Call for entries: The International Design Awards early-bird deadline is August 14.
Designer of the Week Jesse Johanning, who has collaborated with brands such as Google, Nikelab and WIRED magazine, is currently a graphic designer at independent strategy and design practice Sub Rosa. Below, he shares his thoughts on the designers he believes are always pushing boundaries, his forays into book writing, and his recent art direction of Sub Rosa’s beautiful biannual print publication, La Petite Mort.
photo by Amy Li
Name: Jesse Johanning
Name of studio: Sub Rosa
Location: New York City
Design school attended: Parsons School of Design / Eugene Lang College
How would you describe your work?
Right now, I’m mainly doing print and experiential work, but with Sub Rosa being a solution-agnostic studio, that could change tomorrow, which is exciting. I’m really just interested in making work that balances a relationship between experimenting with rigid, modernist typography and critiquing our inherited constructs of visual communication.
Where do you find inspiration?
I think the best inspiration comes from reading and employing abstract ideas as a springboard for visual outputs. Writers like Peter Sloterdijk, Nelson Goodman, Hito Steyerl and Jorge Luis Borges definitely influence how I work.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
Chris Burden is a major inspiration for me. He wasn’t the first to shatter our notions of what art can be or accomplish, but he did it in such a brilliant, confrontational way that made him impossible to ignore. To me, designers like Mirko Borsche, Eike König and Felix Pfaeffli are always pushing boundaries in this way.
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
These show posters I did for the Chicago-based record label Music For Downers were great opportunities to experiment with visual concepts that I wasn’t finding a way to integrate into regular client work.
Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
Sub Rosa produces a biannual print publication, La Petite Mort. It’s meant as a creative exercise for the studio and is created wholly in-house. I was fortunate enough to oversee art direction for last summer’s “Metamorphosis” issue and was asked to again design the newest issue, centered around “Commitment.” For that, I forced myself to learn a new skill, which was 3D modeling.
I wanted to create 3D interventions that transgress the planar restrictions of print design. For example, at points, there are glass objects affecting the editorial content through lens distortion and at other points the objects literally interact with the surface of the page, distorting the entire composition.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
My pal, Jessi Brattengeier and I are in the beginning stages of a book called Global Design Vernacular that traces typographic and iconographic motifs in remote regions outside of design bubbles like New York, Amsterdam, Switzerland, etc.
I’m also working on publishing a few essays and articles on design. There’s one I’m working on right now called Graphic Design for the End of the World, which I’m pretty excited about.
Long term: I just want to learn more.
What’s your best advice for designers today?
People love saying that everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. That can be circumnavigated by drawing from unexpected sources. If finding inspiration is a diet, sites like Pinterest, Designspiration and Behance are fast food.
Read stuff you don’t understand, travel to places you know nothing about, and learn about fields unrelated to design. Look where nobody else is looking and bring those learnings back into your work. That’s how you can make something original.
Also, don’t eat yellow snow.
Have you gotten your copy of this year’s Print Magazine Typography Issue? With a cover by John Keatley and Louise Fili, we dive into the turning tides of typography. Join the discussion, question the standards and give things a fresh look. Grab your copy of the Print Summer 2017 Special Typography Issue today.