On Graphic Design

I’ve made the bulk of my income over the years as a graphic designer; during the tech bubble, graphic design got mixed up with software development and ‘information architecture’ and User Experience and Branding and became briefly valuable and deeply respected by a lot of business people who were trying take over the world with web pages.

Since web pages lack the ability to shoot tear gas or launch grenades or mesmerize like a TV show these people figured that Design would have to suffice, stand in for armed Pinkertons shooting up striking workers or the other traditional methods Important People had used in the past to stay on top and own everything.

I’d been to art school; I loved photoshop and the Mac and graphic software and I was, and still am, smart. Standardized test smart, I mean. I’m smart in the same way a crow is smart—smarter than I need to be, for the things I generally end up being paid to do. Crows periodically get themselves electrocuted messing with wires and things. I’m smart like that.

During the tech bubble, briefly, that kind of smart could make you rich.

You’re a crow, doing mediocre crow things, and you start poking into the wires, and a farmer shows up, and says, “you know about wires? Can I pay you six figures a year to keep doing what you’re doing?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” the Crow (me) says.

“That’s OK,” says the Farmer. “Nobody does. Please take my money.”

In the beginning I was absolutely terrible at everything I did; I knew how to use the software to make UI elements, buttons and panels and whatnot, but I had no taste. None whatsoever. After I’d been working for a few years, I was paired up with a variety of designers and art directors with taste, and I learned from them, to the best of my ability, what taste was.

I began to be able to emulate taste, to a degree; I could look at exquisite things made by talented people and extract a visual language, a vocabulary, and ape it, crudely. This makes me better than about 95% of the people who practice design professionally.

Branding was the most interesting part. This futile but seductive attempt to compress pure meaning into visual form, hopefully, into something that could be instantly recognized at any size or distance. It was a kind of endless wordless ache, working on these things, but for awhile, I was paid handsomely to do so. There was so much to be branded, you see; every company in the world was pissing all over things trying to own them forever, with a name, a brand, a logo, an animated thingy.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 5.08.21 PM

A bunch of logos I did, some of which were actually used for a time. Anthony Butler did the bug for Skyrope. Suffice to say, none of these companies ever panned out, though I notice the Skyrope site still exists.

But, in the end, it was all wordless. It was dumb, in the sense that what I did for many years wasn’t about words but about a feeling, a moment of gestalt, when something was glanced at. I would work on something for days or weeks or months which you could glance at in three seconds and form your opinion on. If you even had an opinion.

Anyway, nowadays I’m mostly doing design work for my own projects, most of it genre related, and for the first time, in decades, that work is pretty fun. I’ve stopped trying to be this thing I wasn’t, this super sophisticated minimalist typographic hero, this protean figure compressing meaning out of form… in the end I was never that guy anyway.

I didn’t dress nearly well enough, for one thing.

So when I did Fantastic, I shopped for existing wordpress themes which did what I needed them to do, and I found a logo of the magazine with google, different than the one Warren had been using, which I liked. It was simpler and cleaner and involved no typographic, ah, perversion. The one on the left. Alas, this version of Fantastic wasn’t the version we were reviving, so it had to go.

But I spent some time, with the existing logo, crafting something that had a similar feel, and was happy with the result, bottom right.

Oh, we should probably focus group it, figure out what it says to people, create a brand statement and creative brief and run it through a real process…

But oh, it’s been fun, just flying by the seat of my pants.


Oh! So if you’re interested in hiring me for design related things (book covers, ebook covers and production, and such) email me at ejayo1963 (at) gmail (dot) com. I do genre stuff cheap. If your company plans on taking over the world I cost more.

I have principles.

Posted in Self Indulgent Mémoire

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