Sometimes an apple hitsyou on the head. And sometimes your dad brings home from work a box ofdiscarded Pantone books, outdated paper samples, and old Rapidographpens. That’s what made designer Eric Strohl—then agrade-schooler—realize that his interest in drawing could beparlayed into a lifelong love and occupation.
“I wanted to be a designer, but I didn’t know it,” says Strohl, who in thepast year has moved from Eric Baker Design in New York City to IDEO inSan Francisco. “I liked to draw type and copy images out of oldads and promos. I didn’t really have anything to say—nomessage at all. I just liked to emulate and trained my handaccidentally.”
He worked only in black and white—again,inadvertently doing the right thing—and also unconsciouslydeveloped a sort of nostalgia for ’20s and ’30s design,“when people sat at drafting tables in white shirts inkingthings,” he says. “I collect old Linotype catalogs from thatera. It’s nice to be able to go back to the original sources andpull from that.”
But Strohl’s stylistic preferenceisn’t always evident in his work, or at least not right away. The1999 graduate of East Carolina University joined Eric Baker Design in2001 and for five years had the opportunity to work on an expansiverange of projects, from logos and websites to book and environmentaldesign. His work is very direct, in the same way an effective identityis meaningful but succinct.
A good design, Strohl says, lives on inmemory, even after the van rolls away or the quickest glimpse on thescreen is gone. It communicates mood and class as well as theclient’s aesthetic DNA. His preference for the stripped-down comesfrom his admiration of, in particular, Lester Beall, Clarence Hornung,Alvin Lustig, and Saul Bass.
Given his solid appreciation of the past,it might seem curious that Strohl is now working with IDEO, a companyknown for designing very much for the future. It is a more academicmindset, he says, one that encourages him to be proactive rather thanreactive, the normal role of the designer in service of the client. Henow works with environmental designers, programmers, architects, productdesigners, and many other creative people. He holds an art director–likeposition, focusing on experiences consumers have through mobile, PC, andtelevision screens, but his actual duties are difficult to pinpoint, ashis role changes with every new project he’s given.
“I tell my grandma that I work for an invention company,” he says,with a laugh. “It’s exciting to be out in front of things. Isee a lot less graphic design now, but the creation end is far richer.If you look back to some of the most recognized designers in history,even back into the Renaissance, they were very multidisciplinary. So Isay, why stop at just one thing?”
His passion for design, type,and form remains the same, though now he feels as though he’sgetting a master’s degree for free. A degree in what? “A bitof business, a bit of engineering, a bit of everything.”