For the Love of Graphic Design: A Dispatch from Dallas Designers' Monthly Meeting
We live in a world that is drowning in equal parts beauty and unoriginality. Look around. There are at least 10 items within your immediate reach that have been created by a graphic designer. The beautiful often comes from a successful graphic designer: one that has taken client needs in stride and fearlessly fought for their own creativity to be apparent in the final product. The bland and boring have been forged by those who have wholeheartedly succumbed to the board of haircuts and suits and let their project suffocate for the bottom line. This is the struggle that a unique breed of artists face every day.
Photos by Matthew Lawson Designer Dan Richards addressed (and inspired) the group.
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The beautiful are fearless, and the forgettable falter too much on the side of compromise. This is what I learned about graphic design, and the bold group that perpetuates pop culture and commercial art, at this week's monthly meeting of the Dallas Society of Visual Communications at the Angelika, which is always beautiful, if only because they serve beer.
The Dallas Society of Visual Communications (DSVC) was founded in 1957 as a place where art directors could meet and mingle with likeminded professionals and pick each other's brains. Today the society functions as the supreme networking tool for Dallas-based designers, writers, photographers, illustrators, broadcast producers and Internet professionals. It offers its members and non-members once-a-month meetings that feature a one-hour pre party; an hour-long lecture by a respected member of the design or advertising community; and a Q&A session with that member following the lecture.
In the lobby before the lecture started, designers un-discretely drank cold Shiner and discussed their business, influences, frustrations, movements within the craft, and their stratospheric stars, with reverence that usually accompanies cultural icons like LeBron James or Honey Boo Boo. The star of DSVC this week was designer Dan Richards, co-founder of Opolis Design.
Richards lives in Portland, Oregon, and he has a hell of a story. It's a heroic-like quest that begins with him living in an upstate New York RV park for the entire summer of his fifth year on earth. His childhood was spent tearing through the hallways of North Texas University (now UNT), where his father was an art professor. He traversed to Dallas to work at the legendary Sullivan Perkins. Now he owns his own design firm that he and his creative partner founded.
His design career has included such clients as: Nike, ESPN, Doc Martens, Sirius Radio, and Adidas. He has designed for the best, and consistently produced work that is widely regarded as the best. Who decided to combine biology and roller blades? Richards did. Who thought it wise to blend scrap book corners and expensive leather boots? Richards did. When Nike needed rollerblade wheels, hockey sticks, 3D shop ads, and athletic tape, no one raised their hand to help, except Richards.
The crowd that filled the theater to hear the lecture got its money's worth. Richards had some sage advice for those in attendance. With the air and drawl of a Buddhist surfer, he delivered these happy bits of advice:
"Inspiration comes from everywhere: nail bins, hardware stores, goodwill, warehouses, and found items. Keep your eyes open."
"Beauty is the product of struggle and survival of the fittest. Design something that is bold with enough familiarity to give the audience a reference point."
"Learn how to do everything."
"The internet is Pangaea. It is good and bad for designers."
"We have access to everything, but grew up in isolation. We are now living in the Golden Age of design."
"Seek out to design something that is personal, unique and intelligent."
I left the lecture feeling strongly about graphic designers' place in our lives. They're the artists who have outsmarted the stereotype of the struggling-to-get-by artist. Not so quietly, they're moving the current of pop culture forward, discretely nicking from the past and focusing on beauty for the benefit of societal infrastructure.
Without them, we would be living in grey buildings, lit by florescent boredom. They add color to our otherwise colorless concrete jungle, and for that deserved every drop of those Shiners.