Nomads, Heretics, and Do-Gooders: Graphic Design’s New Normal

Nomads, Heretics, and Do-Gooders: Graphic Design’s New Normal

Achieving success as a designer by following your own path, being flexible and doing good for others? Can it be done?

When asked to conjure up an image of a working graphic designer, few people these days think of a craftsperson working away in a dimly lit studio environment, but rather, perhaps, of a denim-clad urbanite tapping away at his or her laptop in a WiFi-equipped café somewhere. In a rapidly developing, increasingly mobile world, what is today’s designers role?

Social network for UN's WAFUNIF, developed and designed by verynice

Social network for UN’s WAFUNIF, developed and designed by verynice

There are many of us “out there,” competing for an ever-decreasing number of projects. So how does one adapt and thrive in this new environment? A recent event, entitled “Nomads, Heretics, and Do-Gooders: Graphic Design’s New Normal,” by the Los Angeles chapter of the AIGA aimed to answer precisely that question. This new normal, it turns out, is one of agility, rebellion and advocacy. Attendees heard from three designers, who have all achieved success in their own way.

Website for Boyle Heights Learning Collaborative, by verynice

Website for Boyle Heights Learning Collaborative, by verynice

Matthew Manos, a recent design school graduate, started his own studio, called verynice. His intent from the start was to disrupt the way the design industry operates. Although verynice does work for “regular” clients, the studio dedicates more than 50 percent of their efforts toward pro bono services for non-profit organizations. It’s a radical business model, which allows philanthropy and “do-goodery” to play a large role in how the company operates. As of this year, verynice has provided free design services to more than 20o organizations all over the world.

Under Construction Showroom installation for Vitra, by Nicole Jacek.

Under Construction Showroom installation for Vitra, by Nicole Jacek

Born in Germany, Nicole Jacek cut her teeth working with industry greats such as Stefan Sagmeister in New York City and Ian Anderson at The Designers Republic in the UK. Most recently the Creative Director of karlssonwilker inc. in NYC, Jacek has migrated westward and is opening up her own studio, NJ(L.A.),  in Venice Beach, Calif. Designers in general are fairly mobile, and will continue to be so, out of both desire and necessity. Being a modern-day nomad, willing to go where ever there is  good work, is definitely as asset in today’s design world.

Vitra ID Chair concept campaign, by Nicole Jacek

Vitra ID Chair concept campaign, by Nicole Jacek

Also a German, Nik Hafermaas is the Graphic Design Department Chair at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and founder of UEBERSEE, “an artist platform converging digital media with spatial experiences.” Not trained as a traditional graphic designer, he tends to see things a little bit differently, which has turned out to be an asset. His curriculum at Art Center fuses print and packaging with motion and interaction design into something he calls Transmedia Design. “If you want to be a designer,” says Hafermaas, “you have to know the world and be willing to leave your comfort zone.”

eCloud, a dynamic sculpture installed at Norman Y. Mineta International Airport in San Jose, CA, by Nik Hafermaas/UEBERSEE

eCloud, a dynamic sculpture installed at Norman Y. Mineta International Airport in San Jose, CA, by UEBERSEE

By not being constrained by conventional boundaries, designers become equipped to function in a world that is changing by the day. The tools of our trade are more mental than physical these days, and — as long as you can dream it up — everything is possible. No matter if you are graphic designer, accountant or gardener, blaze your own trail. The others will have no choice but to follow.

Images courtesy of the designers. Lead graphic by Johanna Björk.

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