Interview: AIGA Conference Chair Stefan G. Bucher

Bucher_HeadshotWith the AIGA Design Conference quickly approaching (October 8-10 in New Orleans), Stefan G. Bucher has his hands full. Bucher is the mind behind 344lovesyou.com and the ever-entertaining dailymonster.com, and he’s the author of five books. His work includes album artwork for Sting and Whitney Houston, titles for films including The Fall and Immortals, and other iconic designs for the entertainment world. He even designed the Blue Man Theatre in Las Vegas.

I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to Bucher about the upcoming conference, himself and his work. Check out the interview below:

Why should designers be excited to attend the AIGA Design Conference?

The AIGA Design Conference has always been deeply rooted in the craft of design, of course, but because of those strong roots we’re in a great position to branch out. We encompass speakers and topics that expand our field — in terms of what constitutes design today and where it will move going forward. More than ever, there is a spirit of curiosity and ambition about this Conference. It’s our goal to present a group of speakers that you won’t get to see at any other conference — speakers that will inspire and provoke you, and make you switch off your defaults. We spend so much time just walking through our days on autopilot. My hope is that we’ve put together an event that will wake you up to see the world around you with fresh eyes. Between the speakers, the AIGA audience, and the city of New Orleans I think it’s going to be an incredible event!

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What are you bringing to the table as the chair of the conference?

AIGA Design Conferences have always been special to me. My path has been linked with AIGA for over 15 years, going back to serving on the Los Angeles board for five years starting in 1999, and the AIGA Conference has become a touchstone. It’s an incredible honor to chair this installment. Of course, I’m coming into an organization that’s hosted these conferences for decades. It’s a well-oiled machine. My contribution has been to introduce new voices into the mix, and to ask new questions of the people we all know and love to hear. My career has taken a somewhat loopy path. Because of that I’ve met fascinating people you don’t usually get to see at design conferences. Of course, the Conference will be chock full of amazing designers producing beautiful things, but we also have a linguistic anthropologist and a magician and people from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. If you haven’t registered yet, there’s still time. You really don’t want to miss it!

New Orleans culture has inspired some really unique and beautiful branding for the conference. How will that culture manifest in the programming?

Of course, each city shapes the way a conference unfolds, and the indomitable spirit of New Orleans will surely infuse everything that happens at the AIGA Design Conference. That said, I see this Conference as a much bigger organism that lives in its own space and brings together designers and creative workers from all over the country and from across the world. We just got lucky that this organism has chosen New Orleans as its temporary landing site, so that we get to enjoy all the intellectual treats of the event AND the sensorial delights of the Big Easy.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the planning process?

The biggest challenge with the conference has been the same I faced when putting together compilation books — there’s never enough room to include everybody you’d like to present. There are so many smart people doing great work, we could’ve easily put together two more conferences, but we only get so much time to fill. I was also determined to have a conference with a lineup that’s at least 50% female, is diverse, and extends beyond American borders — and we made that happen. That’s not anything to be proud of, that’s just how things should be.

All of the speakers sound magnificent. Whom are you particularly excited to hear from?

Don’t make me choose. I’m excited to see everybody! One of my big frustrations with conferences is that there are parallel sessions, so it’s impossible to see everybody. This year, we’re introducing a new thing to address that at least a little bit. We’ve selected a handful of speakers from the affinity track to also give five minute presentations on the main stage. The idea is to whet people’s appetite for topics they might have otherwise missed, and to allow people to have more shared experiences. More of the audience gets to see more speakers, so there’s more to talk about. I think it’s going to be a great addition to the main stage lineup.

I’ve followed The Daily Monster for ages. What inspired your Daily Monsters, and how have they impacted your career?

First of all, thank you for following! I appreciate it! The first Daily Monsters came to me in a vision when I was going through a hard time in my personal life, and it made me happy to draw them. That’s a big deal. Usually, drawing is painful, because what my hands can do falls far short of what I see in my head. With the Daily Monsters it’s a process. I don’t have any idea what each character will look like. In fact, the only way to really screw up in making Monsters is to go at it with a plan. It’s a pure Zen exercise.

The Daily Monsters continue to have a huge impact on my career. At this point, it’s how most people know me. I think they are a true expression of who I am, and as such they have closed a few doors and opened many others. My initial design work was very clean and modern. I spent ten years convincing people that I could do funny work, and it’d take just as long to come back from that. A lot of clients aren’t comfortable with people who do more than one thing. “But we don’t want cartoons.” is something I hear a lot. But the people who get it, REALLY get it. That’s when the great collaborations happen!

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Two “Daily Monster” drawings by Stefan G. Bucher

I noticed one of your monsters has made an appearance on a postcard promoting the conference. Why did you choose that particular creature to represent the conference? Or was the monster a custom creation just for the card?

I used to have a rule that each Daily Monster would never appear more than once. Part of a little set of Monster Dogma rules. I’ve since softened on that, because I realized that the rules mattered mostly to me, and that I was prioritizing novelty over quality. In this case, I chose an existing Daily Monster to represent the panic I feel when I realize that time is running out on a thing I’d planned to do months earlier. “Oh crap! Is it September?! Is there still time?!” It’s panicked, but sprightly, and it’s got great shoes!

I love what you came up with for your PRINT75 poster. What inspired that lettering?

Thank you very much! That was such a fun thing to do! When Debbie invited me to contribute lettering to the 75th anniversary issue I just started doodling. I hit on the idea of the P with its brain exposed. Based on that I developed one letter after the other in sequence. Each piece has its own internal rules. My job is to discover what they are and to apply them beautifully. The Print logo is a nice illustration of that process. (On a more prosaic level, I kept thinking of Rube Goldberg machines, chemical experiments, distilleries, and those old gum ball machines where the gum ball rolls down a complicated wire track. All that with some Roman columns mixed in.)

PRINT75 poster by Stefan G. Bucher | See more posters here.

PRINT75 poster by Stefan G. Bucher | See more posters here.

Attendees will travel from all over the country (and perhaps the world) to the conference to hear advice from their design heroes—including you. What’s your best advice for designers today?

Open your eyes to the world. There’s a lot of future already happening, but our brains are so geared to day-to-day functioning that we don’t notice it. Look at the world like a tourist from outer space. Switch off your autopilot. Don’t take anything for granted. It makes life a lot more interesting and a lot funnier. It’ll also let you see opportunities that other people will miss.


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