The Gradient: Design, art, and the gradient between, featuring the creative output of our in-house design studio.
(a very brief history) In 2007 I was asked by artist (and McKnight Photography Fellow) Monica Haller to assist her in designing a book from content that was the culmination of a three-year conversation between Haller and Iraq War Veteran, Riley Sharbonno. The resulting book, Riley and his story., has just been released in a [...]
(a very brief history)
In 2007 I was asked by artist (and McKnight Photography Fellow) Monica Haller to assist her in designing a book from content that was the culmination of a three-year conversation between Haller and Iraq War Veteran, Riley Sharbonno. The resulting book, Riley and his story., has just been released in a second edition by onestar press — and our collaborative efforts have continued over the years.
More recently, as part of the Veterans Book Project, Monica has been conducting workshops around the country with small groups of people similarly affected by current and past military conflicts. For use in these workshops Monica and I collaborated with new media designer Mark Fox to develop a lightweight software program that enables non-designers to easily assemble their own book in a spirit akin to the Riley book.
Today, on Veterans Day, NPR will be airing a segment about the Riley book and the Veterans Book Project during the program State of the Re:Union. The story will replay throughout November and will be available on the SOTRU web site. Also happening today: we are launching the brand new web site for the project, where you can read more about the project, view (or download) all of the current books, keep up to date with upcoming workshops, read blog posts by past workshop participants, and much more.
(more about the project, taken from veteransbookproject.com)
The Veterans Book Project is a library of books authored collaboratively by artist Monica Haller and dozens of people who have been affected by, and have archives of, the current American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In their printed format, the books provide a place or “container” that slows down and materializes the great quantity of ephemeral image files that live on veterans’ hard drives and in their heads.
Each book re-deploys volatile images with the aim of rearticulating and refashioning memories. It stands both independent of and in concert with the larger collection.
(about the process, from veteransbookproject.com)
The Veterans Book Project facilitates bookmaking workshops around the country. In these workshops, combat and non-combat veterans, their families, and others affected by the current American wars are invited to edit and design their archives and stories into softbound, print-on-demand books. Using software specifically designed for this project, three to six participants compile their digital and handwritten archives into book format over the course of a week. These materials can include digital images, emails, journal entries and writings generated at the workshop.
(finally, here are the airtimes—that we know of—for the State of the Re:Union segment)
WNYC – New York City – 11/11 @ 2p and 10p
KALW – San Francisco – 11/16 @10p
WDET – Detroit – 11/11 @ 9p
WAMU – DC – 11/11 @ 9p
WJSP – Atlanta – 11/11 @ 7p
KUOW – Seattle – 11/11 @ 9p
WVXU – Cincinnati – 11/11 @ 7p
WHAD – Milwaukee – 11/13 @ 3p
KUT – Austin 11/11 @ 3p
Vermont Public Radio – 11/11 @ 8p
WSLU – North Country Public Radio (upstate NY) – 11/17 @ 1p and 11/20 @ 3p
WIUM – Macomb, IL – 11/11 @ Noon
South Dakota Public Radio – 11/11 @ Noon
KBBG – Waterloo, IA – 11/11 @ 1a and 8p
KUFM – Montana Public Radio – 11/11 @1p
WFPL – Louisville Public Media – 11/11@ 8p
WSNC – Winston-Salem, NC – 11/11 @ 7p
On May 12, 2009 Sol Sender and Scott Thomas gave a presentation at the Walker about their experiences working on the design of (and for) President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Later that year, on September 16, Scott Thomas announced a book project surrounding that same topic through Kickstarter.com. I found out about the project in November [...]
I found out about the project in November and promptly signed up as a $50 “backer.” Since then it has been interesting to watch their process unfold through Scott’s e-mail updates and the dialog taking place on the Kickstarter comment board (which covered the entire spectrum: from supportive praise to the numerous “where’s my book!!??” inquiries).
The book arrived in my mailbox on June 15, 2010 — and seeing the 360 page volume now I’m shocked that they were able to produce the book as quickly as they did.
Their fund-raising approach to self-publishing has obvious parallels to the success of Obama’s grassroots-oriented campaign, which in the end allowed for a more substantial volume (as opposed to the many print-on-demand options available these days) without relying on the involvement of a traditional book publisher.
As of writing this, it looks as though copies are still available at the Designing Obama site.
About the book (from designing-obama.com):
The Design Director of the Obama campaign, Scott Thomas, has collaborated with artists and designers to create Designing Obama, a chronicle of the art from the historic campaign. Get the inside story on how design was used by the campaign, and scope out the pieces, created unofficially, by grassroots supporters.
The 360-page book is full-color and hardbound, highly crafted with an embossed sleeve. Forewords written by Steven Heller and Michael Bierut.
A full-grown woman jumping up and down on a modernist bed — in full aerialist gear? Check. A guinea pig gazing into the sunset? Check. Bullhorns, trophies, pink cupcakes, and a mob of trenchcoat clad women? Check. Oh, and, of course, furniture . . . This is a furniture catalog after all. BLU DOT CATALOG: [...]
A full-grown woman jumping up and down on a modernist bed — in full aerialist gear? Check. A guinea pig gazing into the sunset? Check. Bullhorns, trophies, pink cupcakes, and a mob of trenchcoat clad women? Check. Oh, and, of course, furniture . . . This is a furniture catalog after all.
BLU DOT CATALOG: PHOTOGRAPHY & DESIGN FAQ
Q. What is Blu Dot?
A. Blu Dot is a modern furniture design & manufacturing studio, based in Minneapolis, MN it was founded in 1996 by John Christakos, Charlie Lazor, and Maurice Blanks.
Q. Who worked on the two recent catalogs (from 2007 and 2008)?
A. The catalogs were art directed and designed by myself. Dan Monick was the environmental/location photographer. Medora Danz handled the logistics (furniture transportation, locations, etc. etc.) and was the keeper of the “ Blu Dot Brand” — making sure we didn’t disappear completely down the rabbit hole. The three of us were the main creative team — as far as the environmental photography was concerned. We worked with two stylists: Janet Gridley in 2007, and Matthew Stenerson (aka Mr. Chips) in 2008.
Q. OK, so what’s the deal with the photographs — is there a plotline?
A. Yes, and no. To lead us through the weeklong photo shoot the creative team outlined a very loose structure. Each character and location had a specific role, and there was a story (at one point). But, I doubt I could re-tell it to you now even if I tried.
2007 Catalog Spreads:
2008 Catalog Images:
Q. So, did you storyboard the entire week out? Was there method to the madness?
A. Yes, and no. We had three, well, maybe four variables: (1) Locations (2) People (3) Furniture (4) Props. We knew which days we were at each location. We knew which days certain people could model. And, we knew the pieces of furniture we wanted to pair with each location. But, beyond that it was extremely stream-of-consciousness. One of my favorite photos, from the 2007 shoot, is of the aerialist jumping on the bed. We had set up the frame, with the furniture and then added in the two models. We weren’t quite sure what to do with them at first, so we shot a series of frames where she was just standing on the bed talking to the red jumpsuit guy. Then, someone (I can’t remember who) suggested she “ practice” her “ moves” by jumping up and down on the mattress. Which, by the way, was an air mattress. We told her to jump until it popped. It never did. I doubt we could have storyboarded that photo the way it turned out — some things just have to happen spur of the moment.
Q. Is the viewer supposed to be able to figure “ it” out?
A. Well, not really. Even though there is a story in there somewhere, the photographs are not presented in order from the first shot to the last. The narrative that guided our workweek played out — in order — from day one through day five. But, the image sequence in the catalog was driven by the images themselves — pacing, color, composition, and image parings were considered while the original story was largely ignored. The resulting narrative is left open ended, allowing the viewer to come to their own conclusions. (And, hopefully they’ll fall in love with the furniture along the way).
Q. So, what’s up? Is there an idea behind the book, or are you just messing around?
A. Yes, there is definitely an idea. First, I knew from the beginning that I wanted the design to rely heavily on photography more than Blu Dot catalogs had done in the past. Beyond that simple notion it was a broader reaction to the furniture catalog genre as a whole. My criticism of the typical furniture catalog you see (in the US, at least) is that the photographs are generally very neutral and safe. Very seldom do you see people interacting with the furniture — it’s as though the human race was wiped off the planet and the only thing that remains are these very beautifully propped dining room or living room sets. They seem very unrealistic. And while I wholeheartedly admit that the Blu Dot catalog is not based completely (or even loosely) in reality, it’s unrealistic in a more satirical way. Which was inevitable since it had to carry the Blu Dot banner: it had to be fun, and slightly irreverent; there needed to be a life to it; it’s supposed to make you smile. Blu Dot is a different kind of design studio, so obviously their catalog needs to be a different kind of catalog.
2008 Catalog Outtakes:
Q. What inspired the concept/idea?
A. I wanted there to be a twist to the photography approach — that was ground zero. And, of course, Cornell Windlin‘s Select, Arrange catalogs for Vitra were definitely an inspiration. But, I felt there was something we could do — something that we could add to the conversation — that would be inherently Midwestern, and thus, completely different. Beyond that there’s the whole loose-narrative idea and the mystery/mythology behind the images that was definitely influenced by the band Lifter Puller (which just happens to be Dan’s former band) who created an alternate universe within its lyrics that were based on real people, places, and events in Minneapolis. The spirit of the Coen Brothers’ films (Fargo was definitely talked about more than once on set) and the work of David Lynch (especially the Twin Peaks series) were also reference points throughout the process. When I was younger I was obsessed with Twin Peaks — trying to decipher all the hidden clues and such — so, for fun, we added in our own little secrets throughout the narrative.
Q. Clues? Secrets? Like what?
A. I can’t tell you.
Q. Who is Dan Monick and how did you decide to hire him as the photographer?
A. Dan is known (around Minneapolis) as the drummer of the seminal Minneapolis rock band, Lifter Puller. But, nationally Dan is known as an LA-based rock n’ roll/fashion photographer. Around the time that we were searching for a photographer Dan happened to be putting on a solo exhibition of his art photography at the SooVac just a few blocks from my house. While looking at his work again — in person and all at once — something clicked. His approach to photography was exactly what I was looking for — his work is fun and raw, but it’s not amateurish, in fact it is quite the opposite and extremely well crafted. It was perfect. The only thing that was missing was the furniture. My main collaborator from Blu Dot, Medora Danz, was at Dan’s opening as well — and that night she had the same epiphany. We knew we had found our photographer.
Q. So, you had a fashion photographer shoot furniture?
A. Yup. Luckily, at the time I was making the pitch for such an unlikely combination Dan had just published a series of architectural photographs in Dwell. I presented his rock photos as one end of the spectrum and his Dwell photos as the other end, saying simply: I want the Blu Dot photos to fall somewhere in between these two points. The rest is history.
Q. What was it like working with Dan?
A. One word: Awesome. Dan weaves these amazing stream-of-consciousness narratives for the models in order to extract the expression or mood out of them that he wants. These stories are so amazing I can’t even begin to explain them. I took a bunch of video footage on my digital point-and-shoot this year, but the videos do not do Dan’s amazingness any justice either. Although, it’s still kind of fun to watch:
2008 Behind the Scenes:
Q. Where are the locations? Those are some sweet houses.
A. With the exception of one location, they are all houses or businesses in the Twin Cities area. The one exception is John Christakos’ modernist cabin, which is in Wisconsin. In 2007 we shot at five private residences, the Walker Art Center, and Bower Brothers in NE Minneapolis. In 2008 we shot at three more private residences, but we also added a few commercial locations into the mix: Nick & Eddie and Jetset.
Q. Can I have the names and addresses? I’d like to go check them out for myself.
A. Nope. Sorry . . .
Q. Who are all those people?
A. Everyone in the two catalogs are friends with either Dan, Medora, or myself. There are a slew of local artists (Ben Olson, Jennifer Davis, Todd Norsten), local musicians (from bands like Dillinger 4, The Dynamiters, Roma di Luna), and just plain locals (who you may recognize from your favorite hang-outs: the Walker Art Center, Bryant Lake Bowl, Caffetto, Nick & Eddie).
Q. Is that Ralph Rapson I see in there?
A. Yes, it is. Ralph won the Dwell/Blu Dot Lounge Chair Design competition last year. Blu Dot then worked with Ralph to put his winning submission into production. Mr. Rapson was gracious enough to come hang out with us and get his portrait taken. He was a total sweetheart and an extremely good sport. Sadly, as you know, Ralph passed away just a few weeks after the photo was taken. Here’s to Ralph, a local legend.
Q. This seems to be an ongoing series. Will you continue it in 2009?
A. I have no idea. . . Ask me again 4 weeks before we’re supposed to do the next photo shoot.
Q. You mentioned the Midwest earlier. Does the fact that you are based in the Midwest play into the look and feel of the catalog?
A. Yes. We all take great pride that we are situated here in Minnesota. And, we are all here by choice. So, of course, the quirkiness and mythology of the Midwest is celebrated to the nth degree in these photographs. I see these two catalogs as a love letter from myself, Dan, and Blu Dot to Minneapolis (and the Midwest). So, here’s to Minneapolis! Now, let’s go enjoy the spring weather before summer hits.
Q. Wait, one more thing: I totally want one. Can I have one?
A. Yes. Go to bludot.com and sign-up for the mailing list.
En route to (and from) a press check in Brugge, Belgium I took time off in Arnhem, the Netherlands (to visit friends — and previous Walker designers — who are currently at the Werkplaats Typografie). In downtown Arnhem there is a newly opened store — Coming Soon: Arnhem — that sells Dutch-made design goods (books, [...]
En route to (and from) a press check in Brugge, Belgium I took time off in Arnhem, the Netherlands (to visit friends — and previous Walker designers — who are currently at the Werkplaats Typografie). In downtown Arnhem there is a newly opened store — Coming Soon: Arnhem — that sells Dutch-made design goods (books, magazines, fashion, products, art, etc). The identity was designed by the Amsterdam-based design studio Experimental Jetset. Below are a few examples of the system in use:
Scott Ponik and I were Walker Design Fellows from fall 2004 through fall 2006. When asked to stay on for an additional year [amidst the grand-(re)opening of the Walker expansion in 2005] we were left with a print budget from what would have been the 2005–2006 Design Fellowship poster (someone at some point will post [...]
Scott Ponik and I were Walker Design Fellows from fall 2004 through fall 2006. When asked to stay on for an additional year [amidst the grand-(re)opening of the Walker expansion in 2005] we were left with a print budget from what would have been the 2005–2006 Design Fellowship poster (someone at some point will post these in the Flat File section, hint hint). In lieu of the poster we were asked to design a promo announcing the Walker’s new graphic identity: Walker Expanded. One late-night brainstorming session found us re-aligning the “strips of tape”–from the recent print collateral–along the walkways of the (temporary) Walker offices. The assemblage ended at Andrews office door and the real-life sketch was later re-enacted for its printed (and more mailable) form.