Thomas Porostocky

For Thomas Porostocky, art director at
I.D. magazine, design isn’t just an aesthetic pursuit: It
can also strike a blow for good, all-American populism.

A refugee at
the age of eight, Porostocky was born in Czechoslovakia to Hungarian
parents; his family soon made their way past the Iron Curtain and fled
to Canada. After they settled in Calgary, he became a keen student of
American culture. “You grow up with American TV,” he says.
“It’s hard to ignore. I was always interested in Amer-ican
politics. Being a passive observer, you see how polarized the people

Years later, as a newly minted New Yorker getting his
master’s degree at the School of Visual Arts, Porostocky began to
think about the limited iconography of the two-party system. He had
always been taken by the donkey and elephant that represent the
Democrats and the GOP, and wondered, “Why stop there?” A
one-off collaboration with a group of friends before the 2004 election
produced a newspaper featuring Porostocky’s virtual zoo of new
political beasts, from moose to amoeba, in red, white, and blue. The
concept went on to become a viral phenomenon. Milton Glaser picked the
piece for his 2005 “Design of Dissent” exhibition,
it’s been spotlighted in GOOD magazine, and it appears on
T-shirts sold through the website, which Porostocky
launched last year with fellow graphic designer Ed McKirdy. Porostocky
sees the site as a “kick start,” something to encourage
diversity in a political monoculture dominated by negativity rather than
by positive ideals.

This is pithy stuff, but the art director has no
desire to be heavy-handed about it. “I try to make work that
doesn’t take itself too seriously,” says Porostocky, who
arrived at I.D. (PRINT’s sister publication) after
stints at SEED magazine and as a freelancer for Sagmeister Inc.
“I’m a big believer in humor being a great way to grab
someone’s attention. I try to incorporate it as much as I can, or
am allowed, into my work.” This is abundantly evident in
Porostocky’s packaging of the special-edition DVD of photographer
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s Thinking XXX documentary for
HBO. Its lenticular cover evokes the flea-market vernacular of porno
playing cards, even as it ties together—with a wink—the
project’s fine-art elements and the graphic candor of its
adult-movie-star subjects.

“Thomas is simultaneously humble,
hilarious, brilliant, and downright wacky,” says McKirdy.
“He has ideas and perceptions so smart and new I am convinced they
will change the world. And yet he is capable of making some of the most
finely crafted doodie jokes.” Porostocky’s year-long tenure
at SEED, where he oversaw the science magazine’s redesign,
was marked by a desire to liberate the subject, visually speaking, from
its lab coat. “Science is a fascinating subject, but it tends to
have some of the most horrible imagery around,” says Porostocky.
“We’re left looking at fuzzy shots of microorganisms in
petri dishes that look like they were colored by Peter Max.”
Instead, for an issue about science and religion, Porostocky screened a
classic image of Jesus over a version of the periodic table. “I
believe in quick, sharp ideas,” he says. “Not trying or
thinking too hard often leads to the best concepts. After all,
it’s design, not rocket science.” Ultimately, for the
two-time émigré, making a statement and having a good time are
one and the same: “If I have fun, I do good work.”