Designers at work

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 effectively.

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 here 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

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 revolution.

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 Greiman

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Multimedia design

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.

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Type design

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 Twombly

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Film title design

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 narrative.”

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Television graphics

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 essential skill.”

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Exhibit design

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 problem.

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 proportions.

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. -Tom Geismar

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Signage design

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 contemporary graphics.

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 making.

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

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Package design

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 systems.

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Environmental 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 complexity.

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 design-planning expertise.

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Design planning

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.

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Publication systems

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 maps.

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Educational design

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 design.

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 elements.

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.

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Magazine design

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.

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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 background.

Drawing is a rich and immediate way to represent the world, but drawing can also illustrate ideas in partnership with design.

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Identity 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 talent.

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 firm.

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.

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Systems design

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 complexity.

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 goals.

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

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Corporate communication

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 company image.

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

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Nonprofit design

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

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Information design

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 driver.

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 gap.

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Design entrepreneur

“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 itself.

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 Kalman

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Corporate executive

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 designer.

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 corporate setting.

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Professor of design

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 action.

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.

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Graphic Design: A Career Guide and Education Directory
Edited by Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl
Copyright 1993
The American Institute of Graphic Arts

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About the Author: Juliette Cezzar is a designer, writer, and Assistant Professor of Communication Design at the New School’s Parsons School of Design, where she was the Director of the BFA Communication Design and BFA Design & Technology programs from 2011–2014. She served as President of the board of directors of AIGA/NY from 2014–2016. She is the co-author, with Sue Apfelbaum, of Designing the Editorial Experience, and the author of five other books, the latest of which is The AIGA Guide to Careers in Graphic and Communication Design.