Kevin Smith can’t talk about design without touching on collaboration and community. “Nothing we do can happen in a vacuum,” says Smith of his design process. “There always needs to be a writer, there always needs to be a client, there always needs to be a colla-borator. . . . We have to bring different pieces from different places together.”
In the next breath, he’s talking about his instant rapport with Rob Giampietro, his partner in the New York City–based Giampietro + Smith, whom he met when they both worked at Winterhouse Studios. “We could shoot things back and forth and not feel like we were pissing each other off or stepping on each other’s toes.”
But it’s his play-nice attitude toward the competition that sets Smith apart. “Owning my own graphic design firm opens the door to being in a community of other graphic designers that are like us. . . . I think seeing others do well makes us more confident that we will be successful.”
Given that his firm’s client list includes the Gagosian Gallery, The New England Journal of Medicine, Knoll, and The Onion, it’s hard to believe Smith needs any encouragement from others. He certainly has Giampietro’s unconditional support: “Whatever the obstacle, he believes anything is possible, which makes him a very cool and collected character on almost everything we do.”
Smith’s design aesthetic tends to reflect the spirit of the content but not intrude on it; he knows he has succeeded as a designer when you don’t know he’s been there at all. “I don’t feel like designers who proscribe a particular style for all of their projects are doing a great service to their clients,” he says. “The biggest compliment that Rob and I have received is when people say that each of our pieces has such a strong graphic identity in and of itself, and that they don’t look like they were designed by the same firm.”
But it is when this energetic, unstoppable University of Hartford Art School graduate talks about book design that he is at his most contemplative—one almost imagines him dreaming of the craft as he sleeps. “Someone once said that book design is as close to architecture as a print designer can get. Creating brochures, websites, and posters can be great projects, but books are lasting. I love bringing them into the world, because of their physical form, personality, and presence,” he says, citing book designer Bruce Rogers as an influence. He and Giampietro have created some stunning work together, including catalog design for Barbara Kruger, Damien Hirst, and Marcel Dzama.
Unfortunately, book projects don’t pay very well, so for now, Smith is concentrating on his clients, teaching part-time at Parsons School of Design, and building his studio slowly. He admires design offices like those of Milton Glaser or Stefan Sagmeister, who keep their staffs small. “It puts a cap on the size of projects you can do, but at the same time, if you’re not doing what you love, it’s not worth it.”