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What do professional designers really do? This question needs to
be asked in order to answer why you need a design education and
what you need to study. The projects created by designers give form
to the communication between their client and an audience. To do
this, designers ask: What is the nature of the client? What is the
nature of the audience? How does the client want to be perceived by
the audience? Designers also explore the content of the message the
client wishes to send, and they determine the appropriate form and
media to convey that message. They manage the communication
process, from understanding the problem to finding the solution. In
other words, designers develop and implement overall communication
strategies for their clients.
Some of the projects presented here will probably seem familiar
because of their broad exposure in the media. Others, which are
limited to a particular audience, may surprise you. You'll see that
design arrests attention, identifies, persuades, sells, educates,
and gives visual delight. There is a streak of pragmatism in
American culture-our society tends to focus on results.
The processes that went into creating these design projects are
often invisible, but the designer's own words describe the
significant strategies. It's clear that some projects, because of
their size, would be inconceivable without considerable project
management skills. And the range of content clearly demonstrates
the designer's need for a good liberal arts education to aid in
understanding and communicating divers design content.
The projects that follow represent various media, such as print
(graphic design's historic medium) and three-dimensional graphic
design media, including environmental graphic design, exhibitions,
and signage. Electronic media, such as television and computers, as
well as film and video are also represented. Various kinds of
communication are included, from corporate communications to
publishing and government communications. Some project focus on a
specialization within design, such as corporate identity programs
or type design. Information design and interface design (the design
of computer screens for interactivity) reflect the contemporary
need to streamline information and to use new media
Three designer roles are also highlighted. Developed over a
lifetime, these careers go beyond the commonly understood role of
the designer. The corporate executive oversees design for a large
company; the university professor teaches the next generation of
designers and thus influences the future of the field; the design
entrepreneur engages in design initiation as an independent
business. Consider these and other design-related roles as you plan
your studies and early job experience.
The projects and designers presented her were selected to
illustrate the range of graphic design activities and to represent
the exceptional rather than the ordinary. Seeing the best can give
you a glimpse into the possibilities that await you in the
competitive, creative, and rewarding field of design.
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Digital design is the creation of highly manipulated images on the
computer. These images then make their final appearance in print.
Although computers have been around since the forties, they were
not reasonable tools for designers until the first Macintoshes came
out in 1984. April Greiman was an early computer enthusiast who
believes that graphic design has always been involved with
technology. After all, Gutenberg's fifteenth-century invention of
movable type created a design as well as an information
Greiman's first interest was video, which led naturally to the
computer and its possibilities. She bought her first Mac as a toy,
but soon found it an indispensable creative tool. “I work
intuitively and play with technology,” says Greiman. “I like
getting immediate feedback from the computer screen, and I like to
explore alternative color and form quickly on-screen. Artwork that
exists as binary signals seems mysterious to me. It is an
exhilarating medium!” She wants to design everything and to control
and play with all kinds of sensory experience.
Designers working with digital design need to be more than
technicians. Consequently, their studies focus on perception,
aesthetics, and visual form-making as well as on technology.
I didn't have the math skills (so I thought) to become an
architect. My high school training in the arts was in the
“commercial art” realm. Later at an art school interview I was told
I was strong in graphic design. So as not to humiliate myself, not
knowing what graphic design was, I just proceeded onwards?the
“relaxed forward-bent” approach, my trademark! -April
The book remains our primary way of delivering information. Its
form has not changed for centuries, and its internal
organization-table of contents, chapter, glossaries, and so
forth-is so commonplace that we take it for granted. But now a
challenger has appeared: the computer. No longer merely a tool for
preparing art for the printer, the computer is an information
medium in itself.
Computer-based design delivers information according to the
user's particular interest. Information is restructured into webs
that allow entry from different points, a system that may be more
like our actual thinking processes than the near order of the book
is. On the computer, the designer can use time and sound in
addition to text and image to draw attention, to animate an
explanation, or to present an alternative way to understand a
concept. This new technology demands designers who can combine
analysis with intuition. Clement Mok does just that. He is a
certified Apple software developer (he can program) and a graphic
designer comfortable in most media. QuickTime system software,
recently released by Apple, supports the capability to do digital
movies on the Macintosh. As system software, it is really
invisible. “Providing users with this great technology isn't
enough,” says Mok. “You also have to give them ideas for what they
can do and samples they can use.”
Mok addressed this problem by developing QuickClips, a CD
library of three hundred film clips ranging from excerpts of
classic films to original videos and animations created by his
staff. These fifteen- to ninety-second movies can be incorporated
into user-created presentations. It is like having a small video
store in your computer. With QuickClips, Mok opened new avenues for
presentation with the computer.
It is easy to overlook type design because it is everywhere.
Typically we read for content and ignore the familiar structural
forms of our alphabet and its formal construction in a typeface.
Only when the characters are very large, or are presented to us in
an unusual way, do we pay attention to the beautiful curves and
rhythms of repetition that form our visible language.
Since Gutenberg's invention of movable type in the mid-fifteenth
century, the word has become increasingly technological in its
appearance. Early type was cast in metal, but today's new type
design is often created digitally on the computer through a
combination of visual and mathematical manipulation.
The history of culture can be told through the history of the
letterform. The lineage of many typefaces can be traced back to
Greek inscriptions, medieval scribal handwriting, or early movable
type. Lithos, which means “stone” in Greek, was designed by Carol
Twombly as a classically inspired typeface. She examined Greek
inscription before attempting to capture the spirit of these
letterforms in a type system for contemporary use.
Lithos was not an exact copy from history nor was it created
automatically on the computer. Hand sketches, settings that used
the typeface in words and sentences were developed and evaluated.
Some were judged to be too stiff, some “too funky,” but finally one
was just right. These were the early steps in the search for the
form and spirit of the typeface. Later steps included controlling
the space between letters an designing the variations in weight for
a bold font. Twombly even designed foreign-language variations.
Clearly, patience and a well-developed eye for form and system
are necessities for a type designer.
As a kid, when I wasn't climbing trees, skiing, or riding
horses, I was drawing and sculpting simple things. I wanted a
career involving art of some kind. The restrictions of
two-dimensional communication appealed to my need for structure and
my desire to have my work speak for me. The challenge of
communicating an idea or feeling within the further confines of the
Latin alphabet lad me from graphic design into type design. -Carol
Most people have had the experience of losing themselves in a film
but probably haven't given much thought to the transition we go
through mentally and emotionally as we move from reality to
fantasy. Film titles help to create this transition. The attention
narrows, the “self” slips away, and the film washes over the
senses. Film titles set the dramatic stage; they tune our emotions
to the proper pitch so that we enter into the humor, mystery, or
pathos of a film with hardly a blink.
Rich Greenberg is a traditionally schooled designer who now
works entirely in film. His recent Dracula titles are a
classic teaser. He begins with the question: What is this film
about? Vampires. What signals vampires for most of us? Blood.
Greenberg believes that a direct approach using the simplest idea
is usually the best. “What I do in film is the opposite of what is
done with the print image. Dracula is a very good example of
the process. There is very little information on the screen at any
time, and you let the effect unfold slowly so the audience doesn't
know what they're looking at until the very end. In print,
everything has to be up front because you have so little time to
get attention. In film you hold back; otherwise it would be boring.
The audience is captive at a film-I can play with their minds.”
Special effects are also of interest to Greenberg. In
Predator, the designer asked, How can I create a feeling of
fear? He began by exploring the particular possibilities for horror
that depend on a monster's ability to camouflage himself so he
seems to disappear into the environment. The designer's visual
problem was to find a way for the object to be there and not be
there. It was like looking into the repeating, diminishing image in
a barber's mirror. To complicate matters, the effect needed to work
just as well when the monster was in motion.
Whether designing opening title or special effects that will
appear throughout a film, designers have to keep their purpose in
mind. According to Greenberg, “Nobody goes to a film for the
effects; they go for the story. Effects must support the
Motion graphics, such as program openings or graphic demonstrations
within a television program, require the designer to choreograph
space and time. Images, narration, movement, sound and music are
woven into a multisensory communication.
Chris Pullman at WGBH draws an analogy between creating a
magazine with its cover, table of contents, letters to the editor,
and articles, to that of a television program like Columbus and
the Age of Discovery. In both cases, the designer must find a
visual vocabulary to provide common visual features.
Columbus opens slowly and smoothly, establishing a time and
a place. A ship rocking on the waves becomes a kind of “wallpaper”
on which to show credits. The opening is a reference to what
happened—it speaks of ships, ocean, New World, Earth—without
actually telling the story.
In contrast, the computer-graphic map sequences are technical
animation and a critical part of the storytelling. Was Columbus
correct in his vision of the landmass west of Europe? Something was
there, but what and how big? Was it the Asian landmass Columbus had
promised to find? In 1516, Magellan sailed around the Americas by
rounding Cape Horn-and found 5,000 more miles of sea travel to
Japan! Columbus had made a colossal miscalculation.
The designer needed to visualize this error. Authentic ancient
maps established the perspective of the past; computer animation
provided the story as we understand it today and extended the
viewer's perspective with a three-dimensional presentation. Pullman
created a 3-D database with light source and ocean detail for this
fifty-seven-second sequence. “The move was designed to follow the
retreating edge of darkness, as the sun revealed the vastness of
the Pacific Ocean and the delicate track of Magellan's expedition
snaked west. As the Pacific finally fills the whole frame, the
music, narration, and camera work conspire to create that one
goose-bump moment. In video, choreography, not composition, is the
Objects, statistics, documentary photographs, labels, lighting,
text and headlines, color, space, and place—these are the materials
of exhibition design. The designer's problem is how to frame these
materials with a storyline that engages and informs an audience and
makes the story come alive. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum
provides an example of how exhibition designers solve such a
The museum at Ellis Island honors the many thousand of
immigrants who passed through this processing center on their way
to becoming United States citizens. It also underscores our
diversity as a nation. The story is told from two perspectives: the
personal quest for a better life, which focuses on individuals and
families, and the mass migration itself, a story of epic
Tom Geismar wanted to evoke a strong sense of the people who
moved through the spaces of Ellis Island. In the entry to the
baggage room, he used space as a dramatic device to ignite the
viewer's curiosity. Using a coarse screen like that used in old
newspapers, Geismar enlarged old photographs to life size and then
mounted these transparent images on glass. The result is an open
space in which ghostly people from the past seem to appear.
The problem of how to dramatize statistical information was
another challenge. The exhibit Where We Came From: Sources of
Immigration uses three-dimensional bar charts to show the
number of people coming from various continents in twenty-year
intervals; the height of the vertical element signals volume.
The Peopling of America, a thematic flag of one thousand
faces, shows Americans today. The faces are mounted on two sides of
a prism; the third side of the prism is an American flag. This
striking design becomes a focal point for the visitor and is
retained as a powerful memory.
Exhibit design creates a story in space. Designers who work in
this field tend to enjoy complexity and are skilled in composition
and visual framing, model making, and the use of diagrams,
graphics, and maps.
Even as an adolescent, I was interested in “applied art.” I
was attracted to the combination of “art” (drawing, painting, etc.)
and its practical application. While there was no established
profession at the time (or certainly none that I knew of), my eyes
were opened by the Friend-Heftner book Graphic Design and my
taste more fully formed under a group of talented teachers in
graduate school. I still enjoy the challenge of problem solving.
As people become more mobile-exploring different countries, cities,
sites, and buildings—complex signage design helps them locate their
destinations and work out a travel plan. One large and multifaceted
tourist attraction that recently revamped its signage design is the
world-famous Louvre Museum, in Paris, France. In addition to the
complexity of the building and its art collection, language and
cultural differences proved to be fundamental design problems in
developing a signage system for the Louvre.
Carbone Smolan Associates was invited to compete for this
project sponsored by the French government. In his proposal, Ken
Carbone emphasized his team's credentials, their philosophy
regarding signage projects, and their conceptual approach to
working on complex projects. Carbone Smolan Associates won the
commission because they were sensitive to French culture, they were
the only competitor to ask questions, and their proposal was unique
in developing scenarios for how museum visitors would actually use
the signage system.
The seventeenth-century Louvre, with its strikingly modern
metal-and-glass entryway designed in the 1980s, presented a visual
contrast of classicism and modernity. Should the signage harmonize
with the past or emphasize the present? The design solution
combines Granjon, a seventeenth-century French typeface, with
The signage design also had to address an internal navigational
problem: how would visitors find their way through the various
buildings? To add to the potential confusion, art collections are
often moved around within the museum. The designers came up with an
innovative plan: they created “neighborhoods” within the Louvre,
neighborhoods that remained the same regardless of the collection
currently in place. The signage identified the specific
neighborhoods; the design elements of a printed guide (available in
five languages) related each neighborhood to a particular Louvre
environment. It's clear that signage designers need skills in
design systems and planning as well as in diagramming and model
Design simply provided the broadest range of creative
opportunities. It also appealed to my personal interest in two- and
three-dimensional work including everything from a simple poster to
a major exhibit. -Ken Carbone
Packaging performs many functions: it protects, stores, displays,
announces a product's identity, promotes, and sometimes instructs.
But today, given increased environmental concern and
waste-recycling needs, packaging has come under scrutiny. The
functions packaging has traditionally performed remain; what is
needed now is environmentally responsive design. Fitch Richardson
Smith developed just such a design-really an “un-packaging”
strategy-for the Gardenia line of watering products.
A less-is-more strategy was ideally suited to capture the
loyalty of an environmentally aware consumer-a gardener. The
designers' approach was to eliminate individual product packaging
by using sturdy, corrugated, precut shipping bins as
point-of-purchase displays. Hangtags on individual products were
designed to answer the customer's questions at point-of-sale and to
be saved for use-and-care instructions at home. This approach cut
costs and reduced environmental impact in both manufacturing and
consumption. What's more, Gardena discovered that customers liked
being able to touch and hold the products before purchase.
Retailers report that this merchandising system reduces space
needs, permits tailoring of the product assortment, and minimizes
the burden on the sales staff. A modular system, it is expandable
and adaptable and can be presented freestanding or on shelves or
pegboards. The graphics are clear, bright, and logical, reinforcing
the systematic approach to merchandising and information design.
Contemporary environmental values are clearly expressed in this
packaging solution. The product connects with consumers who care
about their gardens, and the packaging-design solution relates to
their concern about the Earth.
Package designers tend to have a strong background in
three-dimensional design, design and product management, and design
Environmental graphics establish a particular sense of place
through the use of two- and three-dimensional forms, graphics, and
signage. The 1984 Olympics is an interesting example of a project
requiring this kind of design treatment. The different
communication needs of the various Olympics participants—athletes,
officials, spectators, support crews, and television
viewers—together with the project's brief use, combined to create
an environmental-design problem of daunting dimension and
In the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the focus was on how a
multicultural American city could embrace and international event.
Arrangements were basic and low-budget. Events, planned to be
cost-conscious and inclusive, were integrated into Los Angeles
rather than isolated from it. Old athletic stadiums were
retrofitted rather than replaced with new ones. These ideas and
values, as well as the celebratory, international nature of the
Olympics, needed to be expressed in its environmental design.
One of the most important considerations was to design a visual
system that would provide identity and unity for individual events
that were scattered throughout an existing urban environment.
Through the use of color and light, the visual system highlighted
the geographic and climatic connection between Los Angeles and the
Mediterranean environment of the original Greek Games. The graphics
expressed celebration, while the three-dimensional physical forms
were a kind of “instant architecture”—sonotubes, scaffolding, and
existing surfaces were signed and painted with the visual system.
The clarity and exuberance of the system brought the pieces
together in a cohesive, immediately recognizable way.
Under the direction of Sussman/Prejza, the design took form in
workshops and warehouses all over the city. Logistics—the physical
scope of the design and the time required for its development and
installation—demanded that the designers exhibit not only skill
with images, symbols, signs, and model making but also considerable
Strategic design planners are interested in the big picture. They
help clients create innovation throughout an industry rather than
in one individually designed object or communication. First, the
strategic design planners develop a point of view about what the
client needs to do. Then they orchestrate the use of a wide variety
of design specialties. The end result integrates these specialties
into an entire vision for the client and the customer. This
approach unites business goals, such as customer satisfaction of
increasing market share, with specific design performance.
The scope of strategic design planning is illustrated by one
Doblin Group project. Customer satisfaction was the goal of the
Amoco Customer-Driven Facility. Larry Keeley, a strategic design
planner at the Doblin Group, relates that “the idea was to
reconceive the nature of the gas station. And like many design
programs, this one began with a rough sketch that suggested how gas
stations might function very differently.” The design team needed
to go beyond giving Amoco a different “look.” They needed to
consider customer behavior, the quality of the job for employees,
the kinds of fuel the car of the future might use, and thousands of
other details. Everything was to be built around the convenience
and comfort of customers.
Keeley and his team collaborated with other design and
engineering firms to analyze, prototype, and pilot-test the design.
The specific outcomes of the project include developments that are
not often associated with graphic design. For example, the project
developed new construction materials as well as station-operation
methods that are better for the environment and the customer. A gas
nozzle that integrated the display of dispensed gas with a
fume-containment system was also developed. This system was
designed to be particularly user-friendly to handicapped or elderly
customers. For Amoco itself, software-planning tools were developed
to help the company decide where to put gas stations so that they
become good neighbors. These new kinds of gas stations are now in
operation and are a success.
Creating a visual system is like designing a game. You need to ask:
What is the purpose? What are the key elements and relationships?
What are the rules? And where are the opportunities for surprise?
With over 350 national parks and millions of visitors, the United
States National Park Service (NPS) needed a publication system to
help visitors orient themselves no matter which park they were in,
to understand the geological or historical significance of the
park, and to better access its recreational opportunities. The
parts of the system had to work individually and as a whole.
Systems design involves considerations of user needs,
communication consistency, design processes, production
requirements, and economies of scale, including the standardization
of sizes. Rather than examining and designing an isolated piece,
the designer of a system considers the whole, abstracting its
requirements and essential elements to form a kind of game plan for
the creation of its parts. When Massimo Vignelli was hired to work
with the NPS design staff, they agreed on a publication system with
six elements: a limited set of formats; full-sheet presentations;
park names used as logotypes; horizontal organization for text,
maps, and images; standardized, open, asymmetric typographic
layout; and a master grid to coordinate design with printing. The
system supports simple, bold graphics like Liberty or
detailed information like Shenandoah Park, with its relief
map, text, and photographs.
A well-conceived system is not a straightjacket; it leaves room
for imaginative solutions. It releases the designer from solving
the same problem again and again and directs creative energy to the
unique aspects of a communication. To remain vital and current, the
system must anticipate problems and opportunities. Designers
working in this area need design-planning skills as well as
creativity with text, images, symbols, signs, diagrams, graphs, and
Educational publishing isn't just textbooks anymore. Traditional
materials are now joined by a number of new options. Because
children and teenagers grow up with television and computers, they
are accustomed to interactive experiences. This, plus the fact that
students learn best in different ways—some by eye and some by
ear—makes educational publishing an important challenge for
Ligature believes that combining visual and verbal learning
components in a cooperative, creative environment is or paramount
importance in developing educational materials. Ligature uses
considerate instructional design, incorporating fine art,
illustrations, and diagrams, to produce educational products that
are engaging, substantive, relevant, and effective.
A Ligature project for a middle school language arts curriculum
presents twelve thematic units in multiple ways: as a full-color
magazine, a paperback anthology, an audiotape, several videotapes,
a language arts survival guide giving instruction on writing,
software, fine art transparencies, and a teacher's guide containing
suggestions for integrating these materials. These rich learning
resources encourage creativity on the part of both teachers and
students and allow a more interactive approach to learning.
Middle school students are in transition from child to adult.
The central design issue was to create materials that look youthful
but not childish, that are fresh, fun, and lively, yet look “grown
up.” The anthology has few illustrations and looks very adult,
while the magazine uses type and many lively images as design
In educational publishing, multidisciplinary creative teams use
prototype testing to explore new ideas. Materials are also
field-tested on teachers and students. Designers going into
instructional systems development need to be interested in
information, communication, planning, and teamwork.
What makes you pick up a particular magazine? What do you look at
first? What keeps you turning the pages? In general, your answers
probably involve some combinations of content (text) and design
(images, typography, and other graphic elements). Magazine
designers ask those same questions for every issue they work on;
then they try to imagine the answers of their own particular
audience-their slice of the magazine market.
At Rolling Stone, designers work in conjunction with the
art director, editors, and photo editors to add a “visual voice” to
the text. They think carefully about their audience and use a
variety of images and typefaces to keep readers interested. “We try
to pull the reader in with unique and lively opening pages and
follow through with turnpages that have a good balance of photos
and pullquotes to keep the reader interested,” says deputy art
director Gail Anderson. Designers also select typefaces that
suggest the appropriate mood for each story.
The designers work on their features from conception to
execution, consulting with editors to help determine the amount of
space that each story needs. They also work with the copy and
production departments on text changes, letterspacing, type, and
the sizing of art. At the beginning of the two-week cycle,
designers start with printouts of feature stories. They select
photographs and design a headline. Over the course of the next two
to three days, they design the layouts. At the same time, each
Rolling Stone designer is responsible for one or more of the
magazine's departments and lays out those pages as well. Eventually
both editors and designers sign off on various stages of the
production process and examine final proofs.
Anderson is excited about how the new technology has changed the
role of magazine designers. “We now have the freedom to set and
design type ourselves, to experiment with color and see the results
instantly, and to work in what feels like 3-D. The designer's role
has certainly expanded, and I think it is taken more seriously than
it was even a few years ago.” Magazine designers should enjoy
working with both type and images, be attuned to content concerns
and able to work well with editors, have technological expertise,
and be able to tolerate tight deadlines.
Drawing—deciding what is significant detail, what can be suggested,
and what needs dramatic development—is a skill that all designers
need in order to develop their own ideas and share them with
others. Many designers use drawing as the core of their work.
Milton Glaser is such a designer.
Keeping a creative edge and searching for new opportunities for
visual development are important aspects of a lively design
practice. When Glaser felt an urge to expand his drawing vocabulary
and to do more personally satisfying work, he found himself
attracted to the impressionist artist Claude Monet. Glaser liked
the way Monet looked: his physical characteristics expressed
something familiar and yet mysterious. Additionally, Monet's visual
vocabulary was foreign to Glaser whose work is more linear and
graphic. While many designers would be intimidated by Monet's
stature in the art world, Glaser was not because he was consciously
seeking an opportunity for visual growth. In a sense, Glaser's
drawings of Monet were a lark-an invention done lightly.
Glaser worked directly from nature, from photographs, and from
memory in order to open himself to new possibilities. The drawings,
forty-eight in all, were done over a year and a half and then were
shown in a gallery in Milan. They became the catalog for a local
printer who wanted to demonstrate his color fidelity and excellence
in flexibility of vision: the selection of detail, the balancing of
light and shadow, and the varying treatments of figure and
Drawing is a rich and immediate way to represent the world, but
drawing can also illustrate ideas in partnership with design.
Creating the key graphic element that identifies a product or
service and separates it from its competitors is a challenging
design problem. The identity needs to be clear and memorable. It
should be adaptable to extreme changes in scale, from a matchbox to
a large illuminated sign. And it must embody the character and
quality of what it identifies. This capturing of an intangible is
an important feature of identity design, but it is also a subtle
Hotel Hankyu International is the flagship hotel for the Hankyu
Corporation, a huge, diversified Japanese company. It is relatively
small for a luxury hotel, with only six floors of accommodations.
The client wanted to establish the hotel as an international hotel,
rather than a Japanese hotel. In Japan, “international” mean
European or American. Consequently, the client did not look to
Japanese designers, but they hired Pentagram-with the understanding
that the hotel's emblem would be a flower, since flowers are
universally associated with pleasure.
The identity was commissioned first, before other visual
decisions (such as those about the interior architecture) were
made. Here the graphic designer could set the visual agenda. Rather
than one flower, six flowers were designed as the identity, one for
each floor. To differentiate itself in its market, this small
luxury hotel benefited from an extravagant design. Each flower is
made up of four lines that emerge from the base of a square. The
flowers are reminiscent of the 1920s Art Deco period, which suggest
sophistication and world travel. Color and related typefaces link
the flowers. One typeface is a custom-designed, slim Roman alphabet
with proportions similar to those of the flowers. The other
consists of Japanese characters and was designed by a Japanese
The identity appears on signage, room folder, stationery,
packaging, and other hotel amenities. It is clear and memorable and
conveys a sense of luxury. Designers working with identity design
need to be skilled manipulators of visual abstraction, letterforms,
and design systems.
Systems design seeks to unify and coordinate all aspects of a
complex communication. It strives to achieve consistent verbal and
visual treatment and to reduce production time and cost. Systems
design requires a careful problem-solving approach to handling
Caterpillar Inc. is a worldwide heavy-equipment and engine
manufacturer. Its most visible and highly used document is the
Specalog, a product-information book containing
specifications, sales and marketing information, and a
competitive-product reference list. A Specalog is produced
for each of fifty different product types into twenty-six
languages. The catalog output totals seventy million pages
annually. Before Siegel & Gale took on Specalog, no
formal guidelines existed, so the pages took too much time to
create and were inconsistent with Caterpillar's literature strategy
and corporate image.
Bringing systematic order and clarity to this mountain of
information was Siegel & Gale's task. First they asked
questions: What do customers and dealers need to know? What do the
information producers (Caterpillar's product units) want? An
analysis of existing Specalogs revealed problems with both
verbal and visual language: there was no clear organization for
content; language was generic; product images were taken from too
great a distance; and specifications charts lacked typographic
clarity. The brochures of Caterpillar's competitors were also
analyzed so as not to miss opportunities to make Specalog
distinctive. These activities resulted in a clear set of design
A working prototype was tested with customers and dealers.
Following revisions, the new design was implemented worldwide. Its
significant features include an easy-to-use template system
compatible with existing Macintosh computers (thus allowing for
local-market customization), a thirty-percent saving in production
time and cost, and increased approval by both customers and
dealers. Achieving standardization while encouraging customization
is a strategy in many large international organizations. Designers
involved with projects like this study information design, design
planning, and evaluation techniques.
Designers are problem solvers who create solutions regardless
of the medium. But, designers create within the confines of
reality. The challenge is to push the limits of reality to achieve
the most effective solution. -Lorena Cummings
Whether they are large or small, corporations need to remind their
public who they are, what they are doing, and how well they are
doing it. Even the venerable Wall Street banking firm of J.P.
Morgan needs to assert itself so the public remembers its existence
and service. Corporate communications serve this function, and the
design of these messages goes a long way toward establishing
Usually corporate communications include identity programs and
annual reports, but there are also other opportunities to
communicate the corporate message. Since 1918, J.P. Morgan has
published a unique guide that keeps up with the changing world of
commerce and travel. The World Holiday and Time Guide covers
over two hundred countries, and keeps the traveler current with
twenty-four time zones. In the Guide, the international
businessperson can find easy-to-read tables and charts giving the
banking hours as well as opening and closing business times for
weekdays and holidays. Specific cultural holidays, such as Human
Rights Day (December 10) in Namibia and National Tree Planting Day
(March 23) in Lesotho are included. The seventy-five-year history
of the Guide is also an informal chronicle of world change.
It has described the rise and decline of Communism and the
liberation of colonial Africa and Asia; today it keeps up with the
recent territorial changes in Europe. The covers of the Guide
invite the user to celebrate travel and cultural diversity; the
interior format is a model of clarity sand convenience.
In-house design groups have two functions: they provide a design
service for their company and they maintain the corporate image.
Because projects are often annual, responsibility for them moves
around the design group, helping to sustain creativity and to
generate a fresh approach to communication. Consequently, the
Guide is the work of several designers. To work in corporate
communications, designers need skills relating to typography,
information design, and print design.
My early exposure to a design studio made me aware of the
design profession as an opportunity to apply analytical abilities
to an interest in the fine arts. Graduate design programs made it
possible for me to delve more deeply into the aspects of design I
found personally interesting. Since then, the nature of the design
profession, which constantly draws the designer into a wide range
of subjects and problems, has continued to interest me in each new
project. It's been this opportunity to satisfy personal interests
while earning a living that ha made design my long-term career
choice. -Won Chung
Just as profit-oriented corporations need to present a carefully
defined visual identity to their public, so must a nonprofit
organization like the Walker Art Center. Even with limited
resources, this museum uses graphic designers to present its best
face to the public.
For twenty years the Walker Art Center presented itself in a
quiet, restrained, and neutral manner. It was a model of
contemporary corporate graphics. But times change, and like many
American museums, the Walker is now taking another look at its role
in society. The questions the Walker is considering include: What
kind of museum is this? Who is its audience? How does the museum
tell its story to its audience? What should its visual identity and
publications look like? Identity builds expectation. Does the
identity established by the museum's communications really support
the programs the Walker offers?
The stock-in-trade of the Walker Art Center includes exhibitions
and the performing arts for audiences ranging from children to
scholars, educational programs, and avant-garde programming in film
and video. As the museum's programming becomes even more varied,
the old “corporate” identity represented by a clean, utilitarian
design no longer seems appropriate. To better represent the
expanded range of art and audience at the museum, The Design
Studio, an internal laboratory for design experimentation at the
Walker, is purposely blurring aspect of high and low culture and
using more experimental typefaces and more eclectic communication
approaches. Posters, catalogs, invitations to exhibitions, and
mailers for film and performing art programs often have independent
design and typographic approaches, while the calendar and members'
magazine provide a continuity of design.
Publication design, symbol and identity systems, and type and
image relationships are among the areas of expertise necessary for
in-house museum designers.
I like the way words look, the way ideas can become things. I
like the social, activist, practical, and aesthetic aspects of
design. -Laurie Haycock Makela
How do you get around in an unfamiliar city? What if the language
is completely different from English? What kind of guidebook can
help you bridge the communication gap? Access Tokyo is a
successful travel guide to one of the most complex cities in the
world. It is also an example of information design, the goal of
which is clarity and usefulness.
Richard Wurman began the Tokyo project as an innocent, without
previous experience in that city. His challenge was to see if he
could understand enough about Tokyo to make major decisions about
what to include in a guidebook. He also needed to develop useful
instruction to help the English-speaking tourist get around.
Ignorance (lack of information) and intelligence (knowing how to
find that information) led him to ask the questions that brought
insight and order to his project. Using his skill in information
and book design, the designer used his own experience as a visitor
to translate the experience of Tokyo for others.
Access Tokyo presents the historical, geographical, and
cultural qualities that make Tokyo unique, as well as resources and
locations for the outsider. Maps are a particular challenge since
they require reducing information to its essential structure. The
map for the Yamanote Line, a subway that rings Tokyo, is clear and
memorable. The guide is bilingual because of the language gap
between English with it Roman alphabet and Japanese with its
ideographic signs. The traveler can read facts of interest in
English but can also show the Japanese translation to a cab
Wurman also wanted to get the cultural viewpoint across. To this
end, he asked Japanese architects, painters, and designers to
contribute graphics to the project. The colorful tangram (a puzzle
made by cutting a square of paper into five triangles, a square,
and a rhomboid) is abstract in a very Japanese way. Access
Tokyo bridges the culture chasm as well as the information
“One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business
enterprise?” This dictionary definition of the word
entrepreneur is a bland description of a very interesting
possibility in design. A design entrepreneur extends the general
definition: he or she must have a particular vision of an object
and its market. While many designers believe they could be their
own best client, few act on this notion. Tibor Kalman of M&Co.
acted: he was a design entrepreneur.
Kalman's firm, M&Co, was not without clients in the usual
sense. Their innovative graphics for the Talking Heads music video
“(Nothing but) Flowers” demonstrates that creativity and even fun
are possible in traditional design work for clients. But somehow
this wasn't enough for Kalman. He was frustrated with doing the
packaging, advertising, and promotion for things he often viewed
critically. He wanted to do the “real thing,” the object
Kalman started with a traditional object, a wristwatch. He then
applied his own particular sense of humor and elegant restraint to
the “ordinary” watch in order to examine formal ideas about time.
The Pie watch gives only a segment, or slice, of time, while
the Ten One 4 wristwatch is such a masterpiece of
understatement that it is in the permanent design collection of the
Museum of Modern Art. Other variations include Romeo (with
Roman numeral rather that Arabic ones), Straphanger (with
the face rotated ninety degrees to accommodate easy reading on the
subway), and Bug (with bugs substituted for the usual
numerals). These few examples give a sense of the wry humor that
transforms an ordinary object into a unique personal pleasure.
Entrepreneurial design requires creativity and business savvy
along with design and project-management skills. Of course, an
innovative concept is also a necessity. Vision and risk-taking are
important attributes for the design entrepreneur.
I became a designer by accident; it was less boring than
working in a store. I do have some regrets, however, as I would
prefer to be in control of content rather form. -Tibor
If you are a take-charge person with vision, creativity, and
communication and organizational skills, becoming a design
executive might be a good long-term career goal. Obviously, no one
starts out with this job; it takes years to grow into it. A brief
review of Robert Blaich's career can illustrate what being a design
executive is all about.
Educated as an architect, Blaich became involved with marketing
when he joined Herman Miller, a major American furniture maker.
Then he assumed a product-planning role and began to consciously
build design talent for the organization. By the time he was vice
president of design and communication, Blaich was running Herman
Miller's entire design program (including communication, product,
and architectural design). In a sense, he was their total
In 1980 Blaich came to Philips Electronics N.V., an
international manufacturer of entertainment and information
systems. Located in the Netherlands, Philips is the world's
twenty-eighth largest corporation and was seen by many Americans as
a stodgy foreign giant. The president of Philips asked Blaich to
take the corporation in new directions. By the time Blaich left in
1992, design was a strategic part of Philips's operation and its
dull image was reinvigorated and unified. What's more, the
corporation now saw its key functions as research, design,
manufacturing, marketing, and human resources-in that order.
Design's number-two position reflected a new understanding of its
importance. Today, as president of Blaich Associates, Blaich is a
consultant for Philips and responsible for corporate identity and
for strategic notions of design.
Just what do corporate design executives do? They look at design
from a business point of view, critique work, support new ideas,
foster creativity and collaboration, bring in new talent, and
develop new design capabilities. They are design activists in a
The best teaching is about learning, exploring, and making
connections. Teachers in professional programs are almost never
exclusively educators; they also practice design. Sheila Levrant de
Bretteville is a case in point. She is a professor of graphic
design at Yale University and owner of The Sheila Studio. Both her
teaching and design are geared toward hopeful and inspiring
Looking at a student assignment and at one of de Bretteville's
own design projects illuminates the interplay of teaching and
practice. De Bretteville saw the windows of abandoned stores in New
Haven as an opportunity to communicate across class and color
lines. She chose the theme of “grandparents,” which formed a
connection between her Yale students and people of the community.
The windows became large poster that told stories of grandparents
as immigrants, as labor leaders, as the very aged, and more. The
project gave students the opportunity to explore the requirements
of space, materials, and information.
De Bretteville's project, Biddy Mason: Time and Place, is
an example of environmental-design. Located in Los Angeles, it
explores the nine decades of Biddy Mason's life: as a slave prior
to her arrival in California and as a free woman in Los Angeles
where she later lived and worked and founded the AME church. “I
wanted to celebrate this woman's perseverance and generosity,” says
de Bretteville. “Now everyone who comes to this place will know
about her and the city that benefited from her presence here.” A
designed tactile environment, which included the imperfections in
the slate and concrete wall, required working with processes and
materials that were often unpredictable-like the struggles Biddy
faced in her life.
Biddy Mason and the grandparent windows connect design
practice and teaching as de Bretteville encourages her students to
use their knowledge, skills, and passion to connect to the
community through design.
Graphic Design: A Career Guide and Education Directory
Edited by Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl
The American Institute of Graphic Arts
Suppose you want to announce or sell something, amuse or
persuade someone, explain a complicated system or demonstrate a
process. In other words, you have a message you want to
communicate. How do you “send” it?
Section: Tools and Resources -
There are probably as many kinds of designers as there are kinds of
design, so how do you know whether a career in design might be
right for you?
Tips for design students on finding the first job.
Section: Tools and Resources -
There are a lot of designers out there applying for the same job. In this guest post for AIGA Houston, Savage Art Director Ashley Rundall explains why it’s important for every designer to find out what makes you unique and better at your job than the next
guy, then sell them in the interview.
Section: Tools and Resources
Antionette Carroll of AIGA St. Louis, the chair of AIGA's Diversity and Inclusion task force, shares some background on the problem of diversity in design, why it matters, and what this program hopes to achieve.
Section: Tools and Resources -
Design for Good, K-12, advocacy, diversity, social responsibility
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