“Timely and Timeless” – The Design of Charles S. Anderson

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One of the best parts about recruiting judges for the Regional Design Annual: Getting a chance to browse their brilliant archives—in this case, the work of team CSA Design. Today, third in a series of six judge profiles, we bring you Charles S. Anderson, who judged the Midwest region of the RDA in 2015.


Originally from: Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My family moved to a small Iowa farm town when I was 8 years old, and I later returned to Minneapolis to attend college.

Path that led you to design: When I was a kid I loved comic books, illustration, drawing and making things out of paper. in 1974 (and against all odds) a retired commercial artist named Clyde Lewis moved from California to my tiny remote farm town. The next day, after I read the article about him in the local paper, I appeared at his doorstep. He was very kind and gracious and let me hang around and bother him with a million questions every day after school. He could draw anything right out of his head with no reference, including handlettering, and was lightning fast with a pencil, brush and India Ink. I had never seen anything like it and still haven’t. He taught me many of his art techniques and we became good friends. A couple of years later he passed away and left me his equipment and original art spanning his career from the 1930s to the 70s. Clyde’s art became the base and inspiration for what would later become the CSA Images collection.

My Dad was a railroad engineer and drove a freight train. In 10th grade when I told him I wanted to go to the Minneapolis College of Art And Design (MCAD), he said, “Absolutely not! No son of mine is going to be a starving artist!” But then he worked overtime to help me pay the high private art school tuition. I never would have made it without Dad’s help, or my Mom’s unwavering faith in me.

After graduation in 1981, I was hired by my MCAD instructor (and mentor) Peter Seitz, who was a design heavyweight. Seitz studied at the New Bauhaus in Ulm, Germany, under Otl Aicher and Max Bill, and then at Yale with Bradbury Thompson and Paul Rand. After a stint with I.M. Pei, he was recruited to Minneapolis to become the first design curator at the Walker Art Center, before establishing his design firm. I left Seitz after a couple of years, to work at Design Center, and a couple of years later was the first designer recruited to join the Duffy Design group, and later become a partner. Duffy was an affiliate of Fallon, McElligott, Rice, America’s top agency at the time. In 1989 Duffy was acquired by a giant British Design firm, so I left to start CSA Design.


Your career, in a nutshell: That would have to be a pretty big nutshell to hold over three decades of design adventures! (With hopefully many more ahead of me.) I guess Steve Heller summed it up pretty well when he wrote my AIGA Medalist biography: “Charles S. Anderson is recognized for creating a design language that elevates the vernacular into a playful, modern design style and pioneering the role of designer as entrepreneur.”

Design Philosophy: Commercial Art is a better description of our work than Graphic Design, because we create art for commerce. Art is the aesthetic, human, cultural part of design that makes it interesting and compelling. We believe that great design is about making something that adds richness to people’s lives, something inspiring, memorable, funny, useful, abrasive, ironic, elegant, ugly, functional, human … anything but uninteresting. Our goal is to create work that’s both timely and timeless, inspired by the entire history of modern design.


The key to good design: The real answer: The key to good design is a heaping dose of give a shit topped off by hard work, skill and craft, with a dollop of humor and a sprinkle of compassion and humility. (Talent is also helpful.)

The corporate answer: Design is a brand’s signature and its story. We like to think of it as the culmination of research, relationships, strategic thinking, experience, intuition and aesthetics.

To quote Paul Rand: “Design is a matter of intuition tempered with common sense.”

Work of which you’re most proud: Nearly 30 years of work for my friends at the French Paper Company. French has stayed in business by producing innovative papers, backed by the print and digital promotions we design. French is a great American manufacturing survival story. And proof that design and innovation can help even small companies compete.


Moment in your life of which you’re most proud: Actually four moments, when each of my children were born.

Cause that means the most to you: Overall cause: Children’s diseases and hunger. Design cause: Archiving the obscure history of vernacular art design and type, and preserving the look of print in the digital realm.

Favorite designer: Far too many to name, and many of them unknown. (Possibly many of the people reading this.)

Favorite typographer: Far to many to name, and many of them unknown.

Favorite artist: Far to many to name, and many of them unknown.

Favorite ci
ty (anywhere):
A tie between Minneapolis, New York City, London and Tokyo. (Also Niles, Michigan.)

Biggest inspiration: Vernacular art design and type.

What the Midwest means to you: People on both coasts tend to think that the Midwest is the middle of nowhere, but we prefer to think of it as halfway between everywhere. Seriously, to me the Midwest means spending less time commuting and paying exorbitant rent, and more time dedicated to producing good work and having a decent quality of life. Although small in population, Minneapolis has a huge art community. The size and caliber of the local design profession, the Walker Art Center, Guthrie, and vibrant theater community make it one of America’s most vital cities in terms of art and design.


What tends to make your region’s design unique? An overall regional tendency of hard work, skill and craft. And a universal optimism grounded in reality, and a notion that with dedication and persistence you can persevere and even possibly (eventually) succeed.

Motto: “The further backward you can look, the further forward you are likely to see.” —Churchill

Have you previously entered Print’s RDA? I think we’ve entered the Print RDA nearly every year since its inception. It’s the only national design competition that I know of that allows you to view the design work being produced in your own city, state and region.


Print’s Regional Design Annual 2015: Enter TodayThe 2015 Regional Design Annual is now open. Don’t miss your chance to have your work reviewed by the best minds in design today and to be spotlighted in our most popular issue of the year—the industry’s most prestigious and well-respected annual.