At the Future of Web Design conference last month in NYC, one of the presenters was Hillman Curtis. There were a number of amazing presentations (Carsonified) does an amazing job - there really were no ‘throw-aways’), but his stood out for a really important reason: inspiration.
Hillman Curtis is a really interesting guy. Not only is he a great writer and designer, but also quite an amazing filmmaker, biographer and documentarian. He has, among other projects, produced a series of short films interviewing a variety of artists. He had selected a particular one to show us that he felt had particular significance being that it was election day here in the US. The one he selected was about James Victore - the artist behind some of the most fantastic political and social commentary design I’ve seen. On that day, on such an historic occasion, we heard a quote that I think left virtually the entire audience speechless, and yet somehow stirred me in a way I’ve not felt in a long time.
In talking about what graphic design means to him, he said:
“Graphic design is a big f$%^ing club with spikes, and I want to wield it.”
It was a big bold slap-on-the-head reminder of the power that truly great design can wield. All too often it’s about selling or promoting - not about making a statement. Not about saying something big. As designers I think that’s a goal we too seldom get to achieve. One project that did that for me was years ago in school. We had to create a poster for some social or environmental cause. I chose homelessness.
The concept was a full-frame image of a rusty old barrel with flames coming out the top, and the simple phrase ‘where does your home fire burn?’ across the top, partially obscured by the flames. I contacted the National Coalition for the Homeless to ask permission to use their logo and after sharing a mockup got a high resolution logo and their blessing; they loved the image. That got me thinking, and with my instructor’s help and connections I spoke with a local service bureau, Appleton paper and Meridian Printing and got them to donate time, press and materials to get a run of 1500 or so printed and shipped to Washington, DC. NCH loved it, and said it was the most popular piece they’d had, and they disappeared alarmingly quickly. What started out as a brief assignment turned into one of the more rewarding experiences I’ve had as a designer.
It’s a shame that in the intervening years there are not so many other examples. (add)ventures is really good in that way though, and we all get to dedicate time every year to good causes through our (add)love program. I’m really looking forward to that.
So getting back to Hillman Curtis, James Victore, and a big f$%^ing club with spikes: the point of it all was inspiration. On election day - on THAT election day - it was one of the most significant moments for of the entire conference. Curtis, through his video interview with Victore, through choosing that film with that quote in it reminded us that design can make a difference. WE, as practitioners of design, can make a difference. We as citizens that day DID make a difference - no matter who we voted for. That got me fired up and excited about design. Not every project might engender that kind of inspiration, but some will. And it’s a good reminder to not let opportunities to take projects that make a statement slip away. It’s a chance to do something - something big. To pick up that club and wield it.
I can’t wait.