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1000 Black Lines

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Steven Heller, Graphic Design Superstar

For those of you who are not familiar with graphic design and those who practice graphic design, allow me to introduce you to one of the most prolific writers of graphic design, Steven Heller. According to his publisher's bio, "he has been senior art director of the New York Times" since 1986. And that is a very short list of his many credentials in the field of graphic design.

As one who practices graphic design, it is a topic that is very close to me (not to mention it pays the bills). Naturally, I am interested in the writings and wisdom of Steven Heller. Equally, I am interested in writing about topics I am passionate about. So, as I was reading Telling the Story, by Peter Rubie, the following quote arrested my attention: "Pulitzer Prize--winning journalist James B. Stewart says: 'Curiosity is the great quality that binds writers to readers'." Okay, so what's interesting to me, as a reader/writer, doesn't means it interests you.

"The fact that graphic designers have great skills," stated Steven Heller in an interview with Elizabeth Resnick (New York City, December 27, 1999) "and can mechanically put together a page and make it look good, is not enough, it's not enough to keep one interested. Certainly it is not enough to keep me interested. So I figured if I'm bored by graphic design, many, many other people are trapped. The designer as author,... involves using the basic language as a means of developing content.... for lack of a better term 'providing content' is what I call it."

"Providing content?" Hm, I'm not sure my boss will go for changing my business cards from "graphic designer" to "provider of content" (though I dare say it's more accurate). The fact remains, the title "graphic design" doesn't always define job responsibility. Most creative departments don't have the proper resources to hire a copy-writer, photographer, illustrator, graphic designer, art director, media buyer and project manager.

"Talented designers are predisposed to create good-looking work," Steven Heller said in an interview with DT&G Magazine concerning his book Citizen Designer "We are taught to marry type and image into pleasing and effective compositions that attract the eye and excite the senses. Do this well, we're told, and good jobs are plentiful; do it poorly and we'll produce junk mail for the rest of our lives."

To avoid junk mail purgatory, a graphic designer has to wear several hats to "provide content." Obviously, I slipped into Dante's "Design" Comedy because I spend most of my time producing direct mail collateral. According to Mr. Heller, if I am designing "junk mail" it is because I design "poorly." As far as a career path goes, he's correct. As far as poor design, direct mail packages are openned because they are successfully designed. The copy and images on a piece of "junk mail" trigger a response and the individual opens their mail. Admittedly, there is a lot of direct mail in circulation that is poorly designed and should be dubbed "junk mail."

Note to self: finish reading Telling the Story and find another job.

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