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During the early part of her career Gail Anderson was seen but
not much heard, which doesn't mean she wasn't outspoken. In fact,
typographically speaking she was incredibly eloquent. At Rolling
Stone magazine, where she held numerous positions from
1987–2002, starting as an associate and becoming senior art
director, Anderson lent her flair to much of the conceptual
typography that defined the magazine's feature pages. She
appreciably contributed to the widespread eclectic typographic
fashion that prevailed throughout the 1990s but never fell into a
style trap. For much of her tenure at Rolling Stone, working
with art director (and AIGA Medalist) Fred Woodward, she fine-tuned
her typographic expressionism in a cramped office filled floor to
ceiling with all kinds of stimulating scraps, devising quirky
letterforms out of traditional and untraditional materials, from
hot metal and wood type to twigs and bottle caps. From this
typographic wellspring came an ever-expanding vocabulary of signs
and symbols, methods and mannerisms that, in turn, influenced a
slew of designers who followed (and at times copied) her graphic
eccentricities. After Rolling Stone she joined SpotCo, one
of the largest entertainment design agencies in New York, where she
is now creative director of design, and for half a dozen years her
poster designs for scores of Broadway and off-Broadway plays have
illuminated bus shelters, subway stations and billboards.
A lifelong New Yorker, Anderson embodies three virtues:
inspiring art director, inspired designer and inspirational
teacher. Despite being deceptively low key, she does everything
with intense passion. Her extreme devotion to craft (she often
frets for ages over the minutest typographic detail) combined with
an unceasing, though always natural, pursuit of whimsy
distinguishes her brand of quirkiness from the larger pack of
knee-jerk quirks. While some might choose to call her method retro,
the work defies stylistic pigeonholing. She revels in making
typography from old and new forms, which is neither modernist nor
post-modernist, but rather spot-on contemporaneous. During the
early digital '90s when typography was alternately under- and
over-adorned, Anderson exacted the right balance with compositions
that were elegant yet muscular, and, more importantly, surprising
and delightful. “Her significant contribution to design,” says Drew
Hodges, her former classmate and current employer as founder and
president of SpotCo, “is a belief in the tradition of typography
and a joy in using it in a contemporary vernacular.”
Anderson developed her approach while studying at the School of
Visual Arts in New York under Paula Scher. But growing up, she
recalls, “I used to make little Jackson Five and Partridge Family
magazines. I wondered who designed Spec, 16 and
Tiger Beat in real life, and as I got older, I began to
research what was then called 'commercial art.'”
Anderson's first job post-college was a brief stint at Vintage
Books in 1984, followed by two years at The Boston Globe Sunday
Magazine, from 1985–1987. Under art director Ronn Campisi, the
Globe was at the vanguard of new newspaper design. She
worked on the magazine with Lynn Staley and Lucy Bartholomay.
Meanwhile, Campisi was an early proponent of typographic
eclecticism, which stirred together Victorian, Deco and Futurist
typographies in a contemporary stew.
Working with Woodward at Rolling Stone was a
hand-in-glove experience—they knew each other about as well as two
people could. “Music always set the tone, and he was into low
lighting, so the design room felt sort of cozy,” Anderson recalls.
“And he'd just howl with glee when we 'got it' and it was a winner.
He could really get you jazzed about the process, even when it was
difficult.” Anderson's own typographic proclivities were ultimately
well suited to Rolling Stone, where she designed what might
best be called “theatrical typography.”
Like actors on a stage Anderson directed letterforms to perform
dramatic and comic feats. In just two dimensions they emoted,
expressed and exuded energy that projected them off the page. It is
no surprise that the class she now teaches in the School of Visual
Arts' MFA Designer as Author program is about choreographing
typefaces, making them dance to the beats and rhythms of popular
and alternative music.
Anderson has a special gift for assigning illustration and has
been a stalwart advocate of illustrators, both upcoming and
established. “With her keen eye for fresh talent, she nurtured a
whole generation of illustrators, while staying loyal to the greats
as well,” says Woodward.
The most difficult time in her career came in 2002, after her
move to SpotCo, when negotiating the transition from editorial
design to advertising. “You approach each project searching for a
dozen great ideas, not just one or two,” Anderson explains of how
her work competes for the attention (and dollars) of theatergoers.
“After about seven designs, you realize there really are infinite
ways to look at a problem. I now completely enjoy the process,
though I'm keenly aware that all but one of those dozen great ideas
will eventually be killed. It's strangely liberating.”
Always looking for that little visual wink or tiny gesture of
extra care, Anderson says, “I'm all about the wood-type bits and
pieces. I love making those crunchy little objects into other
things, like faces.” A fancy border and detailed extras are always
part of her repertoire. “I'd ask the designers I work with to put
them on everything, if I could,” Anderson says, “but I like being
More often than not, however, Anderson admits that even in her
theater posters the ornamentation is peeled off little by little.
“If we've done our job properly, the doodads become part of the
package, and not something in the way that needs to be reduced or
I have worked with Anderson for close to 20 years as a co-author
on various books, only two of which she has also designed. Each
collaboration has been an exceptional treat. In a collaborator it
is the greatest asset for an author to be motivated by design.
Every section—indeed each spread of the books we did that Anderson
designed—was ingenious, if not joyful. The mixture of disparate,
elegantly proportioned faces and ornamental borders and rules—among
her graphic signatures—produced smile-inducing visual experiences
that engage the reader more intimately with the content. In this
sense she is a generous designer who actually cares about her
For its human dimension, the art for The Good Body, the
Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues) show about women and body
image, struck just the right chord with its curvy Isabelle Dervaux
line drawing and two ice-cream scoops for breasts. But Anderson may
be best known for the Avenue Q subway-inspired, puppet-fur
logo, a delightfully witty image that became an indelible brand for
the play. “I'm definitely wittier on paper than in real life,” she
laments. “I think I approach the work looking for a little wink
where I can, because deep down, I hope people associate clever with
smart. Or maybe in the end, I still subscribe to Ronn Campisi's
fish-wrap theory. If I think of it as disposable, I'm less likely
to fear experimenting a little.”
Anderson has been the quintessential collaborator because, as
she notes, “it's more fun to work with other designers and art
directors; I really enjoy the back and forth.” Every now and then,
though, she needs to design alone, “in my office, with
my music on.” She adds, “Most high-octane, solo designing
has to be done at night. I'm trying to change my ways but it's not
Another evolution for this formidable print designer is her
expansion into new media. Fortuitously, her type, which has always
seemed to move, lends itself perfectly to motion. As her lifetime
achievement is being celebrated, we can be sure that Anderson has
yet a lifetime more to achieve.
The distinguished AIGA Medal is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements in the field of design.
Section: Inspiration -
AIGA Medal, design educators, students
When designing for theater, says Gail Anderson, you
never know if the play will be hit and your work will be seen for a long
time, or if the show will get panned and close after a week. Using
SpotCo’s work on 9 to 5 as an example, she illustrates how campaigns
must work as well in print and on the sides of buses as on billboards
and marquees. She also shares why “being lovely” makes her a good
Section: Why Design -
Conference , Gain conference, print design, business
Fred Woodward (2004 AIGA Medalist) is a virtuoso of American publishing design and the creator of Rolling Stone's visual sensibility. In 1996 he was inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame—the youngest inductee to date—and in 2001 became the design director for GQ.
Section: Inspiration -
AIGA Medal, identity design, print design
Recognized as a risk-taker and unstoppable creative force, Bea Feitler was appointed co-art director of the world-renowned Harper's Bazaar magazine at the young age of 25. After 10 years at Bazaar, she went on to a long string of accomplishments, including becoming the first art director of Ms. and being chosen to art direct the revival of the 1930s classic, Vanity Fair. Sadly, at the zenith of her career, cancer took her life at age 44. In 1989, AIGA awarded her with an AIGA Medal for her unique vision, passion and vitality.
Section: Inspiration -
AIGA Medal, Womens Leadership, graphic design, print design
For International Women’s Day this year we decided to touch base with Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, who organized the pivotal Women in Design conference in Los Angeles in 1970, to get her perspective on how far we have (or haven’t) come in the past four decades.
Section: Inspiration -
Womens Leadership, advocacy
Build relationships, bring clarity to your vision, and build enthusiasm by running a Brand Experience Workshop.
Earlier this year, several board committees were formed to ensure that AIGA is launching its second century as a “sound, accountable, focused and relevant organization.” Read the update from two committees that examined the way AIGA is governed and organized, and whether financial practices are adequate for oversight and accountability.
Section: About AIGA -
AIGA Insight, AIGA news, governance
What makes a bad brief? Oh, let us count the ways. Actually, let architects Frank Gehry and David Rockwell, industrial designer Yves Béhar, illustrator and author Maira Kalman, creative executive John Boiler and marketing executive John C. Jay count the ways.
Section: Inspiration -
advertising, design thinking, graphic design, business
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