“Solve the problem. Don’t decorate.” Get to Know DJ Stout

DJStoutOne of the best parts about recruiting judges for the Regional Design Annual: Getting a chance to browse their brilliant archives. Today, third in a series of six judge profiles, we bring you the words and works of DJ Stout, who will be judging the Southwest region of the RDA this year.

 

Originally from: I was born in the small town of Alpine, located in the far southwestern region of Texas. That part of the state is called the Big Bend because the Rio Grande river, which forms the Texas/Mexico border, takes a big turn there as it flows from El Paso down to Brownsville. My father, who is originally from Dallas, played semi-pro baseball in Alpine in the ’50s for a wealthy rancher named Herbert Kokernot. “Mr. Herbert,” as they called him, owned one of the largest cattle ranches in the world at the time but he loved baseball more than ranching. In 1947, sparing no expense, he built a “Field of Dreams” called Kokernot Field for his beloved Alpine Cowboys baseball club. I was born in a little hospital just “a long home run” over the center field fence of that AlpineCowboys-coverballpark where the Cowboys still play today. I wrote and designed a book about the Alpine Cowboys in 2010.

Path that led you to design: After my dad’s baseball career he joined the Marine Corps as an officer. From that point on my family moved every single year. We lived in California and Virginia (several times), Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas and even in Canada one year. Because I was always the new kid on the block, I started publishing my own little neighborhood newspapers and handing them out to the neighbors. One of my first publications was called the Weekly Laf. It began as mostly cartoons and comics but then my dad, who had been a sport’s journalist in college, started helping me with the writing and content. I continued to publish my little papers everywhere we landed and if my school didn’t have a newspaper I’d start one. When I got to college I worked as the designer/pasteup artist for two school papers and I contributed several weekly cartoon panels. I loved being a part of an editorial staff.

Your career, in a nutshell: I graduated from Texas Tech University in 1981 and was hired that same year as a designer for Robert A. Wilson Associates, a small corporate communications firm in Dallas. I was promoted to art director after a couple of years and ended up working there until 1987, when I was offered the art director position at Texas Monthly magazine, based in Austin. I had designed a lot of annual reports, some advertising and a few nice brochures and books at Robert A. Wilson but when I arrived in Austin to do my very first issue of Texas Monthly I had never designed a magazine before. I was the art director of that award-winning publication until 2000, when I was invited to join Pentagram as a partner in the Austin office. Pentagram, which was founded in London in 1972, has offices in London, Berlin, New York, San Francisco and Austin. Lowell Williams had established the Austin office originally and I shared the office with him for about eight years prior to his departure from the firm. I am presently one of 19 Pentagram partners internationally and I’m the principal of the Austin office.

Design Philosophy: I’m not the best or most gifted designer out there but I’m willing to put in more hours than the average bear in order to find the right design solution.

The key to good design: A good client (or editor).

TexasMonthly-AnnRichardsCoverWork of which you’re most proud: Most of my editorial work at Texas Monthly, in particular a cover I did of Texas Governor Ann Richards riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle in white leathers with the headline “White Hot Mama.” That cover was voted by Texas Monthly’s readers as the most memorable cover in the magazine’s history and it was shown during Ann Richard’s memorial service. I also did Texas Monthly’s 25th Anniversary special edition, which told the story behind the publication’s 100 best photographs. It was gratifying to do an important issue of the magazine (which the publisher always described as “A Writer’s Magazine”) about Texas Monthly’s significant photographic heritage. In addition to that special 25th anniversary issue my small art staff at the time, Nancy McMillen and Kathy Marcus, and I designed and curated a coffee-table book featuring the magazine’s best photographs and an accompanying traveling exhibition that opened at the LBJ Library in Austin and traveled to Los Angeles, New York and all over Texas.

At Pentagram I’m proud of the work we’ve done for USC, Middlebury, Loyola Marymount, Auburn, Northwestern, Drexel, UC Berkley, Vanderbilt, Tulane and a score of other colleges and universities. The reputation for excellence we’ve developed in the higher education arena is very gratifying. The variety of editorial design work we’ve done for The World Wildlife Fund, based in Washington DC, is a high point as well.

The thing I’m probably most proud of though, is the work that my Pentagram designers have done. I collaborate with six designers currently: Carla Delgado, Kristen Keiser, Mariana Cano, Stu Taylor, Barrett Fry and my longtime associate Julie Savasky. Their talent is mindblowing and they work seamlessly together like an elite sports team. I’ve been a Pentagram partner going on 15 years now and as time marches on I gain more and more satisfaction from my mentoring of young designers than just about anything else I do these days.

Moment in your life of which you’re most proud: Immediately following the opening ceremonies of Texas Monthly’s 25th Anniversary photography exhibition at the LBJ Library in 1998, there was a moment when a dozen photographers and I stood on the stage together and posed for snapshots. Those editorial photographers had been my “go-to guys” at the magazine for 13 years and all of them were, and still are, great friends.

Two other moments come to mind. I have always championed the art of editorial illustration, so in 2010 the Society of Illustrators honored me with the prestigious Richard Gangel Art Director Award, which recognizes art directors who have supported and advanced illustrators and their craft. I was only the third recipient of that honor at the time. And also in 2010 the Austin chapter of the AIGA designated me as a Fellow, which is a lifetime achievement award. That was a particularly gratifying moment because it was an honor bestowed on me by my hometown.

Cause that means the most to you: We do a lot of pro bono work at the Pentagram Austin office every year. We’ve helped the homeless, organized fundraisers for the wildfire victims out in the Big Bend (my birthplace), and done design work and print collateral for local nonprofit groups I care about like the Waller Creek Conservancy, Art Alliance Austin and the Texas Book Festival. The causes I seem to care about the most are the ones that benefit my community—and it’s a great way to do some cool posters.

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Favorite designer: I think Fred Woodward is one of the best editorial designers of my generation. I stepped into Fred’s enormous boots at Texas Monthly in 1987. He had only been the art director of the renowned, regional publication for 3 or 4 years prior to my 13 year stint as art director but the legacy Fred built during that relatively short period of time paved the way for the work I was able to do there. Fred went on to create some of the most beautiful, painstakingly crafted and intelligent editorial design I’ve ever seen at RegardiesRolling Stone and now at GQ, where he continues to do fresh, original work.

Favorite typographer: The typographer who has probably influenced me the most is Herb Lubalin. The amazing, super-graphic typography he was doing for U&lc magazine, long before computers, has been in the back of my head since I first noticed it as a college kid in Lubbock, Texas. Lubalin is often described as the consummate American graphic designer and in my forthcoming design book (which will be published by the University of Texas Press this fall) my esteemed Pentagram partner, Paula Scher, graciously wrote a foreword she titled “DJ Stout: American Graphic Designer.”

Favorite artist: My favorite artist of all time is NC Wyeth, the greatest book and magazine illustrator who ever lived. When I first read Treasure Island as a boy I couldn’t quit flipping the pages back and forth to look at Wyeth’s interpretations of the passages I read. It took me forever to read that damn book.

Favorite city (anywhere): Austin, Texas of course, “The Capitol of God’s Country.”

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Biggest inspiration: The state of Texas has been the biggest influence on my life and work. I’m a fifth generation Texan, and although I moved all over the country when I was growing up, my entire design career has been in the Lone Star State. It has definitely shaped the way I think and the way I go about creating my design work. I guess you could say I’m a regionalist, which is apropos to this posting since I’m serving as a judge for the Print Regional Design Annual. You can hear all about it here and read all about it in my forthcoming book “Variations on a Rectangle: Thirty years of Graphic Design from Texas Monthly to Pentagram.” 

What the Southwest means to you: The famous Texas author and Southwest regionalist, J. Frank Dobie, once said, “Great literature transcends its native land, but there is none that I know of that ignores its own soil.” It is one of my favorite statements about the region where I live and work. Like Dobie I believe that you have to know where you’re from before you know where you’re going. The Southwest region’s rough-and-tumble cowboy heritage, its playful folklore, and its rich tradition of storytelling is the substance I mine every day for my own design work.

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What tends to make your region’s design unique? Compared to New York and the Northeast, which tends to adhere to simple, elegant modernism, the Southwest’s designers have a tendency to be more eclectic. The region is influenced by Americana, folk-art, old roadside signs, wooden type, cattle-brands and a barn-full of chicken fried design inspirations.

Motto: Solve the problem. Don’t decorate.

Have you entered Print’s RDA previoiusly? I’ve entered almost every year of my career and my work has been included in the annual a lot. That’s my favorite issue of Print.

 

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Print’s Regional Design Annual 2015: Enter Today
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