Lumpen needed someoomph. The underground magazine had been a staple in Chicago’s artand activist community for nearly two decades, and its editors wereready to take its design to the next level. Enter local up-and-comerMichael Freimuth. With Freimuth at the helm, the magazine went through avisual overhaul from top to bottom, and Freimuth brought in a cast ofdiverse and talented new contributing artists to complement it. Pick upa copy these days and you’ll find whimsical covers, a clean,orderly masthead, cleverly considered spot color treatments, andfriendly graphic devices that entertain as they navigate you through theissue. In the words of Lumpen editor and publisher Ed Marzewski,Freimuth’s redesign gave it “a sense of legitimacy thatwasn’t there previously.”
And it’s not even his dayjob. Across town, when corporate clients like Converse and IBM are inneed of a little oomph themselves, they rely on the branding strategiesof VSA Partners, where Freimuth currently works as a senior designer. Hethrives in the team environment: “You learn pretty quickly at VSAto put ego aside and revise based on new insights, client conversations,and others’ ideas,” Freimuth says. “It’s aninvaluable skill, and it reminds you that something can be solved ahundred different ways.”
Freimuth has long been open to newideas. The son of a Czech father and British mother, Freimuth, aMinneapolis native, had a British accent until he was 7. He also had an“embarrassingly large” comic book collection, whichcontributed to his zeal for visual literacy. After a few years atWashington University in St. Louis—and a friend’s suggestionthat he pursue graphic design—Freimuth transferred to the RhodeIsland School of Design. At RISD, he found himself “surrounded bya core group of friends who were all motivated designers,” hesays; that competitive spirit made for high energy and lots of goodwork.
Whether he’s designing for the P.C.-buying masses or acommunity of literate activists, Freimuth has an optimistic, inclusivenature that’s manifest in everything he touches. He seeks outprojects he really believes in, thus elevating the experience foreveryone involved. Lately, he’s become interested in the practicaland financial side of design as well. Kevin Yuda, a former design directorat VSA, recognized that while working with Freimuth. “He was always interested in the why behinddesign—the problem-solving, strategic thinking part.” ToFreimuth, understanding the entire landscape is just as important as thedesign skill itself: “I cannot imagine doing anything withoutdesign and strategy. Designers who don’t want anything to do withthe business side ignore the opportunity to view somethingholistically.”
As versatile as he’s becoming, youwon’t find Freimuth striking out on his own just yet. “Ihave too much to do to improve myself still; I want to be aswell-rounded as I can be.” What’s in store for the future?He pauses to reflect: “What I see eventually is building acollaborative, strategic, multidisciplinary group whose work is broaderthan any specific design area. There are so many opportunities to makemeaningful contributions—I’d like to try my hand atthem.”
CORRECTION, March 12, 2008: In the original story Kevin Yuda was incorrectly identified as a brand manager. In fact, he was a design director during his tenure at VSA Partners. He was not involved in the (PRODUCT) RED campaign.