When Activists Use Art: A Masterclass in Messaging from Bonnie Siegler

When Activists Use Art: A Masterclass in Messaging from Bonnie Siegler

Bonnie Siegler, founder of Eight and a Half, has spent most of her career parsing the history of brands like This American Life, SNL, and StoryCorps and reshaping them for the future. Now, she’s turned her acumen toward another design evolution project: protest signs.

Recently, Siegler held court at the Brooklyn Public Library (where she’s designed the logo and identity), to launch her book Signs of Resistance: A Visual History of Protest in America. Toting a book (that was not the one she was promoting) called Visionary Women, Siegler marched up and down the rows, greeting guests.

“How many people marched this year?” she asked the crowd. A majority of the hands went up.

Signs of Resistance covers expressions of American anger, from Suffrage to Civil Rights to the AIDS Crisis. What makes Americans take to the streets? And how do they design the posters? Siegler knows how graphics operate in politics—she’s designed on behalf of both Obama campaigns, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, plus local races from Alabama to Nevada.

She recently spoke with 99U about how anger becomes art, protest design rules, and just how many letters add up to a good sign.

A lot of these posters have a short text message and one graphic. Is that a recurring theme in all of these protests?

In the successful, memorable ones, it definitely is. In “Fuck the Draft” it’s one picture and 4, 7, 12 [total] letters. It’s almost like you Instagram it in your brain. You can remember the whole thing: the guy burning his draft card. One simple image, a few words, shock value because the word “fuck” wasn’t used that much: a simple rejection of authority. It wouldn’t work if you went on to explain why the war was a bad idea. It is a recurring theme.

Fuck-the-draft, protest, sign, Bonnie-Siegler

Excerpted from Signs of Resistance by Bonnie Siegler (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photograph used by permission from Kiyoshi Kuroyima (1943-2000), The Dirty Linen Corp., publisher, Fuck the Draft, 1968.

Where else is that idea of one image with a few letters used?

Benjamin Franklin. He owned the newspaper and he experimented all the time. His “Join, or die”—people will say “Oh I’ve seen that before,” even though it’s from 1754. It’s one clear, powerful image of a snake being cut into pieces and a few words.

Signs-of-Resistance, Bonnie-Siegler, join-or-die

Excerpted from Signs of Resistance by Bonnie Siegler (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photograph used by permission from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

It really feels like the Suffragettes didn’t get that memo.

Totally. Those women put hundreds of words on their posters. Their signs weren’t always so verbose. But, they had a lot to say. They were pissed, understandably. 

Signs-of-Resistance, Bonnie-Siegler, Suffragette, protest, sign

Excerpted from Signs of Resistance by Bonnie Siegler (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photograph used by permission from the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.

When did graphic design as a discipline become a conscious part of the messaging of social movements?

Graphic design is relatively new. There have always been designers, usually designing typography. Graphic design developed as a real profession in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. I think it was during the Vietnam War that people were like, “Wait, I do this for clients…I can also do this to get my message out.” And people started to understand the power that they had.

What do you think is the DNA that makes a powerful message?

It’s the motivation behind it. Nobody did these because they were hired to do them. People felt an urgency. They had to do this. They had to make their voice heard, to express their anger and frustration. When an artist or a designer has to create as an outlet for their frustration, the result is powerful. That is very different than someone saying, “I have this widget to sell. Can you make me a great ad for that widget?”

A lot of the post-1960s design seem to use an ‘Oh wait a second’ moment.

Something happens when you look at a poster and it takes you a second to realize what it is. A good example is “Vote or Trump”. It doesn’t have any image, just the crossing out of the ‘F’, so it’s not “Vote For Trump”. You feel proud of yourself for getting it. You’re rewarded for figuring it out and it involves the viewer in uncovering the message, which is satisfying: When you see something and you get it, you feel good about yourself. That interaction between you and the designer is an amazing thing.

Vote-for-trump, protest, sign, Bonnie-Siegler, SIgns-of-resistance

Excerpted from Signs of Resistance by Bonnie Siegler (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photograph used by permission from Mike Matthews.

There are quite a few examples of text or images being used over and over.

I’m fascinated by these American icons that get reused and reused and reused: Rosie the Riveter and Uncle Sam. Because they are so popular and recognizable they provide a shorthand for protest images. So you already have a context of like ‘patriotism’ or ‘being a feminist’. And they use the power of the original image, but bend it to their will. So, if someone wants to say that Sarah Palin is a feminist, how do you do it? You just stick her head on someone who’s already associated with feminism [like Rosie]. Icons of American history are so enduring that they’re used over and over in propaganda on all sides.

Is there one design that sticks with you most powerfully?

“Am I not a man and a brother?” is the one of the most moving images I’ve ever seen. That stays with me at night. It shows a man imploring someone for his dignity and it was made into an abolitionist talisman, people wore them around their neck. Then, during the sanitation strike 180 years later, it became “I am a man”. That sign is it for me. The power was the multiplicity. The sign is singular and together, it’s the race. The multiplicity is chilling.

Signs-of-Resistance, Bonnie-Siegler, I-am-a-man, protest, sign

Excerpted from Signs of Resistance by Bonnie Siegler (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photograph used by permission from Bob Adelman.

When did your interest in design for social movements start?

In the 90s, we had [Bill] Clinton. So, we were pretty happy most of the time. The Bush administration really got me going. I started working on Air America Radio, a left-leaning radio station in the early 2000s. It was the Left’s answer to right-wing radio, and the first hosts were Rachel Maddow, Al Franken, Marc Maron, and Janeane Garofalo. We did branding, marketing, and advertising for them. And we really felt like we could change the course of the election. It didn’t work: Bush won. So, when time came for Obama to run, I was all in. I did everything I could.

Do you have advice for non-graphic designers who have a march coming up?

The march signs made by people who weren’t professional designers are some of my favorite. Think about the thing that pisses you off the most. Everybody has something. That’s what made the Women’s March so powerful: Each person was representing the things that pissed them off the most, the thing that they most wanted to change. That’s where I would start: Why are you marching?

These images point to the darkest moments in American history, but did it also spark any sense of camaraderie or comfort to see so much resistance?

Looking at these images, I go from rage, to optimism, to frustration, to anger, to hope. It just sends you all in circles. But, all of these movements shaped our country. We’ve been through these difficult times and survived and if we all get involved we can survive this one too. These marches make me feel more patriotic than I’ve ever felt in my whole life.

 


from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2t3tMvu

VR, “The Ultimate Empathy Machine,” is Finally Making Strides Where it Counts

VR, “The Ultimate Empathy Machine,” is Finally Making Strides Where it Counts

During his popular 2015 TED Talk, immersive artist, entrepreneur, and director Chris Milk suggested that virtual reality could potentially be the “ultimate empathy machine.” This is something Milk learned from experience earlier that year, when he collaborated with the United Nations on the VR film, Clouds Over Sidra, which takes you inside the life of Sidra, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee. At that point, stories of the Syrian refugee crisis dominated the news, but often failed to reach many Americans on a deeper, more human level. But one thing VR can do that the nightly news can’t (not yet, at least) is give viewers intimate access to the experiences of others, creating an immediate, almost disarmingly real understanding of another’s world. It’s as close to walking in someone else’s shoes as you can get without literally putting them on. 

Milk isn’t the only one who believes that in VR, we have the potential to become better listeners, caretakers, and global citizens, using pixels and haptic tech* to tap into a shared universal experience. As enthusiasm for VR’s gaming capabilities wanes, curiosity about its applications to the fields of mental health, rehabilitation, and community-building has only grown. Dozens of projects and research studies currently under development are breaking ground in areas ranging from opioid addiction and substance abuse to physical therapy and PTSD, all of which have the cumulative effect of potentially overhauling the entire field of patient care.

Before VR was a tech conference sideshow, professor Patrick Bordnick, dean of Tulane’s School of Social Work, was exploring its therapeutic uses. Bordnick has studied addiction treatment and VR since the early ’90s, when he created an immersive VR project known colloquially as the “heroin cave,” a series of wall projections set in a sensory-controlled room where subjects could re-enact a series of role-play scenarios aimed at treating substance dependency during early stages of rehabilitation.

The team’s custom-designed VR system didn’t work like the Oculus Rift or Gear VR. Instead, it utilized goggles that transformed images projected onto the walls into a 3D HD experience. Once inside, patients could be trained, with the aid of a therapist, to identify and resist triggers. (For example, in one scenario a participant walks through a house party and bypasses a group snorting heroin.) The project is based on traditional cue-reactivity therapy, in which exposure to a predictable trigger activates a patient’s addictive behavior hoping that, through controlled exposure, patients could modify their reactions.

“When I started studying why people relapse 20 years ago, we’d bring them into the lab, show movies of users, and monitor cravings and discuss relapse,” Bordnick said. What struck him was the ineffectiveness of the initial approach. In a sterile office or research lab, subjects were far from the triggering context. If he could, somehow, put patients in a digitized version of real-world settings, he felt he might be able to better help them navigate real-world stumbles.

The prohibitive cost of VR headsets, which can run as high as $300 for a basic kit, often put them out of reach for many of his patients. His current goal is to bring his work to smartphone-based reality platforms or design an app that places users in a virtual environment during therapy. He’s also developing a range of environments, from a “heroin shooting gallery” to a cigarette-filled party, for skills-based treatment. “What we were able to show is that six months later, the people who received the skills training had the confidence to use those skills, and were even smoking less.”

Another self-proclaimed “grandfather” of VR patient care is Albert “Skip” Rizzo, Ph.D., director of Medical Virtual Reality at the Institute for Creative Technologies, and research professor at the Department of Psychiatry and School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. There, Rizzo built a VR lab to treat brain injuries and ADHD, later approaching the school’s Institute for Creative Technologies. The Institute, funded by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, is also home to Light Stages, an innovation incubator that hosts special-effects pros and game developers, and collaborates on immersive simulation technologies for the military. (They also provided many of the visual effects for Avatar.) Rizzo worked with the team to develop Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy, or VRET, and a system called Bravemind.

An “academia-Pentagon venture,” Bravemind uses computer-generated imagery built specifically for veterans from the Afghan and Iraq conflicts to help cope with PTSD and other combat-related symptoms. Scenes include everything from Afghan villages to crowded Baghdad markets, and are accompanied by sensory stimuli like grenade explosions or subtle ground vibrations. So far, the therapy has been used in over 75 sites, including military bases, VA medical centers, and clinics across the United States.

“I was frustrated with the limitations of tools used to help recover cognitive function after traumatic incidents, like a car accident,” said Rizzo. In the early ’90s, he observed that one of his subjects who was unable to stay focused on rehab for longer than 10 minutes, was constantly glued to his Gameboy. After that, Rizzo began to consider gaming as a therapeutic tool to enhance patient motivation and rehabilitation. Ironically, much of the VR therapy Rizzo works with today evolved from Full Spectrum Warrior, a first-person shooter game initially developed as a training tool for the Army and released commercially in 2004.

“From time to time, naysayers will mention VR is dead, only because it hasn’t radically re-shaped the gaming industry in the way it was hyped. But even if all innovation stopped tomorrow, we would be at a sufficient level to continue to do great stuff, clinically,” said Rizzo.

“Exposure therapy is still one of the best evidence-based approaches for treating PTSD, and VR provides a way to tackle significant mental health challenges with novel means that are just not available in the real world.”

Interactive designer Javier Soto Morras, formerly of design lab IDEO and now Berlin’s Neu Studio, works in VR to experiment and develop environments that adapt to our emotional and psychological states. “One of the hardest things in this field is to understand the effect that design can have on users,” he said. “Not just the obvious emotions, but also ‘irrational’ ones like pleasure, arousal, calm.”  

While at IDEO in 2016, he built a platform using Unity** and Arduino*** that enabled him to open the fourth wall of VR, allowing other designers to expand upon his work. His prototype utilized a series of sensors that link the readings to Unity and open-source development hardware, creating an atmospheric space that can change depending on a user’s biosignals and applied pressure. Processing signals from a user’s heart rate, electrodermal activity, or breathing, the code translated those voltage signals into beats per minute, which were then used to update the scenario in each frame. When a heart rate went up, the light in the virtual reality world changed to a soothing blue; when it went down, the illumination flashed and changed to red. The idea behind this particular experiment tested whether changing color or lighting patterns could affect the user’s mood, either calming or further agitating. In another set of experiments, Morras used light and pressure sensors to change entire environments.

“I saw the opportunity to monitor brain activity or pulse and let that data influence the experience inside VR,” he said. “Not only could we could begin testing our concepts before building them, we could also make full use of the possibilities of VR to induce moods.” Morras believes these enhanced interactions are just small steps, but could ultimately lead towards a more personal, immersive VR experience, with users someday able to create their own unique therapeutic spaces.  

The clinical benefits of VR have not been lost on the commercial sector. OnComfort is an app that offers clinical care to cancer patients, helping to “self-manage stress, anxiety, and pain through evidence-based psychological interventions in VR.” For example, at a hospital, before a surgery or during interventions, doctors can place a VR set on a patient’s head and immerse them in a 360-degree environment “specifically designed for medical indications;” basically, surround-sound, doctor-approved YouTube clips.

This Belgian-based company developed its first VR module in collaboration with students from Houston, testing the alpha on doctors and the beta on patients. Previously, OnComfort co-founder and CEO Diane Jooris delivered “psychological interventions” during procedures and surgeries at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas and observed the impact of these interventions on a patient’s comfort, anxiety, pain, and recovery. “But my impact was limited in terms of time, availability, or even language,” she laments. She needed to find a way to conduct these sessions in multiple languages, and without being present.

In studies, OnComfort was able to reduce postoperative anxiety by 56%, postoperative pain by 45%, and save patients 50% of recovery room time compared to a control. Currently, the program is in use in hospitals throughout France, Belgium, Korea, and Australia.

VR is also being used outside of traditional clinical settings. Doctors Without Borders (DWB), who recently experimented with 3D printing and VR technology to design field hospitals, has also been using VR to help train doctors and recruits to deal with potentially devastating real-world scenarios like mass casualties. “Training was the primary purpose for our embrace of VR,” says Negin Allamehzadeh, a VR producer for DWB. “It’s become a way to help people who haven’t been to the field or dealt with a mass casualty incident get a sense of what it’s like, both in terms of the chaos and unpredictability, and the stress of actually experiencing that.” She explained that seeing and feeling events from the perspective of someone who’s just been injured are less effective when it’s outside of VR, for example on a computer or by way of a dry powerpoint projection. “You just wouldn’t get it as viscerally on a desktop.” (You can still watch the VR documentaries of their progress without a VR viewer, but it goes without saying that the experience just isn’t the same.)

Another powerful use of VR in service of greater empathy has been designed by artist Heeju Kim, who attempts to recreate “the experience of autism through design” in her VR Empathy Bridge for Autism Toolkit. Designed to enable people to experience the visual, auditory, and speech differences that come with autism and, hopefully, to engender greater understanding of a sometimes mystifying set of behaviors, it is also surprisingly lo-fi.

“I’ve been living with my younger brother with autism for more than 20 years,” Kim said. “The empathy and understanding of others means the world to the people who have autism and to their families.” She explains that many with autism behave differently because they sense the world in such a different way, which can be jarring to others.  

As part of the kit, Kim created a headset with “low arousal colors,” or more neutral soothing tones, favored by those with autism, reproducing an “autistic vision” of surrounding stimuli. There’s also a set of earphones that provide the overwhelmed auditory soundscape that is one of the most distinctive sensory characteristics of autism. “Every noise and sound is magnified, distorted, and muddled so it becomes very hard to make conversation while using the tool, much as an autistic person would experience life.”

So far the kit has been part of exhibitions in Dubai and London and will be featured in shows at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2019 and at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 2020. But we can easily imagine it being distributed by social workers and hospitals to families whose loved ones who have been newly diagnosed with autism, helping them to better understand the patients unique needs and sensitivities.

There’s no doubt that VR has the potential to make a huge impact on the way we approach patient care, helping the disabled, and those struggling with addiction, pain management, and mental illness. Given its demonstrated success, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which a VR headset will be provided in every hospital room, and VR techniques included in every doctor’s basic training. But behind each of these “empathy machines” is a quest for the authentic and very human response. While VR can never really truly replicate this experience, it has the potential to help us, as a society, get closer to what it means to be humans sharing a planet—and, ultimately, evolve into more compassionate and caring global citizens.

 

*Haptic tech: a form of kinesthetic communication that duplicates the sensation of human touch via vibrations, visuals, or motions. It is frequently utilized in next-gen gaming, VR, consumer electronics.

**Unity: a game development platform used to build superior 3D and 2D games.

***Arduino: an open-source electronic prototyping platform that allows users to create interactive electronic works.

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2F3xREV

When You Like Work Made by a Jerk, is Lack of Support Enough?

When You Like Work Made by a Jerk, is Lack of Support Enough?

A monthly trip through a land of design and nonsense with executive editor Perrin Drumm. Opinions are most definitely her own.

We’ve all loved an asshole at some point in our lives. We’ve worked with them, dated them, been born by them, voted for them. The asshole comes in many forms, so how can you spot one in the wild? And then, how do you take it down?

I bring it up because assholes seem to be spending more time in the spotlight today (though the word itself dates back to the 1300s), which is both a good and bad thing: Bad when the asshole is in a position of power; good when that position exposes the depths of their true asshole nature. Good, too, when people acknowledge that what’s revealed is a bad thing, indeed; but bad when nothing is done about it. I’ve simplified this horribly, but there is nothing simple about asshole hunting.

Sometimes the asshole is not shy about their asshole-ness, and wears it like a merit badge. Sometimes the asshole is so clever we don’t even realize we’re in the company of one until after we’ve laughed at their jokes or accepted a meeting or a job. Sometimes this person is a secret asshole, privately cruel to those closest to them, who help the asshole keep their truth hidden while the rest of the world spins around them unaware, basking in the asshole’s glow.

When Kurt Vonnegut wrote (and illustrated) Breakfast of Champions in 1973, he included a crude picture of an asshole, an indication of the “maturity” of the drawings throughout the book, and perhaps a warning to prudish readers to turn back now. Not all assholes announce themselves so plainly. I loved Vonnegut’s asshole drawing so much (not enough to get it tattooed on me like some of his super fans) that I made an etching of it for a letterpressed booklet I made to accompany my MFA lecture on satire (a pedagogical artifact I was recently reminded of via, of all things, my mom’s Instagram). As far as I can tell, Vonny wasn’t one of the notorious writer-assholes you often hear about, but then again I’m not doing too much digging lest I discover otherwise (Charles Dickens was spoiled for me that way).

Which brings me to the topic of this month’s column: when assholes, degenerates, and other moral reprobates make great work, is it okay to like it? Is it ever possible to separate good work from its not-so-good creator?

Asshole page from “Breakfast of Champions”

If you’re a regular 99U reader you know it’s something the whole team here (like the rest of the world) has been thinking a lot about, so we put the question to three top designers in our new series, Design Debate, where we hear three distinct points of view that might get you to reconsider yours. This time, Erik Carter, Debbie Millman, and Paula Scher took the topic to places I never expected it go, and highlighted some of the grayer areas, like: what if someone’s not an outright sexual predator, but you simply disagree with their stance on a controversial subject? Debbie talks about loving The Handmaid’s Tale, but the fact that Elizabeth Moss is a Scientologist? Not so much. Personally, I’ll watch anything Ms. Moss is in, unless it’s a video about Dianetics.

Knowing that a work, whether it’s a song or a painting or a logo, was created by an angel incarnate doesn’t make me appreciate the work any more, so in theory, why should a song or a painting or a logo created by an asshole make me like it any less? That’s easy to say in theory, or from the safety and sense of removal provided by an art gallery. But what if you know the asshole in question? I’ve known plenty of assholes who also make great work, and while I’m able to appreciate the work for what it is, I sort of wave it away after that. Like, Okay this is nice, good, next. I move on before I can really consider the relationship between the work and its maker. I don’t let myself go there. It’s a cowardly move, and I don’t consider myself a cowardly person. When people bring up how Picasso was kind of a dick, I counter with how I’m actually not that big of a fan, so I don’t have to deal, right? Ditto for Dali and Diego Rivera. But if I ever learned that Paul Klee or Joan Miró were assholes, I’d be forced to reconsider. And what about a museum’s obligation here? If I was deciding between two paintings I loved equally, I’d go with the one by the non-asshole. But that’s personal. If it was for the MoMA’s permanent collection, I’d say, take them both.

Eric Gill’s Girl in Bath II, 1923 – the model for which was his daughter Petra. Image c/o Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

Let’s bring this even closer to home with a famous asshole who crossed the line: type designer Eric Gill, who’s celebrated for achievements like his universally beloved Gill Sans, even though he molested his two young daughters for years, a fact that history has kindly helped us forget. He’s dead now, but should we treat his legacy any differently than we’d treat him were he still alive? Last year the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft considered this in its exhibition of his work, but the resulting conversation was uneasy at best. One critic noted of her fellow critics, that “Perhaps they were worried that, for all their expertise, they did not have the right language to discuss Gill’s behavior towards his older daughters, Betty and Petra (a sheet we were given on arrival informed us, for instance, that some organizations working in this field believe it is better to use the terminology ‘a person who has experienced violence’ than the words ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’). Or perhaps they feared how they might sound to others—hard-hearted? Politically incorrect?”

It’s easy enough to retire Gill Sans and simply choose another typeface (Paula Scher recommends Johnston Sans, by Edward Johnston, an early influence on Gill’s work), but should more be done? If Gill were alive today, surely he’d be one of the figures at the heart of the #metoo movement, which so far seems to have skirted the design industry (though I’m taking bets on how long it can hold out). Should we treat him any differently just because he’s (thankfully) no longer with us?

Some people, afraid of accidentally supporting the “wrong guy,” are erring so far on the side of caution as to leave no room for discourse. The Manchester Art Gallery may claim that removing the painting “Hylas and the Nymphs,” by JW Waterhouse was an act of discretion (the nudes are of adolescent girls), not of censorship, but how does hiding “tricky issues about gender, race and representation” according to curator Clare Gannaway, further valuable conversation on those issues? You don’t make a statement by backing out of the room.

The Ditchling’s Nathaniel Hepburn, who curated the Gill show, wants to spark meaningful discourse between the museum and the public, albeit by entirely different means. “I don’t want to censor which works we show because we don’t have the confidence of language to be able to interpret them properly.” So far that’s meant amplifying all the voices in the room, with no clear arbiter. It’s a noisy, messy business, but before the dust settles it must be kicked up.

Have an asshole story of your own you care to share? Tweet us @99U, or DM me @perrindrumm.

And because you haven’t seen enough useless GIFs lately, here are a few taken from great movie moments featuring assholes:

https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/embed/a8b3301d-b227-43f4-b6e2-0534f5c0df11?autoplay=false
https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/embed/85b4c744-d3d8-4d24-8ae9-ba8f41645f40?autoplay=false
https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/embed/eb033d0c-4edb-429f-9eda-5a984f5fb33d?autoplay=false
https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/embed/9cbc1036-fe47-49a7-8140-d6e29ee13566?autoplay=false
https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/embed/aa483273-6b24-48f2-b5ad-a122c96253b0?autoplay=false
https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/embed/bd096fea-d7a3-4d9b-b856-a6de4766e58c?autoplay=false


from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2ENWKVW

When a Co-worker Commandeers the Office Fridge

When a Co-worker Commandeers the Office Fridge

Once each month, Hyacinth Beste-Chetwynde descends from her pedestal in the tastefully decorated home she inhabits in what she assures us is the very best part of town, to bring her mighty pen to paper and address the pitiful quandaries of the common American office drone. Tweet her your questions @99U and we’ll share them with her niece, the young person of the family, who will pass them along if she deigns them worthy of auntie.

Dear Hyacinth Beste-Chetwynde,

Every Monday my coworker brings a week’s worth of lunches and stores them in a fridge that’s shared by an office of 60. Never mind that she labels them with the day of the week she intends to eat them on, an act that clearly does not embarrass her but makes me feel like I work in a kindergarten, not an agile, game-changing tech start-up. Also, her Tupperware takes up an entire shelf (rude!) and come midweek we are fighting for space for our perishables. If I buy a mini-fridge for my personal use, at my desk, is it fair to ask her to pay for it?

Sincerely,
Embarrassed and hungry

———

Dearest Hangry,

A mini fridge! How chic! You must invest, if only to be the most popular person on Fridays when you pop the Veuve at five o’ clock champers. Oh dear, they do have champagne over there, don’t they? But don’t invoice her darling, it’s not the done thing. Your payback will be all the new friends who will want to gather around your desk as if it’s the new Studio 54, with an added bonus of seeing the sour expression of Ms. Tacky Tupperware.

That said, I do believe in the perils of turning one’s nose up at such stringent efficiencies as her meal storage plan. Back during the Great War, such measures were the difference between survival and slow, agonizing death from starvation. I remember being a very young girl and waking up in a fright as I heard the terrifying groan of the air raid siren. My family and I put on our coats and hurried down to the Anderson’s shelter, where we huddled together with a handful of our neighbors and friends. Once settled, we sat in silence waiting for the bombs to desist. My lasting memory of this is not the fear of death, oh no; it is of my mother loudly tutting at Mrs. Cleary from number 65 who was always nattering on about the provisions she kept in a basket stored beneath one of the benches in the shelter. In her basket were carefully wrapped and labelled items: bread, currants, apples, that sort of thing. As the bombs dropped, Mrs. Cleary prattled on about the wisdom of her stash, making a palaver out of dividing up the loaf. At the time I was grateful that someone thought to be so organized, as our family sat together, basket-less.

When you described this woman in your place of business, with her labelled containers of food, it did remind me of Mrs. Cleary, and I began to realize why my mother had such disdain for the woman. There’s a certain satisfaction to be had from being organized, but to witness the proudly efficient manner of others is highly irritating. Perhaps my mother—God rest her soul—resented Mrs. Cleary rubbing her entitled efficiency under her nose as we all prayed for our lives in a hole under the ground. In the end it didn’t matter, as she was dead within the week. Slipped on some stairs. Being efficient will not keep the grim reaper from the door, so fingers crossed darling that Ms. Tacky Tupperware will die very soon, indeed. She sounds absolutely ghastly.

Fondly,
Hyacinth Beste-Chetwynde 

from 99U99U https://adobe.ly/2CD81Co

Bionic Hands and Transparent Salaries: 5 (Well-Educated) Predictions on the Future of Creative Work

Bionic Hands and Transparent Salaries: 5 (Well-Educated) Predictions on the Future of Creative Work

Fact: Creative careers are changing across the board, from the platforms we design on, to the age-old standards of working for one company for life, to focusing on a single speciality for 40 years. But don’t be worried. 99U recently guest-hosted an AIGA/NY conversation with Big Spaceship CEO Mike Lebowitz and illustrator Ping Zhu to dig into the pressing questions, like what skills need to be sharpened (and perhaps blended) to tackle the opportunities of tomorrow?

In a lively conversation on the future of work, Zhu and Lebowitz shared their projections (and some pure guesses) on bringing more transparency to work rates, educating giant companies on what exactly creative agencies do, and where designers will fit in amid new technologies like VR and robots. (Spoiler alert: Zhu says illustrators shouldn’t get bionic hands just yet.)

Read on to get a peek into the future. 

Commit to unexpected collaborations with unlikely partners.

There’s a false notion that creatives specialize in one corner, and analysts are isolated in another. But Big Spaceship is experimenting with prioritizing their collaboration. “We’re pairing up our analysts with writers and taking data to a place where it has a much more pervasive interface, which is the written word,” says Lebowitz. “All our clients can read something and not all of them can get a good scan off a dashboard.” The result is numbers turning into ideas that all stakeholders can more easily understand and act upon.

Don’t get bionic hands (yet).

We’re all scared the robots are coming for our jobs. (Even the lawyers are in danger.) But Zhu remains calm. “My skill set is called illustration, but it’s really about the way that I think,” she says. As long as you carve out your own personal style and approach, you’ve got something that not even robots can replicate, giving you something defensible that you can count on even as technology keeps on disrupting the status quo.

As jobs evolve, you need to educate your clients on what the additional workload requires.

Lebowitz says there can be a disconnect between what a client thinks you do, and what you actually do. Clients, out of ignorance or lack of curiosity, can therefore make requests that are simply untenable. “A prospective client will say, ‘We want to meet the people who will be working on this,’” says Lebowitz. “Well, we’re an agency; we don’t have people on the bench. There isn’t a team for you to meet until you give us work.” Providing the client with a clear understanding of what the work entails, ensures that you do—and get paid for—all you’re contracted to complete.   

Freelancers, talk about your darn salaries. 

We all have some reticence about talking about money with our peers. But that lack of transparency is hurting freelancers, says Zhu. Creatives are guessing what rates they should charge their clients based on very little data other than asking their inner circle. (Zhu often gets her data from five trusted friends.) But since we don’t have a crystal ball for what others are charging, Zhu suggests we start talking about it more freely among ourselves. And she walked the talk for the pool of designers in the room. An illustration for The New York Times Op-Ed? $300. For a set of digital stickers for Google? $2,000. It’s a start.  

Embrace the power to say no.

Early in your career you have the greatest power in the world. The power to walk away. Not many people can do that later on—there are obligations, kids, employees. It’s time to flip the narrative that young designers are at the mercy of the companies they want to work for. “You’re interviewing for an entry level job and you’re terrified. But you can say, ‘I don’t give a damn’ if you don’t like them,” says Lebowitz. “Really, you’re interviewing them.” So even when you’re just beginning and think you’ve got nothing yet, remember you’ve got a certain kind of freedom and that’s worth something.

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Taking a Day Job Doesn’t Have to Crush Your Soul

Taking a Day Job Doesn’t Have to Crush Your Soul

When it comes to talking about creative careers, no one likes to use the C-word: Compromise. Being the best, courting success, and living a personal fairytale are the narratives most commonly spun about what a flourishing professional life is all about. But what about creative people who have plum gigs that still don’t all their bills? What if you count the New York Times as a client, but put in two days a week at a café? What if you’re jetting off to Hong Kong, Osaka, and Tokyo for group shows, but come home to illustrating other people’s books? What if the work you really enjoy fills up your evenings and weekends, but you can count the hoots you give about the daily grind on one finger? We reckon that can constitute a fulfilling working life, too.

Since graduating in 2012, Illustrator Grace Helmer has done it all; internships, part-time jobs, working in a biscuit factory. “Yeah, I worked at a place called Biscuiteers. I iced biscuits all day. It was fun, but you weren’t meant to talk there. They’d always be like, ‘Less talking, more icing.’ They’d get really strict. I worked in a gallery where I’d get bored out of my mind. But you could just stand there thinking about ideas for projects, and then feel all fired up to make work when you got home.”

Grace-helmer, illustrator, illustration

Magma print and Wakayama Up Hill by Grace Helmer.

Now, Helmer splits her time between freelance illustration and artworking for publisher Octopus Books—her official title is design assistant—and, for the moment at least, it’s exactly where she wants to be. “Sometimes you make comparisons,” says Helmer, “and feel you’re not really a proper freelancer if you have a job on the side. But I haven’t wanted to leave because it’s nice to have that security.”

Thomas Slater agrees. “I’ve realized that there are benefits to having another job that makes life a bit easier, even though you’re in a situation that feels like it’s not exactly what you want to do.” Slater has worked in a café on and off for the past few years, picking up shifts when illustration work is quiet, or freelancing full-time when the commissions come flooding in. Like Helmer, he’s accustomed to having multiple, simultaneous jobs.

“When I came out of university, straight away I got a full-time job landscaping. I did that for about a year, trying to do as much illustration work as I could in the evenings and weekends. Then I bumped that job down to three or four days. Then I thought, ‘You know what? I’ve saved up a bit of cash and I’m really done with this; I’m just going to freelance.’

“I did that for a year. Then there was a point when I realized I should get some work to support it because I wasn’t really busy enough. It came at a time when I wanted to get more into cycling, and I didn’t have any cycling friends, so I took a job at a Rapha café.”

The social aspect of his day job keeps it interesting for Slater, who spends the rest of his time working from home with his housemate, illustrator Kyle Platts. Even though he refers to it as a “low-skilled job” that can feel like a compromise. “But it’s a happy compromise,” he says.

thomas-slater, hammer-series, manual-for-speed, illustrator

Hammer Series by Thomas Slater for Manual for Speed.

Young, budding illustrators might be surprised to learn that a career in the industry takes so long to establish, but Helmer was well prepared for this reality while still at college. As she graduated, her tutor Luke Best, a successful illustrator in his own right, told her it would take 10 years before she was established enough to make a living from her work and take on the kinds of commissions she wanted.

“I always felt like I’d just have to chip away at it, and not expect to get big stuff straight away, or necessarily know what I even wanted to do. I graduated and still had no idea how to do anything, and had to learn everything while trying to get work. It does take time.”

“I was definitely prepared to grind it out for a few years before I was able to fully support myself,” says  illustrator Jesse Fillingham, who graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 2010 and has been slowly building his personal practice ever since. “I had a professor specifically state that it can take illustrators years to establish themselves. It’s been about seven-and-a-half years since I graduated and my goals as an illustrator and artist have shifted considerably over that time.”

jesse-fillingham, cosmic-contemplation, illustration, illustrator

Cosmic Contemplation by Jesse Fillingham.

Currently, Fillingham works three days a week as an artist’s assistant, and the other two, plus evenings and weekends, are dedicated to his own work. He’s still keen to be a full-time illustrator in the future, but admits his work doesn’t have the commercial viability to make that happen fast. “The types of jobs I’m interested in doing are so narrow,” he says. “My current setup definitely suits me at this stage of my career.”

There are drawbacks to dividing the week between two jobs, of course. Slater believes the comfort of regular income has caused him to rest on his laurels and not push himself hard enough to take on more clients; Fillingham has turned down work because his day job encroaches on deadlines; and Helmer admits the work can sometimes be less than stimulating. But for the most part, the pros outweigh the cons.

“It’s helped me loads with things like copyright,” says Helmer, “and making me raise my day-rate and think about jobs differently. If I’m just doing a job for money, it has to pay more than what I’d be paid per day at Octopus. It also gives me the security to do more personal work. I don’t feel I have to fill every day with commercial work and always have to make a certain amount of money each week.”

Sticker-Albumm, Women-of-Gaza, Bobby Breiðholt, illustrator, graphic-designer

Sticker Albumm and Women of Gaza by Bobby Breiðholt.

All of these working arrangements entail a degree of compromise, but they might seem luxurious to advertising designer Bobby Breiðholt. A graphic design graduate from the Icelandic Academy of the Arts, Breiðholt works full-time at ENNEMM, an agency in Reykjavik, making work for breweries, insurance companies, and one of Iceland’s largest gas producers. In spite of the wealth of ad agencies in Reykjavik,  Breiðholt says the market simply isn’t big enough to accommodate freelance illustrators. So his evenings and weekends are spent making album covers, posters, and zines for his friends’ bands and exhibitions, or developing his line of photo books—all outside regular office hours. Even though personal creative work occupies less of his time than his day job, “That’s what I need to be doing,” he says.

“If I wasn’t freelancing and doing what I consider more creative work, I’d just go crazy.”

For Breiðholt and many of his peers, a full-time salaried job is a necessity, as the idea of making good money from freelance illustration or design is still just out of reach. “I would definitely do it if the market was bigger and you could get better paid,” he says. “It’s just expensive to live in Reykjavik and the rent is really high. You need that day job money to survive.”

But money worries are universal among illustrators. “A friend of mine met a kid at a comics fair who said he was getting into illustration because of the money,” says Slater. “He just had to explain to this kid that he was mad—nobody’s ever become an illustrator for the money.”

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What Pisses You Off? Bonnie Siegler Talks Effective Protest Signs

What Pisses You Off? Bonnie Siegler Talks Effective Protest Signs

Bonnie Siegler, founder of Eight and a Half, has spent most of her career parsing the history of brands like This American Life, SNL, and StoryCorps and reshaping them for the future. Now, she’s turned her acumen toward another design evolution project: protest signs.

Recently, Siegler held court at the Brooklyn Public Library (where she’s designed the logo and identity), to launch her book Signs of Resistance: A Visual History of Protest in America. Toting a book (that was not the one she was promoting) called Visionary Women, Siegler marched up and down the rows, greeting guests.

“Do you want to tell Bonnie what you said at the March?” a mom asked her daughter as she introduced her to Siegler.

“Hey hey! Ho ho! Donald Trump has got to go,” replied her three-year-old.

“That’s great,” said Siegler. “How many people marched this year?” she asked the crowd. A majority of the hands went up.

Signs of Resistance covers expressions of American anger, from Suffrage to Civil Rights to the AIDS Crisis. What makes Americans take to the streets? And how do they design the posters? Siegler knows how graphics operate in politics—she’s designed on behalf of both Obama campaigns, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, plus local races from Alabama to Nevada.

She recently spoke with 99U about how anger becomes art, protest design rules, and just how many letters add up to a good sign.

A lot of these posters have a short text message and one graphic. Is that a recurring theme in all of these protests?

In the successful, memorable ones, it definitely is. In “Fuck the Draft” it’s one picture and 4, 7, 12 [total] letters. It’s almost like you Instagram it in your brain. You can remember the whole thing: the guy burning his draft card. One simple image, a few words, shock value because the word “fuck” wasn’t used that much: a simple rejection of authority. It wouldn’t work if you went on to explain why the war was a bad idea. It is a recurring theme.

Fuck-the-draft, protest, sign, Bonnie-Siegler

Excerpted from Signs of Resistance by Bonnie Siegler (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photograph used by permission from Kiyoshi Kuroyima (1943-2000), The Dirty Linen Corp., publisher, Fuck the Draft, 1968.

Where else is that idea of one image with a few letters used?

Benjamin Franklin. He owned the newspaper and he experimented all the time. His “Join, or die”—people will say “Oh I’ve seen that before,” even though it’s from 1754. It’s one clear, powerful image of a snake being cut into pieces and a few words.

Signs-of-Resistance, Bonnie-Siegler, join-or-die

Excerpted from Signs of Resistance by Bonnie Siegler (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photograph used by permission from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

It really feels like the Suffragettes didn’t get that memo.

Totally. Those women put hundreds of words on their posters. Their signs weren’t always so verbose. But, they had a lot to say. They were pissed, understandably. 

Signs-of-Resistance, Bonnie-Siegler, Suffragette, protest, sign

Excerpted from Signs of Resistance by Bonnie Siegler (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photograph used by permission from the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.

When did graphic design as a discipline become a conscious part of the messaging of social movements?

Graphic design is relatively new. There have always been designers, usually designing typography. Graphic design developed as a real profession in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. I think it was during the Vietnam War that people were like, “Wait, I do this for clients…I can also do this to get my message out.” And people started to understand the power that they had.

What do you think is the DNA that makes a powerful message?

It’s the motivation behind it. Nobody did these because they were hired to do them. People felt an urgency. They had to do this. They had to make their voice heard, to express their anger and frustration. When an artist or a designer has to create as an outlet for their frustration, the result is powerful. That is very different than someone saying, “I have this widget to sell. Can you make me a great ad for that widget?”

A lot of the post-1960s design seem to use an ‘Oh wait a second’ moment.

Something happens when you look at a poster and it takes you a second to realize what it is. A good example is “Vote or Trump”. It doesn’t have any image, just the crossing out of the ‘F’, so it’s not “Vote For Trump”. You feel proud of yourself for getting it. You’re rewarded for figuring it out and it involves the viewer in uncovering the message, which is satisfying: When you see something and you get it, you feel good about yourself. That interaction between you and the designer is an amazing thing.

Vote-for-trump, protest, sign, Bonnie-Siegler, SIgns-of-resistance

Excerpted from Signs of Resistance by Bonnie Siegler (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photograph used by permission from Mike Matthews.

There are quite a few examples of text or images being used over and over.

I’m fascinated by these American icons that get reused and reused and reused: Rosie the Riveter and Uncle Sam. Because they are so popular and recognizable they provide a shorthand for protest images. So you already have a context of like ‘patriotism’ or ‘being a feminist’. And they use the power of the original image, but bend it to their will. So, if someone wants to say that Sarah Palin is a feminist, how do you do it? You just stick her head on someone who’s already associated with feminism [like Rosie]. Icons of American history are so enduring that they’re used over and over in propaganda on all sides.

Is there one design that sticks with you most powerfully?

“Am I not a man and a brother?” is the one of the most moving images I’ve ever seen. That stays with me at night. It shows a man imploring someone for his dignity and it was made into an abolitionist talisman, people wore them around their neck. Then, during the sanitation strike 180 years later, it became “I am a man”. That sign is it for me. The power was the multiplicity. The sign is singular and together, it’s the race. The multiplicity is chilling.

Signs-of-Resistance, Bonnie-Siegler, I-am-a-man, protest, sign

Excerpted from Signs of Resistance by Bonnie Siegler (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photograph used by permission from Bob Adelman.

When did your interest in design for social movements start?

In the 90s, we had [Bill] Clinton. So, we were pretty happy most of the time. The Bush administration really got me going. I started working on Air America Radio, a left-leaning radio station in the early 2000s. It was the Left’s answer to right-wing radio, and the first hosts were Rachel Maddow, Al Franken, Marc Maron, and Janeane Garofalo. We did branding, marketing, and advertising for them. And we really felt like we could change the course of the election. It didn’t work: Bush won. So, when time came for Obama to run, I was all in. I did everything I could.

Do you have advice for any non-graphic designers who might have a march coming up?

The march signs made by people who weren’t professional designers are some of my favorite. Think about the thing that pisses you off the most. Everybody has something. That’s what made the Women’s March so powerful: Each person was representing the things that pissed them off the most, the thing that they most wanted to change. That’s where I would start: Why are you marching?

These images point to the darkest moments in American history, but did it also spark any sense of camaraderie or comfort to see so much resistance?

Looking at these images, I go from rage, to optimism, to frustration, to anger, to hope. It just sends you all in circles. But, all of these movements shaped our country. We’ve been through these difficult times and survived and if we all get involved we can survive this one too. These marches make me feel more patriotic than I’ve ever felt in my whole life.

 


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