KB: What do you post? Photos, text, podcasts?

MS: I’m at the point where I try to post an image from Flickr that I’ve shot to illustrate the post, though once in a while I’ll grab an image from the site that I’m talking about. In the beginning I was relying heavily on other people’s images. I’ll talk about podcast’s and video’s once in a while, but it isn’t my primary focus. I also helped organize a number of design lectures and had them filmed. Those are viewable from my blog.

KB: Do you always post form one computer, or from wherever you are?

MS: I typically post from my laptop (MacBook Pro), whether at work or home. Before my laptop I would either blog on my home computer (iMac) or at work (Mac G5 Tower). With my laptop I rarely post outside or in a coffee shop. I don’t find it comfortable to think and type in public. I also get a lot of ideas reacting to what I’ve just read, or recognized a pattern. Those type of things come together when I’m at home.

KB: Do you use a blogging client or a web interface?

MS: I use a template from Word Press, but I’m in the process of redesigning my blog. My first blog came from blogger, but graduated to something a little bit stronger.

KB: What tools do you use to blog? Digital camera, scanner, recording device, pen and paper?

MS: I have a couple camera’s I use: Nikon D70s, a Canon PowerShot SD550, even the camera on my Treo cell phone. I’ve never used a scanner. Once in a while pen and paper and then I’ll take a picture of it. I haven’t really used sound or video yet. Word Press and YouTube don’t seem to play well, so I don’t post a lot of those videos. I also use tracking software to understand how many people are coming to my site, from what location and what they are looking at.

KB: What inspired your blog?

MS: The chance to self publish for myself. No editor’s to hold me back, the freedom to write and post about anything that I feel like. Now it’s more about meeting others that are interested in similar things, hopefully learning from them and just doing the social thing.

Plastique Life

In July, there was the beginning of a frank, raw and enlightening discussion on the GDC listserv about depression, medication and feelings that everyday people go through in light of the actions of Rick Tharp. Through the listserv, Jennifer Romita shared insights and mentioned a gallery show titled Plastique that she held in Halifax. They’re well thought out images that continue the discussion about individuals, and how they deal with their cultural environment. After viewing the images on her web site, I asked her if she would be interested in sharing some of her thoughts about the show. She agreed, below is the e-mail discussion that followed.

Michael Surtees: When you had your show, what type of reaction did you receive from viewers? What were they saying to you afterwards?

Jennifer Romita: Some of the people who attended were impressed by the technical accuracy of the imagery and said that regardless of the surreal subject matter, the people looked convincing. Others were disturbed by the show and found it difficult to look at the work. A lot of the people who’ve see these images try to assign their own interpretation to it and I think that’s great because it says to me that it’s struck a chord with them. I’ve been contacted by everyone from anti-capitalist activists to mannequin fetishists, all with their own unique view of what the work represents to them. Fortunately, there are very few people who have been unmoved by it.

MS: How have things changed since you started this project? For instance, have you eliminated any conveniences?

JR: I wouldn’t say I’ve eliminated anything extra because my husband and I are what I would call functional minimalists. We try to leave a smaller than average Eco-footprint, we minimize the amount of “stuff” we buy and try to live clutter free but of course it’s sometimes difficult. I live by a few guidelines like if I bring something into my home, I part with something. I ask myself if I really need the purchase in the first place or if I can go without. Similarly if I haven’t used an object or even seen it in over 6 months, I give it to someone who can use it. Dave and I alternate between working in offices and working from home so we have an internet connection and our computers but neither of us has owned a television in over 5 years. We prefer to cook most of our food in an oven or on the stove rather than microwave it. No, we don’t have a microwave either.

MS: You mention “the potential of connection all around us” in your artist’s statement, could you elaborate? What type of connections are you suggesting? Are there patterns out there that people are missing?

JR: This is such a huge question and I’m not sure I can answer other than from my point of view. I believe there are patterns in the way people communicate with one another that allow us to easily create connections with one another. Empathy is one of the most important tools we have that can teach us to see these patterns, signs or signifiers when it comes to dealing with people but it has to happen both ways. Messages have to have senders as well as receivers or the message becomes lost. These connections become difficult to establish or maintain however when people live in their own bubble and aren’t open to possibilities. There is also something to be said for recognising good chemistry and having a healthy sense of when to move on.

Similar patterns (in my experience for what it’s worth) exist in every layer of our lives and function to give us a sense of place within what is real for us. I can’t describe what that means for each person nor would I try to.

MS: When does striving for perfection turn unhealthy?

JR: When a person starts purging the food they eat or starving themselves to achieve a body only airbrushing can offer. When a person over-eats or drinks and abuses their body as a substitute for affection or self respect that may be missing from their lives. When a person relentlessly shops for things they’ll never use while chasing after the temporary feeling of elation that consuming brings them. When our behaviour or beliefs alter our brain chemistry to the point where some of us get sick and others self-destruct. When a person decides to abuse another in an effort to hide their own flaws rather than facing and dealing with them. When a person marries, buys a house and has kids because someone else expected them to not because it was something they wanted. When a person racks up debt they can never hope to pay off to get another degree so they can amaze people they probably don’t even like. There are varying degrees of unhealthy happening here and this is a hand-full of the more common examples.

I think that most of us fail to realise that there is nothing wrong with having imperfections. With six billion people on our planet it’s impossible for all of us to adhere to someone else’s idea of what each of us should be without making some unhealthy compromises. I believe it’s important that we each have a reasonable idea of who and what we want to be.

MS: Can products have soul?

JR: No. This is one of the reasons we have branding. Some people believe they identify more with their favorite brands than with their own families or friends. I think people try to attribute soul-like qualities to products so they’ll stand out in a saturated marketplace but in the end they are just products regardless of how the branding makes one feel. All I want is a product that does what it’s supposed to when I need it.

I consider myself lucky to be trained in the area of visual communication because it’s instinctive for me to pick apart everything in front of me on a store shelf. Of course my design training is a double-edged sword because I am sometimes charged with an advertising campaign to promote such things but since I primarily freelance I have considerable influence in the ethical direction of my work. In the end, I don’t think branding is all bad but it is changing the landscape of our value systems and priorities in very big ways.

MS: What does being human and healthy mean to you?

JR: To me, being human means building communities of people who can celebrate and share the pleasure and pain of living. The saying goes, “No man is an island” and it’s true; humans are social creatures and we all need family, whether they’re blood relatives or people we choose. We need support systems to cope with the negative just as much as we need people close to us to nurture the positives. Isolation is unhealthy and is counted among the more serious of symptoms in sufferers of Clinical Depression. Sometimes isolation is the cause of Depression, other times it’s the result of it. Either way it’s important to be self-aware, aware of those around us, of how we interact with one another and who we bring into our personal sphere.

MS: Has religion played a role in your motivations for this project?

JR: Religion no, spirituality yes. When I think of religion, I think of the organized religions of the world and that’s not directly a part of my work. I think that a search for spirituality through human contact and connection is a more universal theme here. Throughout history organized religion has served as a unifying force to bring people together in the spirit of a common vision. With our cultures becoming less religious and more secular, people are searching for a different sense of community and grasping at those options more readily available in contemporary times.

MS: What are you working on next?

JR: I have a few projects in development. One of them is an exploration of the relationship and person, how both change through the passing of time and how they can be altered depending on their personal histories. I’ve also recently established a collaborative relationship with a photographer, Steve Richard, to strengthen the photographic element of my efforts. We both focus on people and social interaction so I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes us.

Beyond that I’m not sure. Each series or individual piece tends to feel from the one previous to it so time will answer that question.

MS: Thanks, I think we’ll have to continue this conversation at a later date.

DesignMaven Revea!ed (Part Two)

This is the conclusion of the interview with the DesignMaven. Read part one HERE

MS: Who influences you?
DM: Outside of my Family Saul Bass and Paul Rand were instrumental, there were others.

I was born and bread on the Westport School. That was my vision and dream of what a successful Artist, Illustrator and Designer should be. The Westport School was a movement of Artist and Illustrators whom lived and worked in Westport Connecticut. They dominated the Illustration Style and Thinking of their era. Norman Rockwell, Austin Briggs, Albert Dorne, Steven Dohanos, Al Parker, Robert Fawcett, Jon Whitcomb, Doris Lee, Fred Ludekins, Peter Helck, Dong Kingman, Bernie Fuchs, Bob Peak, They wrote the Famous Artist Course, A Home Study Course. I never enrolled in the course. Nevertheless, all were very successful Artist and Illustrators.

The only Designer among them was a gentleman named George Guisti. Actually, the very first Designer I latched onto because he used the Airbrush. He was quite successful. Receiving the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, Lifetime Achievement Award.

When I saw, Graphis 59, a collector’s edition, you can find it on eBay selling for over $100.00 dollars. There’s a portfolio of George Guisti’s work. Then there’s a portfolio of work by this young and promising Designer, named Saul Bass, no comparison. “I said George who”. The range of Saul Bass’ Design at that time was Magnificent in all it’s Glory. The range was unbelievable, Identity Design, Packaging, Film, Movie Advertising, Exhibits, Product Design. George Giusti whom I loved as child, range of work was not in the same league as Saul Bass. Mr. Giusti was a Designer that Illustrated he worked mainly for publications. Designing covers and posters. His son Robert Giusti became a successful Illustrator achieving fame. I don’t think Robert became as famous as his father did. Both, Bass and Giusti gave me what I needed.

I was already heavily into Saul Bass by this time. That issue of Graphis Magazine further solidified Saul Bass’ Genius.

Other influences were Designers, Illustrators, and Fine Artist such as, Alberto Vargas. George Petty, Adolphe Mouron Cassandra, Jean Carlu, Abram Games, Joseph Binder, Otis Shepard, German Designer Tony Zepf. The list also includes Painter, Ernst Haas. The list included Super Realist, Chuck Close, Audrey Flack, Don Eddy, John Salt, and Richard Estes. Illustrators, Charles White III, Dave Williardson, Hajime Sorayama, Doug Johnson, Phillip Castle, Thomas Blackshear, Alan Aldridge, and Robert Grossman, Fantasy Illustrators, HR Geiger, Syd Mead, Frank Frazetta (others). I never got into Fantasy Art. All of these Luminaries incorporated Airbrush into their work. Most used airbrush 100% of the time. I was heavily into airbrush. I’d been using airbrush since I was fourteen. I was introduced to airbrush by my teacher Mr. Carleton T. Washburn.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention African Americans, Georg Olden, Reynold Ruffins, and Archie Boston. Georg Olden was the First African American Director of Graphic Arts CBS Television, 1943. As well, Georg was Designer of the CBS Eye Identity with his boss William Golden. Reynold Ruffins is founder of Push Pin with Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast. Archie Boston is an Advertising Phenomenon and Luminary. He created a lot of ground breaking work.

Perhaps the most important and influential person that has had a profound effect on my work and me is George Lewis aka Roif A Love. He was a senior at Chamberlain Vocational High. Without question the most gifted Artist, Illustrator and Designer I’ve ever encountered in my life. George was so gifted, our teacher Mr. Washburn let he do whatever he wanted. George never did any jobs out of the assignment book. Each week he worked on a different painting he was commissioned. At eighteen, his technical facility was on a level he could block in a painting with a paintbrush and no pencil outline. Make the painting or portrait look as if it were breathing or coming to life. George at eighteen was as gifted as Vermeer, Rubens, Close, and Estes. Its funny, he was a realist, I wanted to be a realist. We saw each other periodically. And I was instrumental in bringing him to the University I attended. Later on the advice of my sculpture instructor Bill Taylor he enrolled at Corcoran School of Art in D.C. We hadn’t seen each other in about three or four years maybe longer. When we talked. He had changed his style. And was influenced by the Bauhaus, Kandinsky and Klee. It was surreal, because I was telling him. I was heavily into the Bauhaus, Herbert Bayer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and Xanti Schwinshy. We just fell out crying laughing at how much in tune to one another we were in reference to our career influences. As well, the natural progression and evolution. We had known each other since High School. Few years later I learned that George Lewis passed. Dying of Cancer. Survived by his wife and son. My life hasn’t been the same. I carry the torch for both George Lewis and my teacher Mr. Washburn.

The movement, which had the most profound impact on my life, was the BAUHAUS. The Bauhaus gave me a new vision sense of purpose and direction. Responsible for opening Conceptual Doors. I didn’t know this was possible. The merging of Graphic Design, Industrial Design, Art, and Architecture with Business and Technology. Without boundaries. It wasn’t being practiced in the United States. Maybe it was, but wasn’t old enough to see what was happening. I have my typography instructor Mr. Ramkisoon, bka Ram and my painting instructor Yvonne P. Carter to thank for introducing me to the Bauhaus. That movement changed my life forever. The Bauhaus led me to other movements, Dada, Russian Constructivism, DeStijl, and Swiss Design. And most important, these movements led me to American Modern.

The rest is History.

MS: What type of education do you believe designer needs, and how did your education open the design world to you?
DM: That’s a loaded question. The best education for a Designer is Hands on Experience meaning, an Apprenticeship with a Designer, Firm or Consultancy. That’s the Best Training and Experience anyone involved in the Creative Arts can get.

Not to Blast Formal Training I’ll get to that later in the interview. Apprenticeships allow you to get Practical Real World Experience. There’s no better exposure for the Designer, Artist or Illustrator. Art & Design Schools try to simulate that experience in the classroom. It’s not the same.

The drawback of the classroom, if your instructor doesn’t have any practical experience in the real world. Then you’re studying with a professional student. That has only advanced them with a Degree. The flip side, the problems or assignments are not real in the classroom. They may be practical on some level. You don’t get the tug of war, feedback, and resistance you get with real clients. In the classroom, you don’t write a proposal for the project.

You don’t give a presentation, and you don’t do any market research. Nor do you deal with outside venders, such as printers, sample departments, paper suppliers, etc. You don’t multi task. These are all things you encounter on the job in real world situations. Rarely, if at all in school, is your contributions part of team effort or collaboration. In order to be successful on the job, you have to learn to play nice in the Sandbox with others.

At the same time, four (4) years of Design School Education is equivalent to 2 Days on the job.

Most important, Design & Art Schools have their advantages. Nothing can beat the Creative Atmosphere and everyone feeding off each other. The open competitiveness, the camaraderie, friendships and associations can last a lifetime. With Design School the unwritten rule is each one teach one. That’s what makes school so great. The instructor can only set up guidelines and parameters. It is the healthy exchange among peers that facilitate personal growth and development. As well, harvesting and fostering a sense of purpose, direction, community and culture you cannot get this on a job. You have to already be there at a mental state in you life.

I talk to students all the time that are seniors ready to graduate and have not been placed in an Internship Program. It should be mandatory. If you don’t get that practical experience you have nothing to offer a prospect employer. Design is an occupation upon entering; you must HIT THE GROUND RUNNING.
General Graphic Design Education must be coupled with Business Classes and Public Speaking Classes. In this new Millennium Designers will become more Independent and less reliant on staff positions. Designers must have a clear sense of Business Acumen. Simple task such as Organization and Time Management Skills cannot be learned in Design Class. The Designer must be able to sell him/herself. There’s nothing like Public Speaking or Drama Classes to knock down those barriers. The only way to learn it is taking business classes or being in that arena.

The extra year or two spent in school will be in the capacity of on the job training. Internship offers the prospect Designer employment opportunity in various venues. Design Education may have to be extended to five or six years. With those credits going toward the Masters Degree.

The Education of a Corporate Identity Designer is demanding. Long story short. Corporate Identity is a Grand Father Profession. Meaning the positions are inherited through lineage or generations of Designers. Corporate Identity is the Pinnacle of Visual Communication. Yet, there is not a Degree Granted for Identity Designers or Identity Consultants. Why? Salary wise, the average Identity Designer or Identity Consultant earns well over $ 100.000.00 dollars per year.

There should be a curriculum leading to a Degree.

Identity Designers and Consultants need a curriculum that address Design, Marketing, Communications and Trademark Law. This curriculum should be supplemented with Business Management Classes, and Public Speaking. Most important, Semiotics, the language of symbols and signs should be included in the curriculum. This will possibly be a five to six year program as well leading to a Masters and PHD. Because of the Scientific Nature of Corporate Identity on the Marketing side more time will be needed for research and analysis. Perhaps a Bar will be necessary or exam similar to the CPA Exam. This will insure Corporate Leaders Identity Consultants are qualified. Time spent in post secondary education will equal time spent by Medical Practitioner’s. Education accomplishment for Identity Designers and Consultants will justify their salary.

In reference to my Design Education, I’m very largely self taught. Yes, I have a Degree in Design. The school I graduated cannot take credit for my Accomplishment, Knowledge and Design Acumen. I’ll explain.
My mother enrolled me in a Professional Advertising Art Program at Chamberlain Vocational High School in Washington D.C.

At age fourteen, (14) I studied under Mr. Carleton T. Washburn, renowned Fine Artist, Illustrator, and Advertising Artist a protégé of Norman Rockwell. Mr. Washburn taught Advertising Art at Chamberlain Vocational School for thirty-eight (38) years. The program was highly regarded. With a 99.9% success rate of graduates entering the Profession of Design, Advertising, and lllustration straight out of High School. Going to Chamberlain Vocational School and studying under Mr. Washburn was akin to going to the Allegemeine Gewerbueschule aka (Basle School of Design). Acknowledge as the Worlds Best. Education wise the American Equivalent would be Art Center, Rhode Island School of Design, Cranbrook, and School of Visual Arts or Cooper Union. I site Cooper Union because they don’t offer a Graduate Degree in Graphic Design. Once you graduate from Cooper Union with an undergraduate Degree. You’re ready for the world. Graduating from Mr. Washburn’s Advertising Art Program you did not need College Training. College or University training was an option if you needed to further your career academically.

Mr. Washburn was renowned and acknowledged by Professionals, Industry Leaders, Institutions, and All Creative Job Market sectors across the United States. Mr. Washburn was renowned for getting students jobs. Working Professionals and Students made a Pilgrimage to his classroom. At least Mr. Washburn taught 89% of the Decision-Makers and Art Directors in the Washington Metropolitan Area.

Upon entering his class, there was a big chart with jobs he got students straight out of High School at Advertising Agencies, Production Houses, Art Studios, Design Firms, Design Consultancies, Walt Disney, Local Television Stations, Warner Bros., Department Stores, Publishing Houses, Fortune 500 Corporations. The list was endless, growing and intimidating. Nothing was fabricated. Students would come back to visit him and ask his advice. Request a portfolio review.

Drop in to say hello. After teaching from 7:30 am – 3:00 pm Mr. Washburn for thirty-eight (38) years taught an adult education class in advertising art, five days a week. Which began at four in the afternoon and ended at 8:00 pm. His adult education class was reserved for working professionals. It was standing room only.

The only program that comes close to Mr. Washburn’s Advertising Art Program is Leon Friend Program at Lincoln High in New York. Both, I’ve been informed were more advanced than most college programs, at that time.

If you’re not familiar with the History of Lincoln High in New York and Leon Friend. Seymour Chwast, Gene Federico, Bill Taubin, Alex Steinweiss, Irving Penn, Jay Maisel and many other luminaries were all taught by Leon Friend at Lincoln High.

The 1970 Chamberlain Yearbook state, The course in Advertising Art is designed to equip the student to meet the exacting demands of the modern world. They are trained in perspective, lettering, and the basic principles of layout, type anatomy, graphic arts, color and its significance in advertising. Students learn the many different techniques such as airbrush, pen and ink, watercolor, tempera, and scratchboard. Students must be thoroughly familiar with the use of overlays and various types of color separation as well as a working knowledge of reproduction and printing techniques. The student must know the many different kinds of advertising media such as direct mail, poster, newspaper, magazine, and visual aids. They must understand how to work with photographs, cropping, and retouching them for advertising purposes.

Mr. Washburn Developed an Advertising Art Program based on his Professional Experience. It consisted of one hundred jobs (as we called them) or assignments to be completed over a course of three years. If you completed the course of 100 jobs you received $ 100.00 dollars worth of Art Supplies. Only one person completed all 100 jobs in thirty-eight (38) years. It was an astronomical amount of work. The way the program was set up. School began at 7:30 am, which included tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders. Since I was in the 10th grade, our advertising art class began at 7:30 after roll call and pledge of allegiance. And ended at 12:00 pm with an hour for lunch. After lunch we went to Math, English, Science, Physical Education. It was mandatory that you participated in the Military Cadet Program. The only way you did not was to have a medical excuse. We came back to Mr. Washburn for Theory, Critique and Figure Drawing. On more than one occasion we were told how lucky we were to get North Light. When he designed the Program 38 years ago. He was adamant Artist and Illustrators needed North Light. Which is why Artist, Illustrators and Designers build their studios in their homes. North Light is reserved for the studio. The defining characteristic of North Light is its quality. It’s big, soft, and diffused. Since it’s coming from the north, it catches the direct sunlight and bounces it off the sky. Mr. Washburn explained how the florescent lighting, design of windows in the classroom. And trees destroyed North Light.

The program was Designed so that we spent at least five and one half (5 1/2) hours a day in Advertising Art with the rest of the time divided between the other classes on alternate days of the week. Critique, everyone participated on all levels. Mr. Washburn made it clear that what he was doing was revolutionary. Even at the college level. The teacher critiqued Work and students did not participate in critiques. They just paid attention and listened. He was absolutely correct. Talking to other Designers and Illustrators informed at that time only the instructor-critiqued work on the college level. Nice to be apart of something ground breaking because we critiqued each other’s work. This was back in 1970 at the High School level. We worked from a job book to begin conceptualizing and generating ideas you went to the Morgue. A term that still frightens me until this day for those not familiar with the term. The Morgue, is traditionally an Artist or Illustrators term for Dead Picture File. We had hundreds of thousands of photographs, illustrations, magazines, packaging and designs to assist in facilitating our conceptual process.

The job book was simply a notebook full of briefs. It read like this, Advertisement for Tire Manufacturer. Ad should depict the tire manufacturer is selling. Your choice of Illustration technique to make ad interesting. Headline copy should be 14pt type. Headline copy should read. Goodyear Tires Always Dependable. Body copy should be 9pt only indicate. Tire can be rendered in India ink, lamp black wash, or airbrush, your choice. Rendered on 15 x 20 Illustration Board, hot pressed. The assignment gave you the amount of time expected of you to complete the project. As jobs progressed they became more difficult. Skills overlapped to increase your knowledge and understanding as well proficiency with tools of the trade.

Other assignments were similar in scope, except the illustration called for the use of all the instruments we were taught to use.

Ruling Pen, Crow Quill Pen, Speedball lettering pens, Tempera Paint, Gouache, Watercolor, Sable Brushes, Zip-a-tone for effect. We did everything by hand. We were not allowed to use neither press type nor a projector. All lettering was commenced by hand. We chose a type specimen book selected a typeface and drew it by hand. And filled in the outlines with ink using a crow quill pen, ruling pen, sable brush or cut frisket and filled in with airbrush. Frisket in those days was masking tape. We were not allowed to use Rapidiograph pens. The juniors and seniors were allowed to use rapidiographs. We did everything with a Triangle, T square, and French curves. We sat at our drawing tables with drawing boards and Newsprint for tracing paper to transfer our drawings to Illustration Board. The upper class would joke with us because they could use Blue Pencil for layout and drawing. At the time, that was the rage of the industry. We all said to one another next year we would be using Blue Pencil for Illustration and Layout. It was something to look forward. They also informed us the industry was no longer drawing type by hand and were using press type for headlines or lettering machines. It was like telling a child there was no Santa Claus. We rebelled among ourselves. Calling the program outdated and outmoded. We didn’t know any better. It was all about Discipline and Perfecting Craft. That was the Best time of my life there were many, many gifted and talented people in that class. It was simply the Best training I ever had in my life. Nothing will ever come close to that experience. The Coupe d’etat, I learned three (3) years of course room instruction in one year. I sat at the third desk on the right of the classroom. Near the middle, there was not anyone behind me, except an empty desk. The two front desks were the areas Mr. Washburn used for theory class. Theory dealt with principles and rules of procedure in advertising and graphic arts. All aspects of the printing business, and graphic arts were explained. When the juniors had theory, I stopped what I was working on and listened intently. Same with seniors learning theory it was like I was an upperclassman because I was sitting among them.

Learning as they learned. Technically, I knew as much about the business as the seniors. Whenever theory class being taught I was sitting with the upper-classmen learning as they learned. Some would come to me and ask if I remembered some aspect of the lecture. I did and imparted the information. That’s when I began to absorb information and become obsessed with knowledge.

Later that year, Mr. Washburn wife passed. He retired from teaching at Chamberlain Vocational School at the end of the year.

I was the last student to see him. I helped him pack and move his belongings. We talked and in my own metaphysical way. I told him I would stay the course. And keep his name alive as one of the students he nurtured and benefited from his teachings. The next year I transferred enrolled in public school. At that time, I was so advanced with Mr. Washburn’s teaching. My High School teacher Rose Auld did not know what to do with me. She was extremely beautiful and a gifted artist. She had just graduated from college. Rose came from a lineage of artist and musicians her mother was Georgia Mills Jessup, a renowned African American Artists. Ms. Auld tried to simulate what Mr. Washburn did. It wasn’t the same. Because, I was in Art Class for one hour three days out of the week. At Chamberlain, I was in Advertising Art for five and one half (5 1/2) hours a day no comparison. Nevertheless, Rose had high hopes for my dreams and aspirations of becoming a Professional Designer.

At the college level I wasn’t challenged enough in my Advertising Design Program. I longed for those days with Mr. Washburn. One of my advertising instructors asked me about my prior education coming to college. I informed him I studied with Mr. Carleton T. Washburn Chamberlain Vocational School. Walter Lattimore informed me he knew Mr. Washburn, and taught some of his students. Explained how problematic the students were. Because they would correct him in the classroom and inform him “that wasn’t the way Mr. Washburn taught us”. Mr. Lattimore, said he finally went to Chamberlain to meet this Mr. Washburn. He was amazed and overwhelmed and in disbelief at the level of proficiency of the program. As well the level of achievement of his students he looked me in the eye and said, “if you studied with Mr. Washburn I image you’re pretty much bored here’. ‘I said you’re correct’.

Yvonne Carter, my painting instructor informed; if I wanted to be a Better Designer I should study Sculpture. Didn’t understand it then, I absolutely understand it now. Sculpture or 3 Dimensional Design gave me a better understanding of form and the principles and elements of Design. I almost majored in Sculpture. Until my Sculpture Instructor Bill Taylor informed me if I took the Senior Class for my Degree, he would have to fail me. I brought that up to him recently when we embraced at a restaurant. He iterated, “boy you haven’t changed, you still telling everybody that same lie”. I couldn’t do anything but laugh. We exchanged pleasantries had dinner and talked about old times.

On so many different levels, I carry the flame for Mr. Washburn. His professionalism, drive, determination, dedication, spirit, selflessness, business acumen, superior skill and capability lives within me as if it were an internal flame, that will never die. Certainly his archives of Design Ephemera influenced me at an early age to collect.

Only two of us continued down the righteous path of Creativity Mr. Washburn laid out for us James Ridley and myself. Last I heard James was in living in California and quite successful practicing Design. We both grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same junior high.

My long-winded sermon in reference to my education is to pay homage to the only REAL instruction I had in Applied Arts.

I owe it all the Mr. Washburn, my junior high school art teacher Ms. Bodie, encouraging my mother to place me in the program. Most important, my mother for having the foresight to facilitate my aspirations and dreams.

Down side, I didn’t benefit from Mr. Washburn’s connection in the job market. Not to worry, I’m not doing to shabby as an Independent Identity Consultant. It’s certainly a Badge of Honor for me to have known, been in the presence and educated by such a Great and Giving Man. His teaching will live within me for as long as I’m alive.

MS: Did you have a mentor? What did you gain from the experience?
DM: In the traditional sense of having a mentor, no.

There are two types of mentors. The first, being someone on the job taking interest in you. Facilitating you by guiding your career and showing you the ropes of the profession. Assisting with employment situations by giving advice and referrals. As well, introducing you to his/her inner circle of friends.

The second is in Professional Organizations or Educational Environments where you foster friendships, and camaraderie. Which lead to networking forming alliances, exchange of information. Cultivating advice, referrals and instant gratification due to the inner circle of Professional Organizations or Educational Environment.

Within Education usually your instructor is responsible for opening doors and knocking down barriers. Depending how connected he or she is.

As an Adult, I’ve met a few people I bounce things off. Namely, Mr. Robert W. Taylor my good friend, former Saul Bass Associate and Mr. Thomas Ruzicka, former Design Manager of Bell Telephone System and AT&T 1968 -1984. I feel I can talk to them about anything. I’ve never asked them for anything. Maybe I have, I’m always begging for more Bass, artifacts for my archives. What I get from them money cannot buy. What I get from them is a sense of brotherhood and mutual respect. Robert W. Taylor being in his sixties and Mr. Ruzicka being in his eighties.

Their combined ages exceed a century. Without question a wealth of knowledge.

They’ve seen it all, and they’ve done it all. It’s good to have that repartee.

Others are Mr. John Harrod founder and Executive Director of Market Five Gallery in D.C. Mr. Harrod has been a benefactor in more ways than one George Lewis, aka Roif A Love, now deceased, personal friend. Senior Classmate in Mr. Washburn’s Class.

The most gifted Designer, Artist, Illustrator; I’ve encountered on earth in this lifetime. Bar None.

Come to think of it. Yeah, I’ve had some Mentors in more ways than one. The aforementioned friends were always in my corner. Available whenever I needed them.

What magazines do you read?
DM: Are you Serious?

Read Design Magazines. I look at the pictures. The purpose of becoming a Designer or Artist is that you can go four (4) years through College or Design and Art School and never have to pick up a book. That’s the reason for embarking a Design Degree. Design and Art Classes are the only curriculum on earth where you don’t have to read a book to earn a Degree. That my change with my revelation. On many levels very true.

I peruse Magazines today. I’m endeared to Idea Magazine Japan. It’s simply unmatched by any current publication or in History. Idea Magazine has been number one over forty (40) years. Equal to Idea was Design Quarterly published by the Walker Art Center and Industrial Design Magazine.

When in bookstores, I peruse the usual suspects, ID, Graphis, Print, Communication Arts, Eye, Step, How (others).

Depending on Content and Feature Articles, likely to purchase any one of them.

I’m saddened and disappointed, Rudy Vanderlans is no longer continuing Émigré.

Baseline Magazine is Great. I always look for it quarterly a great European Typographic Magazine. Simply the best and unmatched by any Typographic Magazine ever. (Bar None)

Occasionally, I’ll purchase Gebrauchsgraphik on eBay. The oldest Design Publication continues to circulate. Sold under the name Novum.

Being a man of fifty (50) with considerable KNOWLEDGE WEALTH and TASTE I am more refined and inclined to read Design Publications from MIT PRESS I’ve amassed and impressive number of Prominent Historical Significant Design Periodical Collections throughout the years. Now need another storage facility for the collections I have amassed.

The only magazines I have a subscription to are Graphic Design USA and Brand Packaging and Package Design. These are complimentary because I’m in the Design Profession.

MS: What’s on your ipod?
DM: Surf Music, Dick Dale and the Dell Tones, The Ventures, The Sufaris, The Lively Ones. I can listen to Surf Rider and Miserlo all day and night.

Nelson Riddle, Route 66, and various other discographphy’s.

Astrud Gilberto, The Girl from Ipanema, various other discography’s.

Common, The Corner, and various other discography’s.

Kanye West, Jesus Walks; Diamonds are Forever, various other discography’s.

Mobb Deep Shook Ones, various other discography’s.

Francis Albert, Strangers in the Night, My Way. Luck be a lady tonight, My kind of town, It was a very good year,

The Flamingos, I only have eyes for you, various other discography’s.

Pookie Hudson & the Spaniels, Goodnight Sweetheart, various other discography’s.

Latest Projects?
DM: A couple of packaging projects can’t say much about them because of confidentially.

At least three Retail Identity Projects two within the Washington Metropolitan Area.

The other is out of town. Scope of each Project is from concept to rollout to include, Identity, Interiors, Packaging, and Evironments.

If time allows, self-publishing. Of course the subject matter will be Corporate Identity.

MS: Any Famous Last Words or a Personal Credo?
DM: “I must Create a System of my Own
Or be Enslaved by another Man’s
I will not Reason and Compare
My Business is to Create”

William Blake


Read part one HERE

DesignMaven Revea!ed (Part One)

There are very few that can claim such a distinctive online writing style and knowledge base as DesignMaven. I’ve always been a fan of what he has to say, whether on Speak Up or Design Observer. There’s a serious passion when he posts. I’ve been fortunate to share e-mail conversations with him over the last couple of years and have admired his energy. As I take time to reflect on my own design drive, I thought I could learn a thing or two from the man himself. That is why I was honored when he accepted my invitation for an interview. I hope you get as much from reading this as I did from talking with him.

Part two of the interview can be read HERE

Michael Surtees: Who is DesignMaven, how did he come to be?

DesignMaven: DesignMaven is the alter ego of Frank Briggs. He’s a mythological character he’s the Anti Hero. He takes on many guises.

Such as, The Marksman, Dorian Gray, The Alpha Male. When I write Design Commentary I represent all these personalities. Most notably, The Marksman for his astute acumen in Identity Design Commentary. I’ve never made an online appearance as the Marksman.

The Marksman. Is generally, used for my e-mail correspondence. Marksman can be misinterpreted and over some peoples head. I chose a Universally understood Moniker.

In literature and film an anti-hero is a central or supporting character that has some of the personality flaws and ultimate fortune traditionally assigned to villains but nonetheless also have enough heroic qualities or intentions to gain the sympathy of readers or viewers. However, through the course of events, as we get to know the character, they grow and change and may actually become popular. A well-known example of this Clint Eastwood in his early film work. Films such as A Fistful of Dollars, The Good Bad and The Ugly, For a Few Dollars More.

How did I come to be?
DesignMaven, is a descendant of the Sacred Mountain, Olympus. Summoned to Earth by his Father Zeus, GOD of Corporate Identity, Branding, Film, Titles, 3 Dimensional Design, Product Design, Retail Identity and Environmental Design. To be the Guardian of Identity Design and Design History. To provide mere mortals with Wisdom and Encouragement. However, he cannot participate nor alter and change the course of Identity Design and Design History on Earth with his Capability and Knowledge. Most important, DesignMaven is unemployable by First Tier Consultancies and Corporations. His participation in Identity Design and Design History on Earth is in the capacity of Good Will Ambassador. To personally participate will alter the course of History.

MS: Do you remember a time when you weren’t passionate about design? Was there a single event that changed your outlook to be so interested in design.

DM: Not really, I’ve encountered Design Burnout. I’ve been drawing and painting from a child. Since I was five (5) years old. I’ve always wanted to be an Illustrator. By the time I was actually able to practice Illustration and support myself. The industry changed. Do to stock Illustration.

And publications using more photography. Illustrators were suffering in the 1980s. I evolved into Design. Which I think is a natural progression. Quite comfortable doing both.

MS:Having had “design burnout”, how did you get past it?

DM: There was about a four (4) year period I did not work in Design. Do to technological advances in the field. Coupled with lack of interest. Although, I worked on the early Macintosh Computers. I was an Independent Designer. A friend, Emory Diggs was the manager at a local copy center and gave me Carte Blanche on their equipment and color xerox machines for about five years. He’s the only person that can get anything he need from me in reference to Design other than my immediate family, without paying my fee. I’m indebted to him. True Friend. How can you not be loyal to someone like that? During this era employers were demanding that you acquired the knowledge and skill of the digital era. I fought it as long as I could. Actually, thought some segment of the Design Industry would be the lone voice of tradition and reason.

It didn’t happen. Many Designers embraced the new technology. While others did not. I was, The Last of the Mohicans to embrace the new technology. Eventually bought a computer. Once I bought a computer, I never looked back. It’s totally different owning your own computer, opposed to using someone else. Although, I was not working as a Designer. I still had my hand in it.

People were always asking me to Design. I would say, “I don’t own a computer. If I create by hand, it’s going to cost more. If I give the job to someone that has a computer, it’s going to cost just as much. And their work will not be up to up to my standards”. Three things led me to purchasing a computer. Access to typography. Control over the Development and Ideation of my Design, and Production Control. Albeit, a former classmate who moved up the ranks to become a Design Manager in Government. Informed me he no longer worked in Design. He was transferred to Photography. Wanted to get back into Design after several years and could not. Because he did not own a computer and did not understood how to use software. A Lifetime friend, Gregory Scott, Designer, Artist, Image Consultant to Luther Vandross, (now deceased) and Patti Labelle, others encouraged me to purchase a computer. Listening to Tony Brown of Tony Brown’s Journal iterating on every show. Every home should have a computer. After six months of listening to Tony Brown and reflecting on other experiences Prudence and Better Judgment Won the Battle.
I love tradition. There’s no way, I can live without my computer!!!!!!!!!

MS: What’s your design archive like? What’s in there, is there one single piece that you prize above all others?

DM: My Design Archives is an Infinite Knowledge Base and more profound than the Internet. Allowing me to expound on any topic of Visual Communication. If that sounds evasive Michael, it’s meant to be.

I’ll expound; there’s some information the Internet cannot provide. If you ask the Internet to provide you with Corporate Identities from the 1970s it doesn’t have that capability.

If there was a discussion about 1970s Identities I have that information in my archives. If you ask the Internet to show you Corporate Identity Consultancy Capability Brochures from First Tier Identity Consultancies it doesn’t have that capability. That information is within my Design Archives, as well. If you did a search on the Internet for work produced by Legendary Identity Designer G. Dean Smith. It cannot provide you with information or samples of G. Dean Smith’s work. I have that information within my archives.

I possess a few trinkets. My archives would’ve been astronomical if Herb Yager Saul Bass’ Partner sold me his Saul Bass Archives. There were only certain items that I could afford. Herb savvy business man that he is. Really didn’t want to break up his archives and sell pieces of it. Thus, Herb felt for the betterment of mankind. His Saul Bass Archives should be remanded to the custody of a Museum and not a private collector. Herb’s got the Rock of Gibraltar in reference to his archives.

Things I’m most proud of are the complete set of Saul Bass and Associates, Bell Telephone System, Identity Manuals. Other than the Bass Family, I’m the only person on earth that has them. Thanks, to my mentor and Good Friends Robert W. Taylor, former Design Associate of Saul Bass, & Associates whom brokered the deal with Mr. Thomas Ruzicka former Design Manager of Bell System and AT&T. Of course Herb Yager gave me his blessing allowing me to posses them.

Personal artifacts given to me by Paul Rand. Now, I wish I possessed a Paul Rand Identity Manual. I’m working on it.
Walter Landor, in 1993 when he was ill sent me one of two copies Landor had in existence of his book Walter Landor Associates, Idea Special Issue, 1977. I’m quite sure, I’m the only person from my generation with this publication. It is rare and a collectors item.

There are others, I don’t want to bore you with my trinkets.

MS: How has design changed from when you started to the present period?

DM: I began in 1970 as an apprentice to an Illustrator, when I was fourteen (14) years old.

Everything was done by hand. Except camera production. At the time there were many specialist in Design. In my day, there was specialist. Beginning with production people layout artist, comp artist, airbrush artist, illustrators, photographers, typographers, and art directors.

You did not become a Designer until you graduated to layout artist or art director. Often times, that did not happen. Depending where you worked. Typographers were first and foremost considered Designers. In some circles you were not considered a Designer unless you were a Designer of books or periodicals.

Today, the Designer is the END ALL IS ALL. Because of the computer, he/she has many responsibilities and is responsible for every aspect of conceptualization to finish art. Often times act as typographer, production designer, photographer, illustrator, etc. Today in-house departments have been remarkably reduced in size.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the computer revolution in the early 1980s changed the game forever. Those that didn’t adapt fell by the wayside. The personal computer ended a lot of careers that were not susceptible to change and a new way of working. Once the Design Industry embraced the change. It was essentially adapt or die. If there was a period that I was dismayed with the profession, it was this era. I didn’t purchase or own a computer until 1999. I’m sure, I’m one of the last Designers from my generation to embrace the change.

MS: What’s your definition of design?

DM: Design is an Intellectual Activity with a craft aspect to it’.

“Design” = Development, A Plan, Purpose, or Intent initiated via Ideation, Orchestration, Delegation and Collaboration for Compensation.

“Craft” = Execution + Rendering = Production.
Designers almost always need others to bring their Ideas to Fruition. Because of time constraints Designers need not be involved in the Craft aspect of their business.

That being said, Design is a Lifestyle. And all encompassing of our daily lives. As humans we could not survive without Design. Design is as important to our survival as Food and Nourishment for our bodies.

How do you define a successful design? First and foremost Design must Communicate and satisfy the client needs. Successful Design has to understand the role it plays in its market, target audience, core values, consumer base and need. At the same time, reward the receiver by making them feel something. Touching and/or tapping into the Visceral and Cerebral sub-consciousness. There are many ways to accomplish this. It can be brought into fruition with typography, imagery, color, and semiotics. With the Internet and television all the aforementioned to include movement, animation, and music.
A combination of those elements is imperative for visual impact.

MS: Outside of design you seem extremely knowledgeable in PUNK and NEW WAVE, (read Dare I ask if you have a jazz collection? What makes something interesting to you?

DM:I listen to many forms of music. Appreciate all genres. Began listening to Jimi Hendrix when I was eleven years old.
I was raised in Church and grew up on Gospel music. Rhythm and Blues was always being played in my neighborhood if not in my home. Coming from that religious up bringing I almost straddle the fence of not being able to listen to secular music. The first music I owned was Ray Charles. My mother gave my brother and me two albums to share by Ray Charles. That was my introduction to owning records. The first album I ever purchased was Jimi Hendrix, ‘Are you Experienced’. Proceeded by Led Zeppelin, ‘Houses of the Holly’ and Pink Floyd, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.

I bought both of those together. I was approximately, fourteen or fifteen years old.

Growing up there was an assortment of music being played and I was introduced. Examples, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Curtis Mayfield, Billy Stewart, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Joe Tex, Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Five Stair Steps, The Delfonics, Otis Redding, Sam Cook. On the flip side, you had the British Invasion, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Hollies, The Zombies, The Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, Lulu, The Merseybeats, Peter Noone, Eric Burdon, The Yardbirds, The Moody Blues, (Others).

Before the aforementioned genres were Blues, Classical, Country, Doo Whoop, (Street Corner Symphony).

I listened to all those genres of music some more than others. Jazz was a natural progression. Beginning with Eubie Blake, Alberta Hunter, Pops Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Mel Torme, Billie Holliday, Abby Lincoln, Philly Joe Jones, Sun Ra, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Francis Albert. (Many others) Names to numerous to mention.

MS: Is it important to have design heroes, and if so, why?

DM: Most important, I think is a need to be aware of Design History. Meaning the events and practitioners whom shaped and advanced our Profession. What you take away from that experience and exposure to enhance your life to benefit your career can be most rewarding.

Certain Illustrators and Designers I identify with are family members to me. I lived with them all my life. Their work was in my home.

Example, my mother collected Top Value Stamps. On each issue of Top Value Stamp Magazine was a commissioned painting by Norman Rockwell. As a young child, I lived with that imagery. And as an aspiring young Illustrator, how could I not identify with Norman Rockwell’s skill and draftsmanship. Also in my home was a poster of the second N.Y. Film Festival, Philharmonic Hall Lincoln Center Designed by Saul Bass. As an avid reader of magazines, should I say, at my young age, perused magazines.
There were the Westinghouse Advertisements by Paul Rand in Look Magazine. The Saturday Evening Post, and Colliers, with Illustrations by Austin Briggs, my all time Favorite Illustrator, (many others).

Designers that I Glorify are as much a part of my family as biological family members. I’ve lived with them all my life. They had a profound effect on my life at an early age. I really had no Idea they were Rich, Famous, and Successful, until I became an adult.
When, I became an adult. The Designers that I like and worshiped were used as a measuring stick for my personal growth and development. During my pre-teen and young adult years, Norman Rockwell and Austin Briggs were important because I was trying to achieve their skill level and technical facility. Not emulate their style. Trying to achieve their level of proficiency in composition and rendering skill.

That level of achievement is impossible to achieve at an early age. With Saul Bass and Paul Rand they were used as role models because of their extraordinary range and capability. From them I learned Design has neither boundaries nor limitations. The process of discovery and problem solving are the same for all disciplines of Design. Only the production or craft aspect changes.

I got as much of their work as I could acquire. Used their work as a measuring stick for my own personal growth and development. Again, not to emulate their styles. Began investigating what made their work Great and Acknowledged by the Industry and their Peers.

As I got older my interest shift to Identity Design. I was reading symbols and in love with symbols from a tiny tot. My favorites were the Chevrolet Cross, Texaco, Seaboard Coastline, John Deere, Dixie, Bell System, Hunt Wesson, Westinghouse, IBM, abc, CBS, ESSO, Sinclair Oil. Armstrong Floors, The Man from Uncle, The Saint, James Bond, (others).

Semiotics, has always been an important aspect of my growth and development as a Designer, from a child. Again, Saul Bass and Paul Rand’s work were in my home. Either we possessed Design Ephemera or the work appeared in publications. Its not like I went to school and everybody was into Saul Bass or Paul Rand. We had Art History Classes and the instructor discussed the merit of the Artist contribution to Fine Art. There were no Design History Classes when I was in school. Dare I say, any of my college instructors were aware of Design Luminaries? If they were, they didn’t talk about them. It’s not like I read an article on the aforementioned luminaries and became infatuated with their success or work. I’m not that shallow. Meaning, I don’t gravitate to people because of success or fame. Which I think is a bigger sin, to be infatuated with someone one year and when they fall out of fashion move onto the next Design Flash in the Pan Cult Figure. Suffice to say a lot of these people are being forced fed via certain vehicles such as publications and conferences. Many of these people never live up to their press or Cult Hero Status. I’ve yet to be impressed with any of these Cult Hero, so called Celebrity Designers this younger generation of Designers find so impressive. It’s definitely hard for me to buy into their cult like status. Because people love them when they’re hot and move onto the next American Idol or Poster Boy when they fall from grace.

I’ve always enjoyed self-discovery. I vehemently don’t like being FORCED FED something that I know via personal research and self-development is not true. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. I pick my own Heroes. I don’t allow other people or any publishing vehicles to tell me whom I should like. Who’s hot and who’s not. Genuine success in any industry comes from Longevity. The Designers that are hot today, will they be relevant twenty years from now? I think not. The Designers that I admire and glorify stood the test of time for fifty (50) years or more. Today is just as important maybe more when they were alive. Look at the shamble Corporate Identity is in!

I’ve had the same favorite basketball, football, and baseball teams since I was a teenager. I continue to love them and support them until this day, win or loose. My point of contention, I’m not a fair weather fan or bandwagon jumper. Referencing people who support teams because they win. Or become infatuated with Designers because they become popular or cult figures. All the Designers that I enjoy and embrace except Michael Bierut and Paula Scher are from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Designers after those eras, I generally don’t have an interest Exceptions are made for personal friends and Female Designers who I enjoy and respect their work. Such as, Elinor Selame, the First Lady of Corporate Identity in America, Rose Marie Tissi, the Greatest Female Designer Practicing today. (Bar None) Margaret Youngblood has created more Identity Design than any man has in the 21 Century thus far. Margaret is no longer employed at Landor. Connie Birdsal, with Lippincott & Margulies has been in the forefront of Identity Practice over twenty years. Anne Reeves; partners with her husband Mamoru Shimokochi. There are other females Designers of note to numerous to mention.

I’m endeared to Identity Designers first and foremost male or female. Identity Design is my expertise. Heroes are exceptionally beneficial for personal growth and development. Design Heroes are no different than Heroes for other professions such as Athletics, Music, Business, etc. The kid or young adult that dreams of becoming the next Dr. J, or Michael Jordan, Yo Yo Ma, Al Dimeola. Bill Gates, Bob Johnson, Hillary Clinton, or Barbara Walters can fulfill their dream healthily with someone to pattern themselves.
Essentially, inspiration, aspiration, determination and dedication should be the core values governing ones personal vision. Design Heroes can’t hurt you. Heroes can become catalysts to achieve your dream. What’s the lesser of two evils an imaginary friend or Design Hero? I’ve never had an imaginary friend.

My Heroes, I lived with them all my life.

End of Part One
Part two of the interview can be read HERE

A great conversation with Tina Roth

If you are lucky enough to notice design work that just makes you stop everything and appreciate it for what it is, you can empathize how I was hit with Tina Roth’s design. I was introduced to her through her photographs in flickr. Daily I’m fortunate enough to see images that she chooses to share.

Interested in the person that takes those images, I checked out her web site. It took less than a moment to recognize some of the design that she is part of. Visual thesaurus is a tool that I have benefited from, and if you haven’t – you need to explore it. Interested in more I asked her for some time. While preparing for a presentation in Seattle for the AIGA Currents 9 and preparing for a wedding on top of a mountain she took time out to respond to my questions. I hope you enjoy what she had to say as much as I did.

michael surtees: Growing up in Switzerland – did you always know that you wanted design?

tina roth: Yes, pretty much. How very swiss of me though, to briefly consider enrolling into business school ‘to study something serious’. Luckily my ‘inner voice’ was broadcasting “Don’t do it” really loud. Phew!

ms: What was it like to go to design school at the university of munich and ecole des arts décoratifs, in geneva? How where the programmes structured?

tr: I took a one year introductory program in art and design at the Ecole des arts décoratifs in Geneva. I was introduced to and trained in all the technical creative skills such as drawing, sketching, perspective, color, form, photography, working with 3D, illustration and so on. It was a rigorous program and I am glad I went through it. After that introductory year I had the possibility to move on to the 4 year Graphic Design Training but I decided to switch schools. I always knew I wanted to be able to freelance during my studies which would not have been possible in Geneva. At the Ecole des arts décoratifs you had to attend class every day, 8 hours a day and if you missed a class you had to bring a signed note (!) the next day, with an explanation. The university in munich took a far more liberal approach; you had to get a certain amount of credits but none would have ‘marked you in a red book’ if you missed a class. The school system in Munich gave me exactly the freedom I wanted. It allowed me to freelance a lot. I experienced the ‘deadline and money driven work environment’ of small design shops but also had the chance to be experimental and playful with my assignments at university – a perfect mix. I tremendously enjoyed the final thesis project which we got to pick entirely ourselves; I decided to create a photography/text book on the ‘Beauty of Every Day Life’.

I had never before been so consumed and fascinated by a project. Looking back I keep thinking: what a luxury to be given an entire semester (approx 4 months) to work on one single project. (sigh)

ms: were there designers that inspired you as a student?

tr: At the time, there were no big names I could have mentioned as being ‘my big inspirations’. I would expose myself to a lot of different work and be impressed by it, but I was never really the type that wanted to get to know ‘all about the designer behind it’. Also, keep in mind, those were the days where you actually had to go to a library to learn about a designer, what a concept! I sometimes envy the graphic design students today, as it is so easy to view thousands of designer portfolios online.

I vividly remember visiting an exhibit showcasing David Carsons work. I was truly fascinated by his ‘freestyle graphic design’, even though it was clear that it wasn’t for me. I always had the gridded-white-space-driven-swiss-designer in me. Now, I can clearly say, that Josef Müller-Brockmann’s work was, and still is, one of my biggest influences.

ms: Did you work in Europe before moving to NY? What were you doing.

tr: Even though I never had an official full time job before I moved to NYC, I feel like I did. As I mentioned before, the schedule at University in Munich gave me a lot of freedom. In those 4 years I freelanced for several studios. One of them kept me particularly busy with print projects for hotels and sports gear companies. I also took on freelance projects on my own, mostly corporate identities. I also had the chance to do quite a bit of illustration work; one of my favorite pieces I did, was for ELLE magazine germany, a shopping guide for the center of Zurich.

ms: Were you more interested in print or interface after school?

tr: I can definitely say that I’ve always been intrigued by the possibilities and challenges of interface design. But then again I could simply not be without a ‘dose of print’ every now and then. I let Goethe’s words speak for me: “Two souls dwell, alas! in my breast!”

ms: What was your motivation for moving to NY.

tr: In 1998 I did a 3 month internship at Bussedesign ( in San Francisco and on my way back I stopped in New York for 3 days. I was bitten by the ‘big apple bug’ within minutes of arrival and upon leaving, I was determined to, at some point in my life, call the big apple my home.

Right after graduation I packed up all my belongings, put everything in storage and flew to New York. The stars must have been aligned, as I managed to find an internship, 12 hours after I got off the plane. And a few weeks later, Matthew Waldman, the head of the studio offered me a fulltime job (+ work visa). I was very lucky and still thank my ‘internship and work visa angels’ to this day.

I keep thinking back to what my english teacher in college once told me: “Tina, you should move to the States, you’d be so happy over there.” I remember just shaking my head and laughing it off; I had no idea how right she was.

ms: Was it hard to adjust?

tr: No, not at all. New York is fast, so am I.

I was happy to finally have found a place where I didn’t feel like I had to constantly slow down. Switzerland tends to be a little bit on the slower side, which can be a good thing, but, growing up, I felt like I was on the ‘fast lane’ with cars driving slowly in front of me. (You are not allowed to pass by cars on the right on swiss highways, so, if someone’s driving slowly ahead of you, you’re stuck.)

Moving to New York, crossing the atlantic, has definitely broadened my horizon. Living in a different culture, speaking a foreign language, makes you realize that there’s more than ‘one way’ of approaching life – life, in all its various aspects.

Just to give you a few examples on what amazed me, when I first moved here: Buying a cup of coffee to go? Oh my, what a strange idea! Or the concept of dating, as you have it here in New York, it does simply not exist in Europe. One thing that I just could not understand; how in the world, could one only start working at 10am? In Switzerland you’re in the office by 8am, sometimes even earlier. The overall shopping mentality here in the States is definitely one of the differences that struck me the most. I felt to me, as shopping (and returning things) was almost considered a hobby. Swiss store opening hours make that impossible: stores close down at around 7pm and even as early as 5pm on saturdays. And, now take a deep breath; NO shopping on sundays and holidays whatsoever!

ms: How did you end up working and Plumb Design (and Th!nkmap), what were you doing at first and how did your role evolve?

tr: Plumb Design knocked on my door in summer of 2002 and asked if I would like to join their team. I didn’t need much convincing, knowing of their visualization software called Thinkmap and their excellent reputation in the interactive field. I joined their so called ‘blue team’ in summer of 2002.

I knew immediately that this was a good move; the projects were challenging and divers, right off the start. I got to develop the IA and the overall design for e-ticketing platforms:::, multi-lingual investor relations sites, national educational resource sites, …, and most of all complex thinkmap applications.

Over the time an increasing percentage of customers have been looking to Plumb Design for visualization solutions that leverage the Thinkmap platform. This change, along with the development of the Visual Thesaurus product line, has led Plumb Design to fully commit to a product strategy centered around Thinkmap. In spring 2004 Plumb Design changed its name to reflect focus on its Thinkmap visualization products.

For those who are not familiar withThinkmap; Thinkmap is a dynamic, data-driven visualization technology that helps end-users navigate and understand complex information.

During this redefining phase, I was put in charge of all creative: the re-branding of the company, the Visual Thesaurus and customized Thinkmap-Applications. Also, they started introducing me as their ‘Design Director’.

This change from services to product company proved to be incredibly interesting; no more clients – what a concept! All of a sudden, we were ‘our own client’ and had to set our own deadlines.

I enjoy the broad range of responsibilities at Thinkmap, as I am in charge of ‘simply all creative’. At the moment, I am mostly working on projects related to our Visual Thesaurus, these range from interactive (interface, websites, email campaigns, banners…) to print (packaging, advertising, t-shirts, posters, postcards etc)

I tremendously appreciate having the opportunity to be building a brand, the brand of the Visual Thesaurus.

About 2 months ago I was at a small gathering of friends and was discussing the Visual Thesaurus with one of my designer friends. A fellow next to us, turned around as soon as he heard ‘Visual Thesaurus’, and with a big smile on his face said: “What? You are the designer of the Visual Thesaurus? I am a subscriber and I LOVE it! I use the tool to brainstorm!” He went on and on and I was just simply thrilled to have run into one of our subscribers/customers. How exciting!

ms: How do you typically work on a project (process), and does the process change between electronic and print?

tr: How much time do you have – that is quite a question!

Of course, there are the basic ‘research, creation, implementation, testing phases, but I won’t bore you with that.

Working with many talented designers over the years, I’ve noticed how everyone has a different way of ‘creating’. It has always fascinated me to see how designers approach their projects. I’ve noticed that I clearly fall into the category of the ‘intuitive designer’. I don’t sit down and theorize and rationalize first. Instead, I make a few sketches and brew a few ideas in my head, then, I sit down at my computer and ‘get going’. I just follow my instincts and see what happens. It usually works.

ms: What are you currently working on? How’s MoMA?

tr: At Thinkmap, I am currently working on different marketing materials for the Visual Thesaurus. We also have two more products in the pipeline; I can’t say too much! Sit tight, they’re exciting!

I am temporarily working at the MoMA for two days a week, as a consultant. MoMA approached me about 3 months ago and asked me if I’d be interested in redesigning their current intranet. How could one turn down such and exciting opportunity? It’s a wonderful project that allows me to really see behind the scenes of this fabulous institution.

ms: Do you consider yourself as more of an interface designer, print designer or both?

tr: Definitely both! Whenever I get to talk to young or aspiring designers, I keep telling them to try to keep a broad portfolio, a broad skill set. Employers are eager to hire designers that offer ‘one stop shopping’.

ms: What are you currently reading, listening to and looking at?

tr: reading:
I just finished The Brand Gap” An excellent read for anyone interested in branding and how it actually works.

And I just started: “Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer” I can’t say much yet, it looks very promising. The many extraordinary illustrations in the book made it worthwhile purchasing already.

looking at:
Wedding bands : )

listening to:
I am currently enjoying the latest album of a swiss band called Lobith. Their music is a wonderful mix of pop, latin-lounge and a hint of jazz.

ms: How did you hear about flickr?

tr: My former Thinkmap coworker and good friend Red deLeon ( introduced me to the world of flickr. Yes, he won many instant karma points for that.

ms: Who are some of your favorite photographers?

tr: I absolutely admire Alec Soth’s eye and overall aesthetics.

ms: Tina, thank you for your effort and time, it has been a great opportunity to talk with you. Merci!

Deborah Adler ClearRx Interview


Mid April of this year, New York Magazine published a fascinating article on the redesign of the pill bottle that Target would soon be using. Finding the process interesting I posted a small blurb about the New York Magazine article here on my blog. Soon afterwards I was getting a lot of interest through google from pharmaceutical companies, universities, research centers and other curious people and designers. Interested myself I searched for more info. Unfortunately I couldn’t find much more on the redesign myself so I contacted Deborah for an interview. Below are the questions I had about the redesign and her responses.

MICHAEL SURTEES: From the story in New York magazine, it was written that your grandmother accidentally swallowed pills meant for your Grandfather. How did you turn that issue into something that could be a thesis project for SVA?

DEBORAH ADLER: I grew up in a family of doctors, so the world of medicine has always been a strong interest of mine. It was important for me to develop an idea that had substance and would have meaning to my life. When my grandmother made the mistake, it became clear that I had an opportunity to develop an idea that was both close to me and satisfied my need to do something that would in some–way help others.

MS: How common is the issue of people taking wrong medication due to not understanding the label? How did you research the problem?

DA: It is not such an easy statistic to find. It actually took me a while to learn that errors made at home are indeed a contributing factor to medication errors at large. It was important for me to have a lot of information to back me up because I wanted it to live beyond my final thesis presentation. I did not want to do this unless there was a real need for it. I did most of my research by calling experts, reading books and studies, and searching the internet. People seem to be more receptive to students. It turns out that approximately 60 percent of Americans don’t take their medication correctly.

MS: There’s the issue that bad design can harm people, did your design process evolve as you worked on the project? How did you go about designing a new understandable label?

DA: My main priority was to create a labeling system that makes the medication user’s experience less confusing. I formed an intuitive label that is divided into two categories, primary and secondary. The primary information reflects exactly what the patient wants to know first. The name of the drug, its purpose, dosage and how to take it. The secondary information contains expiration, quantity, name of the doctor, how to reach him, etc. It also includes the drug store, the refill number and the dispensing date.

Information Hierarchy—(order, position, type size, contrast, leading, alignment and choice of typefaces) is another important factor to a functional and clear label.

These two elements coupled with the consumer’s point of view is crucial to the success of the labels legibility. It will also make drug safety information easier for doctors to find in a short amount of time. Not only did I want the labels to be functional and easy to understand, but it interested me that by understanding adult schemas for taking medication ,the label has the possibility of increasing memory.

MS: While working on the project, was there a moment when you thought you could turn the thesis into a working model that millions of people could benefit from?

DA: Yes. I just wasn’t sure how to get there.

MS: How involved were you with the process for the re-design of the bottle by Klaus Rosburg? Was it collaborative?

DA: Klaus and I worked closely together to ensure the synergy of the label with the bottle. Klaus’s challenge was to design a medicine bottle, with a child safety cap, which incorporated my initial ideas: color coding, the patient info card, having a front and a back, and being able to see the whole label without turning it in a circle. His contributions were significant in that his innovative shape elevated the level of communication between the bottle and the patient as well as elegantly streamline the new system.

MS: Thank you for your time Deborah!

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