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Recognized for decades of design that engages the imagination through wit, surprise, intelligence and delight, no matter how complex the story.
Alexander Isley, former president of AIGA New York from 2004 to 2006 and an AIGA Fellow, is one of the ringleaders of a school of visual irony that was
pervasive in late 1980s and early 1990s graphic design. Born at the tail end of the baby boom generation, Isley created work that combined conceptual
hilarity with vernacular styling. His nuanced, comic design mannerisms and typographic acuity create a delightfully snarky attitude that defined graphic
design of the era before digital pyrotechnics stole the stage.
Isley’s discovery of the profession, he claims, was fairly typical “in that no one grows up wanting to be a graphic designer; most of us sort of stumble
upon it.” From an early age, Isley wanted to be an architect, like his father. Nothing was more exciting to him than watching his father drawing a building
and then, a few months later, being able to walk through that same space.
He enrolled at North Carolina State University College of Design to study architecture, but exposure to graphic design was such a cathartic discovery, he
realized it was his destiny. “Graphic design suited my impatient nature,” he explains. “There was no need to collaborate with dozens of associates, no need
to meet with steering committees or zoning boards…. And you didn’t have to wait until you were 60 to hit your creative stride.”
After two years, Isley moved to New York to study at Cooper Union. There, he found his métier and honed his conceptual chops, discovering a humorous
persona along the way. He spent two and a half years at the wellspring of in-your-face irony, M&Co, where just a short time after graduation he became
art director. This positioned him to become art director of the mid-1980s flagship of social and cultural ironic writing and design, Spy magazine.
Following in the footsteps of 2014 AIGA Medalist Stephen Doyle, who created a format for Spy that was being forever mimicked was not easy, but
Isley successfully put his distinct imprimatur on the magazine, which fit nicely with its slyly stinging visual humor.
gave Isley the confidence to start his own studio, in 1988. “I had some savings and no responsibilities” (and no clients or employees), he recalls, “but I
figured the time was right.” In 1995 he moved Alexander Isley Inc. from New York City to the Georgetown section of Redding, Connecticut. The office is
located in an 1880s building that once housed the area’s general store: “Where once there were pickle barrels there are now CPUs, but other than that most
of the old character remains.”
Isley’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress. It has been honored by the Society
for Experiential Graphic Design, the American Institute of Architects, the Society of Publication Designers and the Webby Awards, among others.
His approach to typography and design might be considered postmodern in its rejection of modern rules, but rather than replace design ideology with more
ideology, Isley injected an easygoing yet insightful personality into work that both conformed to and transcended dominant style. His light, sometimes
idiosyncratic touch was well suited for audiences that enjoyed eclecticism rather than formulaic formalism.
Isley’s work is of its time but not a slave to the moment. His career is one of regular renewal and keen introspection. On the 25th anniversary of starting
his own studio, Isley admitted that he thinks he’s good “in demystifying the design process for clients” and knows he’s bad “in taking on too much work we
shouldn’t do because I just like to create things.” Not a bad burden, all things considered.
Alexander Isley will be presented with the AIGA Medal at The AIGA Centennial Gala on April 25, 2014, in New York City.
AIGA’s design community will gather in New York City for “The AIGA Centennial Gala,” a celebration honoring the 2014 AIGA Medalists and supporting national design initiatives.
The distinguished AIGA Medal is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements in the field of design.
Section: Inspiration -
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, a local design studio sought to make sense of the chaotic sequence of events. Using iconography to tell the story, here is the book they created: 102 Hours.
Section: Inspiration -
book design, communication design, Design for Good, social issues
What's so compelling about exoticism in the midst of global standards? Currie shows how the Museum of Natural History captivates us with different differences instead of standard sameness.
Section: Inspiration -
design thinking, Voice, diversity
Over the past few months, AIGA has
engaged members in a process to create and consider options for AIGA’s future. A membership voting process is the culmination of efforts to make AIGA more relevant to the current and
future needs of our members and all designers.
Section: About AIGA -
AIGA Insight, AIGA news
When it comes to design, most companies have at some point found themselves at a crossroads, choosing between doing work in-house or hiring an agency. The more important design becomes to business, the more businesses are inclined to try their hand at developing in-house talent. This presents a challenge for agencies. As the work shifts, how do we shift accordingly? And what would the goals of such a shift entail?
Section: Why Design -
in-house design, digital media, business strategy, partnerships, problem solving, strategy, technology, business plans, new business development, studio management
More at extremebydesignmovie.com
Following students in a Design for Extreme Affordability class at Stanford University's Institute of Design (d.school), this one-hour documentary—first broadcast on PBS in December 2013—confronts the challenges of designing for positive impact in developing countries while revealing the effectiveness of multidisciplinary and empathic design thinking. Through the site, track or arrange local screenings and access design thinking resources for educators and students.
Section: Inspiration -
design thinking, Design for Good, college, graduate, K-12
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