Kevin Smith can’t talk about design withouttouching on collaboration and community. “Nothing we do can happenin a vacuum,” says Smith of his design process. “Therealways needs to be a writer, there always needs to be a client, therealways needs to be a colla-borator. . . . We have to bring differentpieces from different places together.”
In the next breath,he’s talking about his instant rapport with Rob Giampietro, hispartner in the New York City–based Giampietro + Smith, whom he met whenthey both worked at Winterhouse Studios. “We could shoot thingsback and forth and not feel like we were pissing each other off orstepping on each other’s toes.”
But it’s hisplay-nice attitude toward the competition that sets Smith apart.“Owning my own graphic design firm opens the door to being in acommunity of other graphic designers that are like us. . . . I thinkseeing others do well makes us more confident that we will besuccessful.”
Given that his firm’s client list includesthe Gagosian Gallery, The New England Journal of Medicine, Knoll,and The Onion, it’s hard to believe Smith needs anyencouragement from others. He certainly has Giampietro’sunconditional support: “Whatever the obstacle, he believesanything is possible, which makes him a very cool and collectedcharacter on almost everything we do.”
Smith’s designaesthetic tends to reflect the spirit of the content but not intrude onit; he knows he has succeeded as a designer when you don’t knowhe’s been there at all. “I don’t feel like designerswho proscribe a particular style for all of their projects are doing agreat service to their clients,” he says. “The biggestcompliment that Rob and I have received is when people say that each ofour pieces has such a strong graphic identity in and of itself, and thatthey don’t look like they were designed by the samefirm.”
But it is when this energetic, unstoppable University ofHartford Art School graduate talks about book design that he is at hismost contemplative—one almost imagines him dreaming of the craftas he sleeps. “Someone once said that book design is as close toarchitecture as a print designer can get. Creating brochures, websites,and posters can be great projects, but books are lasting. I lovebringing them into the world, because of their physical form,personality, and presence,” he says, citing book designer BruceRogers as an influence. He and Giampietro have created some stunningwork together, including catalog design for Barbara Kruger, DamienHirst, and Marcel Dzama.
Unfortunately, book projects don’t payvery well, so for now, Smith is concentrating on his clients, teachingpart-time at Parsons School of Design, and building his studio slowly.He admires design offices like those of Milton Glaser or StefanSagmeister, who keep their staffs small. “It puts a cap on thesize of projects you can do, but at the same time, if you’re notdoing what you love, it’s not worth it.”