Frank Chimero

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Illustrations for “Manifest Hope,” an exhibition at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Frank Chimero

From: Springfield, MO

Lives in: Portland, OR

Age: 25


“I love ideas more than prettiness,” says Frank Chimero. When he was a teenager, “prettiness”—in the form of cool-looking surfaces—was fine. He designed MP3-software skins (remember those?) and posted them online. When he was 17, Microsoft paid him $700 to design an interface for Windows Media Player. “Luckily, I’ve lost all records of it,” he says. What he does retain, and value, is the technical knowledge—what he calls “the how.”

These days, Chimero is more concerned with “the why,” which he encountered as a student at Missouri State University. “My teachers had worked under Communism, so they were masters of concept and symbolism,” he says. “I learned how to empathize with the audience and design conceptually.” Since then, he has created editorial illustrations for The New York Times and Wired.

“All the effort is front-loaded” toward finding a good concept, he says. He compares it to a successful joke: two unrelated things that, when put together, spark a thought or a sense of delight. It’s an apt analogy, as humor suffuses his work. “Everything I do starts as something to amuse myself,” he says.

His contribution to the Italian publisher Edizioni Corraini’s Un Sedicesimo magazine, for example, is classic Chimero: flat backgrounds; two or three pastel colors (a preference he picked up while screen-printing posters in college); geometric vector illustrations humanized by hand-tracing the outlines and rescanning. The project also epitomizes Chimero’s philosophy: design should be easy to absorb and “nourishing.”

A personal project, in which he took on New York magazine’s Approval Matrix, positioned his axes as a continuum between serious and fun, nourishing and empty. “It helps me determine if something’s worth my time,” he says. “It’s back to ‘the why’ questions. With time, money, and attention limited, why should something come into being?”

Illustrationfor the title page of Glamour Italia’s summer culture guide. Art director: Pietro Corraini.