Graphic Content: An Interview with Brian Singer
There are events that turn into tales of wisdom and pearls of advice that you give out to your friends, children and others younger than you; nuggets that are meant to help guide others through turbulent waters and encourage them to keep on chugging along.
Our stories, those we share and those we don’t, are what make us human; they humble us and they exalt us, but most of all they define us. Each story we live, share and hear shapes us in some way, even if it’s just a momentary laugh in a dark time.
Design is a visual representation of a story, meant to evoke a memory or feeling. Its intent is to communicate what words alone cannot express. After all, they say a picture is worth a thousand words.
Take a second and think of the rock stars of design, who pops in to your head? Stefan Sagmeister? Debbie Millman? Aaron Draplin? James Victore? What if you could hear their stories? What if you could laugh with them and learn from them? Well here’s your chance!
As the artist behind The 1,000 Journals Project, Brian has curated thousands of journal entries and handled countless stories, making him uniquely qualified to handle this project. We recently sat down with Brian to talk to him about the creation of his latest book, Graphic Content, and what inspired him to collect the the stories of his fellow designers.
Q: One of the most notable projects you’ve done has been The 1000 Journals Project, which attempts to follow 1000 journals and their travels. These journals became a collaborative diary for artists, students, and strangers. Did this artistic endeavor play a part in the creation of Graphic Content? What was your inspiration for compiling these personal narratives?
It’s clear there are some underlying themes in what I find interesting / choose to pursue. The inspiration for Graphic Content though, I credit to a conference called Creative Summit, held annually in San Marcos, Texas. It’s a student conference run by Chris Hill (and the staff of his firm, HILL) for over 25 years. I was invited to speak several years ago, and enjoyed myself so much; I’ve tried to attend every year since.
Q: You already have one book under you belt from The 1000 Journals Project, which is mostly a curation of the journal pages from the journals that found their way back to you, how was capturing Graphic Content different from the creation of that book?
I found both experiences quite similar, but in unexpected ways. For example, there’s something about a blank canvas or page that frightens people. Making the first mark is difficult. When asking for stories, many folks had a hard time coming up with one, when I know they’re full of amazing experiences.
When in a group, the conversation flows, people feed off each other, and the stories come out naturally. Just coming up with an amazing story on the spot proved difficult. The same happened with the journals, people wanted to do something amazing, and that pressure became a blocker for folks. I think that’s the reason why the story I contributed was so…lightweight. It’s just something that happened, and was pretty funny.
There are too many good ones to choose a favorite, and each has its own charm. Some are just funny, or weird, while others are touching or teach a life lesson. I think of all my exchanges with contributors, my favorite would have to be Art Chantry. After a bit of back and forth, he suggested the story he wanted to share. I was ecstatic, it was exactly the kind I wanted for this book. He replied that he had thousands of stories like that, and then followed it with “Have you ever seen me lecture? Or read my Facebook page? Do you know anything about me?” I thought to myself, “Who doesn’t know who Art Chantry is?” I assured him that not only was I familiar, but I’d been a fan for years (his presence on Facebook is prolific, and someone should do a book of just his posts. Hint, hint.).
Q: What do you hope current and aspiring designers will take away from Graphic Content? What’s the number one lesson you want everyone to learn from this book?
Here’s the thing: There is no one lesson. When Eric Baker shared his story with us, he wasn’t trying to teach us something, but we each walked away touched, moved, and probably more appreciative of that one teacher who we adored, and who we should take the time to reach out to. (I say this, having just written a thank you letter to my high school art teacher, Mr. Rushton, who celebrated his 70th birthday).
My hope is that each person who reads the book takes away something that’s meaningful, unique and individual to them. All it takes is one story to spark something deep inside. What we do after that is up to us.
Want more Brian Singer, Debbie Millman, Aaron Draplin, and Stefan Sagmeister? Be sure to check out HOW Design Live, coming to Chicago May 19-23!
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