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DESIGN IS PLAY

1 JULY, 2013

In Memorium: Irving Oaklander, 1924–2012

(left) Irving Oaklander, proprietor of Oaklander Books in New York City, on December 23, 2010. Irving holds a rare copy of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1923 book For the Voice (Dlia Golosa) which was designed by El Lissitsky. (right) Angie holds a page of For the Voice up to the light to reveal the compositional correspondence between pages 17 and 18.

Irving was curious and notably generous—two qualities that made him a natural teacher. (Not surprisingly, Irving taught in New York City’s public schools for many years before opening Oaklander Books.) Angie and I were fortunate to spend long hours on two separate occasions in his crowded Chelsea shop poring over his singular collection of design and typography books. Not only did Irving let us handle Mayakovsky’s For the Voice, but also, memorably, one of the Million Mark banknotes designed by Herbert Bayer in 1923.

Although Irving died one year ago this August, Angie and I think of him frequently, especially when Angie brings our type specimens to school to share with her students. Among the letterpress specimen books we bought from Irving are those for Trump-Deutsch (1938) designed by Georg Trump and released by H. Berthold, AG; Ingeborg Antiqua (c. 1909) designed by Professor F.W. Kleukens and released by D. Stempel, AG; and Ehmcke-Mediaeval (1924) designed by F.H. Ehmcke and released by D. Stempel, AG.

(left) A page from the Trump-Deutsch specimen book. (right) the title page from the Ingeborg Antiqua specimen book.

Steven Heller, who also frequented Oaklander Books, wrote a remembrance of Irving for Print Magazine in August of 2012 which can be read here. Swann Galleries in New York auctioned off some of Irving’s rare books in May of 2013, many of which can be seen in the auction catalog. Incidentally, Irving’s copy of For the Voice sold for $7,500. [MF]

24 JUNE, 2013

John Pappas at Play

I am an art director and graphic designer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When I’m done fulfilling my nine-to-five responsibilities I often spend my free time drawing.

In the spring of 2010 I got to know blues and boogie pianist Mark Braun (Mr.B). Our friendship lead to a project that combined Mark’s music and my drawings. Using a Tombow Zoom pen, I drew portraits of sixteen blues and boogie woogie piano legends that had influenced Mark’s playing style and career, some of which he knew personally.

We crafted hinged panels of basswood for each of the bluesmen, a format that wouldn’t need to be framed. To keep the text and images spontaneous and free, no “under drawing” was done. In fact, very little planning or preparation were done before the drawing began.

That can be considered playful, or stupid, depending on one’s perspective. For me, it was probably a reaction to the rigors of my day-to-day art direction and graphic design responsibilities that come with an army of account executives, copywriters, creative directors and clients all pitching in with strategies, objectives, graphic standards, and feedback that can range from the helpful to the puzzling. With this process I simply sat down with some basic reference material and got after as best I could.

Eventually the project came to fruition at Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Concert House in February of 2012. Mark performed and told stories relating to the musicians portrayed on the artwork displayed in the concert house. In addition, the work has been shown at the Antieau Gallery in New Orleans.

John Pappas is a Michigan-based art director and designer. We invited him to share a moment of play with us.

12 NOVEMBER, 2012

Volume at Play

“Play manifests in many forms at Volume, but it’s most liberating when we forget the designer dogma and the ‘how design should be’ voice in our heads to produce work that surprises and scares us. It’s a rare occurrence—there are only so many people brave enough to, say, carve a poster into their chest, and I don’t consider myself one of them—but when it happens, I wonder why we can’t repeat the process for every project.

“In 2009, we were lucky enough create a new campaign and visual system for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). YBCA is an organization that prides itself on bucking the status quo and we thought we were doing the same in our initial design explorations. We certainly avoided the stately, clean patina that characterizes so many art institutions, but none truly had the edge YBCA demanded. We were hung up on what cutting-edge design should look like instead of truly infusing the work with the subversive voice YBCA desired.

“We had one idea, though, that did evoke this renegade spirit—and we almost didn’t show it. Would you share an idea that has a cartoon monster straight out of Sponge Bob Square Pants or Futurama lopping off the upper torso of 1950’s-era astronaut? This was late-night comic relief between our serious, heavy-hitter directions. Better to include it, though, to show YBCA we understood them and were willing to get a little crazy. There’s no way they’d pick this direction, right?

“Well, of course they picked it. They loved it. The idea was so dead-on and engaging to them that it transcended its middling execution. Once we got over the shock of YBCA’s selection and began refining, palpable excitement began to overcome us, too. The project felt a bit dangerous and we were giddily nervous on the eve of its public rollout. Swimming in our heads were past remarks from peers deriding humor as a cheap, lowbrow design tactic. Yet here we were, commissioning goofy drawings of Mao and Mr. T superimposed over banal stock photographs while talking about ‘setting one’s life to vibrate.’ We had absolute confidence that the design captured the essence of YBCA, but we sensed that there would be no middle ground responses—people would either love it or hate it.

“Interestingly, most non-designers we talked to loved it. The YBCA leadership also unapologetically loved it, even if it’s doubtful their whole staff did. (Who are more serious than design types? Art types.) The designer breakdown was fifty-fifty. Only a few disparaged it outright to our faces, but many were conspicuously quiet. The most unexpected praise came from the Apple store employee who sold me an iPhone and, upon seeing my email address and recognizing the domain from our design credit, gushed how the Third Street wall was his new favorite landmark on his walk to work.

“How often does a good cross-section of the public see, let alone care—let alone react—to what we as designers make? That was the real thrill of this project. Play, then, is also sitting outside at the SFMOMA cafe as YBCA’s upstart wall taunts the more august institution across the street. Play is watching my friends’ kids marvel giddily at the outsized illustrations looming over them. Play is a ‘Set Your Life to Vibrate’ banner coincidentally installed right above Good Vibrations on Valencia Street. Really.”

Eric Heiman is a San Francisco designer and educator, and works with his partner Adam Brodsley at Volume, Inc. We invited Eric to share a moment of play with us.

28 MAY, 2012

Yosei Shibata and Shoshi Kanokohata at Play

Your stories determine your life. Integrity defines your stories.

“Deeply moved by this quote, we empathize with it and believe that it is our mission as an artist/designer to send products with a story to the world.

“We handmade 15 bowls of the same design and shipped them to various countries. Our recipient: Yves Klein. An iconic figure in French monochronism, Klein patented the color ‘International Klein Blue’ with which he attempted to visualize the invisible. The bowls sent to Klein, now deceased, traveled to countries such as Turkey, Japan, Egypt, and Brazil. They returned to us as invalid mail. One box came back strewn with rough scribbles, while another came back wrapped over with foreign postal tape. After three months, only six returned. The damaged boxes reflected rough travels across borders. Out of the six bowls, five were broken; only one came back intact.

“Our project utilizes a traditional Japanese technique called Kintsugi. Kitusgi is one of the oldest recycling practices, whereby cracked ceramic objects are pieced together using lacquer and gold. Not only utilized for repair, the addition of gold streaks accentuates the aesthetic value of the object.

“Instead of traditional gold, we used the original ‘International Klein Blue’ pigment to revive the bowls returned to us. The blue cracks and the damaged boxes recount the unique stories of each bowl’s long journey to and from their country.”

Yosei Shibata is a Los Angeles designer and a CCA alumnus. Shoshi Kanokohata is a Los Angeles ceramic artist. We invited them to share a moment of play with us.

6 FEBRUARY, 2012

Bob Aufuldish at Play No. 2

“In 1987 when my wife Kathy Warinner and I moved from Ohio to San Francisco, we took the southern route across the country—it was, after all, February. One evening last November I was curious what the northern route would be so I used Google Maps to follow the freeways across the country as a way of reenacting the trip. In our 1987 trip we tried as much as possible to stay off the interstates so when I was conducting my virtual reenactment I did the same. And I came across a place called Little America in Wyoming. Fascinated, I took a photo of it off my screen and started looking for more interesting places. Solitude, Mt. Olympus, Nixon, and Last Chance followed and I was hooked.

“For the past few years I’ve designed new years announcements for the landscape architects SWA Group and for their 2012 announcement I pitched the idea of evocative place names. These are juxtaposed with landscapes of various kinds—the desert, mountains, agriculture, and the sprawl of cities and suburbs. All photographed off my monitor, visited without leaving my office.

“It was a great project. I even found a place in West Virginia called Bob.”

Bob Aufuldish is a Bay Area designer and educator. We invited him to share another moment of play with us.

28 MARCH, 2011

Greg Clarke at Play

“Each year, I’m asked by editor/designer Monte Beauchamp to create a sequential comic for BLAB, his idiosyncratic paean to the graphically unorthodox. He’s been curating these anthologies more or less every year since 1986, and I’ve had the honor of contributing since 2000. It’s a welcome respite from my usual grind of editorial illustration. I’m given only a general theme and 2–4 pages to write and draw whatever I want. No sketches, no revisions, no committee approvals—just a deadline to deliver finished art.

“This year’s theme is ‘the hereafter.’ I wanted to create a character who is skeptical of the notion of an afterlife, yet amuses himself by imagining he is receiving signs from the dead. The title is Dispatches From Oblivion. This issue of BLAB (newly rechristened BLAB WORLD and now printing in hardcover) will be published this Fall by Last Gasp/San Francisco.”

Greg Clarke is a Southern California illustrator and recovering graphic designer. We invited him to share a moment of play with us.

14 FEBRUARY, 2011

Emily McVarish at Play

A Thousand Several is a letterpress book which I wrote and produced for Granary Books and exhibited at 871 Fine Arts last fall. My plan had been to design A Thousand Several as I went along, printing one element and then responding to that element with a new compositional layer. I had thought this would be a liberating exercise, an alternative to the master planning that books tend to demand, a way to make the most of workshop epiphanies.

“In fact, the process often proved fraught, as I attempted to build a graphic system in the dark. ‘What sort of constraints will I be setting myself if I add this?,’ I kept asking myself, ‘How will the dynamics I’ve established be affected by another component?’ I muddled through, and after a year of printing I had my book. I also had a pile of make-ready sheets and a list of design ideas that had not made it through the gauntlet of unknowns that riddled each stage of A Thousand Several’s production.

“One of those ideas finally led me to play: Using a tabbed die, I cut my make-ready into strips of variable widths that could be combined in more than one way to add up to a standard size. I laid all of the strips out on my work table and set about composing Piece-time, an edition of 50 modular collages. Lifting strips from among hundreds of visible variations, laying them alongside each other, sliding them into different arrangements, I felt like I was playing an instrument. Improvisation came easily. Rhythm more than judgment drove and decided the composition of each print.”

Emily McVarish is a San Francisco writer, designer, book artist, and educator. We invited her to share a moment of play with us.

7 FEBRUARY, 2011

dress code at Play

“Our company began out of a shared love for music. We started by collaborating on screen printed posters and package designs for our friends’ bands in college. These jobs never really paid much, if anything, and were more for the fun of making.

“As our business and client list grew, we sadly had less and less time to devote to these projects. Without this creative outlet though, our other work began to get a bit stale.

“To combat the seriousness of corporate clients we started to create a series of one-color screen printed posters to advertise our lectures. We pay to have them printed out-of-pocket, so we have complete creative control. Without the constraints of client approval, the posters have become a way for us to play and experiment.”

Andre Andreev and Dan Covert are New York designers and CCA alumni. We invited them to share a moment of play with us.

1 NOVEMBER, 2010

Michael Schwab at Play

David Sedaris’ agent called me with a request. Because David has never been comfortable with the publicity photos for his book tours and speaking engagements, he wanted me to create a logo he could use in lieu of a head shot. His concept was clear and succinct: ‘A monkey reading a book.’

“I immediately began studying monkeys—the way they sit, the way they hold objects, their tails, their postures. The David Sedaris Monkey is a simple, bold, graphic icon of which I’m proud. The process was fun and, like a good book, I didn’t want it to end. David likes it, too.”

Michael Schwab is a Bay Area illustrator and designer. We invited him to share a moment of play with us.

25 OCTOBER, 2010

Dennis Crowe at Play

Dennis Crowe’s “Top of the Hour” :20 Spot for MTV (3:00)
The original 1994 spot and the process of making it.

“When I consider the concept of play as it relates to the many projects I have designed throughout my career, one project in particular leaps out: the ‘Top of the Hour’ spot I designed and directed for MTV. Although this project is many years old and long gone from the airwaves, with play as the theme I couldn’t resist dusting this one off from the archives.

“I immediately knew I wanted to use a clock as the central theme and play with the idea of using the numbers on the clock as letterforms to spell out the MTV tag line ‘Plug In.’ I soon realized that by using the M from the MTV logo as the 3 on the clock I could bookend the spot with this visual trick.

“The fact that the spot was going to be broadcast repeatedly every hour on the hour gave me the excuse to overload it with visual activity so that jaded channel surfers would not get bored with multiple viewings. It became an opportunity to play with the collective attention span of a generation.

“Inspired by the dark, dreamlike, imaginative art of Mark Ryden and with trademark ‘blendo’ animation style in mind, I developed the storyboards. With the support of the fantastic production, animation, and technical crew at Colossal, we combined replacement animation, stop motion animation, live action, and archival footage into a frenetically paced explosion of imagery. Colossal Pictures’ Jenny Head, the world-class producer, made sure that I got everything I wanted including a circus performer, a rocket ship, and live animals. It took us 60 days to craft the :20 spot. I never played so hard at work in my life.”

Director: Dennis Crowe; Production Company: Colossal Pictures; Producer: Jenny Head; Technical Director: Peter Williams; Animator: Trey Thomas; Director of Photography: Don Smith; Set Design Elements: John Pappas; Set Production: Jamie Hyneman.

Dennis Crowe is a Bay Area designer and educator. We invited him to share a moment of play with us.

18 OCTOBER, 2010

Steve Lyons at Play

“For this net neutrality mark I made for CREDO Action, I was attempting to take a geeky tech policy issue and make it playful. The essential idea behind net neutrality is one of keeping the internet open and free from corporate control. (For more on the topic I suggest you visit Save The Internet). How better to convey freedom than to give the internet some wings? Lightning bolts add a little zap to the composition and complete the labor union retro feel. CREDO took the playfulness a little farther and made temporary tattoos as a giveaway at the progressive blogger conference Netroots Nation.

Steve Lyons is Design Director of CREDO Mobile. We invited him to share a moment of play with us.

7 SEPTEMBER, 2010

Vivienne Flesher at Play

“We had two weeks in Round Hill, a lavish and historic resort in Jamaica. While there I tried drawing and painting, but in the heat and humidity both seemed slow and complicated. On the third day I came across the fallen leaves of a Trumpet Tree. To me they resembled dresses by Issey Miyake, tossed in a heap. Over the rest of the vacation I photographed them hundreds of times. They were intrinsically elegant; shooting them the simplest way worked best.”

Vivienne Flesher is a San Francisco artist. We invited her to share a moment of play with us.

6 SEPTEMBER, 2010

Ward Schumaker at Play

“While creating a piece of calligraphy for Afar Magazine, I’d cut a mask out of cardboard for the Swedish word lagom (meaning just enough, the opposite of excessive and extravagant), intending to use the mask as part of an elaborate Photoshop file combined with other images. When I turned to sweep the scraps from the floor, however, the afternoon sun was shining on them and they looked so genuine and honest, and somehow so appropriate, that I straightened them and photographed them just like that, and that’s how the piece appeared in the magazine. Very lagom.”

Ward Schumaker is a San Francisco artist. We invited him to share a moment of play with us.

3 SEPTEMBER, 2010

Bob Aufuldish at Play

“With the poster I was trying to solve the formal problem of making type read on top of an image. One classic rule of typography is to never put a stroke on the type. But what happens if you specify a huge stroke? All kinds of interesting bumpy shapes result. I made the bumpy shapes silver and set them to partially overprint the image underneath so the silver acts as a connector between the image and the type.

“Photos of three speakers were superimposed to create the image. Each photo was assigned one process color: cyan, magenta, yellow. Usually there is an overall theme for the lecture series but this time there wasn't. There was much discussion as to whether or not to show small versions of the individual photos as a way of explaining the source of the images on the poster, but I prefer not to explain anything. I like it much better when you're not sure what you're looking at rather than wondering briefly and then knowing exactly.

“I made the video literally just for fun. I like to make videos where nothing much seems to happen. In this case, there are four videos where nothing much seems to happen, but putting them in a sequence sparks a little narrative.”

Bob Aufuldish is a Bay Area designer and educator. We invited him to share a moment of play with us.

Bob Aufuldish on press (2:02)
Printing the Fall 2010 CCA Architecture Lecture Series poster at Howard Quinn in San Francisco.

ANGIE WANG + MARK FOX / STUDIO@DESIGNISPLAY.COM / 415.505.6242 / © 2013 DESIGN IS PLAY

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