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Dissecting Engagement

StopWatchTry as we may to logically explain the components that go into visual communication, unfortunately, a level of subjectivity, aesthetics, and downright “likeability” often dominates the client’s judgment of the work we do. When too much of this popularity contest supersedes visual strategy it usually dilutes or destroys any semblance of concept, relevance or quality. One of the ways designers attempt to alleviate moving down this dreadful slippery slope is to proclaim that good design stands out and differentiates itself from the crowd. If a designer can convince the client of this belief it may be possible to lead them back to discussions surrounding visual solutions rather than arbitrary mandates for their favorite color-.

But how do you quantify this statement? Why does “quality’ graphic design stand out from a sea of mediocrity? Let’s analyze and dissect the engagement that occurs when consumers encounter such visuals.

For the sake of argument, lets assume that “quality” comes with the key attributes of uniqueness, intelligence, unexpectedness, and aesthetics (quantifying these traits is analysis for another time).
  1. Ignore. Studies have shown that our brains are constantly set to filter out “unnecessary” or unwanted information. Because we are continually bombarded with things to buy, to learn, to decide, to use, and to entertain, we must be very selective in what we let in. If we were unable to do so we would quickly become overwhelmed with an overload of stimulus, and ultimately, we would cognitively shut down, thereby gathering no information at all. So, when a consumer repeatedly sees objects or messages of the same, mundane, expected nature they tend to switch to autopilot and ignore them.
  2. Interruption. A piece of quality graphic design set amongst those of lesser standing will register as being “different” somehow from the crowd and different from what we are used to seeing. Much like the singular Purple Cow set amongst a herd of brown cows that Seth Godin speaks of in his book of the same name, this unexpectedness will interrupt the habit to ignore, elicit a split-second of curiosity, and cause the viewer to do an initial double-take. This buys an extra second or two of attention that the other visuals are not granted.
  3. Awareness. Now that the piece has our—only slightly more than passive—attention, we quickly scan it and subconsciously determine if it carries enough interest for us to investigate further. Unlike the rest of the group that has blurred together and been virtually forgotten, we are aware of this piece now. It is here that whichever attribute that initially drew us in (whether concept, color, verbiage, etc.) does the heavy lifting of pulling us in closer to really begin engagement.
  4. Decipher. As we are drawn into the design and our attention shifts from passive to alert, we begin to take in the visuals. We scrutinize the colors, the juxtapositions, the style, the text, the imagery. We search for the meaning of this message. All too often we are let down at this stage when the beginnings of our investment of time and trust are not rewarded with any substance. When a piece initially draws us in, only to be left cold and unsatisfied, we abandon further deciphering and exit the engagement even more jaded than before.
  5. Surprise. One important hallmark of virtually all quality graphic design is the element of surprise. The designer strives to create something that the viewer has not seen before. Some unexpected, clever, and innovative way to impart a concept. This can manifest itself in a myriad of ways: a backward letter, an unlikely combination, an impossible situation. The uniqueness of this message catches you off guard and puzzles you as you ponder its meaning. What is the reason for this difference? If you have arrived at this stage of engagement, you are likely to follow through with your train of thought. You have invested several seconds of time (a lifetime for one piece to boast while so many others inundate you) and you search for closure with this moment.
  6. Understanding. The surprise that a good designer presents to you is carefully calculated to rapidly bring you an “aha” moment. If done well, the thing that initially puzzled you will be the very thing that carries the message that now informs you. And it will carry it in a fresh way that makes YOU feel smart for figuring it out.
  7. Delight. It is one thing to hear a message or be delivered an idea in a very straightforward manner. But when a successful design takes a viewer on an unexpected journey, a clever conceptual rollercoaster ride, there is a heightened sense of experience that delights the viewer. The artistry of the delivery mechanism of the message creates an enrichment that feels like a found treasure and greatly amplifies the drama, theater, and effect of the message itself.
  8. Connection. If a viewer is successfully taken through all these steps, the result can be extremely engaging. This investment of the viewer’s time and brainpower connects them to the design. They have spent time with it, pondered it, uniquely understood it, appreciated it not insulting their intelligence, and been dazzled by its innovation all in a rush. These methods can be viewed as trickery to steal attention away from a consumer that was originally hell-bent on ignoring you, or as higher forms of communication that improve us for having experienced them. In either case the heightened style of communication marks us and fosters much deeper recollection. All this happens in a matter of seconds.
  9. Action. What is all this for? By its very definition, graphic design is art + message for a purpose. The pretty picture residing on the fireplace mantle can exist solely as a form of expression, but design has a goal of soliciting action. Whether selling, identifying, informing, entertaining, or persuading, design carries a message meant to be acted upon. It is always the hope that once the connection is made that the engagement is strong enough to elicit a positive action on part of the viewer.

We live hectic lives. Consumers have learned to filter out the things they have repeatedly seen—the expected things—because they blend into all the other sameness they have seen before. Why should time be spent rehashing the same old messages delivered in the same old substandard ways? In most cases it isn’t. A few seconds is all you have to prove to the viewer that they ought to invest another few seconds in attention to your product. Quality graphic design is one of the last frontiers available to enable those precious seconds in order to engage the viewer and impart your message.

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I must admit, I’ve developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with Seth Godin. In marketing circles, particularly writers, Seth Godin is very popular. People seem to hang on his every word, or blog entry. There are attributes to Godin I find very illuminating. His “succinct” books are perfect for the modern attention span…or is that merely his story that he is sticking to in order to crank out more books to facilitate more mortgage payments?

I also find that he has flashes of brilliance. There are select phrases and sentences peppered throughout his writings that reinvent your understanding of contemporary marketing, all in a rush.

However, my one niggle, and bone to pick with Mr. Godin, is his inconsistency and seemingly random snippets that hit you from left field.

OK, that is technically 2 niggles.

I am having a difficult time putting my finger on it, but I find myself on a wild roller coaster reading ride. One paragraph and I have that “look” on my face (you know, the one when your face brightens and you truly understand). Onto the second paragraph when I have that other “look” on my face (when your eyes glaze over and you scratch your head, wondering how you got derailed).

It feels as though the author suffers a bit from being in his own head when the writing goes awry. In an attempt to practice what he preaches (stringing together short, almost scan-worthy, quickly digestible chunks of content in order to mirror the Internet-attention-span) he seems to forget that I do not have the luxury and background to ALREADY know what he is thinking. I seem to get a notion that is abbreviated just enough to force me into re-reading it. At this point it seems to be a 50/50 shot on whether I can extrapolate a proper context with which to understand the tenets. The result: a workout for the muscles in my face as they smile, then frown, then smile, then frown…

To echo a concept postulated by the author in Meatball Sundae: you, Mr. Godin, have proven yourself enough in the first 2 books (Purple Cow and Meatball Sundae) to earn my investment in another of your books, but my wishlist includes greater content development and background from you. I want more of those flashes of brilliance, less head-scratching. I’m picky that way. Just like the Internet Age consumers that you define in your books. What irony.

Graphic Design for Business

GroceryStoreWe live in a media-saturated market. The world we do business in presents consumers with more choices than at any other time in history. To see this at work, walk down any aisle of any grocery or department store. You will be bombarded with hundreds of options, each screaming for your attention, begging for your purchase, and hoping for your ongoing loyalty. Open any business section of the Yellow Pages (or search the internet) and you will be overwhelmed with dozens of services each proclaiming superiority over the next. Attend any networking event and you will be inundated with business cards preaching the ever-greater value of their organizations. In virtually every case the thing you offer is also offered by someone else, whether next to you on the shelf, with the turn of a page (or click of a button), or down the street. This is the reality of the landscape that your business competes in. To blend in to this competitive world is to be invisible. Amidst all this overwhelming clutter, strategically driven design informs smart consumer decisions and cuts through this noise.

In a sea of sameness­—same thinking, same style, same lettering, same imagery, same format—where everyone looks and sounds alike, good design breaks through and communicates your difference and tells your story. It combines business strategies and brand strategies into a skillfully unique visual expression across all the pieces that a modern business is expected to have. Using clever, unexpected concepts, colors, imagery, symbols, and materials, design constructs these vital pieces, speaks your message to the outside world, and creates a proprietary brand language that becomes your calling card–your very identity. Good design will give you personality, clarify your offerings, and credibly entice customers to trust that you are their quintessential right decision.Where overused and expected visual messages are mediocre and get ignored, inspirational graphic design gets noticed, engages its audience, and create a memorable position in the minds of consumers for you in the marketplace. Design is the symbol for all you do and all you stand for­­‑‑the visual solutions you need to interact with your customers in order to represent your organization in a professional, believable, and delightful manner.

Interview, Part 5

OTHER

1. On your website, I noticed that you have black belt in martial arts. What form did you study? Do you continue to study? Why?

I was lucky enough to study in a school that was open to, and taught, just about everything. I am really a Jeet Kune Do Concepts martial artist. JKD is the martial art (and life) philosophy that Bruce Lee popularized. It is an eclectic mix of any and all martial arts. The belief is that everything has something to offer…so why not investigate as much as you can and see how they work. The result is that you blend the strongest of everything together and are not limited to a certain set style or way of moving. Specifically, the main arts I blended were: Kali, Arnis, Hapkido, Muay Thai, Silat, Kickboxing, Boxing, Shootwrestling, Brazilian Jujitsu, Judo, and many subcategories of these. Technically my black belts are in Hapkido and Arnis.

I haven’t actively studied for the past couple of years. I am still looking for a school or group of people that fit my martial art goals. I am also looking for the time to do it in.

I miss it incredibly.

2. How do you apply what you learned in martial arts to your graphic design work?

Very interesting question. I think anything you are passionate about, highly involved with, or very interested in will find it’s way into analogies for your other endeavors. The biggest translation would be the Jeet Kune Do philosophy. Because of this type of cross training in martial arts, you wind up learning from a more birdseye point of view. You stop thinking so much about the specifics of the style and move in more “meta” ways. It becomes more about studying Defensive and Offensive body motion instead of the Chinese way of motion or the Filipino way of motion. It’s much harder at first because it is so open-ended and diverse, but in the long run I think you come away able to do more and understand more. I’m very much the same way in design. I would consider myself a holistic designer. I’ve been asked by people in the past what specific design I do. Am I a Logo Designer or a Poster Designer or an Interactive Designer…as if I have to pigeonhole myself and do only 1 format/media in 1 style. My response is…”I’m a designer”. I don’t discriminate between a billboard, a t-shirt, or a touchscreen kiosk. I continue to design them all. And I never understood the notion of a single style that a designer works in. If I am creating an identity for a church today and a Punk band tomorrow, shouldn’t they look, feel, and think differently? The situation dictates the response. I let the visual need lead me. I study and do design, just like I study and do martial arts. I don’t only do “Logo Design” with a set style,  just like I don’t do martial arts only in the Hapkido style.

3. Do you pursue any other interests outside graphic design? What do you pursue and why?

I’m interested in way too many things I can’t keep up. I really want more time to study music and languages and philosophy and psychology and photography…..and oh yeah, I want to spend time with my family and friends once in awhile too. My head is always on overload.

4. In your resume, you say that “graphic design is power, comprehension, and beauty.” How do you daily apply these concepts to your work?

Well, I try to. Like I said, it is very difficult to bring the design to the level of these statements when you have so little time on the piece. Those times when you can take a pile of unintelligible raw data and turn it into meaning, or encapsulate the essence of an organization in a perfectly clever way that makes a persons eyes light up, or visualize a concept in a way that gives someone chills, or make someone ponder in a way they otherwise wouldn’t have, or give someone an enriching experience…..that is when design has power, imparts comprehension, and has beauty.

The alphabet is a design. The U.S. highway signage system is a design. And I’ve seen some posters about War, Hunger, and AIDS that would make your heart stop with their beauty of idea and aesthetic. That is the kind of design that matters. That affects mankind. That is the kind of design I want to do.

5. How does your work affect your personal life?

It affects it tremendously. It is very hard to turn it off. For whatever reason it is on my mind quite a lot. I’ve heard musicians explain this phenomenon in similar ways. You tend to get almost depressed when you have creative block or, for whatever reason, aren’t able to do really good work. There is a drive inside that compels you to make this stuff. It’s like some need to constantly try and self-actualize. Fortunately I have family, friends, and a fiancé that understand it. But sometimes I really need them to smack me into perspective and remember that there is a whole life to lead out there…people to love, houses to buy, movies to see…

6. Many of the posters on your website developed out of specifically-themed poster contests. Though these themes influence your design choices, how do your experiences and beliefs influence those posters?

Everything you know, experience, and believe tempers how you approach those types of cultural/social/political posters. Often times you get a theme of something universal such as September 11. Well, what direction you go and what you say in your poster are always filtered though you as a person. Do you want to focus on how horrible it was so as to mark it as a day never to forget? Do you want to focus on the people who did their best to be heroic to show the spirit of the U.S.? Do you want to satirize Bin Laden? Do you want to vilify him? Do you want to pose a question of the viewers? Do you want to present the other sides point of view?

All those questions go through your personal filter and come out in a certain direction.

7. On the other hand, some of your posters were designed for personal events. Why do you choose this medium to document these events? What future life events do you see yourself designing for?

You know, I never really even think twice about documenting some of these events with this medium. I think it is just a natural way for me to contribute in a way that is uniquely mine (not that others can’t design to document as well) but this seems to be one of the ways that feels the most individually relevant for me. I feel a surreal sense of fulfillment when I do it-like I’m not wasting away, like I’m doing what I should be doing, like I’m giving back, like I’m pushing and growing. Like I’m doing “My Thing”. I imagine a musician feels the same way when they finish a song about their new love, or a director completes a movie documenting their parents life during the Holocaust.

I am in the middle of designing multiple pieces for my wedding on April 2. Monograms, program guides, menus, thank you cards, Just-Married posters…..

Does that count as designing for future life events?

Interview, Part 4

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

1. What professional experience (client, project, etc.) has most impacted your design?

I can’t really say that there has, thus far, been 1 quintessential experience that has impacted me the most. There are absolutely those select dozen or so that have left their mark (good or bad). For 1 example: I recently worked on a rebranding project for a large organization. The first step was designing a new logo as an anchor point for the rest of the campaign. This particular client was extremely challenging to work with, and as a result I wound up creating 331 different logos before their committee settled on something. And even then it was in large part their art direction. Let me reiterate that: 331 logos. That is insane! I have NEVER heard of anyone having to create so many logo variations to get a final buy-off. That was a very tough time. It almost broke me. 5 months into the process I fell out of love with design. My attitude really worried me–I have never felt that way before. It has been a slow recovery.

Does that count as “impact”?

2. What did you learn from that experience?

Ugh, so many things. Most of them painful.

On a positive note: when I have a difficult project now I compare it to the 331 Logo Trauma and feel much better!

3. What is the most difficult part of your job now? The easiest part?

I would say that the most difficult part of my current job is the pace. Designing 15 logos in a day, or an entire website in 4 hours, or a CD-ROM in a day is really tough. Sometimes next to impossible. Every firm or agency goes through it’s periods where that happens, but that pace as the ongoing norm really wears you down. It is especially tough to make those fast pieces very good. It really saddens me when I see a project that can be turned into something stellar moved along because there are too many other things to do. I feel a responsibility to make a project as good as it can and deserves to be. That is supposed to be my job, afterall. That is supposed to be what the client is paying for…this supposed “expertise” I have gone to school 7 years and worked 10 years to acquire.

The easiest part is that most precious of days when everything is right with the world, the stars are all aligned, and I can dream up and create a piece that is smart, fresh, relevant, appropriate, and at the best of my current ability…..that the client loves and doesn’t want anything changed on. Those projects have a magic about them that is like falling in love for the first time. Those are the projects that get you through the 331 Logo Traumas.

4. What have you learned since finishing your degrees?

So many things it would have to be a dissertation unto itself. If I had known the amount of things I was clueless about when embarking on this journey I would have been paralyzed and completely overwhelmed. As cliché as it sounds, I learn new things every single day, and I often wonder just how much I’m not even aware of right now that I will look back on in another 10 years and be blown away by. Does that sound like a copout?

5. Where do you see yourself professionally in the coming years?

The most tangible thing I’m currently doing in anticipation of the future is trying to get even deeper into technology, right now as it pertains to interactive design. I’ve done interactive design for about half of my career in addition to everything else, but feel I’ve been plateau’d for some time now. I’m pushing pretty hard to learn programming languages, etc. more in-depth so I can push my interactive design to higher, and more innovative, levels. We are in an unbelievable period of evolution in design right now. Technology mutates constantly and spawns not only new ways of doing things, such as software applications, but new media as well. I see movies like Minority Report with these futuristic 3-dimensional interfaces and formats and feel like they are really just around the corner. These will create a whole new and additional set of skillsets and thought processes that designers will have to learn and incorporate. I want to design for these formats. I don’t want to become outdated.

I have no desire to leave behind any of the “traditional” media either. I am just as intrigued and excited about a poster as I am about 3-dimensional holographic interfaces.

Ultimately I just want to keep growing, improving, and doing design in a holistic manner.

6. What have you learned since beginning your professional experience?

I would really apply the answer from above here as well. Obviously the biggest difference is how all these grand design principles play out with real people in real situations for real purposes when real money is involved. I remember being flabbergasted when I first started working to find that clients don’t always recognize (or agree with) what you “know” to be the best design…that design you have “perfectly” crafted. How all this stuff plays out in the confines of this new system is a huge basket of new things you have to learn. Client psychology, salesmanship, collaboration, customer service….the list goes on.

7. What do you still need to learn?

So many things that it hurts. My head spins if I think about it too long. Isn’t there a Fortune Cookie that sums this sentiment up rather nicely?

Interview, Part 3

TEACHING EXPERIENCE

1. Is there any particular reason why you started teaching at SMS?

I had finished graduate school and had been working for about 2 years as a Designer and Art Director at an agency named Hirons and Company in Bloomington, Indiana…the same town IU is in. I was starting to get the itch to try something different. I had absolutely no idea what or where. I had not even sat down yet to brainstorm my next career move when I received an email from Maria Michalczyk, another Design Professor at SMSU, asking if I was interested in applying for an Assistant Professor position in my Undergrad Alma Matter. The position was a year-long sabbatical replacement teaching position filling in for herself and Roman Duszek while they were gone. Honestly, I felt I was far too young and inexperienced to even have a chance at getting it, but it honored and interested me. Teaching had not even crossed my mind so I thought I would try.

Much to my horror I was accepted and asked to do it. I was 25, wet behind the ears, and scared to death.

The more I thought about it the more I began to see patterns emerging in my life of extraordinary events happening serendipitously. So I felt this was no different. And hey, it was an unbelievable opportunity that happened to come along at THE perfect time. Not to mention that I would now be teaching alongside both my mentors. I just couldn’t pass it by.

2. How did your personal background and design background impact your teaching?

After literally almost throwing up from nerves the first day of class, I decided I needed to find my own teaching styles and beliefs. The first thing I did was use the fact that I was so young to my advantage. I thought rather than have my youth be my disadvantage I would use it as a tool. So I had a much easier time relating concepts to students because we were so similar in age. I gained the nickname “The Baby Professor” from many people. The first day the students didn’t believe I was their teacher because I looked just like them. I also had Security that would refuse to give me keys and let me in buildings without proof that I was the teacher. It got to be funny after my nerves calmed down. So I guess the first “personal” thing I did was really get in there and work WITH them, almost like their peer.

I also broke a rule of teaching I had always heard, which was “never teach someone in the way you want to be taught”. I did exactly that. Whenever I was asked a question I would immediately think to myself “how would I want this explained to me”. And I had very good luck with it.

I had many students tell me that they felt a lot of passion for design from me. I think this wound up inspiring them to want to learn and improve because they always saw me get so excited about design. So that, coupled with all the formal and self-imposed design education certainly impacted the teaching. I made sure to always pepper in information and exposure to as many forms of design as I had encountered thusfar.

3. How does your teaching experience impact your design now?

I would say in 2 main ways. The first and most immediately translatable is in working with other designers in the professional work environment. When asked my opinions on design that they are working on, I have the experience behind me now of thousands of critiques. Picking everything apart and analyzing it….and the practice of having to articulate it in words that are understandable. Design can be difficult and abstract sometimes to put into words, and I was lucky enough to have a lot of practice at it.

I would say the second most impactful part is that it has deepened me in my own design practice. I take it even more seriously and push myself even harder. When I am working on a piece I am even more apt to run myself through the checklist of considerations and mind-openers that I would have run my students through. There is also a weird psychological phenomenon that I feel while working. When people know you used to be a professor in design, they rather expect you to be decent at it. So whenever I find myself being lazy or feeling content with a piece I find myself feeling like I have to continue to earn the right to be more than mediocre. After all, you are only as good as your last design.

4. Often academia refers to the professional world as “the real world.” Why did you return to “the real world”?

Well, the most practical reason was that I was a year-long Sabbatical Replacement Assistant Professor. I knew going in that after a year I would be done. My whole role was to fill in while others were gone until they returned.

5. What role does academia play within the context of “the real world”?

That is a tough question to answer. Different people will tell you different things. I am of the mindset that academia and professional practice complement and inform each other. It is very easy while in academia to forget how design works in business. Conversely, it is easy while professionally practicing to get in the rut of your same old formula or just doing what your told because the client thinks it’s good enough. I have tried to keep academia and “real world” both in my hip pocket as much as possible. For me, that approach helps me continue to grow and evolve.

6. Do you think you’ll ever teach again? Why?

You never know. A year and a half ago I was asked to teach again at SMSU as a Tenure Track Professor. That is the Holy Grail of teaching. Every instructor at university level wants to get a Tenured Professor position. It means security, prestige, and higher salary. After soul-searching for a long time I turned it down. I felt, and currently still feel, that I have much more to do before I consider going back. There is still so much to learn and experience as a practicing designer that my head spins. All the various formats, printing, interactivity, technology, client psychology, business side of creativity, improving your thinking and craft…on and on. The more I can soak up now, the more relevant I can be in that setting later.

Interview, Part 2

EDUCATION

1. What part of your graphic design education was easiest for you? Most difficult? Your favorite part? Your least favorite part?

Easiest? Yikes….I can’t think of any part of it that I would ever define as “easiest”. It has been a constant challenge.

Most difficult? There were several phases that were difficult in their own unique way. Being horribly mediocre at first was the first difficult part. The next, of course, the grueling pace to get through school. After my breakthrough project the difficulty became living up to this new level as well as my self-imposed demand to try and keep growing. Graduate school offered it’s own set of unique difficulties….

2. Why did you decide to pursue a Master’s Degree?

I fell in love with Graphic Design. As hokey as it sounds I was devoted to it. I felt like I had finally hit my stride my Senior Year of undergrad work and was now ready to actually pour on some evolution and learning. I was afraid if I went straight to work I would get locked into being someones production-grunt and the growth would stifle. I wanted to continue the momentum and see where it would take me.

3. Why did choose Indiana University?

Heh….another long story that I will try not to bore you with. It actually wasn’t my first choice. I had my heart set on Notre Dame. Unfortunately at the time I suffered from “the grass is greener” syndrome and was really just in love with the IDEA of Notre Dame. For some reason I just knew that South Bend was this Nirvana where all would be right with the world. I didn’t even do any research on the school. I applied to about 6 Graduate programs.

I was devastated when I found out that the 1 available slot at Notre Dame was filled by a 29 year old female Japanese teacher. I just couldn’t compete with that. I was a wet-behind-the-ears 21 year old who wasn’t even targeting Design Research and Teaching as the main reasons for attending graduate school (a fact I would have known was Notre Dames specialty had I actually researched)

So, through another seeming serendipitous chain of events, I got into IU. It was a Big 10 school that was slated as a “# 2 tier in the country” school, so again I thought, “sure, I’ll go there”

Did I mention that is somewhat how I wound up at SMSU as well? No research, no clue….just “Sure, I’ll go there”.

4. While you were in school, did you emphasize a particular area of study? If so, what was it and why did you study it?

Once I began learning how to think as a designer from Cedomir I really began to focus on very conceptual design. A lot of analogies, associations, and metaphors. I became pretty narrow minded and a bit of a One-Trick-Pony. At first I viewed this as a positive thing and even wrote my letter to Graduate School stating how I wanted to specialize in this very conceptual “Polish Poster” kind of design. I remember Roman pulling me into his office the last day of our Senior Year. He basically knocked me back down to earth by telling me I had become very narrow minded. That I needed to open back up to all possibilities. That there was more to design than the narrow focus I was imposing on everything.

I was so mad at him. But he was exactly right. Thank you Roman.

Now I try my best to focus on everything. Is that “focus”? I try to soak up everything I can at all times. I try my best to let the project lead my direction. I don’t ever want to emphasize or specialize in a certain style or formula (or even media). I know that Marketing in our competitive age preaches specialization, but I find, for myself, a more meta, holistic approach to visual problem solving to be more condusive to a relevant and successful piece of design. I find that the more I design logos the more I understand posters, and the deeper I delve into typography the better I understand and use imagery, and the farther I take new technology the more the basic principles mean to me. I feel my emphasis now is DESIGN rather than LOGO-design or POSTER-design, or INTERACTIVE-design, or a certain style or way of thinking. I feel my emphasis is searching for a projects’ essence rather than imposing a formula or set of Photoshop flters.

5. How did your advanced degree develop your design skills that a BFA degree did not?

Well, an interesting phenomenon happened to me my first year of graduate school: My work went back to being painfully mediocre. Very expected, trite, mundane, and all-around uninteresting. After some long reflection at the time I thought I knew what was happening:

There were 2 main professors at graduate school, one of which was on sabbatical for my first year. The other didn’t like me AT ALL and was consequently not much help to me (another long story). But I found that I had really grown to rely on Roman and Cedomir to help guide me through the design process. I hadn’t realized it until I looked at almost an entire years worth of graduate work, but I had grown to use those guys as a crutch. They were the ones that always helped me choose between 10 different directions. Without that kind of guidance I realized I needed to become self-sufficient.

So I began a pretty intense regimen of  camping out in the art library at IU and looking at. and reading, everything I could get my hands on. This process is how I finally broke free from my rut and exposed myself to thousands of directions of thought and application. And by default I had to become self-capable because I felt like I was really getting no instruction that first year.

So, ultimately, graduate school opened my mind to a whole word of design history that I hadn’t had time in undergrad to delve into. I discovered amazing designers from around the world with night-and-day-different sensibilities than anything I had seen. And more importantly I learned how to not NEED someone else to choose between the bland ideas and  the ones that actually might have a shot at being good.