Designer of the Week: Dan Vlahos
The clock is ticking, friends. Enter the 2018 Regional Design Annual by the extended deadline, April 30, for a chance to be featured among the country’s best design work. Our judges: Sagi Haviv, Rebeca Méndez, Nancy Skolos, Alexander Isley, Chad Michael, Gail Anderson and Justin Peters.
Boston-based designer, artist and educator Dan Vlahos believes in using design as a broader mechanism for change, and that everyone can do their part. Below, he shares with us his work in his own local community, his favorite and most challenging projects, and his plans for the future.
Name: Dan Vlahos
Name of Studio: Vlahos Design
Location: Boston, MA
Design school attended: Massachusetts College of Art and Design
How would you describe your work?
Against all warnings I’ve positioned myself as a design “generalist” doing wide-ranging work in print, branding, environmental and interactive design. Early in my career I worked for an ad agency (Arnold), then an architecture firm (Shepley Bulfinch) and now I teach full-time and run a freelance design practice.
Where do you find inspiration?
Three things that inspire me are graphic design history, my students, and contemporary design outside of graphic design (especially architecture). Early in my career I spent considerable time doing art direction in Los Angeles, and I would spend lots of time (and money) in an amazing book store called Hennessy+Ingalls. There’s a serendipity to the book store that is sadly lost online. I also have to mention museums. Any time I am in New York I try and make my way over to Cooper Hewitt, especially to see the Design Triennial which is always fantastic.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
For identity projects I think Sagi Haviv is doing thoughtful work, and in such a way that it wonderfully extends the legacy of Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar. Locally, I’ve always enjoyed following the work of Small Design, led by MIT’s David Small. This kind of work inspired me to go back to MassArt for my MFA in Dynamic Media. And for art stuff I find the work of Elmgreen & Dragset [Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragsetto] to be witty, elegant, interdisciplinary and timely. I should also note that my younger brother Jeff Vlahos is also a designer, and he is helping to grow PillPack, an amazing Boston-based startup.
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
The little “Hi” icon I designed for Harvard has been really cool to see come to life. The innovation lab program has grown to the size of a small campus with multiple buildings in Allston that all showcase the icon prominently. They wanted something welcoming, and so it kind of just made sense. The architecture is also quite nice and a bit contemporary, especially for Harvard.
Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
My MFA thesis “The Education of a Communication Designer” was both amazingly challenging and rewarding. I was really searching for some answers to some tough questions about myself and our profession. Like a lot of designers, the best way I know how to learn is to “do.” I completed seven highly experimental projects in just under two years and documented them all in a 200-page book, all while working and bringing up kids. Luckily I have a very patient wife.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
While I’ve been teaching part-time for quite a while, this component of my career is just starting to ramp up. I’m now in a full-time tenure-track teaching position (at Merrimack College), which will require me to do some more writing, research and community engagement. I’m looking forward to that.
What’s your best advice for designers today?
My advice is to continue using design as a broader mechanism for change (I prefer that language over “design thinking”). I studied design history with the late Al Gowan, who was a student of Buckminster Fuller. In the spirit of Fuller, Al sold me on design as a kind of applied ethos. He really believed design could change the world. Also in that same spirit, the late Dr. Richard Farson wrote a book called The Power of Design: A Force for Transforming Everything, which encourages designers to really step up. I think Bruce Mau, Bjarke Ingels and others are already showing us the way. In my own local community I’ve lobbied for walkable, sustainable architecture and design. Everyone can do their part.