Inside the World of Board Graphics

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I first met Robynne Raye and Mike Strassburger of Modern Dog Design when I interviewed them after their first book, 20 Years of Poster Art, came out in 2008. I have subsequently had the pleasure of getting to know them personally and professionally, and had the opportunity to work on their second book, Inside the World of Board Graphics: Skate, Surf, Snow, which came out this month. I interviewed several of the designers featured in the book, including brothers Tom and Andy Lohner, better known as the Loslohbros. I asked Robynne to answer a few questions about putting the book together.

CW: How did Inside the World of Board Graphics come about?RR: Modern Dog was approached by Rockport Publishers with their idea to compile a book called 1000 Board Graphics. We had no initial interest, so Rockport asked what we wanted to do instead. The results, Inside the World of Board Graphics features in-depth interviews and profiles with people creating art from all over the world. We ended up with 890 images from 150 people representing 28 countries.

Have you learned any lessons about book design from this project?I wouldn’t say we learned any lessons specifically in regards to book design. We just got to practice what we already know. The design part was fun. We kept the book understated so that the people we profiled got center stage. One of my pet peeves with books done by designers is that the book sometimes says more about the designer than the people they are showcasing. I wanted the people we worked with to feel proud of their accomplishments, so we made sure that the book was not about Modern Dog….except for maybe the front cover.

Modern Dog has done snowboards for K2, but you are not a snowboarder. Do you think that makes a difference in the kinds of designs you might do?Just because I don’t snowboard doesn’t mean I can’t do work in that industry. You can apply that same philosophy to many things. I’m not an architect but I designed a website for one. I’m not a six-year-old but I designed a Nordstrom children’s catalog. I’m not an musician but I designed a poster for one, and so on.

Remember snowboarding – compared to skateboarding and surfing – is a mainstream Olympic sport. The public perception is that the industry is self-made, but snowboarding has changed a lot since the 80s. It’s a billion dollar industry and has been for quite some time. I actually preferred working with them when we had low budgets because they were willing to take more risks. Once the bean counters got involved, that all changed.

Can you share the story of how Modern Dog got its first commission for K2?Long story short, K2 thought we were someone else. We found out a few years later when they got drunk at a party and told us the morning we called they thought we were someone else. But we put Modern Dog in a position of opportunity and worked for K2 from August 1989 – December 2000. We witnessed what happens when a trend explodes and a lot of money starts pouring in. In the early days K2 allowed us to have fun and do some crazy stuff. They are one of the reasons my company is here today.

What makes board graphics so universally appealing?Beyond the obvious rebellious branding of these three sports, it’s just plain fun. The commonality between all three is that a rider stands up on a board, a simple concept that is hard to master. And with skateboarding, you’re talking about an inexpensive product – even people in third world countries can make their own. In the U.S. a skate company can come out with new deck art every few days if they wanted, and often they commission dozens of designs every month. One of my favorite quotes was from Marc Hostetter, TransWorld Creative Director, when he said “the skate shop is the modern-day art gallery.” When I travel – and if I want to feel inspired – I make a point of checking out the local skate shops. As I’ve grown older I’ve stopped going to big museums and galleries because often I find the art displayed boring.

Obviously this book has a lot of striking imagery, but beyond the visuals, if you had to sum up what this book is really about in one sentence, what would it be?It’s about the product as a canvas.

As a result of this book, you ended up teaching a class in board design this last summer. Can you tell me more about that?The Cornish College of the Arts summer program is in second year so it was new for me too, though I have been teaching college-level design classes there for 11 years. I had five students between the ages of 15 and 17. Each student got two blank boards, and over the course of six classes made deck art out of collage, spray paint and stencils. I love getting my hands dirty so I made one too. Modern Dog designer Shogo Ota helped out as well.

Will there be a second edition of Inside the World of Board Graphics?That’s not a question I want to think about right now. If anyone reading this has ever approached a project of this size they will understand why.