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Women in Design II

Exclusive Highlight on TAXI Design Network
Interview with April Greiman

TAXI >>Hello April. How do you feel about constantly being dubbed, according to Massimo Vignelli, “by far the most daring and meaningfully experimental graphic designer in the world”?

April Greiman>>That’s love for you! (wish it were true.) What an honor and a humbling quote for me to live with for these years. Wonder what he’d say/think now, 25 years later…

TAXI >>Having designed everything from cracker packages, to corporate logos, TV commercials, helping to conceptualise entire restaurants down to the matchbook covers, what’s the one thing that you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t gotten around to yet?

April Greiman >>An airline identity and the interiors of the jets, or space shuttle would be cool.

TAXI >>I read that you didn’t like the way your right breast looked in “Does It Make Sense?”, and therefore cloned and flopped your left breast and placed it on the right side of your body instead.” How does such professionalism and quest for perfection for your art translate into other aspects of your life as well?

April Greiman>> Too much perhaps.

TAXI >>Greimanski Labs was set up to be a conceptual offshoot of your studio. What, in your opinion, was the most satisfying or exciting outcome to have been derived from this since its inception?

April Greiman>>The ‘lab’ concept has always been a major thread in the weave of our constant, self-motivated, non-commercial (necessarily) application of exploration and experimentation. We try to always have parallel tracks going vis a vis professional/amateur adventures and ongoing research and looking.

TAXI >>You once said, “I don’t hire graphic designers anymore. The idea of many designers working in virtual isolation is no longer relevant. I hire collaborators who are specialists in their own fields”. How does this impact the eventual outcome, and in what ways does the outcome differ from the traditional mould?

April Greiman>>That was a particular time and different context. We now have graphic designers, architects, cyber-architects and even the occasional writer working here, as per projects/work necessitate.

TAXI >>“The Mac’s just another pencil!” – In your opinion, what is the Mac of today, or has it remained as relevant and as cutting-edge today as it did in the 1980s?

April Greiman>>At that time, it was when the Mac was being compared to other ‘traditional’ tools, disciplines of graphic design. The Mac is both another pencil, but as history would prove this out, a ‘meta-tool’ and an integrative process.

TAXI >>The desert has made a monumental impact on your perception and approach to design, with you having famously said that it opens your eyes to the process of evolution, to growth, to change. David Carson said that he believes true change must arise from the bottom up – do you agree with this? Why?

April Greiman>>Yes. Our motel/spa, Miracle Manor Retreat (www.miraclemanor.com) design philosophy is that the ‘design be transparent to experience.’ The desert itself brings these things to the fore, and to my consciousness- the being is the meaning, meaning is being; peace of mind through vastness of space; sounds and silence; light and color. On a personal level, the integration of interior and exterior, both physically and metaphorically.

TAXI >>What is the WORD, which you think would reside and reverberate in the design world for the next 10 years?

April Greiman>> ‘NOW’ and for eternity.


Exclusive Highlight on TAXI Design Network
Interview with Deborah Sussman

TAXI >>Hello Deborah. More than 20 years on, and after numerous projects, your name is still entwined with your work for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. In your personal opinion, why do you think this particular project left such a deep impression and an immense influence on the design world?

Deborah Sussman>> The 1984 Olympics required a new way of thinking about the games. We were aware, from the beginning, that while several million people visited the games – 2 billion people would watch them on screen or through the eyes of the camera. The sports venues; cultural sites, city streets, freeways, airports and 3 Olympic villages were spread over several hundred square miles. There were virtually no new stadiums and monumental buildings. There was very little time (one year from beginning to end) and, until the summer of 1984 – very little money. The design team combined brilliant strategy with intuitive imagination, and our process was blessed by our true client, Harry Usher of the LAOOC. He was able to take risks and protected us from “approval by committee”. And, when Russia withdrew from the competitions, Harry felt that “design” should play a leading role – even more than in past games.

We intervened with existing structures and built architecture made of inexpensive materials such temporary scaffolding, nylon, vinyl and cardboard cylinders that are used as forms for poured concrete. We were inspired by the technology and spirit of celebrations in Mexico and around the Pacific Rim. In these festivals everything is temporary and disappears after the event. Graphics and color played a major role. There was a seamless connection between structure and graphics – each influencing the other.

The colors were expressive of Southern California’s people and their cultural heritage. Therefore, brilliant hues in unusual combinations were everywhere. We invented a “kit of parts”, which could be applied to innumerable conditions. No detail was too small, like badges and paper cups; no stadium too large. Even the flowers were grown in our Olympic color palette and planted according to the kit of parts.

The design effort was accomplished by including a number of designers and architects under the leadership of Sussman/Prejza and The Jerde partnership. We all worked together like an athletic team.

The over-all effect was exuberant. The planned strategy adapted to every condition that arose. The unusual colors looked brilliant in reality and on the screen. The temporary structures were very exciting. It was as though “an invasion of butterflies” (Jon Jerde’s term) alighted all over Southern California. If you were there you walked on it, you wore it, you held it in your hand, you walked through it, you performed in it, you had your picture taken in front of it, you competed alongside it, you also watched it on TV, you saw it in magazines, you even bought it in the department stores. If you won you got it in flowers, you cheered in the Coliseum, you cried at the ceremonies, and none of this could have happened without the ordering device of graphic design, its wedding to other art forms, and to the environment itself. It all felt joyous, and these are the reasons that made these Olympic games so memorable, in my view.

TAXI >>Your profile on AIGA bears a very stylish portrait. What would you say is your signature that people recognize your works by?

Deborah Sussman>>To your first comment: Diana Vreeland (the fabled editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue) said, “style helps you get up in the morning”. I delight in unexpected combinations, like my croche’d hat from the Ukraine with a woolly jacket from Finland and earrings made by a member of my staff.

As for “signature “ I don’t like to think that there is only one. Certainly, exuberance, playfulness, conceptual use of color are characteristic. But most of all – inventiveness in fusing graphics with architecture, the urban landscape, and other aspects of the built environment characterizes much of my work and that of S/P. We try to find the DNA of every project and investigate the “there, there”, which can lead to unexpected and appropriate solutions.

TAXI >>In the mid-1950s, you worked in the office of Charles and Ray Eames. Charles Eames once said: “To excel in the structuring of a problem we must be committed to a concern for quality in everything in the world around us. We must learn to care deeply.” What your thoughts on caring deeply?

Deborah Sussman>> “All you need is love,” sang the Beatles. …. is very relevant to this question. “Love” enables the seemingly impossible to happen, and we witness this phenomenon in every Olympian athlete. Love also keeps us on track by its positive power. One result of this positive attitude is the ability to juxtapose seemingly unrelated phenomena to solve problems

“Caring deeply” is the way to add to or improve the quality of everyone’s’ lives. It means being aware of, and dealing with culture as a whole. It also leads to the best and most useful designs. It’s the only way to live, in my view.
In the 50’s (and 60’s when I again worked at the Eames office) our clients and collaborators were all on the same page. Our clients wanted the same excellence that we were committed to. There were fewer clients, a less entrenched (beaurocratic) corporate ladder - and fewer designers. We were able to connect with the ultimate decision-makers. “Bottom – line” thinking came later. It wasn’t even a term in our vocabulary during the golden years of corporate caring.

TAXI >> Before you joined the legendary office, you’ve actually studied acting at Bard College. Both acting and designing embody creative expression. Why did you choose the static and silent form over the more dynamic one?

Deborah Sussman>>Actually, I had studied art ever since I can remember. My father was an artist, my mother a cultural linguist. Growing up, my dream was to be both an artist and an actress. Eventually these two ambitions seemed to come together in the field of design.

Design is neither static nor silent. Design requires speaking in your own voice, while acting is giving life to other peoples’ voices. Design requires the ability to convince people (Team members, clients and sometimes the ultimate users) to embrace one’s ideas. Performance plays a significant part of most designers’ lives.

I had performed on stage and radio as a child and teen-ager and majored in both art and acting at Bard. However, it was the discovery of the field of design when I attended the Institute of Design in Chicago that led to my life’s trajectory. To me, art and acting were both embodied in the “brave new world” that led me to the Eames office.

Even today, the “smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd” is my greatest pleasure.

TAXI >>As the first woman to exhibit in School of Visual Arts’ Master Series, what do you think is the greatest breakthrough female designers made in the world of graphic design?

Deborah Sussman>>This is a very tough question. There is no single answer. “Breakthroughs “ are most often the result of a series of small steps, sometimes over several generations. Women as artists were barely recognized in my youth –however, my mother introduced me to the paintings of Rosa Bonheur and other accomplished women in the arts.

In subsequent years, gender based evaluations were examined passionately during the rebirth of feminism in the late 60’s and early 70’s and I was part of that. To some extent I was naïve, but I never felt imprisoned by gender. As a child, my parents encouraged me to participate, and even excel in cultural disciplines –from dance and music to the visual arts and acting. But down deep they hoped that I would “settle down and get married”. I rebelled against these repressive domestic ambitions and became even more devoted to my work.

However, later on I noticed that at the Eames office Ray would always defer to Charles – and so did the rest of the world. Her contribution as an artist was unique and enormous and eventually – only after her death - was it truly acknowledged. Another example of this tendency “to agree to be overlooked” is Elaine Bass, who is virtually unknown – even though she made significant contributions to the film titles of her famous husband, Saul Bass.

For decades, women have been major players in the world of design, but with far less recognition than men. Female “stars” are applauded, yet, the word “female” has to precede the word “designer”. (You don’t see many – if any – referrals to “male” designer.)

Today there are a number of design firms that are led by women. When I started my own business in 1968 there were hardly any. One can see that the world has opened up for women in design since then. Even earlier, the work of Eileen Gray was barely recognized in spite of her important collaboration with Le Corbusier. Thanks to the consciousness – raising movement of the 60’s and 70’s she and her work are widely known.

TAXI >>Sussman/Prejza & Company opened its doors for an AIGA studio tour in 2005, and you are long considered to be a pioneer of “environmental graphic design”. What does the significance of audience interaction mean to you?

Deborah Sussman>>There are many “audiences”. One is peer recognition, per your question. However our real audience includes clients, collaborators, institutions and of course the public. Since they all play a role in the design process, we need to think of them as participants, as well as “audience”. Ultimately, everybody’s audience is the end-user. When people enjoy, and are affected by one’s work, it is the ultimate reward.

TAXI >>You founded AIGA Los Angeles. In 2004, you were awarded a Design Legacy medal in recognition for expanding the role of graphic design in the urban landscape. In your opinion, does the graphic influence the environment, or does the environment shape the graphic?

Deborah Sussman>>Both And !

The “chicken and egg” issue is actually a continuous loop. Sometimes visual and physical solutions happen simultaneously. Sometimes the word comes first – then the visual – then the physical. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Personally, although my training was mostly graphic, the education I received at the Eames office had a great deal to do with my passion for merging graphics with the built environment.

Every environment provides constraints and resources; culturally, politically, philosophically emotionally, visually and physically. The danger that our planet faces is a concern that affects people all over the world including designers.

Also, the more that designers research and “feel” the “there, there” the more chance we have to contribute something relevant and new.

TAXI >> Last question: Which WORD do you think would reside and reverberate in the design world for the next 10 years?

Deborah Sussman>>Collaboration will be the way to save the planet.

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