There was a time when my physical mailbox was filled with postcards, booklets and a wide range of extraordinary design and illustration promotional pieces. These days, I get 90% less analog promos, and quadruple the digital. This has equal advantages and disadvantages.
It was almost impossible to keep all the printed promos in any semblance of order. Every art director had the requisite bulletin board or wall or door or window where those that survived the filtering process were tacked, taped or adhered with magnets, pins and gum. But even the best of those were usually covered over within days, weeks or months. Like kudzu, they'd grow. The more organized among us maintained boxes, loose-leaf books and file drawers of those worth keeping. But that too was difficult, even with the most precise system and compulsive assistant, to access with ease.
Now, untold numbers of e-blasts guide us to websites or refer us to online sources. Is it any easier to organize, retain and appreciate? I'd argue it is somewhat better (although I amazingly still have a few of the best cards I received three decades ago). Nonetheless, the ideal attention-grabbing method is yet to be invented (and I cannot even imagine what it will be).
The truth is, there is just too much to absorb, a real surfeit of great work to recall. Attention is generally too short and it takes a considerable energy to capture and hold visual curiosity in an age of hyperactivity. Which is why, when something gets through the filter, it means I not only admire what I see, but I find a certain joy in it too. That is one reason for this post.
I was recently bowled over by Roberto De Vicq Design's e-blast announcing his new website. It did the job. I was impressed by a well-curated collection with one overwhelming attention-grabber. My senses were stimulated to such an extent that I sent him a note of congratulations.
But I had another excuse for writing him. A few years ago, De Vicq and his family moved from New York to California. I predict there will now be a lot of similar migrations, owing to climate change, pandemics and the ease of working remotely. I decided to combine my kudos with a question about one of his recent works to blast off his e-blast—the identity below for book agent and packager Raab & Co.—and how the move from coast to coast has altered, if at all, his design methods.
Why did you move from New York to Corte Madera, CA?
Two reasons. My daughter was admitted to USC in Los Angeles, and my wife, who lived in San Francisco early in her career, always wanted to come back. When we saw ourselves as empty nesters, we decided to move to California, to be closer to my daughter (it is only a $65 flight from LA to SF). Also, after 35 years in a New York City apartment, we were ready to enjoy the beautiful nature and sunny weather but not be too far from the culture and vitality of a major city. Corte Madera is only 20 minutes from downtown SF. Plus, I now have my own lemon trees!
Has the change of locale fundamentally altered you in any professional or artistic way?
Yes, the rhythm and economics of each place are reflected in your private and personal life. San Francisco is a great city with a vibrant design community and wonderful resources like the Letterform Archive (a graphic designer’s wet dream). The change of pace makes you perhaps less decisive but more aware of your choices, not so reactive. Of course, I miss the hustle and bustle of NYC, with all the continuous stimuli and endless work opportunities. But after a while you realize life is short; not every gilded opportunity NY offers is a transformative experience. I miss the MET, the TDC and colleagues, but found Redwood forests and lovely new friends like Rudy VanderLans and Zuzana Licko of Emigre.
I very much enjoyed your most recent new work collected into a recent e-blast. In particular, I was admiring the Raab book agent identity that we’re showing here. What motivated your direction?
When Josh Raab was senior editor at Melcher Media, I designed the Series of Unfortunate Events tie-in book for the Netiflix series. We both moved to the West Coast around the same time, and I love working with him. He asked me to create a brand for his new venture Raab & Co, a book publishing and package company located in Southern California.
Josh wanted something simple, direct [that] could encompass a variety of voices. Book publishing is an interesting industry; it creates products that are often similar in format but completely different in content. So you have to chose what to highlight—the shape or the narrative (or both?). The logo for a publishing company needs to be simple enough so that it can be scaled down to be used quite small on book spines.
When I get an assignment, first thing I do is look at the shape and number of letters—what do the words evoke? What is the spirit behind the object or service? Luckily for me, the initial capital 'R' could be broken down in left and right parts along its vertical axis, showing two views of a book. The left side looks similar to a book spine and the right side could be a book opened flat. The right part of the capital 'R' not only mimics the shape of the book, but also conveys the feeling of a bird flying, like the imagination of the reader taking off. Mirroring the combination of form and content.
Would you agree that, as I see it, work is becoming, say, more optimistic?
I would not say optimistic, as it would imply a judgment of an outcome or status. Perhaps more playful, if I may say so. Humor, for me, is the best way to connect with an audience; it creates a safe space where the ridiculous and the chaotic can be order, yet simultaneously appreciate it. The audience feels smart by laughing at it, making them your accomplice. I love designers like Bob Gill or Grapus, who used it to great effect.
As we all (even our young colleagues) get older, a designer’s work goes through shifts in aesthetics, focus, content. Do you feel this has happened to you?
Of course the designer’s sensibility changes, the marketplace changes, the zeitgeist changes, the ways we work change. Everything changes, and if you don’t flow with it, you slowly calcify and become irrelevant. For me the fun of being a designer is to learn all the new ways of connecting and un
derstanding how our culture and economy define human experience. We are all re-conceiving new forms to sell old needs and desires in shiny new products. But as Lampedusa said, “things have to change in order to remain the same,” so you might be selling that same Beatles White Album in different formats (LP, cassette, CD, stream or subscription), but now, to a new generation. However, I still get confused when they sing “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”