The Practice of Visual Storytelling: Interviews with Artists | Debbie Millman | Skillshare

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The Practice of Visual Storytelling: Interviews with Artists

teacher avatar Debbie Millman, Writer, educator, artist, brand consultant

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Interview: Adam J. Kurtz


    • 3.

      Interview: Pam Butler


    • 4.

      Interview: Giorgia Lupi


    • 5.

      Interview: Paul Sahre


    • 6.



    • 7.

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About This Class

What does visual storytelling mean in 2017? How are artists pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling? And, how do you push the limits in crafting your visual stories?

Join writer, educator, artist, AIGA Medalist, and design advocate Debbie Millman for an exciting class on the real-life practice of visual storytelling! You'll go behind-the-scenes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City for 4 exclusive interviews with fascinating creatives:

  • Adam J. Kurtz talks intentionality, caveats for handwritten fonts, and the importance of revealing personal vulnerability.
  • Pam Butler reflects on the power of image, shares how visual stories can be a form of activism, and encourages artists to seize opportunities (and never wait for permission) to make work.
  • Giorgia Lupi speaks on the "Information Age" and shares her unique process for transforming data into hand-drawn graphics, encouraging students to experiment with "rule-based art" of their own.
  • Paul Sahre talks about the fascinating editorial process of combining text and image in his recent graphic design memoir, the pain of editing, and the role of designer as visual storyteller.

Visual storytelling refers to work combining visuals and language to convey a narrative. This can include visual essays, posters, books, objects, and more. Students are encouraged to discover, create, and share their own inspiring visual stories, and use this class as a community for feedback and inspiration.

The class is ideal for designers, artists, and everyone seeking to make sense of stories in the world. Use these lessons as inspiration and advice for the stories you're excited to tell — and get ready to bring language, art, and stories together in unprecedented, meaningful, and personal ways.


Top Left Clockwise: Adam J. Kurtz, Pam Butler, Paul Sahre, Giorgia Lupi


Looking for more? Explore Debbie's Skillshare class The Art of the Story: Creating Visual Narratives, a 60-minute exploration of historical and contemporary notions visual storytelling, packed with actionable tips and demonstration to help you craft your own visual narrative!


Please Note: Images in this class may contain mature language.

Meet Your Teacher

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Debbie Millman

Writer, educator, artist, brand consultant


For the past twenty years, Debbie has been President of Sterling Brands, where she has worked on the redesign of over 200 global brands, including projects with P&G, Colgate, Nestle, Kraft and Pepsi. In 2014, she was named President, Chief Marketing Officer of the firm. In 2013, Debbie was named one of the most influential designers working today by GDUSA. Debbie is the founder and host of Design Matters, the world's first podcast about design, which has garnered over one million downloads and a Cooper Hewitt National Design Award. In the nine years since its inception, Millman has interviewed more than 250 design luminaries and cultural commentators, including Massimo Vignelli, Milton Glaser, Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Pink, Barbara Kruger, Seth Godin and more.

Debbie is the author o... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Debbie Millman and I am a designer, an author, an educator, and host of the podcast, Design Matters. You might have recently seen my class on Skillshare on visual storytelling where I take people through the history on visual storytelling, and I culminated that show with making my own visual story, and encouraging my viewers to make their own story as well. This particular episode is more about how other people do it. And so you're going to see four different approaches to visual storytelling. I define visual storytelling as the intersection between the visual narrative and text. Something that is drawn, something that is painted, data intersecting with typography in some sort to create one art form that expresses a visual and verbal narrative. I recently curated a show for the Museum of Design in Atlanta called Text Me, and it is a show of 70 different pieces of work that come together to reflect the way in which we live now surrounded by messages and communication of all sorts. And I've had the great honor of talking with four of the artists that are featured in the show at the Museum of Design. Adam J. Kurtz is whimsical, and witty, and funny, and he's not afraid to show you exactly who he is and takes you on a journey that you feel really good about being on as you discover those things about yourself as well. I'm writing phrases. That's my voice. That's my visual voice. I think there's something about every person's handwriting like their voice is an imprint of who they are. Pam Butler is one of the first street artists ever, and I really admire the way that she was able to create a career without asking anybody's permission to do anything. I think it's really a question of what is important to you. Why are you making this? And what drives you to it is that it has to be shared, then you have to make a work that is easily shared. If you're making it because you have the compulsion to make it, then you have to do it whether it can be shared or not. Giorgia Lupi is an extraordinary designer and is able to create poetry with data, and they're done so with an aesthetic that I have never ever seen before. Sometimes, I'd like to remind people that data does not exist. So, we created data. Data is an abstraction of reality. And data is always primarily human made. So, if we start by this point, we can also say that data is often imperfect. Paul Sahre is the most conceptual designer that I know. Everything that he make has a really strong idea and everything is built upon that idea. Everything that he's doing is really surreabral, but also really beautiful. You know, a graphic designer doesn't have a captive audience like a filmmaker. You have to create a situation with it that is telling a story, but also is attracting somebody's attention, getting them to stop, getting them to pick something up, getting them to act. I hope you enjoyed this series, and I hope you make your own visual stories. 2. Interview: Adam J. Kurtz: Adam J. Kurtz is whimsical, and witty, and funny, and heartbreaking, and brings humanity, and pathos and an honesty we rarely seen today into his work. He's not afraid to show you exactly who he is, exactly why he is, and takes you on a journey that you feel really good about being on, as you discover those things about yourself as well. Hi, I'm here with Adam J. Kurtz, master visual storyteller and we're going to talk about his process, his books, and his overall point of view about life. Hi Tabby, thanks for having me. My pleasure. Congratulations on the new book. Thank you. I am dying inside. Are you? I feel like, when you make something that you're so proud of, and you gives birth to it, and it's just all those feelings all at once. It's really exciting. Tell us what visual storytelling means to you? I think that, at least from a design perspective what we're doing all the time is combining text and image in the most effective way. Although we are literally using, there's copy, and there's your photo, your art, whatever it is, there's also so much else that is said in the arrangement and alignment, and the production choices. So, to me visual storytelling is a combination of both the visual and obvious, but also the subtle things that we think about, that we weave into the process. One of the things that I tell my students when I'm teaching visual storytelling classes, that if you want to write about an apple it's okay to use the word apple, but you probably don't want to actually have an image of an apple, unless of course you're teaching spelling and reading. So, talk about how you combine the visual elements with text in your unique and surprising way. I have really landed in this very interesting place, where the more blunt I am, the better it seems to be. That's not necessarily the right solution in every case, but for what I do, I am speaking directly to a person, and I'm speaking to them in a colloquial human way as if I was having a personal conversation. So, I get away with a lot of this extra, for lack of a better word, this extra bullshit. Well, you don't have a filter, which is really refreshing. One of the other things that I enjoyed so much about your new book in particular, was the way in which you helped your reader identify their unfiltered self. And I think that is one of the keys to a successful visual story, when you are sharing something that is somehow universally human. It's something that we all share, and you're revealing that, you're sharing that, gives other people courage to share theirs. I think that's a really good point. A lot of times, especially when we're are newer to the process, we start out a project thinking like, oh I knew what a poster is supposed to look like, or I know what an essay is supposed to read like. We pantomime what we think is instead of just taking a minute to look inward and listen to ourselves and then communicate that. Well, I think you inspire that in people. Talk about the process of making your new book. For me what is really important is, I guess you would call me a digital native. I grew up through MySpace, and the rise of social media, and so much of my work is about referencing that culture in that innate place where language lives for me, but finding ways to make it tactile and take it off line. So, this book does touch on these ideas of things that we're experiencing online, and the language we use, and the way we market, or promote, or build things for the web. If it's a handwritten book, on torn out scraps of paper, printed on bright colored sheets that are then perforated to replicate this idea of virality, to replicate the way we share online, or pin online but to do that in real life. So, it's the meta, unsubtle metaphorical experience where I wanted to make, and I'm like this all the time. I'm like, how do we make a book that is an object and a book? How do we make a book that isn't just a book? So, thinking about that end product first is how I arrived at the format. Now, I understand that you've created your own font, your own handwriting font, and I want to talk a little bit about that because I think that a lot of people do this, a lot of people make their own handwriting font. But there is some, I think watch outs in creating a handwritten font that sometimes people don't realize. So, one of the things that I get particularly frustrated by, is when I see letters that repeat that are identical. So, this is for any handwritten file, whether it be manufactured, or whether it be created by an actual person, because it feels to me that if you're going to do something that looks handmade, it really has to look handmade. The minute you have to e's in a row that are exactly the same it just obliterates any sense of that being crafted. Yeah, absolutely. I started laughing because I feel like we are so the same person. Handwriting phrases, that's my voice, that's my visual voice. One, I don't want to be a robot and two, I can't say the things that I say with a traditional typeface, that's just not who I am. So, I think there's something about every person's handwriting, that like their voice is an imprint of who they are, whether it's the cadence of the letters, the way an r tail forms, the way things slant depending on the tools they're using. For me, it's really important to use pencil to keep some of the grip, from a production standpoint I try to never convert my shapes to vectors because I want that beautiful, crunchy, raster based. I want that shininess, I want it to look really, truly human. Well, it's interesting that you intentionally want those, that grittiness, and that is very much a part of your visual language in your visual stories and in all of your work. I know that James Victory, in order to get the quality of type that he creates by hand, he destroys his sharpies, he cuts them up so that they have that grittiness. So, I think for anybody that's making work with their own hand it's important to understand how your own hand could be identifiable to your work. Yeah. I've actually never admitted this, but when I sharpen pencils, I sharpen them and then break the point off. I don't even think I realise that was the thing that I do but that is what I do. So, let's talk about the use of paper in your book as well, because it appears to be just pulled out from a notepad. How intentional were those pages? There was very much this deliberate idea of making sure that the pages, although they were from the same notebook, or from the same two or three notebooks felt a little different. So, there's definitely hanging chads, or folded corners that were intentional, but for the most part in the book the torn pages that you're seeing, the size of the actual writing, that's almost the actual size. So, the book is four by six, and my notepad is three by five. So, what you're seeing is almost exactly as I created it. For me that was part of the visual storytelling of this idea that I'm a working creative, I'm not an expert, but I have just lived through this thing, and now I'm just passing you my notes like, I took the course one semester ahead here you go. More than that, I want to encourage other people who find value in it to give it even more emotional value by gifting it to someone that they think could use this. Yeah, every page in this book is a gift. This is one of my favourite pieces. Would you read it? Sure. You don't know what it is. It's a surprise. It's this one. This one is almost like my motto for living. Oh my God. So, this is a chapter about failure. It says, "Feel like shit, failure sucks. We all want to succeed on the first try, be the best and instantly win, but life doesn't work that way. Instead of blaming yourself or others, just know that great things take time. Feel a little shitty, but get mentally ready to move forward." Everything worthwhile takes a long time. It takes so long, and I'm impatient, but it's worth the wait. Yes. As you're reflecting upon my interview with Adam, I'd love for you to think about how you can reveal your own human truth, because if you can reveal your own human truth, you'll inevitably be able to connect with others, and their human truth. So, ask yourself, is there anything more that I can share that might reach other people, or inspire, or help other people? Am I hiding something? Can I bring something out that might allow someone to understand that they are not alone, that they think this way also and we're all in this together? Think about how you might be able to bring some cheekiness, laughing at yourself maybe to your story. Bring that little toothy edge that he has to make it pithy, to make it bold, and think about how you're using your own hand to reflect what it is you are writing. Is it something that could be identifiable with your voice, and your specific hand? 3. Interview: Pam Butler: Pam Butler is one of the first street artists ever. She came to fame making street art in the early 1990's, back when you risked getting arrested. She's gone on to have numerous one-woman shows. I really admire the way that she was able to create a career without asking anybody's permission to do anything. Hi. I'm here with the renowned artist, Pam Butler. We're going to be talking about the role of visual storytelling in her body of work. I first became aware of your work almost 30 years ago. It's been a while. You were one of the first female street artists along with Barbara Kruger and the Guerrilla Girls. Your work stands out as being one of the most important and provocative work of the street art of the '80s and '90s. Can you talk a little bit about your unique perspective and overall role that visual storytelling has in the work that you make? I think of our culture as underestimating the power of image. Part of what I want to do is I want to show the power of the image and how it really impacts us. One of the ways to do that is to repeat images, to do a lot of repetition. So, it's becomes in your face through the repetition and through juxtaposition. Once you start doing repetition and juxtaposition, even without there being a "story," you get something of a narrative. You get a perception of a narrative and you start to look for what you're being asked to contemplate. Talk about how you approached making this project. It is The Good Girl project and it is a body of work that focuses on showing women and men with provocative statements that are very in your face. Talk about how you created this series. So, it's doing very simplified drawings, very cartoonish, simple drawings. I had a sense that it takes very little for us to read what something is, and then we apply onto it. I did a show that had some of these really simple drawings with words. Some political things were happening at the moment through early '90s and I was very irritated with some of the dialogue in the feminist movement at the moment and I didn't know any way to talk about it. So, I was looking at these drawings and I said, "Well, they could be posters." Talk about how you're able to get such deep messages in such simple juxtapositions between language and art. It has to be in itself really forceful and direct. My feeling is some of the posters didn't work because the words weren't as clear or I was looking too hard for a word and it shows or something. So, it's that way in which you find the right thing that you can twist just a little bit. That gives you the most punch. The twist is the most interesting thing. You talked about the struggle to make it look effortless and how much work goes into the simplicity, and how you might have been trying too hard and that was evident. What is the way in which you get it to look like it isn't tortured? How do you get that so that it's not apparent to the viewer that you've been working so hard on this? You just know when you're working on it. If it's looking too tight, there's a tightness you get in work that's been done to hard. So, if it's starting to look that way, it has to be completely reworked or tossed. With the way I work, it often means tossing it. That's usually the line. It's just, if it's tight, if it doesn't have that bite, if it looks like the effort is too strong. What is the role that you expect the viewer to bring to the pieces through projection? I want them to project themselves onto, just like I project myself into it, I want the viewer to project themselves onto it and see how these relate to their relationship to the world. But those can be quite different. They often are. Sometimes they are. But, I am surprised that they aren't always as different as I think they'll be. Why is that way? Why does that surprise you? I'm surprised how often people really see what I'm trying to project. I think the Miss America series has probably been the biggest struggle in that, because the words in the Guerrilla project made it a lot more explicit what I was working with. The Miss America Project people bring a lot of their own history without, and they also end their own feminist reading. So, a lot of it is I put the politics on it before they put themselves on it. When you do that, you don't get to what's underneath. Why do you feel like we are missing messages? Is it because we are so overloaded by them? Partly because we're so overloaded by them, partly because we value ourselves as individuals and we think that we're in control of how these things affect us, when in fact, we aren't. Why not? I think it's a level of not honesty with ourselves, not honesty with the way in which we're not the totally autonomous human beings in complete control of ourselves, that we are manipulated and imagery is a very big factor in how we're manipulated, and that stories are built around images. Stories like a really potent symbol in Christian Europe was the Madonna and Child. It talked a lot and said a lot of things. People knew who they were and relationship to that image. Yes. We'd like to see ourselves as being free of that but we aren't. We just aren't. So, what is your work trying to express in that realm? To be honest with yourself that these images play a role in your life and that they affect how you think of yourself and the culture you live in and how that culture functions. Because otherwise, you're going to be manipulated by them and you you're going to not be able to be as effective as you want to be in the world. For somebody that's interested in creating a body of work that is both self expressive and somehow universal, what kind of advice would you give them? Be brutally honest with yourself first. How do you start to unpeel the layers to get to that honesty? What kind of questions do you ask yourself? You ask yourself, why am I doing this? What does this really mean to me? What is it really going to say? Don't be satisfied with the easy answer. Don't expect that your first answer is the right answer. You are somebody that never asked for permission to make your art. For anybody that's interested in creating their own work but are afraid to do it because they're not sure if anybody will be interested or if anybody will buy it or if anybody will care, what do you tell that person? If you want to be an artist, you go into the studio and you make work. If showing and selling are what's important to you, then ask yourself if you're good at the business of art and if it's worth the struggles in the studio. If showing it is what's important to you, then you're not going to be able to get at the deeper levels. You're just not because you're going to always have the idea of the other and how you're projecting and what they're thinking. It's horrifying for me to have to show it now because I feel very exposed and it's much safer to keep that work in the studio and be very controlling about who sees it. So, you have to be willing to face that. So, I think it's really a question of what is important to? Why are you making this? What is it that drives you to it? If what drives you to it is that it has to be shared, then you have to make a work that is easily shared. If you're making it because you have the compulsion to make it, then you have to do it whether it can be shared or not. As you're reflecting on my interview with Pam, think about how much permission are you requiring from others. If you think you're too busy to make something or do something, recognize that busy is a decision. We decide to do the things that we want to do, if we think it's a priority. So, if that means that you have to be up in the middle of the night, putting up weed posters somewhere in the town you live in, maybe that means that's what you have to do. But, don't ask for anybody's permission to create your own self-generated work. That is the only time you can do whatever you want. The great thing about visual storytelling is that you are both the author and the artist. So, you can change the text. You can change the art. You don't have to ask anybody's permission to do anything. So, open up the shackles, free your spirit and try to create something as if no one will ever put any parameters on what you're doing. 4. Interview: Giorgia Lupi: Giorgia Lupi is an extraordinary designer and is able to create poetry with data. Her visual stories are entirely made with data and they're done so with an aesthetic that I have never ever seen before. I have the great privilege today of talking with Giorgia Lupi, the renowned information designer. Giorgia, congratulations. I understand you have work now in two museums. Thank you, Debbie. The Museum of Design in Atlanta and The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It's been quite a year with the publication of your book, Dear Data. I have never met anyone that is able to create a visual story with data quite in the way you can. Tell me how you realized that data could be poetic? Well, I've always been very fascinated by numbers. To me, numbers have always been beautiful, even when I was studying. I think that numbers to me are rules that can lead to creations that are less arbitrary than just drawing and creating graphic per se. So I think that to me, numbers have always been beautiful, and in a way, they are even more beautiful when they become qualitative stories and so not only numbers, but when data becomes a way to interpret what's going on. To me, having rules and having numbers and quantities and variables to work with open up my visual imagination. Take me through your approach, take me through the steps that you would take to make something. Sure. So, for example, I think it's easier if I explain the work that is now at MoMA. Yes. So, I started with an exhibition which is a fascinating exhibition about fashion that through 111 items, so garments and accessories, really help us understand how fashion has influenced and still influences our life and the way we relate to each other. So, I started with a list of 111 items and I started to frame some questions. So, what is interesting to understand about the curatorial process, for example, and I started to categorize each item according to, is it a medium or a message? So, for example, it's in the exhibition because of its technical and aesthetic features or for what it represents and that is already something that can help me build two parameters. Then, when was it most interesting emergence over time? That's another column that I'm going to fill with data. Then, is it a symbol of the movement or the consequence of a movement? Together with Paola Antonelli, who is the curator of this show, we filled in these categories and many more. So, you see, starting from a list of elements, you can add categorizations and type of analyses that help you bring parameters for this spreadsheet that you're going to fill. After that, I think it's important to understand what is the main story that needs to come out. This is the thing that needs to visually stand out the most, and that is a lot of sketching to me. Then, you test with the data and most of the times, you need to get back and sketch again. My approach to data is very handcrafted. I myself do not code, and I thought I'll bring in this non-ability to code to the extreme level and really making it about labor and hands. So, you have the fixed list and then you have the subjective list that you bring to the analysis of the fixed list, and those are questions that you create that allow you to understand the constructs and the context of what it is you are analyzing. That's a perfect way to put it. In this case, I've been collaborating with people who are expert about this show, using their background research as my starting point asking the questions, but I think it's really important because sometimes we think that we are given with data and maybe we only have to visualize it. But we can also create data that can help us understand the hidden patterns of stories and to me that's what's most compelling. Give me some examples, if you can, that's really interesting, the hidden patterns of stories. Well, I think it's easy to understand it when it comes to personal data, for example, through the work of Dear Data. Of course, our days and our lives and even our belongings can be seen just as a collection of things and a collection of moments, but the more you analyze every single moment, every single possession according to questions that you may want to ask and understand, they start becoming data. You wrote Dear Data with a friend. Yes. You communicated via postcards and you sent each other a postcard every week wherein you visualized some experience of that week via data. Can you talk a little bit about how you approach making the work. Well, for example, it's interesting to relate to Dear Data because for 52 weeks, we, every week, we had to make an original creation and send it out of the way before the end of the weekend, but then the process is again starting to look at the data of the week and these were personal data about activities and then we enriched with details about our days. So look at what was the main story that we wanted to tell, and most of the time, it was simply chronological to show the other person the paces of our days through that activity. Of course, when working with data, you have rules in mind. So I know that if you want to tell a story chronologically, I could use a crossing for example of days and hours or I can build a timeline or I can organize things just one after the other and so you already have a grid in your mind, but then you need to find ways to visualize the elements, so the data points. So, can you talk a little bit about how you combine what really becomes three elements. In visual storytelling, we primarily talk about it as a language and art, but here, we're really talking about three elements which makes it that much more difficult which is the language, the art, and the data. Yeah. Well, there's so much that can be said about that. What I do, I think it's more on the side of using an artistic expression, like a visual expression that is not necessarily one that is defined by already built-in convention for a presenting data, but then every time try to build a language that is really specific for the data that I'm working with, and the way that I then communicate what's in the data is by crafting a legend, a key. My work is always combined with the legend. It's another alphabet. Yeah. I think it's an alphabet that, I'm really in love with my work. It's amazing because every time you create a new alphabet. So, we've been hearing quite a lot about fake news or alternative facts. How much of that is either engaged with data visualization or is exempt from it? Yeah, well, I would start by saying that sometimes, I'd like to remind people that data does not exist. So we created data because we could not store life on a hard drive. So data is an abstraction of reality, and data is always and primarily human-made, and even if it comes from a sensor or from a software, a human being designed the sensor, the software, and decided what to include and what to leave out. So, if we start by these points, we can also say that data is often imperfect, and why I think we are missing a lot of the time is definitely this knowledge that data is not perfect, because what you're saying is also that if data is subject to an interpretation, probably is bad. Well, data is always subject to an interpretation, so I think that we should stop thinking that we have data, end of the conversation. This is the ultimate answer to our truth. I think the data-driven is better than randomly-driven, but still we need to take into account that we are all human beings and even the data-driven stories are imperfect and subject to an interpretation. I think one aspect that might be confusing to people with data is that there is an assumption that data is somehow linked to or based on math or numbers, and while it might have to do with patterns or it might have to do with repetition, it's not always numbers-based, it's often interpreted. Yeah. I mean, it can also be always numbered-based, but then even if it's numbered-based, the angles that you look at these numbers and the aggregations that you made is human-made. So, there's still always an aspect of it being directional guidance as opposed to empirical truth. I think so. As you are reflecting on my interview with Giorgia, think about how you might be able to take the most mundane type of messaging and make it meaningful. If you are able to deconstruct any type of experience into the smallest amount of information, how can you reconstruct that in a way that is surprising? The English alphabet has 26 letters. How can you use those letters or numbers that are infinite to be able to create art that allows people to understand a human experience, any human experience, and if you can deconstruct any experience into its smallest parts and then reconstruct it into something larger than life, chances are you're onto something really interesting. 5. Interview: Paul Sahre: Paul Sahre is the most conceptual designer that I know. Everything that he makes whether it be a piece for The New York Times or a book cover, has a really strong idea, and everything is built upon that idea. Everything that he's doing is really cerebral but also really beautiful. Hi, I'm here with Paul Sahre, the amazing and brilliant author, illustrator, and designer. Today we're going to be talking a bit about visual storytelling. Paul, as much as I love the word visual storytelling, the subtitle of your brand new book, Two Dimensional Man, is a graphic memoir. So, how would you describe what a graphic memoir is? I think it was a different way of saying a graphic design memoir. In terms of the idea of storytelling, this is the actual storytelling with words. Both words and visuals. The visuals bring the words to life. You think so? Without a doubt. All right. It would be a completely different book if it was just words. I guess I hadn't thought about it that way. I was resisting the images. Yeah, in terms of a memoir by a graphic designer, I think that that is, in the end I think it's important that some of the work is in there because the work establishes the point of view to a certain degree, so that when I'm talking about things that seemingly have nothing to do with graphic design you can see a connection. Some of the things that I ended up doing, I think some of the things you're responding to like the table of contents and doing things with the typography that accentuate what's happening. There could have been much more of that. In fact, there was much more of that and I sort of edited some of it out. Why? Well, it's a book about design. It's not a design book. How do you differentiate? I wanted it to be a memoir and not a monograph. I wanted it to be about how someone can do this thing. Obsess about typographic form and semiotics and two dimensional space and grids. For a general reader, like why would someone dedicate their life to this thing? Why do you dedicate your life to this thing? I wouldn't say that my mom would be first in line there in terms of a reader. I found design at college. I drew a lot. It's sort of the entry way into the story, but I drew a lot and didn't really know what I was getting into. Then I was introduced to the culture of graphic design when I was at Kent State studying as an undergrad and I was taught that being a graphic designer was a calling. It's not a job. It's who you are. Your work is very word based. I consider you to be the foremost conceptual designer. It's all idea based. Talk about how you approach design utilizing words as such an important visual element. I think most designers end up being that way simply because it's like you're in painting class in college and you're just for some reason using words in your work, and typography is something that we develop a love for and an understanding of, after the fact, we grow up with words obviously, words are important. Then when you're in design school, and you don't think about the form of it, and then when you're designing school, it's sort of a revelation because all of a sudden you are like, oh typefaces. The form that typography takes can totally change the meaning, alter it, steer it in this direction and it takes a while. It took me a while and having taught for many many years. One of the things that's most difficult right at the beginning with design students, is getting to understand that, no, forget about what the word means. Now you're just concentrating on it, these are forms, and E is a form and it can mean and feel a certain way totally devoid of what the sound it makes or the word that it happens to be in. That's a very hard thing for design students to sort of embrace because we're so used to reading and thinking about letters are our friend already, and they know we don't have to think about them. Sort of learning to breathe. Once you start then put the form and the meaning together, it creates all these opportunities. You have to have some ownership of what it is you're doing with typography, and that again seems like it wouldn't make any sense because a graphic designer typically, although many do, isn't creating the forms. We're using forms that typographers have created and then we're recombining them in different ways and the fact that one designer would have a typographic style that would be very, very different from somebody, or a typographic voice be very different from another person, sort of on the face of it it's like well, how could that even be? If you're not inventing the forms, but it's totally is. So, I think that that is definitely something that I'm aware of that I have to make sure that I'm not going into somebody else's space. Then I always feel like it has to also push where you're typically are. There has to be some risk taken. Does it feel like invigorating, or does it feel scary or? Oh, no I think both. It's hardwork too. If you're not just doing something you're comfortable doing. I'm not saying that I don't repeat myself because I think that's part of what we do too. There's also the whole larger picture of what is the particular situation you're in calling for. What does it need, what does it want, and do you give in to that. How much. But I think on a larger sense too that you're wanting to make something, a graphic designer doesn't have a captive audience like a filmmaker. A filmmaker, I suppose you get up and leave. But we go into a room and we sit down and then we stare at the screen, and you're looking at the screen. A graphic designer's work is laying around somewhere, or it's on moving on the side of a bus or something, and it's like. So, there's that going on too. You have to create a situation with it that is telling a story but also is attracting somebody's attention, getting them to stop, getting them to pick something up, getting them to act. I always joke around about designing a business card that seems like, this is a little two inch by three inch little space there and I think most people would go why would you care about designing a business card, but it's super fascinating. Think about how it functions. I'm really interested in how you went about editing your own work in the book. I mean a lot of it in this case had to do with the writing. I felt like at a certain point I did have to have that conversation like I'm going to, we're going off too far in this other direction. We got to keep it back there. But a lot of that had to do with trying to figure out what my voice was in terms of the writing. Really having a plan in terms of whatever's in the book has to come back and relate to design and form the story. If it's something that is just an interesting story and doesn't relate, then it probably shouldn't be in there. Was it painful to make those decisions? Some of them yes. Some of them were. But again yes, like you said, I think as a designer you have to be an editor to some degree and you're used to that idea that at some point you've been working on this thing for a couple of weeks and you're sort of in love with it, and then you're like, "I got to kill this," because it's not doing or it needs to go in a different direction and I've learned long ago to be able to let go in those situations. So, I think it made it easier when it has to do with words. You have three pieces currently on view in another museum, The Museum of Design in Atlanta. One of the pieces is a poster that I first saw in Christoph meme in studio, and it has the words try, try again as the message. So, can you talk a little bit about why you decided to use those particular words in the particular way you designed the poster? That poster is sort of interesting because the message and the form that it takes are totally, I really wonder what people take away from that, because the context why the poster was designed is totally different now. Because if anyone seeing it now it's removed from that context and the original context was a project that I did that involves the Apollo missions, and a rocket launch to involve my dad, a model rocket crash and then a relaunching of it 40 years later. So, that was why it was originally designed. It was referring specifically to the Apollo moon missions in the Saturn 5 rocket and the idea that hope springs eternal I suppose. So, the form it takes is, it's a red and silver and I don't know how much of that comes across in terms of space exploration, the early 70's, or how it changed that message. Because of course, we've heard many, many, many times over in our lives try, try again. I don't even know where that phrase originated. But the form and what it's saying are a sort of a weird collision. So, it creates something new. What it creates, I would admit as a designer, I don't have any control over now, that it's released from its original context. I think that in a lot of ways, that sort of gets to one of the things that's the most interesting thing about design anyway, because you are making visual associations for specific reasons. Then it goes out of the world, freed in a lot of cases from those reasons and the need. So then, what does it mean to people, and do they care about it? I think that's constantly a learning process for a designer, and also the fact that I feel like we could be students of that for your whole career and still be a novice. Right. So, how could you ever get bored as a designer? As you're reflecting on my interview with Paul, think about as you're creating your visual story, what is your big idea, and how are you revealing that idea? Are you giving away too much? One of the big issues that I see in visual storytelling is giving the whole story away. How could you engage your audience by passing the material out in a way that is both dramatic and has a really good evolving pace. Keep thinking about bringing the story back to that idea and then ultimately creating some resolution at the end that allows us to understand what that idea is and why it's important. 6. Closing: Thank you so much for watching these interviews today. I hope you've really enjoyed my conversations with Georgia Lupi and Paul Sér, Pam Butler, and Adam J. Kurtz. Joseph Campbell has said that the need for humans, for homosapiens to tell stories is one of the profound manifestations of the human spirit. So, I hope this has inspired you to make your own visual stories and reveal your profundity and your human spirit. 7. More to Explore: