Blogs The Gradient Emmet Byrne

I am the Design Director here at the Walker. I also help edit and design a sporadic magazine called Task Newsletter with Jon Sueda and Alex DeArmond.

Designing Bon Iver’s 22, a Million: An Interview with Eric Timothy Carlson

  When I first started to see fragments of the artwork for Bon Iver’s new album, 22, a Million, I immediately recognized the hand of Eric Timothy Carlson, an artist and designer based in Brooklyn, originally from Minneapolis. Carlson’s work frequently mutates from medium to medium, a sketch becoming a poem becoming a sculpture becoming […]



When I first started to see fragments of the artwork for Bon Iver’s new album, 22, a Million, I immediately recognized the hand of Eric Timothy Carlson, an artist and designer based in Brooklyn, originally from Minneapolis. Carlson’s work frequently mutates from medium to medium, a sketch becoming a poem becoming a sculpture becoming a shirt. Through it all, the idea of reading—the fluidity between text and image, the discarded pictographic origins of alphabets, the semiotic slide between icon to index to symbol—guides his work.

Symbols especially fascinate Carlson, who has obsessively explored their cryptic and explicit power within the realm of music, having created logos, icons, and glyphs for a number of midwestern bands like P.O.S., Gayngs, and Doomtree. In Carlson’s world, symbols rarely speak with the intent of reifying meaning, or branding something with repressive authority, but in a way that evokes multiple readings at once, asking to be adopted and infused with new life. It is this spirit that is on ebullient display in his new artwork for Bon Iver. This work is thick—an extensive collection of symbols and drawings and texts that spill out from the dense LP design (the legend/key to the entire transmedia system) to populate Instagram posts, giant murals, lyric videos, etc. The work is less a graphic identity for an album and more a documentation of a collaborative network of players, places, times, and tools.


In the following interview we present the finished artwork, supplemented with process work and related materials. Eric takes us down the rabbit hole, describing the intense, fluid work sessions with Justin Vernon and others at the Eau Claire studios, the numbers that permeate the track list, the influence of digital culture on the new album, the prevalence of cryptic symbolism throughout the Minneapolis/Wisconsin music scene, and the Packers.





Emmet Byrne: How were you approached to work on this? Do you specialize in music packaging?

Eric Timothy Carlson: It’s been a long process. Five years ago, I received a message from Justin that said “I like what you’re doing, and I want you to know that.” A year or two later after actually meeting for the first time: “Can we work on something together? You should come over and we’ll vibe.”

Music has always been an important aspect of my practice. I’ve played music my whole life, and I come from a musical family, raised with it. In college I interned with Aesthetic Apparatus, screen-printing gig posters. My first design projects were for friends’ bands, and posters for art/music shows. Never really wanting to pursue any sort of traditional employment, I’ve made my way on small projects, working with musicians and artists and performers.

I lived in Minneapolis for a decade before moving to New York, so much of my work is born of that Midwest community. P.O.S’s Never Better was the first complete art direction project I had the chance to fully develop. It was a crash course in working with an artist and a label in unison, and aligning the intent and capabilities of all the involved parties/minds. I owe a lot to that community: P.O.S, Doomtree, Rhymesayers, TGNP, Building Better Bombs, Poliça, Gayngs, Skoal Kodiak, The Plastic Constellations, Marijuana Deathsquads, Dark Dark Dark, The Church, Organ House, Medusa. It was an opportunity to participate in defining a decade of music in Minneapolis.

For a couple of years, I also worked with Mike Cina, who is a book and record collector, and really learned and internalized a lot about typography and album art in my time with him. My practice has expanded outside of that through zines and the internet, but a lot of my work to this day has spawned from this continuum.




EB: How did you work with the Bon Iver crew to create this artwork?

ETC: Some projects, you can see what the cover is supposed to be—a floating image in the mind—or there are certain “rules” that you’re supposed to play by that determine much of what is being created. This project, however, could be whatever it wanted to be.

The original desire from the start was to create a robust world of work. So instead of pursuing a specific vision right off the bat, we just worked and experimented and tested ideas. I worked closely with Justin. I worked at April Base—the recording studio—a couple times a year, each time was a unique experience focused on that stage of the music. Usually with an intimate group of two or three guests (musicians, writers, chillers, curators) and the studio crew, for a week or so at a time, to make a unique creative space, where each of us would be a part of defining that period of creation. The whole Bon project is for the most part entirely driven in house. Each visit would be a new experiment—creating temporary installations and interventions, painting murals, sharing books and inspiration, playing music. We came to listen and work and get to know one another, to get a feel for how to work and talk and think together. Not overthink anything. Developing the conversation, making art, and sharing our scope of vision and capabilities.


In the rural setting of Eau Claire, when it was freezing outside, almost everything took place inside the studio, and we barely even left the property. It puts you in a certain headspace, and you develop a pattern of waking up and just getting into the work and process of it from noon to midnight—an uninterrupted cycle for a week at a time. But we’d make sure to sleep and eat well too, and not miss too much of the limited winter sunlight.


There were some early birds in the studio, and of course the night owls as well. The amount of people shifted depending on what was happening, and the vibe changed depending on who was around. I think the Indigo Girls were recording the week before I first visited, and there was another project in one of the sound rooms overlapping with my time there. That first visit was one of the most frenetic, fluid experiences, multiple projects developing and recording simultaneously. Sax and string players visiting to record their own work, and then session on the album in process as well. The later visits were more focused—everyone was there for the album, in a no distractions kind of mode.

I’m a habitual drawer, so these visits to the studio resulted in an accumulation of many, many sketches, like writing. Later, these sketch pages became a reference point for the final work. There was an honesty in the notes and collection process that very much influenced the final work.




EB:  How does the artwork respond to the music?

ETC: The songs were all numbers from the start, multiple numbers at first. So we would listen to each song, talk about the numbers, talk about the song, watch the lyrics take form, makes lists, make drawings. Real references and experiences are collaged in both the music and the artwork. I was able to interview and interrogate each song—digging into weird cores—and by the end of each visit, each song would develop a matrix of new notes and symbols.



Between the numerology, the metaphysical/humanist nature of the questions in 22, a Million, and the accumulation of physical material and symbolism around the music—it became apparent that the final artwork was to be something of a tome. A book of lore. Jung’s Red Book. A lost religion. The Rosetta Stone. Sagan’s Golden Record. Something to invest some serious time and mind in. Something that presented a lot of unanswered questions and wrong ways. A distant past and future. An inner journey somehow very contemporary.

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EB: When I saw the artwork for the first time I immediately recognized the feeling of it, the general design language. The use of rune-like symbols felt very much like your previous work, and like the work of some of your collaborators—but it didn’t feel like Bon Iver, at least as I understood it. Was Bon Iver looking for something different than their previous, pastoral vibe?

ETC: Early on in the process, it was said, “I want each song to have a symbol,” and I knew exactly what that meant. Symbols just naturally come out of me, which is why I use them so much. Icons, signs, symbols—they are cultural fragments and a well made one can cut so deep into our language. I’ve been mentally collecting these all my life. There’s an exercise I enjoy—sitting down to draw out all of the symbols you know without reference: logos, symbols, characters, etc.—and it’s often surprising what comes out, what we have locked away in memory. The anarchy A, yin yangs, Mr. Yuck, Super “S,” Kilroy, peace sign, etc. I admit that one of my desires regarding design and art is to add something to that deep cultural symbolic well of knowing. But they also come from a decades-long conversation within this specific community. I designed the Gayngs symbol for Ryan Olson in 2010 and worked with Doomtree in 2011 on their No Kings album, which also involved the generation of a series of glyphs. These ideas—claiming icons, masks, unknowables, unsayables, unpronouncables—resonate with that community. The Artist Formally Known as Prince. Zoso. CRASS. etc.





And as far as the feeling of the previous Bon albums, I mean, they brought me in for a reason. That version of Americana was ripe and appropriate when For Emma, Forever Ago and Bon Iver happened, but the Bon project didn’t want to further perpetuate that aesthetic. The new album remains explicitly connected to those before it, but the feeling has undeniably evolved, as has the culture around it.


I spent years in a perfectly weird corner of the heartland making apocalyptic noise art in the vibrant community of Minneapolis. Landlocked bloggers. High and low are just as much the fabric of our home as is a melting pile of snow. So on the surface, the new album aesthetic might seem like a dramatic shift in the Bon aesthetic, but I see it true and deeply bonded to its current state as well as the history out of which it developed.

For 22, a Million—in their creation—they felt automatic. I enjoy the puzzle of creating a ligature. Justin assigned a specific meaning to the numbers and a logic to their creation, but in the end, they are open containers to be filled with new meaning. Symbols in the context of music have a lot of power, and people are very willing to own and wear/display their cultural experiences and allegiances.


As the artwork developed, it became clear how we would seed the material into the public. With 10 symbols, we would make 10 murals, and 10 videos, and a 20-page book, etc. As with many numerologies—just follow the numbers—be them true or not.

The artwork is a collection of hundreds of pieces, icons, ideas, motifs, most of which are capable of standing on their own. The proper album packaging is the legend of symbols, where you find everything all in one place. When applying the art to outside uses (murals, ads,Instagram posts, etc.), we could utilize individual components. But no piece should be as comprehensive as the album packaging.


EB: How did you land on the prominent use of the yin yang symbol?

ETC: In establishing that each song was to have a symbol or a set of symbols designated to it, I wanted to also arrive at an overarching symbol, to house them all within. The yin yang proper was in play loosely from the start, working well in the context of the humanist/spiritual pursuits of the project. I created the collage compositions for the LP package by hand at 33˝ x 33˝, as it proved the best way for me to deal with the amount of material produced, and to massage it all into a sound and organic composition. The center was originally occupied by an altered mandala, as a satisfying placeholder, waiting to be filled with the final symbol. The yin yang design we ended up with happened while working in vector—on something of a whim. Changing the symbol into a square format proved to be enough to keep it recognizable but make it unique to the project. The “smile in the mind” bit of the “i” and “b” emerging from the mark was the final step in both owning the mark, as well as settling its roll. It is a simple design, two circles centered, but the point where they touch in the center is sensitive and requires some optical adjustments. Following the geometric paths produces a little tick that requires massaging to look right. The proportions of the “i” work within the proportions system created for the LP design, and align with the typographic proportions as well. As organic as it feels, it’s a tightly made structure throughout it all.


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There was a short conversation as we arrived near the final art design, where I wanted a very clear confirmation that this was where we were going to land, “There are going to be yin yangs and down crosses on your album cover … and … you’re down with that?” and the response was more or less, “Dude, yesssssss!”



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EB: You’ve described the way ideas of digital collage, digital formats, digital thinking really encompassed the creative conception of the album, both musically and visually.

ETC: 22, a Million to me still feels very tied to Emma and the self-titled album. There is still the gospel and folk and mountain songs, but in the studio I could feel and see the visceral digital collage of it all, how our technology and the internet has truly affected the way we collect, organize, think, and make. This album is built on our history of music, noise, poetry, and Americana, but also seamlessly incorporates and celebrates the technological nuances of our contemporary—employing it and expanding it.

Visualizing music has been an exercise I’ve practiced since I was young. The first PlayStation had the visualizer function where you could customize your equalizer/screensaver with the controller, responding to any CD you put in, which informed a bit of how I approached it then. I try to let the ideas be more expansive now. When I first heard the digital disturbances crackling over these new songs, it was such a trip, seeing layers and relationships I hadn’t yet encountered.

The computer so readily pairs with futurist visions, pushing forward futuristic, technology-oriented aesthetics. But the reality of our relationship with digital technology always retains this messy pulsing humanity. Marshall McLuhan predicted computers in every classroom, people connected around the world, utopian vibes. Technically he was very right, but we still have bad carpeting and ugly plaid couches and gas station tchotchkes and dirty bathrooms. Regardless of time passing, we remain in communion with the century preceding us, and even the previous millennium or two.

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EB: How do you understand album artwork in the context of the digital music economy? Prior to the proper release of the album, your artwork was published in a variety of ways, from a cryptic track-list graphic approach on Instagram to the YouTube lyrics videos. The graphics seem to be very front and center in Bon Iver’s pre-release strategy—they are presented as standalone thoughts, with very little context, in lieu of a slick marketing campaign. Was this the intent from the beginning?

ETC: I believe Bon Iver has had unique success with both digital and physical album sales, perhaps an anomaly of sorts. Being of my generation, I can’t help but desire access to music and movies and such things for free—I understand how that is problematic, but upon tasting Napster, it was hard to go back.

Labels, album makers, vinyl fetishists—people love the richness of album art, the nostalgic object to own and consume. It’s fun to produce that stuff, and much of the best album art was made for that format. CD’s are junk, and Digipaks are junk, in my opinion. (My favorite CD format is those massive Case Logic binders of poorly labeled CDRs.)

Given the opportunity, I like to make artwork first for the LP format because it is the most generous format for artwork (assuming one pursues the object creation). Then I try to find a good way to make a system of format conversions. I love old cassette tapes where they just drop the square album art on the cassette cover, and type out the titles again bigger underneath in the worst/best way. So honest.

Format conversions are such a crazy part of doing a big release like this, because there are so many when it comes to international releases: LP, CD, Cassette, Euro LP, CD, Central/South American CD, Australian CD, Japan CD, etc… all slightly different sizes, with different printers, different distributors. Aspects of this obviously become a certain hell, but I can’t help but pursue quirky packaging details in the different designs, which, if done well, can result in so many unique details that make each version special in their own little mutant way.


When working with bands, I’ve often made the case that they should find a way to make an album available for free, since someone will do it anyway, and if you try to control it, you end up keeping people away from the work. I can’t back up any financial rubric supporting this, but it feels right to me. Most of my friends are posting their work on SoundCloud or YouTube. When they release an album that is freely available, the ideas that form around the real base are a little more true to humans than the rules as laid out by companies.

For 22, a Million, there will be lyric videos that I created with Aaron Anderson for each song that will be available for free on YouTube (save the ad experience/big data), which is great as it opened another gate for us to expand the language of the artwork into an entirely different realm—time and motion and the casually fluent—because internet. 

EB: Lyric videos are an interesting choice for an album like this. Vernon references Richard Buckner when talking about becoming comfortable with writing words that sound like something, instead of lyrics with explicit meaning. “Sound things out and find out what it means later. Gave me the courage to write like that.” I feel like your cryptic use of symbols matches that strategy pretty closely. It suggests a deep, diverse world of language but the viewer is allowed to fill in the meaning of what it is actually saying.  The lyric videos seem deliberately deadpan in their delivery of the lyrics—a little too straight up for lyrics that make very little “sense” at first listen. There’s something unnatural-feeling about literally reading these lyrics while listening to the music…

ETC: The lyric videos initiative came from Justin. I’m not sure they ended up looking like what he was imagining, but that’s one of the things that has been so great about the project: the trust in the work of everyone involved. I was originally a little hesitant about the lyric video concept, largely due to the quality of lyric videos in general, and because I was dreaming of an entirely abstract/ambient visual component to live with the music online, without typography. But many lyric videos found online are made by fans—iMovie/After Effects motion graphics class projects. I feel that that amateur aesthetic has gone on to inform what official, professionally produced lyric videos look like. Those videos are getting a lot of views, so they are probably important to produce and control, but I can’t imagine any of them are allotted budgets comparable to that of a music video—they are more of a checked-off assets category in the end.

But it was good challenge, figuring out how to do it good/weird/right, how to acknowledge the format, and how to expand the album art into this realm. They didn’t need to be explicitly narrative, and they didn’t need to live by the rules of the print material. They are made for YouTube, to ultimately listen to the music in that format—but we wanted to prod at the format, and use it to expand upon the inherent digital truth of the album.

The simple and natural aesthetic of digital collage that these videos utilize is deeply rooted in the core of 22, a Million. From the start, the note taking, the creative process, and the music embrace the idea of digital collage. For example, “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” samples a low-resolution YouTube video of Stevie Nicks casually singing backstage. These lyric videos where the perfect place to expand upon this digital aesthetic.


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It would be amazing to take a 5K to New Zealand and make all the videos of Gandalf blowing lyric smoke rings, but we have a lot of readily-available capabilities in our pocket already, and feel capable of making something great on a napkin. I’ve always loved making design work in text edit, for example. The initial footage from “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” is all video screen captured in Acrobat. The video for “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” is a slowed down video text message, with the lyrics applied in a broken subtitle generator, shot off the screen because it wouldn’t export correctly. It feels right to leave some of these inconsistencies, like a painting’s visible underdrawing. Something beautiful in mistakes—techno wabi-sabi. Folk motion graphics… motion graphics are so bad.

I like the idea of domestic psychedelia. Which isn’t so much tie-dye as it is being half asleep on an ugly couch and the floaties in your eyelids.


The artwork certainly goes to reference something ancient—a lore—but so does the music, with the voice, the folk and gospel music. But it is also inherently new, and defining what comes later, the future, so it seemed important to address the contemporary, to break the contemporary, and show how fucked up good and weird our domestic tools can be through simple layered process.




EB: It feels very natural, the way you mash up your ancient/masonic-looking symbol system with contemporary, mundane imagery such as football jerseys, bad YouTube videos, old hotel rooms, beer cans, rainbows. What’s that about? Nostalgia? High/low? Irony? Is it recontextualizing the everyday iconography we live with? Is it something much simpler?




ETC: I like the natural humanity of all these things. These just feel like very human marks to me, from the fabric of communication and the material of our lives. I like acknowledging how weird and aesthetic our environments and immediate cultural surroundings are. Prodding at basic structures of communication and language. At the same time, I’m drawn to these old symbols, as they have so much responsibility for what we are and how we communicate today.

The symbols are deeply ingrained in the social mind, and define so much for us. We grow up seeing and accepting symbols as part of our reality. Spades, clubs, diamonds, hearts: where do these come from, and is there a deeper meaning? Are they violent, or controversial, or of the tarot? The cross, the star, sun and moon, the spiral: they all have vast meaning and association inherently available to anyone and everyone—owned at times by a particular culture or movement—forever shifting, but retaining a trace of a cultural pulse.

The letters of the Roman alphabet developed out of other symbols older and of meaning that no longer register in their use. Quelled by changes in regime and religion. Conquerers assimilating the occupied. Symbols collage through time.




These simple things—jerseys, beer cans, rainbows—function in a similar way to the symbols. They too are symbols. The beer can is there, suggesting traces of the people behind the project. Everybody drinks the same Coca-Cola Classic. Chipotle has the same burrito any place you eat it. The football jersey—I mean, nothing ever got done at the studio on Sunday afternoons because the Packers were on, and I was like, “Noted.” It’s real.



Above: unrealized concept art of a Bon Iver/Packers mashup

Though of course, contemporary symbolism is heavily influenced by branding and advertising. I imagine a good portion of the last century’s most enduring symbols come from that sector. “I Heart NY,” though an endearing sentiment, in part serves an economic end.


We so naturally have embraced a form of communication now defined as the social spaces of the internet. Images work in this space in a way unique to the speed and format of it all. We can accumulate and disperse vast immaterial fields of information, sifting through it all collectively. This field absorbs all that is fed into it and expands exponentially.

I’m not explicitly working to employ irony beyond what is casually interlaced. I don’t see it as nostalgic or particularly mundane—though at times perhaps critical, taking specific notice of problems, things understood as ugly or wrong. The Papyrus typeface. A simple awareness with unpleasant political implications—the peripherals we blissfully allow to escape notice. So re-contextualizing, yes, but also exposing some truths.

Stop and smell the flowers, connect the not obviously connected to new end. I find a lot of beauty in these things, which doesn’t require aesthetic and defies design. Slick is good and buttoned up but so often such a facade.

We also collected a massive amount of found imagery during the process, often texting these images back and forth. Some of these images appear in the newsprint zine released the day before the album came out in cities around the world—drawings of my own, a number of images from the Taschen Book of Symbols, a still from the Eames’s Powers of Ten, and a napkin drawing from one of our first conversations about the album art. The found imagery also showed up in other formats: the lyric videos, posters, etc. The actual album packaging itself very strictly required entirely original work, though.



EB: Why Optima?

ETC: I didn’t want anything too tricky. A system font felt good, since I was working with the lyrics in text-edit documents. Optima just looked so right spelling out “BON IVER.” It sung the first time I saw it. I didn’t share it with them right away, or even implement it in design off the bat—but it continued to resonate every time I went back to it, which is usually a solid test. The first example I found of Optima in use that stuck out was the McCain presidential campaign, and I thought, “That’s legit” —thought it was funny—so there’s your irony. Helvetica-y was too sterile, and Garamond was too sentimental. Optima proved it could be both contemporary coffee-table book and Magic the Gathering. Find yourself a font that can do both.

I also just use Univers and Garamond for pretty much everything I do, so I wanted to do some due diligence in playing with other things. I had been using Courier New for all of my process pdf’s—because I think it looks great digital—when its all the same size (12pt or under), but kind of loath it any larger.

EB: How did you approach designing the booklet?

ETC: We knew from the start that we wanted a substantial booklet in the LP. Upon establishing that all of the drawings would be on the jacket, I was excited to limit the booklet to just typography, and find a way to keep that experience just as rich and nuanced as the rest of the system. I started using Courier, and that immediately started evoking the feeling of concrete poetry and ’60s conceptual art, employing the limitations of a typewriter. The hipster in a coffee shop working on a typewriter is the worst thing ever, and I was perhaps towing the line of steampunk a bit, but the direction felt right.

By the time I was working on the book I had listened to the album in process nearly a hundred times, so the layout decisions proved natural and intuitive, knowing where the phrases broke, making visual decisions in response to the music of it, using parallel columns where the lyrics overlapped.

Personally, this approach also connects to strategies of working with text digitally, such as finding ways to successfully break a blogspot layout.


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EB: One last question: How does it feel to blatantly expose the Illuminati once and for all?

ETC: “Ouroboros! Obelisk!” Such perfect confirmation. I’d like to note that there is no Ouroboros in that video.■


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Above: spreads from the newsprint zine that was distributed at surprise listening parties worldwide the day before album release



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Ordinary Pictures teaser trailer

Here is the teaser trailer for our exhibition Ordinary Pictures, cut by our videographer Andy Underwood-Bultmann. The show, curated by Eric Crosby, surveys a range of conceptual picture-based practices since the 1960s through the lens of the stock photograph and other forms of industrial image production. You can take a walkthrough of the exhibition here. […]

Here is the teaser trailer for our exhibition Ordinary Pictures, cut by our videographer Andy Underwood-Bultmann. The show, curated by Eric Crosby, surveys a range of conceptual picture-based practices since the 1960s through the lens of the stock photograph and other forms of industrial image production. You can take a walkthrough of the exhibition here. We’ll be publishing a post about the accompanying catalogue soon.

Raw Material: An Interview with Google Design

The SPAN Reader, a book released by Google Design in conjunction with its SPAN conferences in New York and London, is an eclectic collection of design thinking that investigates a variety of contemporary issues, such as the ethics of interface design, the implications of smart homes regarding privacy, the nature of time in digital space, the WYSIWYG paradigm, handmade computing, the haptic joy […]


Dust jacket for Google Design’s SPAN Reader (2015)

The SPAN Reader, a book released by Google Design in conjunction with its SPAN conferences in New York and London, is an eclectic collection of design thinking that investigates a variety of contemporary issues, such as the ethics of interface design, the implications of smart homes regarding privacy, the nature of time in digital space, the WYSIWYG paradigm, handmade computing, the haptic joy of contemporary stonecutting, and even the architectural implications of burglary. The book features original writing as well as several reprints, and many of the authors featured are unexpected (at least to me)—it is one thing to read Keller Easterling’s critique of intangible architecture and power structures in its original context of the theoretical contemporary art journal e-Flux, and quite another to read it within the pages of a Google publication.

As a glimpse into the thinking behind Google Design, the SPAN Reader seemed a good place to start when trying to understand the culture and philosophies at work in the office. This post begins with a short interview with Rob Giampietro and Amber Bravo, creative lead and editor of Google Design NY, respectively, discussing the editorial mission of Google Design, the ever-evolving metaphor of “material,” and the process of creating the book.  Finally, Rob and Amber respond to a number of excerpts from the book (a reading of the reader?), offering us a chance to understand why these issues are important, and how they fit into the larger framework of Google Design. Many of the individual texts are available to read in full online, so please do click through.



Emmet Byrne: What is Google Design?

Rob Giampietro/Amber Bravo: Google Design is a cooperative effort led by a group of designers, writers, and developers at Google. We work across teams to create tools, resources, events, and publications that support and further design and technology both inside and outside of Google.

EB: One theme that resonates in the SPAN Reader is the idea of integrating digital design thinking with traditional modes of physical design thinking. Is this something Google Design takes to heart?

RG/AB: Digital design has benefitted tremendously from what’s come before it—print design’s focus on highly controlled and comprehensively specified modular systems, environmental design’s capability to compress, augment, and orient space, product design’s focus on the user and the affordances of a material, motion design’s ability to make information come to life in time, and so on. That said, today’s technology is really challenging the parameters between the traditional disciplines of design. When the interface becomes three dimensional, as is the case with VR, you need to completely reframe your thinking. Material Design mixes media in its framing as well—it thinks about how to make interfaces more immediately graspable, by playing with the dimensionality of light and shadow and thinking about how objects and surfaces like paper behave in the physical world. So we’re certainly interested in all kinds of design and what we can learn from them in our work and the field of digital designer more broadly. We also do a lot of non-mediated things like conferences and events, and in those cases we’ve had to think about how Material Design translates to other contexts—how it works in print, or how it works in space. Lance Wyman spoke at SPAN in New York about the design of urban iconography. As a team tasked with streamlining and evolving the company’s graphic language, we find ourselves often collaborating with teams on all levels of design, down to the tiniest details, like helping to refine product icons. So we really look up to and stand on the shoulders of Lance and others’ work in this field. If we do our jobs well, it’s a symbiotic approach, design and technology co-evolving, and highly attuned to the nuances of a user’s context in all cases.


Example of a Material Design product icon

EB: When did “Material” come to represent something virtual instead of physical?

RG/AB: Google originated the name “Material Design” for the design system and always intended for it to be a broad, open-source initiative for the design community. We continue to lead and push the system forward, both visually and conceptually, so that it’s best-in-class and up-to-date, and we also rely on the community to push it forward and adapt it for their own uses to really bring it to life. Last year, we even established our first-ever Material Design Award, to acknowledge all the great examples of material design being produced by third-party product teams.

Example of Google Material Design “thickness”


In terms of the “virtualization” of material that you ask about, Material Design is a system for thinking about our digital surfaces that uses the traditional tenets of graphic design to suit this new context most appropriately. So, for example, with mobile devices, once you remove the mouse or other pointing device, then you are actually interacting with a surface, and the affordances of that surface—its materiality—become critical. So while it is virtualized, it’s also being touched. It’s still mediated, but less so. And that closer proximity to the interface offers a new set of opportunities. The floating action button (FAB) in Material Design rises up subtlely to meet your finger when you tap it. The number of layers in Material Design cannot exceed the device’s actual depth and fade into illusory space. It’s probably important to note that almost all GUIs have been metaphorically-driven. The desktop metaphor was one of the first, but following that were spatial metaphors (GeoCities, Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator), and more heavy-handed physical metaphors like bookshelves, dashboards, etc. These metaphors often build a bridge to make a technology more familiar to new users, but, as these users become more accustomed to the technology, this metaphorical layer can be lightened and the technology can become a bit more true to itself. A last word on metaphors: it’s been interesting in the last few years to see the directionality of these metaphors reverse, so that instead of digital technology receiving metaphors from the analog world, it’s actually starting to provide them. In the last few months we’ve been interested to hear phrasing like “paintings as social networks,” “buildings as operating systems,” and so on.


Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 11.30.04 AM

Google Design articles page


EB: How do areas like Material Design and marketing intersect with Google Design’s editorial and educational mission?

RG/AB: Material Design is an open-source product and we treat it as such with regular updates and improvements that we share widely. On our team, designers and engineers work very closely together to build, and, perhaps even more crucially, maintain the system and services we develop. That’s a hallmark of our work at Google Design—the fact that we’re lead by design and engineering in equal measure. We’ve created a unique platform for sharing our work and the work of other design teams across Google, but it’s always geared toward the perspective of a team of people who are excited to polish and push the boundaries of design and engineering. We mentioned our mission earlier: to support designers and developers both internally and externally to Google. So part of our editorial and educational imperative is to share Google’s process and thinking with the design world around important topics like design tools or identity systems, and, just as significantly, we want to listen, learn, and respond to what the design world is talking and thinking about and bring the best of those ideas back into the company to power it and make all of our work better. Google is a technology organization, but, increasingly, and especially with the formation of Google Design, it understands itself to be a cultural organization as well.

EB: What is a normal day like for the two of you?

AB: I head up our editorial efforts at Google Design. It’s really important for our team to connect with the community in a meaningful way, through a variety of channels. So I help make those connections via social comms, and editing and producing stories that support the design community both inside and outside of Google. Stories, of course, can take many forms—for example, we relaunched our site for last year’s I/O with a documentary video series that explored the making of Material Design—so storyboarding, script writing, and pitching in on art direction all fall within my general purview depending on the given project. I work closely with the designers and engineers both on and outside our team to help them frame and write their stories. This can sometimes mean parsing pretty technical language, or figuring out the most exciting lens or angle for a given project. And of course, I get to work on amazing, special projects like the SPAN conference and reader, and even dabble a bit in speech writing and technical UX writing for products. My title at Google is “Content Strategist.” Coming from a more traditional journalism background, this felt a bit foreign to me at first, but I’ve come to appreciate its techy charm and the fact that it underscores my special knack for being a generalist! is still quite young, so it’s been exciting to see it grow and evolve every quarter into something a bit more robust and editorially engaging.

RG: Within Google my role is Design Manager, and I am also the site lead for the Material Design studio in New York. This means I get to lead a small studio that’s part of a much bigger effort, meet regularly with designers and engineers to develop projects, structure priorities, provide direction and mentorship, and evaluate impact and success. So it’s a people-focused job, both for the people in the office to make sure they’re creatively challenged, and for finding the most talented people to join our team in New York. I am also one of several creative leads who assume responsibility for inter-office projects—like the SPAN Conferences and Google Design efforts in my case. On a day-to-day basis I meet with groups across the company and outside of Google to provide feedback and direction, share our design efforts, and learn from new projects and research. Much of my work with Google Design has to do with capturing and showcasing some of the most innovative thinking happening around design at Google and also fostering connections between what we’re doing and what we see in the wider design sphere.




Span Reader (2015)

EB: Why make a book? 

RG/AB: We wanted to go above and beyond the standard swag bag people are accustomed to getting at conferences, and produce something that people would appreciate and hopefully hang onto for a long time. At SPAN, we were able to bring together such an exciting array of talent, we wanted to somehow extend the moment of the conference and let people take those conversations home with them. We also thought the intellects of our speakers merited deeper engagement and they deserved some extended promotion and support from us, which we developed the Reader to provide.

One of our early interests in planning for example was privacy and access and how design could get involved and help to lead the discussions there. When we learned Geoff Manaugh was working on a new book on burglary in the city and that he was willing to share an early excerpt of this book with us for the reader, we were thrilled—this is exactly the kind of thing we were hoping for. Same thing with Amber’s interview with Nick Benson, a third-generation stonemason—we hoped this would shift the conversations we’d been having around materiality to a much different timescale. In addition to all this, it’s fair to say that conferences come and go, but books hang around. Much of why we’re able to learn from the earlier work of IBM and others is because the documents of these projects are still available to us. Olivetti supported a journal on city planning, a literary magazine, and an art gallery. Publishing, as much as convening, is part of building culture, and Google recognizes that it has a responsibility here. Everyone at Google has been thrilled at the reception of the SPAN Reader, we’ve shown we can do projects like this, and hopefully we’ve paved the way for more of them.

EB: How did the project come together?

RG/AB: The whole Google Design team worked together to source speakers for SPAN, and Rob selected and invited these speakers to the conference and worked with them to develop their talks. Once they were involved, Amber worked to assemble shortlists of essays we wanted to consider for the reader, and Amber and Rob worked together to assemble and balance the collection. There were many others on our team who were involved as well, along with crucial input of our book designer Chad Kloepfer [former senior designer at the Walker Art Center], who did a six-month “residency” at Google on our team to help bring this and other projects to life. You can read more about the design of the book here.



Span Reader (2015)


EB: The content in this book is quite diverse. On what axes did you plan this diversity? 

RG/AB: SPAN’s subtitle is “Conversations about design and technology, sponsored by Google.” This was critical to our approach. With the Olivetti publishing we just mentioned, there was a diversity of points of view and the context was one of scientific research and development. This is also where Google is at its best. We have the scale and ability to explore multiple directions in a given area of focus, and it’s that diversity of talent and perspectives that enables the company to yield the best and most innovative experiences for our users. With SPAN, we reached out to a lot of people to discuss their ideas and work—some of these conversations were preliminary and others continued to develop. The ideas represented in the reader belong to people who really opened our minds or informed our thinking about how we practice design. In a sense we made this reader to orient and focus ourselves as well as our audience. This first reader had a somewhat historical focus with the inclusion of Davide Fornari, John Harwood, and others—subsequent readers may shift conversations into other fields, or more into the present day. Please check out video of all of our session recordings in New York City and London.



The following excerpts are from the Span Reader (2015). Rob and Amber were asked to respond to each quote in regard to their work at Google Design.

Page 12
Luna Maurer, from the Conditional Design Manifesto 
“The process is the product.” (read the full manifesto)

RG/AB: Luna (of Studio Moniker in Amsterdam) was one of the first calls we made when organizing SPAN. There is something playful, irreverent, and human about her work while being highly programmatic and process-driven. We responded to it and it was gratifying to see a room full of developers and engineers jump to their feet after her keynote at SPAN London. Code review is a huge part of building products at Google, and Moniker’s process of arriving at a design through a rationalized and systematic processes seems to speak directly to the way in which engineers are equally concerned with the elegance of the string as they are the final outcome. This quote is characteristic of Luna and Moniker’s her work—absolutely rigorous, but arriving at a conclusion that is nonetheless unexpected.


Page 25
Paul Ford, speaking to a graduating class of interaction designers, about the implications of the products they will create 
“The things that you build in the next decade are going to cost people, likely millions of people, maybe a billion people depending on the networks where you hitch your respective wagons, they are going to cost a lot of people a lot of time. Trillions of heartbeats spent in interaction.” (Read the full address.)

RG/AB: Paul’s breakthrough essay “What Is Code?” Came out in Bloomberg Businessweek while we were planning SPAN and we remembered reading this earlier talk of his and wanted to include it because Paul is as smart and savvy a tech writer as there is, but he always writes with great feeling and heart. Because Google operates at a staggering scale—we have several products operating at more than a billion users—we wanted to remind ourselves of the responsibility we have in making this work. The Eameses talk about design as “the best for the most for the least.” We aspire to something very similar at Google. Every bit that has to be downloaded on costly rural internet in low-income communities, every notification that takes a user out of what they’re doing or away from someone else—designers make the decisions that yield these outcomes and carry these responsibilities. That’s how we read what Paul is saying here.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 50
Michael Rock, on the WYSIWYG design paradigm 

“In this new condition, the moment of finishing is not a fact of the medium but the will of the typographer: the work wavers in a transitory state and is only done when the designer commits. The writing may be finished but the type always temporary. This unification of the sentence and the display collapses form and content into something close to the same thing where every work is a work-in-progress.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: Michael and 2×4 were involved in helping us to plan SPAN, and they also shaped the interior architecture of the event. He is one of our best thinkers on design, and we loved the way his essay dramatized the flowing, variable, and technologically evolving aspects of typography then and now. His notes were a sketch for what we wanted to do with SPAN as a whole: Read technology as a continuous, rather than a sudden, process.


Page 55
John Harwood on IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design

EB: One of the texts you featured in the book was an excerpt from The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976, by John Harwood, which describes a two decade long period of design innovation that brought together IBM’s in-house design team, celebrity designers such as Charles Eames, Paul Rand, George Nelson, Marcel Breuer, and Eero Saarinen, with IBM’s researchers, scientists, and engineers. What about this experiment in corporate design innovation, and others like it, excites you? How do they inform what you are doing at Google Design? (Watch John Harwood’s SPAN talk.)

RG/AB: This year saw an explosion of new projects around the Eameses in particular, with a retrospective organized by Catherine Ince that included a replica of the multi-screen IBM film at the Barbican in London, and an exhibition organized by Stephen Edidin at the New York Historical Society about the “Silicon City” that opened with a different replica of IBM World’s Fair Pavilion, and also included sections on “9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering” and other significant cultural moments around technology. In all of this, perhaps there are three lessons that we want to remember and develop in our own work. First, the IBM effort was generous in spirit and attempted to make what could have been a remote or monolithic effort more accessible to all. Second, it was a critical conversation at a critical moment that happened successfully at scale. And third, despite being aimed at hundreds of thousands of people, the end product was not watered-down or middling—if anything, it was challenging and even avant-garde. Many of the designers who contributed to the projects at IBM considered it to be the best work they ever did. This is exactly what all of us at Google aspire to as well.


Page 66
Davide Fornari, on Arte programmata. Arte cinetica. Opere moltiplicate. Opera aparta. 

“The idea that an artwork may include algorithmic behaviors and is completed by the action and interaction of the audience became a reality thanks to the early experimentation of these artistic groups and their collaboration with forward-thinking patrons.” (Visit the Reprogrammed Art website.)

RG/AB: Davide and Rob had met last year in Italy while both were doing research on Olivetti, and we reconnected with him when our team sponsored the AGI Open Conference in Bern, Switzerland. John Harwood observes in The Interface that IBM’s insight to build a culture around “business machines,” starting with the redesign of their showroom on 5th Avenue, really came through Olivetti’s groundbreaking work. With SPAN’s presence in Europe and the U.S., we thought it was interesting to offer both sides of this corporate history, and Davide’s scholarship was an essential way to do it. In terms of contemporary connections with the art world, our team works with the Google Cultural Institute on a number of projects; their 89Plus initiative (curated by Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist), Paris Lab residency, and numerous museum partnerships, are a few examples of Google supporting the art world in an official way.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 88
Nick Benson, on evidence of the human hand in contemporary forms of stonecutting
“But that particular memorial, in all of its linear and postmodern purity, has a flavor of humanity that’s difficult to define. In the carving and the design of that inscription, there’s a reflection of that. My effort in designing a character is to have just a little bit of human spark. It’s a very contemporary form, but there’s just a teeny bit of humanity in there. It’s very subtle—almost subconscious—but you see it.” (Read the full interview.)

RG/AB: Nick’s interview has a lot to offer contemporary designers—particularly UX designers who are accustomed to being able to update and iterate ad infinitum. There’s a moment in his interview , where he describes how when he looks at an ancient Roman carving he acutely understands how it was made and can deeply empathize with a stonecarver who lived two millennia prior. That haptic knowledge is something that’s accrued and refined over time. It requires the body and a honed sensitivity. It is something that is incredibly important to keep in mind with an industry as young as ours, but as intimately connected to our daily lives and habits as the written (or chiselled) word. At Google we say, “focus on the user and the rest will follow.” In terms of design, this requires an acute awareness or consideration for how a user is experiencing the entire flow. When we design something as seemingly trivial as a button or switch, how that component sits within the larger ecosystem of the product language you’re building actually becomes integral to the entire experience. It’s not just a single message or action we’re designing. Nick’s assessment that it’s the hand of the designer that humanizes what could otherwise be considered a cold, or rational formal exercise, gets at that importance of honing conscientiousness and nuance in your craft and connecting with the human at the other end of the exchange.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 100
Taeyoon Choi, on reclaiming our digital autonomy through DIY computer production 
“When our lives are affected by the algorithms and programs, what is the act of resistance and dissent that can preserve our independence from becoming agents of machines?” (Visit Taeyoon Choi’s website.)

RG/AB: Taeyoon’s work inspired us immediately. We knew about his School for Poetic Computation in New York, a place of great curiosity and experimentation. The name itself brings C.P. Snow’s “two cultures” into dialogue—art and science, or, in the case of SPAN, design and technology. While we were working on SPAN, Taeyoon led a workshop at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn called the Handmade Computer, and we had to marvel at the simplicity of sharing the messy work of computer-making with a group of semi-technical students and artists who genuinely wanted to examine and find new connection with the technology they use everyday. We invited Taeyoon to reprise the workshop at SPAN New York, where it was one of our most popular sessions, and for the reader he contributed one of his marvellous hand-illustrated stories. For Taeyoon, the lesson—and perhaps the resistance he speaks of in his quote—comes from placing the computer back into human hands and in the decidedly unpredictable spark that comes from that unstructured programming. Taeyoon’s work is a lesson to us all to leave space in our systems for discovery and delight.


Page 115
Keller Easterling, on systems design and “know how” 

“While architects and urbanists typically design object forms with shape and outline or master plans, sometimes more powerful than designing a thing is developing an interplay between things—active forms that serve as a platform for shaping a stream of objects or a population effect.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: Much of the core team working on SPAN was familiar with Keller’s deep, probing work with the effects of technological infrastructure on the urban environment, and these moments where technology enters and changes the scene was something we thought SPAN should address with Keller as our guide. As we got deeper into several of her essays, it was a pleasure to find prose that was evocative and suggestive of the ways that technology has reshaped how we assess our present-day existence. That it becomes harder to know how to shape a building without an awareness of the software that runs it, or the data that shapes it, or the flows of activity that surround it, or the hardware it houses. This tangle of issues, she suggests, dissolves a firm sense of knowing that something should be shaped in a specific way into a different kind of accrued knowledge, knowing how. At SPAN New York she explained that “You can know how to kiss.” In her essay, she credits her interest in know how to Gilbert Ryle, a British philosopher who coined the now-widespread phrase “the ghost in the machine,” though the machine in his meaning was our own bodies, not our devices. On a more practical level, as designers working hand in hand with engineers, we could not agree more with Keller’s assessment. So much of our formal expression is borne on platforms where products are interacting and influencing a stream of interdependent experiences. In including this essay in the reader, we wanted to celebrate her work and point to these fundamental concepts as well.


Page 134
Justin McGuirk, on the smart home 

“As the primary interface of the “internet of things,” the smart home is effectively the tendrils of the network rising out of the ground and into every one of our household appliances to allow mass data collection and digital surveillance.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: Justin’s essay, and his subsequent talk at SPAN London, captured beautifully the complex web of issues at play in questions of privacy and security. We both want our devices to do more and must constantly adjust and check that desire other political and social aspects of our humanity. His talk at SPAN highlighted how different cultures have answered questions of urban privacy in different ways—some requiring more, some less—and like SPAN more broadly we find this complex and nuanced result to be the most truthful. We included the essay to remind designers, especially digital and product designers working in this space, of their responsibility to both delight and guide users. We also included it because Justin’s essay, along with other scholarship on this issue, helps to make what can be an invisible shift of having sensors and data in our domestic spaces more visible. At SPAN, Rob invoked a lesson from Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn as an earlier parallel. Brand says one of the problems with using vinyl siding on houses instead of wooden siding is that vinyl hides rot and other structural flaws beneath the surface. Wood, in Brand’s eyes, is the better material because it doesn’t shield this process. Instead, wood is easy to patch and it alerts a homeowner when repairs needed. In so doing, it makes the home’s real-time structural integrity more visible.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 156
Geoff Manaugh, on illegal uses of space revealing new dimensions
“The FBI’s unsettling discovery of a hidden topological dimension tucked away somehow inside the surface of the city is a stunning moment—the relation that, on a different plane, point A might illicitly be connected to point B, and that, in a sense, it is the burglar’s role to make this link real, to operationalize urban topology. The burglar, in this context, is a kind of three-dimensional actor amid the two-dimensional surfaces and objects of the city, finding ways out, through, between and around what you and I would otherwise take at face value as walls, floors, ceilings, or even simply doors.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: We’ve known Geoff and been fans of his writing on BLDG BLOG for years, and his new book A Burglar’s Guide to the City draws some really wonderful ideas out about urbanism, privacy, security, technology, and experience by looking how how the city is used by those who disobey its laws. He describes burglars as “actors” in the quote you’ve selected, but they’re “users” of the city just the same, and, perhaps more accurately, they’re “analogue hackers!” For SPAN, we saw such a natural affinity between Keller and Geoff’s work—their tendency to celebrate the margins of the built environment as having the most compelling narratives, or the greatest potential for innovation (“use and misuse”). Disruption is such an overused phrase these days in tech, but Geoff’s plea for designers to find the “design briefs hidden in everyday life” is really empowering designers (and thinkers, artists alike) to be agents of change, not just interpreters. ■



Span Reader (2015)

Most of the content in the SPAN Reader (text and video) can be accessed via Google Design’s website or their Medium page.

Counter Currents: OOIEE on Superstudio

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Tomás Saraceno to Experimental Jetset and Josh MacPhee—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, RO/LU cofounder Matt Olson—now creating under […]

Counter Currents_NewOOIEE
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism
, the series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Tomás Saraceno to Experimental Jetset and Josh MacPhee—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, RO/LU cofounder Matt Olson—now creating under the just-launched moniker OOIEE—reflects on the legacy of Superstudio and the Italian Radical Architecture movement. 

I was happy to be invited to write about something from the Hippie Modernism exhibition, but the experience has been a bit like returning from a trip to the ocean and having one of your friends ask, “Which wave was your favorite?” when you could honestly say, “I loved all of them.” That’s where I am now: I want to write about everything. All of it.

But maybe the only thing more impossible than writing about something is writing about everything. So maybe you can just agree to see it all in this post? The coded mist of knowledge and meaning here, not just the words. This slightly adjusted quote by Borges gets at what I mean: “In this blog post is the Blog Post. Without knowing it. The past tells the present the already forgotten story of them both.” 

Tolstoy didn’t like the word “love” because it means too much. So maybe that’s a good way to talk about this, as a love story? And since I can’t really write about everything…

Superstudio, Life: Supersurface, 1971–1973

Superstudio, Life: Supersurface, 1971–1973. Courtesy Archivio Superstudio. Photo: Walker Art Center

I remember falling in love with a few Superstudio images I encountered back in 2005 or so. It was love at first sight, truly. I didn’t really understand why and still don’t, but those images sorta came to get me. And there wasn’t really anything much on the Internet about the Italian Radicals at that point either. It created a longing. It seems like Superstudio knew back then what we’re learning (again) now, that the image, as a living idea, might be more important than the building in the image.

And so for a few years I tried to find more, and as I pursued what I couldn’t yet imagine, a whole world opened up. Gianni Pettena, Global Tools, Archizoom, pre-Memphis Ettore Sottsass, all the archi-zines

As this love and longing turned into motion and meaning I reached a place where, when I discussed it with friends, I would get nervous about my lack of “historical information,” and suddenly I was a little anxious about the things I loved. I wanted to understand the context which created all this. The political and cultural landscape. I was faced with the question of understanding in the more traditional sense rather than just appreciating and following a forceful, unknowable energy forward. But as I started to attempt this, I realized that any historical context I tried to create was, in fact, just that, a creation. A fiction. And as I attempted to turn the energy I was getting from these images and fragments of information into something I could intellectually pretend was an understanding, I noticed the love I felt around the work disappearing. Maybe the act of metabolizing it into a fictional arrangement was killing it? 

And then it hit me. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. I wanted to trust the following forward of these things. The life of these things. I wanted to trust them. This work was teaching me that the Internet had freed history from an institutional and academic hierarchy told as a time-based linear story. Google images was the new context. History started coming to life in a whole new way for me—really coming to life—expansively pulling me forward into new projects of my own. Transforming me. It all seemed like waves. And a messy sky. And recently my work—created with my former studio RO/LU—was amongst theirs in the Superstudio retrospective in Milan. And it feels like the context was created by the Context.

A life without objects has, for me, morphed into a longing for a life without histories.

And I swear it’s love… and it does mean too much.

There's No Separation" by OOIEE at the Aspen Art Museum. 9.5ft x 14ft textile piece with photo of the sky used to cover Ryan Gander's sculpture.

OOIEE’s There’s No Separation—a 9.5 x 14-ft textile bearing the photo of the sky used to cover Ryan Gander’s sculptureat the Aspen Art Museum   Photo: Tony Prikryl

Matt Olson works on projects related to contemporary art and design. Landscape and environments  furniture and objects, actions and scenarios, teaching and speaking. On 01/01/16 he began OOIEE (the Office of Int.\Est.\Ext. [Interior Establishes Exterior]) as a new backdrop for exploring the intersections of time and perception as they relate to space and the objects that fill it. Embracing an “open practice” in the belief that following forward and trusting the work the world presents becomes a poetic collaboration with the great “everything.” He was recently a visiting artist at Cranbrook and installed There’s No Separation, the studio’s first public project, at the Aspen Art Museum. He is co-founder and former director of RO/LU.

Another Look Inside Hippie Modernism

We cut a longer trailer for the exhibition Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, curated by Andrew Blauvelt, featuring more footage from inside the exhibition. The show closes February 28th here in Minneapolis, after which it travels to the Cranbrook Art Museum and then the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The trailer was edited […]

The Walker is looking for a Digital Designer

  The Walker’s design department is currently accepting applications for a full-time, digital designer position. In collaboration with members of the design, new media, and marketing teams, this person will work on: • web design projects • art direction of the Walker’s social media channels • art direction of the Walker’s online publishing initiatives • design […]



The Walker’s design department is currently accepting applications for a full-time, digital designer position. In collaboration with members of the design, new media, and marketing teams, this person will work on:

• web design projects
• art direction of the Walker’s social media channels
• art direction of the Walker’s online publishing initiatives
• design of dynamic and interactive screens throughout the museum
• development of email and online advertising templates
• development of future online publishing strategies

As a member of the design department, this position will be tightly integrated with our print, wayfinding, publishing, advertising, blogging, and programming activities. This is a highly creative position that will continue to be defined moving forward.

Read the full job description here and we look forward to your application!

PS. The Walker is also looking for a new Social Media Specialist.

Counter Currents: Adam Michaels on Blueprint for Counter Education

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist-archivist Josh MacPhee to and artist Tomás Saraceno—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, Adam Michaels of Project Projects […]

Counter Currents_5
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist-archivist Josh MacPhee to and artist Tomás Saraceno—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, Adam Michaels of Project Projects and Inventory Press highlights the innovative nature of Blueprint for Counter Education as one of the defining works of radical pedagogy from the Vietnam War era.


Blueprint for a Counter Education

Blueprint for Counter Education

While I generally avoid hyperbole, I can say in good conscience that Blueprint for Counter Education is a truly unique cultural artifact. The outcome of a sustained iterative research, writing, and diagramming process that took place between Brandeis sociology professor (and future dean of Critical Studies at CalArts) Maurice Stein and his then-student Larry Miller, Blueprint’s innovative form and format were then developed by the graphic designer Marshall Henrichs as a mind-expanding example of carefully structured (and mass-distributed) anarchy.

Maurice Stein and Larry Miller, Blueprint for Counter Education, 1970, as installed in Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia. Photo: Greg Beckel


Counter Currents: Experimental Jetset on Provo

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist-archivist Josh MacPhee to and LUST—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, Amsterdam-based graphic design studio Experimental […]

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist-archivist Josh MacPhee to and LUST—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, Amsterdam-based graphic design studio Experimental Jetset focuses on Provo, a counterculture movement in the Netherlands from 1965 to 1967.

Bernard de Vries with display promoting the White Bicycle Plan, Amsterdam, May 1966 Photo: Cor Jaring

What we learned from Provo is the idea that the city is basically an environment that could (and should) be shaped through the printing press.

At the heart of Provo is the notion of the city as a graphic space. Magazines were sold in the streets, posters were pasted to the walls, performances (“happenings”) took place on public squares (and around specific statues and monuments), surreal slogans were being chanted (such as the repeated mantra of “ugh, ugh, ugh”), and pamphlets were handed out to unsuspecting bystanders. In the meantime, the (illegal) printing press of Provo had to be moved constantly, from one location to another, because there was always the danger of confiscation. So the printing press itself was on a constant dérive through the city, echoing the way the Provos themselves were drifting through the streets of Amsterdam. (more…)

2015: The Year According to Hassan Rahim

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According […]



To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                   .

Hassan Rahim is an artist, art director, and publisher. He has worked with a variety of culture producers including Ghostly International, Jay-Z, Suited Magazine, THVM, Wet, Marilyn Manson, MMOTHS, and more. He is co-founder of publishing platform Shabazz Projects, and has shown his personal work in Amsterdam, Milan, Miami, and Los Angeles.



Surging Seas

“In 100 years, this is going to be beach front property!” This map from Climate Central illustrates how the ocean’s water will overflow in best and worst case global warming scenarios. Additionally new reports suggest the sea level rise has slowed the earth’s rotation by 1.7 milliseconds.


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Björk Live at City Center, NY

Tickets were $$$ but we had to make it happen. First time seeing Björk live. I wasn’t even familiar with the new album, which initially concerned me but turns out it barely mattered, her great performance paired with the general soundscape felt like I knew every song. Arca was low-key the star of the show with his outfit though.


Floating Points, Elaenia

Album of the year, hands down. Floating Points has been on my radar for a long time, and I don’t think anyone expected a jazz album from him. Oh, and he’s studying for his PHD in “The Neuroscience of Pain.” You know, on the side.

© The Vinyl Factory, 2015 best LP vinyl record releases, Photography Michael Wilkin



Damaris Goddrie

2015 showed the rise of many great models of color in the fashion world. I keep up with the industry pretty closely, especially as my girlfriend (Jessica Willis) is a stylist. In particular we both were dead in love with Damaris on sight—she has such a classic look.



What Are Thooooose?!



“The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence”

An eye opening piece on the exponential growth of human technology. Long read. My favorite vocabulary takeaway was the term “DPU,” or “Die Process Unit” — the amount of years a person would have to travel into the future to “literally die of shock” at how advanced and incomprehensible the world is to him.

Tesseract scene from Interstellar2014


on stage during the BRIT Awards 2015 at The O2 Arena on February 25, 2015 in London, England.

Kanye West, “All Day” (Live At The 2015 Brit Awards)

The song wasn’t huge, but this was the most powerful TV performance in years. Clearly racially charged and totally unexpected. The looks on the crowd’s faces.



Martine Syms, Vertical Elevated Oblique

Walker readers may know her name very well by now, but if not, watch for it. Martine had an amazing debut solo show at Bridgette Donahue this year, the works of which were primarily inspired by a riff on a popular joke, “Everybody wanna be a black woman but nobody wanna be a black woman.”



The Lonely Death of George Bell

A riveting article by the New York Times, chronicling the process of investigating the life of a rather unknown hoarder who quietly passed away in his filthy Queens apartment. The journalist follows the city on their full journey, from tracking down his family/friends, to allocating his estate, and eventually burial. “Sometimes, along the way, a life’s secrets are revealed.”



West to East

On a personal note, 2015 will always be important to me as the year I moved to New York. My girlfriend Jessica and I left Los Angeles, clearly against the flow of most artist migration, to experience a new pace of life. So far, living in New York has given me perspective I couldn’t attain in California. But mostly, imagine growing up with movies like Home Alone but never having snow on Christmas!

Thomas Demand, Gangway, 2001

2015: The Year According to Åbäke

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to artist and publisher Hassam Rahim—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year […]



official portrait, Aurélien Mole 2012

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to artist and publisher Hassam Rahim—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                   .

Åbäke is a transdisciplinary design studio based in London, working in the fields of graphic design, fashion, art, publishing, film, cuisine, music, furniture, dance, architecture, etc. “[Åbäke] means ‘something in between’, ‘a hulky rusty car which still functions but is not pretty’, ‘something clumsy’, ‘very large thing’, ‘monstrosity’, rather negative definitions but they somehow loosely describe what we do.” *



No news

A strange year regarding what news comes into one’s life. I gradually stopped buying newspapers or RSS-feeding myself with media which felt either focused on the negative or simply lying to us. Of course, Fox News is still a must to understand how low we have come. The only place I’d get a glimpse of what was happening was at airports. Even there, television screens are mute, which leaves some place to imagination. It’s just a ride, as Bill Hicks said once.



21 October 2015, the day Marty McFly arrived now

I was in the audience at a talk on that day. The speaker was wearing too many layers for the over heated conference room and kept taking clothes off and on while speaking of what has now left my memory. Retrospectively I understand he was wearing the Marty McFly outfit or equivalent, celebrating it for himself.



31 December 2015

I fell asleep early and dreamt of the Olympics and the US presidential election. I know who won yet cannot remember.


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25 February 2015

My friend Yair Barelli and I are locked in a house for a week with ten students. We all agree to not discuss what happened with people outside.


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11 July 2015

A year ago (take or leave a few days) On Kawara died. He’s still present, that’s cool.


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13 March 2015

A baby was born in Sweden. In exactly 17 years time, few people know she will win the football World Cup for Nigeria, abolishing racism. Wow.



25 October 2015

Lotte Keller made a beef stew. Her children happily judged it the absolute best dish ever in the history of cooking. They even ate the salad without dressing.



3 January 2015

Stefano Carcetti, a student from Rome, didn’t use Internet or buy anything for the whole 24 hours.



25 November 2015

Julia Simon, a waitress in Brussels, buys a box of chocolate. She realises how bizarre it is they should be shaped as mussels and shrimps. She spends the next week asking people what they think of it.

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