Sometimes an apple hits you on the head. And sometimes your dad brings home from work a box of discarded Pantone books, outdated paper samples, and old Rapidograph pens. That’s what made designer Eric Strohl—then a grade-schooler—realize that his interest in drawing could be parlayed into a lifelong love and occupation.
“I wanted to be a designer, but I didn’t know it,” says Strohl, who in the past year has moved from Eric Baker Design in New York City to IDEO in San Francisco. “I liked to draw type and copy images out of old ads and promos. I didn’t really have anything to say—no message at all. I just liked to emulate and trained my hand accidentally.”
He worked only in black and white—again, inadvertently doing the right thing—and also unconsciously developed a sort of nostalgia for ’20s and ’30s design, “when people sat at drafting tables in white shirts inking things,” he says. “I collect old Linotype catalogs from that era. It’s nice to be able to go back to the original sources and pull from that.”
But Strohl’s stylistic preference isn’t always evident in his work, or at least not right away. The 1999 graduate of East Carolina University joined Eric Baker Design in 2001 and for five years had the opportunity to work on an expansive range of projects, from logos and websites to book and environmental design. His work is very direct, in the same way an effective identity is meaningful but succinct.
A good design, Strohl says, lives on in memory, even after the van rolls away or the quickest glimpse on the screen is gone. It communicates mood and class as well as the client’s aesthetic DNA. His preference for the stripped-down comes from 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 company known for designing very much for the future. It is a more academic mindset, he says, one that encourages him to be proactive rather than reactive, the normal role of the designer in service of the client. He now works with environmental designers, programmers, architects, product designers, and many other creative people. He holds an art director–like position, focusing on experiences consumers have through mobile, PC, and television screens, but his actual duties are difficult to pinpoint, as his 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. I see 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 I say, why stop at just one thing?”
His passion for design, type, and form remains the same, though now he feels as though he’s getting a master’s degree for free. A degree in what? “A bit of business, a bit of engineering, a bit of everything.”