Monday, September 11, 2006

STEP-The Rise and Fall of the Design Star

Marty Neumeier, designer ( and author of The Brand Gap, shares his views on design legends, past and present, and why stardom may not be what it used to be.

Neumeier defines a design star as one who “symbolizes a particular thing.” In the early days that “thing” was simply design, be it identity design (Paul Rand), movie title design (Saul Bass) or illustration (Milton Glaser). Today the “thing” is more abstract, such as creative anarchy (David Carson), borrowed historicism (Paula Scher) or high concept (Stefan Sagmeister). With the explosion of today’s design industry, you must be even more uniquely specified to get noticed. In the 30’s it was exotic enough just to be a graphic designer.

When asked if there is a star system, Neumeier replies that there is not an “official system...stars simply emerge in response to the design community’s need for them.” Schools need guest speakers to inspire students. Magazines need stars to interview and event programmers need speakers to entertain and challenge audiences. He does feel however that you can’t become a design star purely by accident. You have to want it and work for it and make the sacrifices along the way.

One of the biggest sacrifices is money. Designers who make the most money aim their work at the high profile clients. Our “heros” design for designers. For a design solution to get noticed it must “act a child who wants attention.” This affect is lost on a general audience who cares more about the “what” than the “how” of communication.

Neumeier does not see much opportunity to becoming a design star outside of the design community. He even questions if it would be worth it. Would a design star grace the cover of general-audience magazines, be interviewed on talk shows or host their own TV program? It’s just not likely.

An additional detriment to the rise of future design stars is the shift from lone genius to collaborative group efforts in design. Individuals will more and more have to share the spotlight with other designers, photographers, illustrators, copywriters, etc. However, according to Neumeier, the stars still have a role to play. The industry will always need inspiration and people to break barriers and challenge the status quo.


Blogger Professor Melis said...

How do reality tv shows like "project runway" fit into this question of whether a design star would appeal to a non-design audience? Aren't such shows trying to create a sort of "American Idol" of (fashion) design?

3:30 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

That's funny you should mention that. I love Project Runway...guilty pleasure :) I've often joked about starting my own reality show called "Crit Room" where designers compete in challenges. I also thought a show where they pit the multiple design disciplines against each other would be interesting. How would it work if an archictect, graphic designer, fashion designer, etc. had to work on the same project/challenge.

No doubt the show must be appealing to a more mainstream audience. Most of the people I know who watch it are more artisticaly oriented. However, I have gotten my three roommates into it. One is a golf-course management major and the other construction science. I'm guessing they're tied more into the "real life" drama, but I still catch them commenting on the clothes.

Perhaps society is getting visually aware and mature enough for a design star to appeal to the masses.

8:55 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home