For love or money

Good little interview with Jon Sueda about the upcoming San Francisco exhibition All Possible Futures, which he curated.

Self-initiated projects in the context of graphic design is nothing new… Since I started design in the mid-90s all the designers I admired (Ed Fella, Rudy Vanderlans, Allen Hori, Studio Dumbar, etc…) had some form of self-generated practice. With the Internet today, this type of work has much more of a life than it did back then… it’s now very mainstream and easily accessible. The positive side of self-initiated projects is that it gives the designer an area to explore personal interests and subjects that might not be of interest to their clients. Some one like Ed Fella is a great example of this. Over the early part of his career as a young commercial artist in Detroit, he worked on automobile ads and health care brochures by day and simultaneously created a separate body of experimental work that emerged publicly much later (in his 50’s) when he attended Cranbrook and became the iconic 'Ed Fella' we know today.

On the other hand, the negative side is that self-initiated projects give the designer an area to explore personal interests and subjects that might not be of interest to their clients. In my conversation with Experimental Jetset during this show, they brought up a very valid point that when you have a 'parallel practice,' and completely separate your personal interests and creativity from the work you do for clients, you risk completely marginalizing what you do… you become a designer who has two portfolios: one body of work for 'love' and one for 'money,' which can be a real detriment to your work. I’m paraphrasing, but they use the hypothetical example of Hitchcock making really commercial 'blockbuster' movies, and going home and making really enigmatic 'arty' films in his basement on the weekends… to them it’s much more interesting that he found a way to fuse those two ideas together.

I think both points of view are valid… after all my research, the parallel practice tends to be more of an American approach. Designers in the exhibition from Europe seem to agree with the sentiments of Experimental Jetset… this is a whole other question on how cultural context really shapes the production of graphic design.

Jon Sueda, on Design Mind