RDA 2008: East
This year, designers in the East reported A trend that has long been gaining momentum: handcrafted design. “We’re all so webbed out,” says David Warren,
a founding partner of Tank Design in Cambridge,Massachusetts. “The hand is back.” The movement toward the lo-fi look means more “silk-screen, old paper textures, and illustrative or handwritten text,” according to Mark Burrier, a designer in Myersville, Maryland.
Ana Benaroya, who owns a one-woman firm in East Brunswick, New Jersey, notes the irony of increased computer use resulting in a resurgence of— and respect for—handmade work. “I’ve noticed that more and more designers are incorporating hand-drawn elements even as the computer becomes a bigger part of
our lives as designers or illustrators.
This proves that nothing can replace the hand.”
Young designers are fueling this interest by looking at a host of unlikely craft sources, from Raw magazine to antique typefaces. Dan Shepelavy, a creative director of 160over90 in Philadelphia, finds the development extremely exciting and a good omen for design: “There is a veneration of process, of connoisseurship, craft, like I’ve never seen before. That it’s now present in commercial work is amazing! I’ve been waiting for it for so long.” David Warren believes that the handcrafted style reflects, in part, our mounting anxiety about global warming and the need to take conservation and environmental stewardship seriously. “We try to be as green as we can be. Some of that has rubbed off on the aesthetics.”
Says E. Rachael Baird, an owner of Tilt in Baltimore, “The world is being shaken up by environmental issues, so there’s more focus on content. … [Aesthetic] elements used to be first.”
While graphic design continues to be a critical part of creating sales and branding for private companies and their products, several designers have noticed that groups promoting social causes are also increasingly turning to the skills of graphic artists.
“The use of design as an agent of change or as a catalyst to encourage more pro-social behavior is nothing new, but it seems to have become more ‘normal’ and is showing up everywhere,” says Tim Ferguson-Sauder, creative director at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. At the same time, he says, “I see a lot of design projects that exist as more of a framework created to house this new content. There is more of a need for design to access this content in the most efficient and intuitive way.”
Designers in the region have also found that clients are coming in with more definite ideas about what they want, says Annie Milli, an art director at the Baltimore firm Siquis, in part because of the proliferation of design blogs.
Matthew Neff, manager of the print shop of the Common Press at the University of Pennsylvania, attributes the rise in client participation to do-it-yourself desktop publishing programs.
“Many people consider themselves designers and have an idea of what they would like things to look like or have a digital mock-up before meeting with me and my design team,” he says.
“It is a much different first meeting than before thedesktop publishing craze. Imagery is talked about and moved around much more rapidly than before, and the client takes more ownership over an initial concept before handing it over to the designer.”
Yet according to Baird, requests from clients depend largely on their industry. Energy companies, for example, don’t yet have a clear idea of their needs because the industry itself is changing so quickly. At Tilt, where one of the main clients is American Paper,
the designers say that large, corporate customers tend to have a sure idea of what they want from design. At the same time, firms in the Northeast are finding that their clients are demanding more branding services, often making design firms the functional equivalent of advertising agencies. Ann Casady, owner of Casady Design in Yarmouth, Maine, says that her clients now believe design is an integral part of branding, not second fiddle to content: “All of my clients are talking about strategic planning. The role of the graphic designer has changed to appreciate and understand this much bigger economic picture that includes marketing and strategy.”
Meanwhile, designers are learning their own lessons and beginning to promote themselves with greater savvy. Greg Chinn of Jargon Boy in Fairfield, Connecticut, finds that more designers are developing products for themselves. His company created a set of hip alphabet flash cards that convey the firm’s mid-century modernist sensibility (J is for “jet age,” L is for “lounger”) and made for a de facto self-promotion. But no matter who they’re working for, designers in the East are seeing substance and style gain equal value. “Designs seem to be getting smarter and smarter and less about pretty,” says Milli. “They’re leaving more for the viewer to figure out, posing intellectual questions through the work.” This article appears in the December 2008 issue of PRINT.