Lumpen needed some oomph. The underground magazine had been a staple in Chicago’s art and activist community for nearly two decades, and its editors were ready to take its design to the next level. Enter local up-and-comer Michael Freimuth. With Freimuth at the helm, the magazine went through a visual overhaul from top to bottom, and Freimuth brought in a cast of diverse and talented new contributing artists to complement it. Pick up a copy these days and you’ll find whimsical covers, a clean, orderly masthead, cleverly considered spot color treatments, and friendly graphic devices that entertain as they navigate you through the issue. In the words of Lumpen editor and publisher Ed Marzewski, Freimuth’s redesign gave it “a sense of legitimacy that wasn’t there previously.”
And it’s not even his day job. Across town, when corporate clients like Converse and IBM are in need of a little oomph themselves, they rely on the branding strategies of VSA Partners, where Freimuth currently works as a senior designer. He thrives in the team environment: “You learn pretty quickly at VSA to put ego aside and revise based on new insights, client conversations, and others’ ideas,” Freimuth says. “It’s an invaluable skill, and it reminds you that something can be solved a hundred different ways.”
Freimuth has long been open to new ideas. The son of a Czech father and British mother, Freimuth, a Minneapolis native, had a British accent until he was 7. He also had an “embarrassingly large” comic book collection, which contributed to his zeal for visual literacy. After a few years at Washington University in St. Louis—and a friend’s suggestion that he pursue graphic design—Freimuth transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design. At RISD, he found himself “surrounded by a core group of friends who were all motivated designers,” he says; that competitive spirit made for high energy and lots of good work.
Whether he’s designing for the P.C.-buying masses or a community of literate activists, Freimuth has an optimistic, inclusive nature that’s manifest in everything he touches. He seeks out projects he really believes in, thus elevating the experience for everyone involved. Lately, he’s become interested in the practical and financial side of design as well. Kevin Yuda, a former design director at VSA, recognized that while working with Freimuth. “He was always interested in the why behind design—the problem-solving, strategic thinking part.” To Freimuth, understanding the entire landscape is just as important as the design skill itself: “I cannot imagine doing anything without design and strategy. Designers who don’t want anything to do with the business side ignore the opportunity to view something holistically.”
As versatile as he’s becoming, you won’t find Freimuth striking out on his own just yet. “I have too much to do to improve myself still; I want to be as well-rounded as I can be.” What’s in store for the future? He pauses to reflect: “What I see eventually is building a collaborative, strategic, multidisciplinary group whose work is broader than any specific design area. There are so many opportunities to make meaningful contributions—I’d like to try my hand at them.”
CORRECTION, March 12, 2008: In the original story Kevin Yuda was incorrectly identified as a brand manager. In fact, he was a design director during his tenure at VSA Partners. He was not involved in the (PRODUCT) RED campaign.