Gary Fogelson

Recently, Gary
Fogelson’s building super stopped by. “Hey, you’re a
designer, right?” he asked. “Can you do an ad for my tile

Other designers might have declined a request to put
together a classified ad, but Fogelson has been seriously considering
the assignment. “I think there are two connected problems in [New
York],” Fogelson says. “The first is the declining
aesthetics in the city. The second is this tendency for everyone to
think they’re a designer. So I think it was good that my super
asked me to help him. He realized that design could offer him

Fogelson is tightly focused on concept rather than
decoration, so a phone-book ad might be, in fact, his ideal project. But
while his work is direct, it often tweaks the viewer’s
preconceptions with dark humor. Weaving together familiar tropes within
a tightly structured layout, he uses establishment symbols for pointed
commentary. In a drawing for the letters page of The New York
illustrating the headline “Was Bush Persuasive About
Iraq?” Fogelson created an image of a shield, emblazoned with the
phrase “Reassuring Slogan.” The notion of empty icons shows
up again in an illustration for Good magazine, where insignias
from flags are combined in a wallpaper-like pattern, their power as
formal emblems reduced by their transformation into blank devices. Even
Fogelson’s URL,, is gently mocking.
“I try to include some irony,” he says of all his work.
“I like ideas you can talk about without seeing them and they
would still be cool projects.”

Fogelson names John Baldessari
and Sol LeWitt as influences and says that he likes “guidelines, a
system.” He adds, “Graphic design is a set of rules, and
when you follow the rules, something beautiful happens.” His cover
for Going Postal, a book about workplace massacres, uses the
iconography of cubicle life—Post-its and office reference
manuals—to hint at pent-up rage, while the jacket for
Homewrecker, a book about infidelity, crops romance novel covers
into a grid of lusty gropes.

For a young designer—Fogelson, 25,
graduated from Pratt Institute in 2004—he is unusually loyal to
words and images on paper. “I think printed matter is really
necessary. It’s a relic of a particular point in time, whereas
things on the internet seem like they could all go away.” Since
quitting his job at Open, where he worked from 2004 to 2007, Fogelson
has been concentrating on his own projects, including his work with
studio mate and fellow New Visual Artist Phil Lubliner and friend Eric
Elms (together, the three founded the firm Trouble). Lubliner and
Fogelson have also created a number of very personal zines. “The
message is private,” Fogelson says. “They’re a way of
validating my ideas.”

Since striking out on his own, Fogelson
has been intent on developing a client list that matches his
sensibility: “I want to spend my time working with clients who
have something to say, who are providing worthwhile information.”
Whether Fogelson is explaining the American justice system to New
York Times
readers or revamping his sister’s
résumé, he is always thinking about the ideas behind the
work. “Design,” he says, “is a way of presenting
things so that people can focus on the concept.”