This past October, the design community gathered in Denver for
the 2007 AIGA Design Conference to talk about the future of design.
What could be more “Next” than the bright
young talent of tomorrow? By now most everyone has heard about the
wildly successful Command X, graphic design's first “reality show,” in
which seven designers under 26 competed in daily design challenges,
presenting their solutions on the conference main stage to be
judged by an esteemed panel. All were impressive but one
especially talented designer emerged: 24-year-old Nichelle Narcisi,
whose youth-targeted voter awareness campaign, with the tagline
“Except You,” garnered a standing ovation and even tears from one
of the jurors. Here, we spoke with this up-and-comer about her rise
to AIGA stardom and why there's no more room in her life for voter
Narcisi working on the third, and last, Command X challenge
(photo: Stu Alden).
Heller: You certainly exuded a great deal of poise, as
well as wit and self-confidence, in addition to vulnerability. How
did you feel getting up before two thousand AIGA'ers to present
Narcisi: I'm usually comfortable speaking to
groups but a mob of designers was a little different. The first
round was the most awkward, none of us knew what to expect and
there was the initial shock of seeing the crowd for the first time.
I owe most of my composure in the later rounds to the judges.
Bonnie [Siegler] and Emily [Oberman] were great and everyone helped
to keep things light backstage. They were all extremely supportive
throughout the entire process.
Promotional poster for WhoBlurted.com, the Go Welsh company
Heller: Where have you been working, and what have you
Narcisi: Both myself and fellow Command X'er
Ryan Smoker are with Go Welsh in Lancaster, PA. I've been here almost a
year, my first real job since graduating. I work mostly on print
projects but there have been a few websites in there as well. It's
been a great learning environment and I feel good about the work
I've done so far.
Heller: What is your background?
Narcisi: My entire extended family has always
been supportive of my “gift” and will pull out drawings from my
childhood at random. I was lucky in that way. I never had to fight
being creative. Everyone encouraged me.
My mother is artistic, too. She has always been making and
collecting things. She loves to work with materials—most recently
she's been doing stained glass, but ceramics and textiles were in
there somewhere, too. She's pretty much my idol.
Heller: Why did you become a designer?
Narcisi: Originally, I thought I'd be a
painter. I'm much better at that sort of thing. Design is a
challenge. Art always came naturally, so when I found myself
floundering in my first type class it sparked something. I loved
looking at design, figuring out why it worked and what I was
reacting to, stumbling with my own stuff until I understood it.
Tyler [School of Art in Philadelphia] was the perfect school for
that. Everything that comes out of that place has tons of
character; even if it's not polished, there is a motive and voice
(Top) Narcisi's Denver Broncos logo redesign; and (above)
presenting her redesigned Jimmy Dean packaging on the “Next” main
stage (photo: Stu Alden).
Heller: It was striking how well you and your colleagues
on stage addressed the respective problems at hand. If you can
recall the three projects, what prompted you to do what you did for
the first two, for the Denver Broncos and Jimmy Dean,
Narcisi: I was excited when I found out that
the first project was [redesigning] an NFL team logo. I'm from
Pittsburgh, and I know it's cliché but we are a little bit insane
about football, probably to an obnoxious degree. I spent a lot of
time drawing dirty uniforms and trying to manage the logistical end
of things. I probably took it too seriously.
At first I was a little apprehensive about working on the
[breakfast] dog, but the more I thought about it the more obvious
the whole cowgirl riding a sausage became and I just went for it.
There wasn't enough time to consider the level of inappropriateness
in that. I'm glad, though. I love the way that it turned out.
Heller: Your answer to the voting project was so
sophisticated. Too often agencies don't really understand their
audience. How close was this issue of not voting to you and your
Narcisi's final presentation at “Next.” (photo: Stu Alden)
Narcisi: As most of the conference found out,
I'm dating a nonvoter and it drives me nuts. He's a very
intelligent, politically aware and vocal person, but he doesn't
waste his time with voting. I've heard every possible reason, many
of them valid, but I just can't accept giving up like that. We—my
generation—are so busy rejecting everything that we gave up our
political power. I simply pointed that out and did so in a way that
might be more confrontational than is comfortable.
On a side note, my boyfriend has decided to vote this time
Heller: See, we all can make a small difference. But now
that the dust has settled how would you improve on your
Narcisi: There are some wording issues that I'd
change but the biggest thing is what comes after you see one of
those PDFs. There has to be a comprehensive and clear web aspect
that engages people to stay involved and vote. That's the biggest
project I'm working on now, getting the site up by late November so
that we can start pushing the campaign through election year.
Heller: How has the process of being in Command X
changed you, if at all?
Narcisi: I feel better about what I do
everyday. Just being at the conference was refreshing, but to speak
with people like Noreen Morioka and Brian Collins candidly about
what we do for a living, it was invaluable. So was being tested on
such a large stage. We had so little time to work out our projects
and then present them to that many critical eyes. I don't know how
anyone could walk away from that without feeling changed. I feel
stronger, smarter and more capable now, and I'm excited about what
(From left) Day two contestants: Ryan Smoker, Matthew Muñoz,
Nichelle Narcisi, Kelly Dorsey and Elaine Chernov (photo: Stu
Heller: People are dying to know—did you get a hundred
job offers after your performance?
Narcisi: I did, actually. It was really
alarming. I'm in the process of organizing them all based on “best
view” and “most regular work day.” There have been some
Heller: What I found truly wonderful about Command X was
the introduction of so many intelligent, younger designers. Did you
feel it was a unique grouping? Or are all the designers your age
Narcisi: We are all incredible and should be
feared for our collective intellect. I'm kidding. I have no idea,
really, but I agree with you that our group was especially clever.
I was probably the least astute one there, to be honest. I expect
that the next round of Command X will have even sharper
Heller: What is your goal as a designer?
Narcisi: I'm not that interesting in this
regard. I just want to make things that I enjoy and have those
things be effective. On my best day I would hope that the piece has
a personality, one that you would want to know.
(From left) Narcisi's designs: Bouquets for Books logo;
packaging for Hotchkiss Dysfunctional Family Brewery (Tyler School
of Art project); and posters and stationery system for Fonk
Heller: If you had that Command X experience to do over,
what would you do?
Narcisi: I'd try to see some of the actual
conference. I'm looking forward to Memphis because I'll be
able to enjoy all of the presentations instead of working the
entire time! I don't think I'd change anything, though. All of the
people I met affected me and it was an incredible lesson in what I
do and how to do it better.
For further appreciation:View
Narcisi's Command X presentations.Read her article on Design
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