Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith can’t talk about design without
touching on collaboration and community. “Nothing we do can happen
in a vacuum,” says Smith of his design process. “There
always needs to be a writer, there always needs to be a client, there
always needs to be a colla-borator. . . . We have to bring different
pieces from different places together.”

In the next breath,
he’s talking about his instant rapport with Rob Giampietro, his
partner in the New York City–based Giampietro + Smith, whom he met when
they both worked at Winterhouse Studios. “We could shoot things
back and forth and not feel like we were pissing each other off or
stepping on each other’s toes.”

But it’s his
play-nice attitude toward the competition that sets Smith apart.
“Owning my own graphic design firm opens the door to being in a
community of other graphic designers that are like us. . . . I think
seeing others do well makes us more confident that we will be
successful.”

Given that his firm’s client list includes
the Gagosian Gallery, The New England Journal of Medicine, Knoll,
and The Onion, it’s hard to believe Smith needs any
encouragement from others. He certainly has Giampietro’s
unconditional support: “Whatever the obstacle, he believes
anything is possible, which makes him a very cool and collected
character on almost everything we do.”

Smith’s design
aesthetic tends to reflect the spirit of the content but not intrude on
it; he knows he has succeeded as a designer when you don’t know
he’s been there at all. “I don’t feel like designers
who proscribe a particular style for all of their projects are doing a
great service to their clients,” he says. “The biggest
compliment that Rob and I have received is when people say that each of
our pieces has such a strong graphic identity in and of itself, and that
they don’t look like they were designed by the same
firm.”

But it is when this energetic, unstoppable University of
Hartford Art School graduate talks about book design that he is at his
most contemplative—one almost imagines him dreaming of the craft
as he sleeps. “Someone once said that book design is as close to
architecture as a print designer can get. Creating brochures, websites,
and posters can be great projects, but books are lasting. I love
bringing them into the world, because of their physical form,
personality, and presence,” he says, citing book designer Bruce
Rogers as an influence. He and Giampietro have created some stunning
work together, including catalog design for Barbara Kruger, Damien
Hirst, and Marcel Dzama.

Unfortunately, book projects don’t pay
very well, so for now, Smith is concentrating on his clients, teaching
part-time at Parsons School of Design, and building his studio slowly.
He admires design offices like those of Milton Glaser or Stefan
Sagmeister, who keep their staffs small. “It puts a cap on the
size of projects you can do, but at the same time, if you’re not
doing what you love, it’s not worth it.”

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