Stefan Bucher

Uploaded by walkerartcenter on 06.04.2010

Andrew Blauvelt: So tonight I'm very pleased to introduce this evening's speaker. Stefan
- again, we've had all of these engagements and encounters over the years, and he reminded
me of the first one, which was way back in - we think - 2000, when I was out at AIGA/LA
to talk. And then your book "All Access" came out, and it was like trying to connect the
dots. It's one of those games where I didn't think of you as an author at that moment,
and then there were these profiles of some friends of mine, actually, and I was thinking,
"This is an interesting collection of subjects for a book."
And so I sort of formed one dot there, and then of course it kind of exploded on the
scene with "Daily Monster." And it was like, "Wow, OK, this is all from the one crazy mind."
So I'm like, "This is pretty amazing." So I want to definitely welcome Stefan here this
evening. And then the last engagement was when I was at AIGA National in Memphis and
heard you speak there, and I was quite blown away by that particular presentation. I thought,
"Damn, there is finally somebody who can give Chip Kidd a run for his money as design presentations
go." So that's pretty amazing to be able to do that.
So now for the more formal introduction. As a principal of Los Angeles-based 344 Design,
Stefan has worked in the fields of advertising, graphic design, and illustration. He began
his career at a young age - I like this story, I hope it's true - in his native Germany,
redrawing existing ads in need of design makeover, some of which he sold back to the original
So obviously a talent, a prodigy. Arriving in America and then studying at Art Center
College of Design in Pasadena, Stefan worked briefly in advertising before striking out
on his own as both a designer and an entrepreneur. He's the author and designer of the books:
"The Graphic Eye: Photographs by Graphic Designers from Around the World," and as I mentioned
earlier, "All Access: The Making of 30 Extraordinary Graphic Designers," as well as most recently
"100 Days of Monsters, " which documents his creation for the blog
Now those of - I'm sure he will go into the process of this, but let's just suffice it
to say that these creations are published through his blog, and these monsters have
inspired a whole creative community of contributors: people who have written inventive back stories
for the creatures, those helping to build the world's tallest monster by adding their
own piece in a kind of, I guess, "Exquisite Corpse" fashion, or others who participate
in this open source monster forum. And I think that these endeavors of leveraging the web
as a platform for creativity is really quite an amazing accomplishment. So please help
me welcome Stefan Bucher to
the stage.
Stefan Bucher: I appreciate it. Thank you, guys, and thank you, Colleen, and thank you,
Andrew, for the great introduction and for completely overselling me right away. And
thank you all for coming out, because I know it's beach weather out.
And as I know that this is being filmed and transcribed, the transcriptions are going
to be Google-searchable, so let's just immediately make sure that we get some decent hits and
say "health care reform..."
"Jersey shore" and - I don't know, something else. I'm missing a third. So I'll just keep
weaving things in, so if there is sort of a weird word some where, it's just so we get
some web stats for the Walker site. But right away - oh, and by the way, the story about
that I started out redoing shitty ads for little German stores and then selling them
back to those places, that's totally for real. I did the first one of those in 1989, and
I got 40 Deutsche Marks for it.
And in the vein of going through, sort of rummaging through my distant past, I will
spare you a three-hour talk, because I know that you've gone that route.
And I will make you a little montage that will take care of all that stuff in about
one minute and 40 seconds. So...
[orchestral music]
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Well, as Andrew said in his introduction, it sort of all comes out of one head, which
is the nice way of saying it. And the sort of - well, not un-nice way of saying it, but
the business reality way of saying that is that a lot of people like what I do and nobody
knows quite what to do with me. And sometimes I don't, even, which is what I'm going to
talk about a little bit tonight, in the sense that everything that you've just seen in the
little video and everything else that you're going to see during the talk is just my way
of coping with what is going on in my head 24 hours a day.
Your brain isn't necessarily your friend. Your brain will entice you with doing good
things for you, autonomous nervous functions: breathing and telling you that it's time for
food intake and all that stuff. And then from there it will have some helpful ideas, like
"Helvetica is good."
But then it will also then immediately go into sort of more neurotic behavior of like,
"Oh, really, is this the best you can do?" And "Well, that seems pretty uncool as an
idea." And so basically I'm trying to... Over the years I've been trying to make my brain
useful to me without letting it take me into complete navel-gazing self-generated suffering
territory. In other words, I'm trying to know my operating system and I'm trying to sort
of develop the workarounds.
And the best workaround - or one of the most immediate, easy workarounds, certainly, is
just to put your brain in the service of somebody else - in this case, of course, clients. Because
then you don't have to worry about, "Well, is what I'm doing worthwhile?" Yes, it is,
because they told you so.
And they're sending you a check, so obviously they've assigned some sort of value to it.
And then they give you a data set. And then all you have to do is find a shape to give
to that data set, which is very relaxing. Because again, you're not going to have an
existential crisis every time you do a flyer. Half the time, but still.
So I'm going to start off by showing you some of my commercial work, such as it is. A few
years ago, I started working with an art gallery in Los Angeles called LA Louver. They're in
Venice, California, and they are one of LA's leading-edge art galleries that just handle
a lot of amazing contemporary artists. And actually, it's one of the rare jobs that I
went out for, because usually at this point it's just that people know roughly what I
do, and they pick up the phone and call me. And so I'm cast more than hired.
In this particular case, I actually answered an ad in the Art Center Alumni listings. It
was "Designer wanted. Some experience welcome." I researched the gallery, and I realized that
they represented David Hockney, who was a painting hero of mine, and so I thought, "OK,
I don't like pitching, but I want to do some stuff for Hockney, so I'm going to go in for
Usually, I think that pitching is a waste of time, and also, I think it is a little
bit of a soul killer, because somebody should be able to go to your website, or see your
portfolio, and then make an educated guess as to whether you're right for this project
or not. The whole idea that you're being pitted against each other, I think is a little bit
distasteful. It's just a waste of energy, and I hate wasted energy. Somebody's going
to waste their time, and half the time it's going to be me, or nine times out of ten it's
going to be me, and that I hate, especially.
It also brings out my competitive nature, which I don't like, because I'm actually super,
super competitive, and so I try to put myself into professional situations where that tendency
is damped down, instead of poked and prodded into, "I want to win." But, in this case,
I really did want to win. I went out for it, and I thought, "OK, if I'm going to play the
game, I want to win it." And I thought, "How...?"
This was a catalog for a show called "Rogue Wave, " a group show of younger contemporary
artists. I thought, "What do I present to them that immediately makes them think 'Bucher?
Genius!'" I had just heard a talk by Art Chantry a few weeks before, where he said, "Here are
ten stupid things you can do to impress your clients with very simple means." One of the
things was that he said, "People are always impressed if you cut stuff at angles."
It's like, "Really? Could it be that simple?" And so, the first thing I presented to him
was this, and said, "Yeah, you know, because it's cut and edged, don't you know?"
And they said, "Oh, well, this is all real nice. It's very, very interesting and honest.
Your bid, OK. These are interesting numbers. Give us a few days. We'll call you back.,
" All right. I was like, "OK? OK." So, a few days go by, and then they give me a call.
They said, "Listen. We really enjoyed your presentation. We also enjoyed the other person
that we asked to come in. But, I've got to tell you, man. We've never seen anything cut
at an angle before. That's so cool."
And we've lived happily ever after. So, thanks Art Chantry. Which is also a good search term,
I think. Art Chantry.
From there, we've done many catalogs together. This was a recent one for Juan Usl which is
doubly embossed. Let's see which of these buttons is a laser pointer. Here we go. There
is a really hardcore impression up here, and all this little stuff is a second embossing
with a lot less pressure, so that the letters don't get completely obliterated. Doing embossing
in register to each other, surprisingly difficult, but if you persevere...
And then, of course, there's the nice spine here, so that the chipboard is adhered to
just a paper back, basically, which also saves some cost, which I occasionally do.
This is a very small catalog for Deborah Butterfield, who makes these amazing, gigantic horses.
If you're not familiar with them, she creates these horse sculptures out of driftwood, and
then every single one of these... She makes the horse out of the driftwood. They photograph
it from all angles. They number all the pieces. Then, the break it apart, then they fugitive
cast every one of those branches in bronze, weld it back together, so it looks exactly
like the driftwood sculpture, then paint it and varnish it in 20 different steps to make
it look exactly like wood.
And so, you have these horse sculptures that look like driftwood horse sculptures, but
in fact weigh two tons, and are rated to outlast the apocalypse, which, at that price, I suppose
you would want.
The point of doing a very small book was because every other gallery and every other museum
that has published on her, as many, many have, do these gigantic books, because they're like,
"Oh, big horse. Big book." It's a life sized horse, so this to this doesn't make a difference.
What I liked about this is that because it's coated paper, and you don't really see it
in that format... When you pick up the book, which is really only this big, it really startles
you with how heavy it is. I like that, because that's exactly how the sculptures are, is
that they are something other than what you think they are.
Then, of course, the big reveal is that I ended up being able to do a catalog for David
Hockney, which is what I said I set out to do when I started working with them. I got
to do a catalog for the cycle of paintings called, "The East Yorkshire Landscape," which
was him taking one particular clearing by his studio and painting it through all seasons.
I'll show you a few pages of that. I know you can see him in the landscape painting.
Over the years, I've noticed that I've geared my drawing very much to conform to technology,
which is to say I never draw bigger than nine by 12, because that's the biggest that would
fit on my scanner. I always felt really embarrassed by that, because I thought that's not what
real artists do. That's not... You're supposed to make art a complete, no compromise, and
then you spend whatever you have to spend to deal with that afterwards.
The reason that all these landscape paintings are done in six canvases is because that's
the way they fit into his truck. So, I thought if it's good enough for David Hockney, then
damn it, it's good enough for me.
And, as I've said, in terms of keeping my brain happy, and keeping my brain from going
into inconvenient or unhelpful places, is to just work with other people's information.
So, what I have to do here is I get to work with amazing photography of a painter I love,
and I get to work with his paintings. Then, I also get to set type flush left, ragged
right, at nine over 12, which is just really... It's like maintaining a Zen garden.
It's just raking patterns in the typographic sand.
And then, of course, you also get to retouch things, which is equally soothing. It just
makes me feel good. The deal with this show is that David had seen that particular gallery
wall color at a museum show of... I want to say it was a Sargent exhibit. He loved it,
and he wanted it for his show.
As we shot the gallery throughout the day, of course the light changed. And so, to get
the color completely accurate throughout the pages, I ripped it out in Photoshop and put
it in for every single gallery shot, again, and faked the lighting. So, all those spotlights
are fake. All kinds of lighting up here was removed, so that it looks nicer.
Again, anything to just not think about stuff and just put everything in the hands, take
it out of the head, and put it into the hands. And again, more flush left ragged right, because
it's just so pretty.
I just love working with images, and I love image editing. I love working with large bodies
of photography. One of those jobs was I got to design a book for Tarsem, the director
who did a movie called "The Fall" that he was pitching... He wasn't pitching. He had
almost finished it, and he needed distribution for it, but he didn't want to tip his hand
and show the film itself. He wanted to keep that mysterious.
So he handed me literally 7,000 negatives and photos, and said, "Edit this down into
something that I can show as a teaser for the film." If you're not familiar with the
film, it's about this little girl Alexandria, who in the 1920s has an orange-picking accident
in the orchard, like you do. And at the hospital she meets Roy, who is the actor who is also
in Pushing Up Daisies, who is in the film is a silent movie era stunt man who tries
to commit suicide because his girlfriend, the leading lady of the film, has run off
with the leading man of the film - follow along - and so he tries to kill himself as
part of a stunt.
He doesn't succeed. He gets to the hospital where he meets Alexandria. And he then tells
her a story that is like the film within the film, to manipulate her into bringing him
enough morphine so that he can finish the job and kill himself. So, you know, a happy
family movie.
This is the inside. This is the title page, back to that. There she is with the morphine.
And it was just great to have a big cache of images that you can go through and pick
your favorites and arrange everything. Again, it's just a very meditative process.
I'll just show you a few pages without saying too much about it, because, again, trying
to bring it in in an hour and a half. Just to quickly say, that is Charles Darwin, if
you haven't figured that out immediately, and his monkey just got shot. Also if you
want to get married, why not? Go all the way.
So one of the things that happened was, as I was designing the book I thought, "OK. Well,
this is a cool movie and Tarsem is brilliant and I want to do as much on this as I can
and clearly, this needs some sort of title design." So I came up with a logo for the
book. And Tarsem looked at it, and he's like, "I don't know."
Tarsem has a thing, has a self-diagnosed ailment, let's say, that he calls type blindness, where
he will read the information, he will absorb the information, but he is blind to the typography
of it. So of course the exact opposite of what I have, which is information blindness.
I mean, I can work on an event, invitation for three weeks, and then miss it because
I didn't know when it happened.
[laughter] .
So I designed this logo, and he's like, "I don't know. I don't know. I was thinking because
it's a film about film and about storytelling, can't we do it in the font that they use for
movie scripts? Like, a typewriter type thing?" I said, "Ah, I'm not putting Trixie on. Fuck
It was pretty much exactly what I told him. And he said, "Well, let me live with this
for a while."
And he talked to some friends of his who are not type blind. And after about a week or
two he came back and he said, "You know, originally I wasn't so crazy about it because I really
was stuck on this typewriter idea, but a lot of people seem to like it. You seem to know
what you're doing, so I'm just going to trust you," which at that point, obviously, a single
little tear ran down my cheek.
And I thought, "Oh, Tarsem. I love you."
And of course, my plan with doing the logo was that I hoped that I could get him to like
it so much that he would put it on to the movie itself and that he would use it for
the posters and that ideally he would let me design the posters and all that stuff.
And that did, indeed come to pass, is that he was like, "Oh, it's really - actually now
I really like it, and I'm going to put it on to the opening credits."
And I said, "Would you like me to design the opening credits? Because I can do that." And
he said, "No, no, no. Don't worry about it. You know, we've got people who do that kind
of stuff who do this professionally." And I'm like, "I-um."
"OK. No, no. That's fine. I mean, I certainly-don't let me stop you. OK."
So he went to them, and they put something together. And he showed me and he said, "What
do you think?" And I said, "Oh, please. Let me do it. Come on." Because it was horrible.
I mean, it just looked bad. To be fair to the people who are doing it, they just sort
of put it together as a placeholder almost. And I said, "Tarsem. You have to let me do
it, " and indeed he did.
When you see the movie now, you know, I did design the opening credits, which are very
simple. Just sort of a fade-up, fade-down kind of situation. But I was so pleased. And
it was on the movie poster that, indeed, movie poster professionals did design after I did
take a few stabs at it for the festival circuit.
But it cured me of any desire to do movie posters because, man, the contractual obligations
are ludicrous. If this person's on the poster, this other person has to be on the poster
at these same exact size, and the type needs to be no bigger than his or her face and then
the actors' names have to be exactly 25% of the size of the logo. But it's never specified
if it's 25% of the area, width, height. You have no idea. It then needs to be presented
to the Directors' Guild and the MPAA, and they get arbitration on it. It's bonkers.
It has very little to do with design. So anybody who can actually design a really killer movie
poster, hats off to them. Because it ain't easy. But they did put a nice little bevel
on the logo, and that was very nice. I was very happy with that.
Then it came time to do the end credits. I said, "Let me do the end credits." He's like,
"No, no, no, no. We've got professionals for that." And I'm like, "OK." Again, great. So
he went out. He had the professionals do it. The professionals didn't do it right. He came
back to me. And I said, "Please, seriously. Just as a gesture to beauty, let me set this
Because it always pisses me off when you have a really great-looking movie, and then you
have these sort of, you know, Kyle Cooper spectacular opening credits and then there's
the kind of like, "Oh, hey," and then "Look. It's like, Ariel. That's nice."
He said, "We don't have any money." I'm like, "Listen. How long can it take? That's fine.
I'll just do it." He said, "OK. All right."
So here are these end credits in their entirety. And it starts off and it's, you know, you're
all right. Sometimes you just figure out that you should think before you commit to things.
Because there's a lot. And you shot this movie in 12 different countries.
And every single country you need a driver. You need an accountant. They all want to eat,
so you need catering and the catering assistant. There's a whole orchestra of people that does
these scores. They all want to be on there. There's a lot. And you think, "OK. Well, it's
not - it's an Indie movie. Doesn't mean that it can't have end credits like the Lord of
the fucking Rings, "
...And lots of logos as well.
And you know what? The lesson that I learned from this is just, sometimes it actually is
better not to think about the end of something and just think about the beginning because
if you think it all the way through you're never going to do anything. Sometimes you
just have to say, "Oh, I think this is something I want to do," and commit to the premise.
And then you run with it and you make it happen.
Well and of course, the deal with this is that I wanted it to be beautiful. And it's,
I mean, it's very simple. It just scrolls. But let me give you a little close up. Here,
for example, is the Prague unit. As I said, you know, you've got your clapper loader.
And that again gives you sort of an-it gives you an impression of the granularity of these
I'm going to particularly call your attention to the gaffer, Michael McDermott. One of the
things that always pisses me off about typesetting is that people don't properly kern the Ts.
And so I defy you, I challenge you, to pick up a Blu-ray copy of The Fall and freeze frame
those credits at any point. They are perfectly, perfectly kerned and typeset everywhere. Because
it's about integrity.
You're right to applaud that.
Is it that easy? I just have to request it? That's excellent. Duly noted for future slides.
Another project that I did, again in this theme of just doing a lot of image editing
and really loving that kind of work, is that I was contacted by Jona Frank, who is a photographer
who also did a book a few years ago called "High School" and then did a book called "Right."
And specifically, let me see if I can get the title correct. That was just "Right: Portraits
from the Evangelical Ivy League." And what she did is - did I just lose my microphone?
Audience: Yeah.
Stefan: OK. Is this the point where I go here? OK, we've talked about this before. Somebody
planned ahead. It's a set of photos. Jonah went to a college in Virginia called Patrick
Henry College, which is also famous from the book God's Harvard by Hanna Rosin. And it's
a college specifically designed for hardcore fundamentalist Christian home-schoolers. So
this is where the conservative elite of the country is to be educated.
So she went there in 2007 and 2008, so this came out before the 2008 election. This was
a very political book, and it was very interesting to be able to help Jonah go through the images
and help with the sequencing of it and just get an impression - just to be exposed through
the work and the immersion in the work with a completely different mindset, and to see
how that expresses itself visually. And this, to me, was sort of the shot that encapsulates
it more than anything, is just these "Smile, you could have been aborted" stickers. That
was just a happy, fun project.
Another one in the series of photography books is a book I did called "American Photography
17." Oh, I'm wandering again. I forget that I no longer have a mic. And it's an award
show, there is an annual competition called "American Photography" and a sister publication
called "American Illustration." And this was a five-and-a-half pound book, just great,
and with 400 images.
The dust jacket is done in a clear vinyl with silkscreen - the white and all the type is
silk screened on the inside, so that when you take that off the book, you see only the
photography. Because there is sort of this debate that I always have with photographers:
do they think that typography enhances their work or detracts from it? And so I want them
to have it be completely modular.
And doing all these things ultimately led me to make a photo book of my own, not so
much of my own photography but one where I got to select, truly, what went into it, and
I got to select the initial body of work that I would then edit down into the book. And
that, of course, is "The Graphic Eye" which just came out late last year, which is photographers
by graphic designers from around the globe, because I like a snappy subtitle.
And that was just based on the idea that I love going out and taking photography, especially
now with digital where it doesn't cost me an arm and a leg to take 12 angles of my favorite
blade of grass. And I figure that basically every designer out there has this folder of
pet images, that if I just ask them that I would get this flood of amazing photography,
which indeed I did. And so this is a collection of 500 photos chosen from about 5,000 of just
amazing stuff of how other graphic designers see the world.
This is the US cover. This is the British cover which I also designed. And I'll tell
you how: I presented this one, and the US publisher is Chronicle. And I showed that,
and they said, "That's very nice." And very stereotypically, they said, "Can we have the
type a little bit bigger and bolder?" And so I presented this. Because I'm passive-aggressive,
I admit it.
I said, "OK, you want bigger bolder type? You've got it. Stymie extra bold with 3D extrusion
and a drop shadow."
And they said, "Fine, God, we get it, geez, you can have your type." But the British publisher
who originally started the book with me wrote of it and they said, "This is really fun."
So the whole taking it to the extreme to walk people back never works.
And in the end I actually quite enjoyed them. I actually think that it's a valid alternative,
and it is fun.
And that sort of - this actually looks a lot more like my illustration type, which is much
more sort of comic influenced. So it was actually sort of nice in the end to have both of them
side by side. By the way, I'm just going to see: can we try again on the microphone with
this? Because the whole just standing at the podium is driving me crazy. Are we back? No?
No, I'm tethered. Screw it. OK.
Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today...
I'll show you a few pages. And again, it's the whole thing - ah, ooh.
Thank you. See, this...
[sings] Memories of the way we used to be...
This is very nice. This is very stand-up. I like it. It's just all going to be minutiae.
This is not going to be funny to anybody outside of this room. And I've clicked myself back:
what's going on? OK, so this is all just an exercise in editing. Yellow things go together.
Fowl goes together, and then you just have two chickens. I'm not averse to cuteness.
These are by Brian E. Gomez, who was one of the first people to be in on the book and
who helped me set up the dummy and helped me pitch it, for which I'm eternally grateful.
And she sent me all these fantastic photos, also, of typography, which I then completely
chopped down and edited into sentences that she never intended, only because I couldn't
stop myself.
And in that vein, I love you too, big daddy. The snake tricked me.
In a sort of Biblical vein, obviously. I then made a whole bunch of her type photos into
a kind of legible grid. Like "provoke thought: bubbles;" "provoke thought: puddles, cannibal;"
or "provoke thought: wicked idea, a quick dump." And "stop resenting your freedom,"
which seems very appropriate.
And then there's the doll spread.
And I don't know that it's possible to take a photo of a doll and not have it be creepy.
I don't think it is. Dolls and clowns, it's just tough. A friend of mine, Jim Hyman, a
few years ago designed a book about clowns called "Clown Without Pity." Look for that.
It's really excellent, and also one of my favorite book titles ever.
And then there's this, which I liked, which sort of - these are by Carla Faye Bauman,
both by her. And this was the thing: I asked people to send me ten of their favorite photos,
and so they just sent me things that, in a lot of cases, they never meant to go together.
And I just thought that this was such a great juxtaposition and such a great illustration
of the male gaze. And if you'll forgive me the pun, I thought that these guys have a
lot of balls to judge anybody in terms of appearance. Then it occurred to me that that's
actually quite literal. So I will close that section on that disturbing little image.
So this is all when I sort of let my brain work on behalf of others. Which again, is
just as a safety measure, and just as a way of sort of getting through the day pretty
But then the other thing is I do a lot of self-generated stuff, and in that case I just
figure out ways to play around, and to do interesting stuff that makes good use of my
brain, but without the training wheels of a client.
The first of these is actually still a little bit outside generated, but you will see in
a second how it fits in. I was called by the New York Times to do an alternate Super Bowl
logo. They invited six design firms from across the country to design alternate Super Bowl
So first of all, of course I went [quickly inhales] , "The New York Times," [quickly
inhales], my little nerd heart starting beating.
And I thought, OK, what is going to happen here, everybody is going to really try to
do a hardcore Super Bowl logo, but do it kind of nice, in the hopes that eventually one
of the teams will go, "My God, what a fantastic logo. We should get this person to do the
next team logo."
Which I knew was never going to happen for me because obviously I look athletic, but
I'm really not. So I thought, OK, well you know what? I am going to again, show some
integrity, and do a logo that serves my community, and that is under served by professional sports,
and just do the nerdiest possible Super Bowl logo possible. Which is this...
And I will take you through it. For one thing, obviously you do have a football. But it's
my neighbor [indecipherable 39:31 "Tottoro"] as a football.
You've got your three major sci-fi franchises. You've got your Star Wars, your Star Trek,
and your BSG. It's been pointed out to me since then, that Serenity Firefly is missing,
but Nathan Fillion needs no help from me. So there.
It is USB and firewire equipped obviously. You've got yourself sort of World of Warcraft
scroll that says, "Yea, for they wield the pigskin of doom, and they shall clash most
You've got a Latin motto which is "SIPHUS EXIMUS." Which basically just means exalted
vessel, like a salad bowl.
It says Super Bowl 43. You've got 43 expressed in binary here. You've got your Dungeons and
Dragons dice. Because football fan, dungeon master, there's very little difference in
the end. All of these come out to 43. So you've got 40 and 3. And all these add up to 43.
And then you just have four, three, there.
You've got a little bit of Free Mason action going on here. Because it's always good to
go Masonic on them. It's been pointed out to me since then that this is also a little
bit PG-17. That's all right. I didn't even think about that. But it comes out subconsciously
as it will in that arena.
And lastly, you have Professor Frink, the patron saint of nerds, wielding the power
of the testosterone molecule.
Oh, and of course, because it is branding, there are the team logos prominently displayed.
So, the little meta-thought here was that I thought, "OK, if I am going to put as much
detail in as possible, with five point type, then they are going to have to run it at a
certain size on the paper, and mine is going to look twice as big as everybody else's."
And that actually worked out.
[audience laughter and applause]
What came to my aid there was that three of the firms came up with essentially the same
thing which is, "Hey, if you put two helmets together it's the shape of a football."
And the guys at the New York Times were very happy to have something totally out of left
field to put in-between there, to make it less noticeable. Now, what I've got to say
about that is thank God, that I didn't think of that. Because make no mistake, if I had
seen that in my sketchbook, it would have been like, done. I'm a genius.
Because how is that not just a graphic designer happy ending. You just go [exhales] . I mean,
you'll call your friends and be like, "I did a good logo today. There awards coming."
Absolutely no way I wouldn't have stopped on that too, so thank God I didn't think of
Continuing in the nerdy vein, an entirely self-generated project is my website, the
Neologist. Which is a website where you can write to me Dear Abbey style, and request
that I tailor make for you a German compound noun So you that can impress people at your
work, or you can impress rivals, or you can maybe get a date.
So the example here is -- and these are actually real letters from real people.
This one is, "Dear Neologist, I have a problem with reconciling myself to the difference
between potential and reality. Some things, or people, or situations, seem really exciting
and promising to generate all kinds of ideas or high expectations, but then I frequently
find myself disappointed by their actualization.
I would like to be able to sum this up with a high-falutin' German word that I could drop
into conversation with a slightly embittered sigh. Please help. Sincerely World Weary in
West Hollywood."
And so the words I came up for her were Erwartungsentzauberung, which is expectation demagication. Which is
related to the problem of Rckwirkende Vorfreudensauslschung, retroactive joy of anticipation expungement.
And I hope that in all this she doesn't lose her Hoffnungsfundierter Liebesunklarsinn.
Her hope based love un-clarity. If you would like a German compound noun, please email
me at the website, which is The website is, because it's
a public service.
Another project that I took on about three years ago, is I was approached by 826 L.A.
I don't know if you are familiar with 826. They are a group started by the author Dave
Eggers. Which is a chain I suppose, a network of tutoring centers for at-need kids. So kids
in inner cities can just walk into these tutoring centers and get homework help or they can
be in writing workshops. It's a really great organization.
And what they also have is in front of the tutoring center they will have fake stores.
And that came out of a zoning problem in San Francisco initially where they were zoned
not for a community center but for retail. And so they said, fine, we'll do a store.
So they came up with a pirates supply store. They put that in the front, very small.
And so for Los Angeles, they made the Echo Pirate Time Travel Mart. Which also explains
why the little boy was also wearing a Viking helmet because he's a time traveler. Whenever
you are, we are already then. That's our motto.
They approached me and they said, "Can you do a product line for us? That would be great.
We're trying to get some designers involved." And in the spirit of the Teutonic need for
expansion and conquest, I said, "I'll do it, but I'll only do it if I get to design every
last thing about that store." To which they said, "Really? You'll do it all for free?
Fantastic." Because free is a very persuasive price point.
So I designed all of it, and this was the same principal as the Tarsem credits writ
large, and then I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. All the other stores,
like the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, have a store brand. So you come up with a
basic label design, and then your reformat it for a hundred different can and bottle
sizes, and the interns at 826 can actually put in the different copy if you set it up
correctly. And it's no fuss, no muss. It's beautiful, it's great.
Well, this one is supposed to be a convenience store, like a 7-11 for time travelers. If
you go into a convenience store, the thing that makes it look like a convenience store
is that ever single product looks different from every single other product. So all of
a sudden I was looking at, like, 60 different product designs.
All right, fine. If you've done any product design, the way you do it properly is you
go to the store to look at what everybody else is doing, and then you make yours as
different from that as you possibly can get away with, so that you can show up in annuals
and stuff. And in this case, it's the exact opposite, because the product copy is the
funny thing. So what you have to do - what happens is that the product design is the
straight man for the joke. I'll demonstrate.
Mammoth chunks. So obviously, from across the room, you have to think, "Ooh, look, Dinty
Moore stew." And then when you approach it you see, ah, something slightly different.
These, by the way, are five-pound cans. So you look at the product category that you're
parodying. You take a survey of what all those products look like, and then you have to sort
of distill it into, like, the uber-stew can. Like, the gestalt of the stew needs to be
generated here. "100% wooly mammoth meat. May contain up to 30% mastodon."
There is Golden Horse powdered horse milk, "The Khan's Choice Cream of the Steppes,"
and it's powdered, so just add water or horse milk.
No ponies. The copy for all this came from Mac Barnett and John Corn, but I got to sort
of nibble around the edges a little bit.
The mastodons are mine. There is TK Brand anti-robot fluid. TK, if you're not familiar,
is the editorial mark that gets put into text so that you can quickly do a find and replace,
because "TK" doesn't appear anywhere else in the language, so TK is basically for something
that has not yet been inserted.
And so that's our future store brand, and you'll see here also the label, "Caution:
101100011." And "Anti-robot fluid will not work on plastic robots." And the way it works
is that the store also helps with the fundraising efforts for the organization, and that's why
we sell a bottle of water for $15. The pride and joy of the Times Travel Mart is that we
have our very own slushie machine. "Time Freezey Hyperslush: A Taste Blast from the Taste Past."
"Warning: Time Freezey Hyperslush is a category five explosive." And as a matter of fact,
literally ten minutes before the opening of the store, it did explode, and one of those
hoses came off with a terrifying bang, and the writers in their genius quickly wrote
that sign, and it encapsulated the whole vibe of the store so well that we never actually
bothered repairing the machine.
Now, the only thing that's sad about that is that you can't actually get the Bubonic
Blast flavor.
So, at this point I'll talk a little bit about - because you see these projects, and as
you can see, a lot of my work is done for no money at best or for free, or at worst
I actually pour my own money into it. So if you've come here for business advice, I'm
really sorry. The way that works for me is that I purchase greed control. And you may
have heard me speak about this before, but I think especially these days it's really
I will illustrate with a graph. Hang on. As your greed increases, the quality of your
work goes down. It will happen. And that's not to say that you can't do great work and
be paid well for it. Of course you can. But if making money is your primary goal, you're
going to start choosing work on that basis. And the easiest way to make your work better
or worse is by the clients you choose to work with.
So if you're greedy and if money is your primary motivation, you're going to choose clients
that won't let you do your best work. You'll choose clients that will pay you incredibly
well, and that will in some cases pay you almost specifically for doing less than you
could or for being less ambitious and for just making the sausage and just churning
all that stuff through. The way around that is you can either get really, really good
at presenting and selling yourself to amazing clients - which is not necessarily a skill
I have.
So the way for me was, indeed, to practice greed control, which basically just means
keep your overhead as low as possible and spend your money, if not wisely, then at least
consciously. And make decisions about how you spend your money instead of just sort
of letting it slide out of your hand. Because there is a lot of pressure put on us to consume
and to sort of prove your worth as a person by the size TV you have or where you vacation
or what kind of car you drive.
For me, it's more important to be able to say no to certain jobs. I had the same TV
for like 13 years, and then it finally broke down, and I went to Best Buy to get a new
one. And I said, "OK, I need a 24-inch cathode ray TV, because that's what fits the size
of my TV hole."
And the guy at Best Buy - under normal circumstances, you would expect that guy to say, "Come right
over here, sir. That's where the products are." Or at the very least go, "It's over
there." Asking for a 24-inch cathode ray TV at this point entitles you merely to "Meh."
Well, that's all right. That's OK. But that's what you're up against, is that if you don't
consume properly, you will receive some level of scorn. Well, fuck that, because I'm going
home to a job that I love, working with people that I love working for, and that to me is
more important, and that's what I mean when I say greed control, is to just make that
I'm not saying, you know, become a monk. Eat out. Buy flowers for your girlfriend. Please,
you know, have a vacation every once in a while. But I'm saying, make that choice. Think
about it and don't just go, "Oh. You know, pfft." You know, read out more gadgets or
whatever. Don't get me wrong. I mean, I want an iPad as bad as the next guy, but that to
me is a real consideration. It's like OK, $500 means a week of not having to get a real
job. That's pretty powerful.
So, as I was first thinking about all that, I was sort of having a little crisis of, you
know, do I actually want to be a graphic designer? Because I was starting to sort of run up against
what I could do, and that was specifically because I wasn't able to pick my clients then.
I asked other designers. I thought, "OK. I need to be able to look into the future,
" and at that time the time travel mart had not been opened in our time period yet.
So the way I did it is that I asked 30 other graphic designers, and that is, in fact, how
"All Access" came about, which is the book that Andrew mentioned in the introduction.
That was just really me searching and talking to people that had achieved success, asking
where they come from, how they had been raised, if they were supported by their family, how
they got their first jobs and how they got to do work that's as cool as it is now.
The thing that I found out is that for better or for worse, there isn't a secret password,
which I was really, actually sort of a little bit hoping for. Because then maybe somebody
would have told it to me, and it would have been easy going from there. I kind of thought
that maybe the password was "Augee" or something. But I guess not.
As it turns out, every one of the people in that book still is working their ass off trying
to make the ultimate design or the ultimate illustration that they have in their head.
Because nothing ever looks the way it does in your head, and I think that ends up being
kind of the life mission as of finding something that is perfect and that is exactly like you
always wanted it to be. And everybody is still searching for that. Which made me think, "Wow.
That's, A, really, really cool that everybody's still at it." and then I thought, "God. That's
exhausting. Really? Like 30 years from now I'm still going to go, 'Oh, man. Shit. This
kerning is off.'"
That's when I started striking out a little bit from just straight ahead decline graphic
design or, you know, self-generated projects within graphic design. And I started writing
a column for the now dearly departed STEP Magazine called Ink and Circumstance, where
I could illustrate and I could write, but write in my own sort of weird, disjointed
fashion. This is a column on that it actually takes a little bit of balls to quit jobs and
to change your life by subtracting things instead of adding them.
You know, I do talk about greed control because I just can't stop myself. Then it actually
did lead to some actionable advice, in case you're looking to get hired or in case you're
lonely. Be useful, don't be boring. Think about it, it's really true.
And I did that column and I loved doing it until I just completely burned out because
it was just-it really was always difficult to do and I always loved having done it, but
it was always very painful to actually do it, in some cases physically, because I cramp
my hand when I draw. And so I always have to have a Band-Aid on my right hand or my
fingers dig in as I scratch these things out on paper.
Very recently my folks sent me some of my homework assignments from high school. I'll
show you from this how you can see that I never had a chance.
This is my 11th grade homework, 10th or 11th grade. [Speaks in German] . Important dates
in world history since 1770 broken down as a timeline between Germany, Europe, America
and the rest of the world. And I'm glad that since the 11th grade I haven't had to adjust
my worldview any.
As you see, United States embodied by Scrooge McDuck with an Uncle Sam hat and a cheeseburger.
Again, it's from the mouth of babes. Yeah. So you can see. This is a millimeter grid,
by the way. So I had no choice. I had to do. I had to go into graphic design.
Then I actually did a very similar graphic like that on the inside of the dust jacket
of "All Access" because there was a open space that could hold some ink, so why not? That
actually taught me - that was all the lifelines of all the designers in relation to dates
in world history. The cheeseburger was invented in 1938 and the Bauhaus closed in 1939. Coincidence?
I don't know.
Then, of course, there are the monsters. I'll show you a few pages from the book. As Andrew
said, the thing that was so excellent and unexpected about the monsters was that people
from all over the world started writing in stories about them. Never anything I had in
mind. I started doing the drawings just for myself because I literally had a vision when
one appeared on my arm and I thought, "Ooh. Should draw this one," and put him online,
and people started asking me, "Well, what's this monster called?" And out of either instinct,
or probably laziness, I said, "Well, you know what? That's not my job. You tell me what
it's called."
So based on that, people started writing in. And I started asking them questions because
I thought, "Oh, this is fun." And then around Monster 10, Simon Darwell-Taylor from London
wrote the first long-form story, which was sort of like the birth of a nation for the
monsters, without the racism. And then people really saw what could be done with it.
All of sudden all kinds of people from all over the place wrote in these fantastic stories,
including a captain in the U.S. Marine Corp who was stationed in Japan. And that, I thought,
was also really nice, that people that would otherwise have kicked my ass, or at the very,
very least, pantsed me were now, you know, collaborating with me on a project. I thought
that that was pretty cool. And the stories were pretty cool and people had really interesting
ideas about it. Like, the Bicycle Pump Meets Monster. In the clip, his little rat tail
actually works like a bicycle pump, inflates his head, and then he floats away.
In the interest of time I will show you all the pages in the book.
How's that? And in case you haven't actually seen one of the monsters, or haven't seen
one in a while, I brought one of the clips as well.
And I
do the writing and the drawing, upside down and reverse, purely to show off.
So it starts every time with a random ink blot. I don't know going into it what it's
going to be at all. Whenever I actually try to do that, the monsters do not play ball.
The monsters will not cooperate. The whole point of this is to have it come out of the
blot and have it be completely spontaneous.
And these are the first drawings I've ever done that are fun to do instead of fun to
have done because with these I don't have an image in my head before I start. So I can
actually take joy in the way the drawing comes out instead of having the entire drawing process
be one long look at my failure to render something in my head accurately.
And they all do come to life of course. Some are recalcitrant, stubborn even, but ultimately
So they're off to the Daily Monster New Year's Ball, and there are a few more of those also
on the website.
And then the monsters of course open up all kinds of little contacts and possibilities
and I got invited to put them in some really interesting places. They appeared in New York
Magazine for example. And how often do you get to do anything that involves Diana Ross,
John Oliver, David Rackoff and killers of sheep.
Again, little note, actionable advice, there isn't an illustration or design in this life
that isn't made immediately more awesome by the addition of tiny people.
Instant scale. If you think I'm kidding, go home to whatever design you're working on
today, put some little people in it, get ready for the awesomeness.
I got to design a cover for the UCLA Extension catalog which was a big deal in LA because
it goes out to 350,000 homes. This one has seven monsters in it. One, two, three, four,
five, six, seven. The pocket calculator under here says 344 of course. I've got my own pencils
and everything because you've got to self-mythologize. No one else will do it for you.
And then of course the big thing was that I got invited to do drawings for The Electric
Company on PBS. I'll show you some of those.
Man 1: "The Electric Company" is brought to you by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Woman 1: "Frah."
Woman 1: "Sti"
Woman 1: "Er"
Stefan: So now I get to do monsters typography and topography at the same time, and I get
to teach kids how to read, which is pretty cool. That's a nice day at work right there.
And in the new season, the second season, some of these are actually now bumping up
against the segment with LL Cool J rapping about punctuation. And again, you know you're
doing it right in life when you can be next to LL Cool J in any capacity. Ladies love
cool type.
I'm going to show you some illustrations that I did a while ago. I started doing these in
school, about 10 years ago, these hybrid animals. And one of the things that I was thinking
about as I was preparing for today is that I'm kind of bummed out about the inordinate
amount of time I spend thinking about, "Am I cool?" I was a big, big nerd in high school.
I got beaten up constantly. Not well liked at all just because really shy, not quite
Asperger but just weird and not fitty-inny.
And so then all of a sudden you make it out into the working world and you get a computer.
And all of a sudden all your lines are straight and you're actually getting paid for what
you do, and all of a sudden there's a certain degree of respectability that comes with that.
Plus you hit your 30s and all of a sudden people can't give you an Indian burn anymore.
So then you think, oh, I'm a little cool. I'm making some OK money. I can actually buy
some nice clothes. I can pass, like a cool transvestite. I can get away with this.
I can get my nerdy Adam's apple shaved down and all of a sudden I can sneak in. And that's
kind of a bummer because I remember that I used to do a lot of stuff back when I was
really just desperately, desperately uncool because it didn't matter. It was like, "Well,
they think I'm an idiot anyway so I might as well do exactly what I want to do." Again,
then you get seduced into, Oh, maybe I can fit in with people and that's going to be
really great, because who doesn't like not being laughed at and who doesn't like a little
bit of affection from your peers. That's great.
But then you start, I know for myself at least, I really started censoring myself. There are
certain things that I like where I would never admit to it. If you saw my iPod, you wouldn't
want to be in this room with me for fear that my nerd stench would rub off on you.
But that becomes the trap, that all of a sudden you have to maintain the pose. It's not like
I'm not standing here in a suit. So there's a lot of effort that goes into that. And I
started getting a little bit sad thinking about it. And the reason I thought about it
also is that I thought about Norm Sherman, the drawing teacher in whose class I started
doing these animals, and he was a product design teacher at Art Center.
And it was very interesting to see his approach to things because I was actually an advertising
student, which I was just so ill-suited for. I actually now do quite a bit of work with
ad agencies again, but very much behind the scenes and a lot of photo editing. And I get
to do what I do. But at straight on advertising, unsupervised, I suck at it. But advertising
and graphic design, very much nothing is good enough unless you've spent three months banging
your head against the wall and thinking so hard that little rivulets of blood come down
your forehead in a sort of "Fifth Element," Gary Oldman way. It's just no good unless
you've suffered for it.
And Norm taught me that there's a completely different way of doing that. For him and for
his students it was much more the ethos of "OK, what do we have here?" We've got a shark
with a rocket on his back. How can we make that cooler? I know, three rockets. If this
thing is cool with four wheels, it's going to be really cool with 28. And it was just
very instinctual and very joyful. It was just like, wow, what would make this fun? What
would make this more fun to do? How can you create a world around this that is immersive
and where you just have a good time.
And to see that put forth as something valid instead of, "The first 20 slides are going
to be about our methodology. Then we're going to have a little bit of consumer insight.
And then here's our final result with eight months of painstaking this and that. And then
our planner is going to talk to you." No. It's just like OK, what would be cool here?
I showed him this drawing of the wart-hen, and he immediately got out a pen and he drew
that egg. And he said, "Well, if it's a wart-hen, you should have a wart-egg."
And I thought... And he is one of the most un-neurotic, most loving and supportive, guys
you could ever meet. And to have something like that, if you have people like that in
your life, those are the people to seek out and those are the people to hang around with,
and ask for their opinion. Because you can always edit in the end. And you can always
say, ah well, this didn't work out so much. But failure is never as frightening as regret.
And, too, there is a lot of stuff that I haven't done, because I was really worried that it
was going to make me seem uncool or that it was going to be silly, or that it was going
to hurt me in some way. And again, what I was saying earlier, you can't think about
the end of things. You just have to think about the beginnings of them. And develop
a little bit of an instinct, obviously, to keep yourself safe from really crazy shit
that's going to do lasting damage. You know, stay in school.
What I'm saying is if you can find people that will encourage you, or that will tell
you that it's not wrong to feel joy in what you do, I think those are the teachers to
seek out. And teachers in life. I'm not talking school. I'm talking all throughout. There
are people when you talk to them, you hang up the phone, and you're kind of exhausted.
And you just want of go, oh OK, I just need to sit here for a few minutes, and just calm
down, or just recuperate.
And then there are people, and you talk to talk to them, and the minute you hang up you
want to draw something, or you want to design something, or you want to make something.
Those are the people you need to be around. And you also get to draw "pengvarks."
Surly creatures. And this came actually a few years before the monsters, but they do
all seem to share the same somewhat caustic outlook on life. The range of my characters
seem to go from caustic to benignly neurotic.
[sarcastically] I have no idea why.
Then there's, oh, no, I pressed the wrong, oh... Holding it upside down. OK. And there's
also the "moosetrich."
Who actually may also be the happiest creature I've ever drawn in a sort of stoned way.
And you can see how that relates to the monsters, right there. [appreciative crowd sounds] Thanks.
And also with a tiny little personage down there.
And so what I'm trying right now - and I've only recently started thinking about Norm
again a lot, is that I want to be as I was back in 1996 - I wanted, as much as I can,
dedicate myself to being a disciple of Norm, in just finding things to do that are joyful
and to do things because they're fun and I like doing them. And I think that's the stuff
also that will last. Because anything else is just a job. I mean, anything else is just
a task you have to complete.
And sometimes you have to do that, and you have to do that to pay the bills. Or you just
have to do that for your own sort of piece of mind that you're doing something responsible.
But, as much a possible, for myself certainly, I just want to do things that are fun, that
make me happy.
Because the thing that I was always worried about, when I was starting out as a designer
was the day, sort of ten years in the future, when I would look in the mirror and I would
think, "What happened? Where did the last ten years go? What happened to all the stuff
in your sketch book that you always wanted to do and never did?" And then, all of a sudden
you have this David Byrne moment of, "This is not my beautiful wife. This is not my beautiful
The thing I was worried about then, and the thing that I'm worried about again, is that
I don't know how to make it through that day. Because your responsibility, and my responsibility
I think, is to take the stuff - well, I won't speak for you, but I mean for me, I see my
responsibility as - I have to take the stuff that's in my head and I have to get it into
the world in a way that it can survive on its own. I have to build these little machines,
that I'm getting directions for, in a way that they have cohesion and are understandable
enough to live independent of me.
And there is a strain in culture, not a strain, the culture in general, is set up to make
artists to feel trivial. And I think this came out of the counterculture of the '60s.
Because that was the first time that the court jesters and the artists became independent
of patronage. Because before... Sorry, it's turning into a little bit of a thing now,
but bear with me.
[jokingly] In the Stone Age...
Because it always used to be that artists were completely dependent on some sort of
principal, some Archduke Ferdinand, something, to give you a stipend and to finance what
you were doing, so that you could paint, or you could write poetry, or create operas.
And all of a sudden, in the sort of late '50s, early '60s, beatnik hippie culture, all of
a sudden you had people creating art without too much outside funding, and, all of a sudden
you had mass media that time to fill. So all of sudden that spirit was broadcast, which
made it really hard to control. Before, you could just say, "Oh, these paintings you are
doing that are critical of regime? Tell you what I'll do. I won't pay for those anymore,
and if you continue, I'll also chop your head off."
Well, that stopped being possible. And so the only way you can control people at that
point, and the only way you can put that genie back in the bottle, is by making it seem trivial.
By saying, [makes raspberry sound] hippies. [makes ticking sound] Silly people. You do
your art, while, the adults, we're going to start some banks over here.
And we're going to continue with our pursuit of making money, and we're going to make sure
that everybody knows that you guys are completely unimportant. You are ballast. What you do
as artists is an indulgence that we can stop at any point. And that's why all of sudden
we have these discussions of, designers need to be more like business people, and we need
a seat at the table. Oh, fuck off.
You know what? The Rolling Stones are like these huge business people, and they're in
on every discussion. Are they in on that because Mick Jagger went and took a course at Harvard
Business School?
No, because they made really great music for a really long time, and they made themselves
into the best possible band they could be. That's why they have a seat at the table.
That's why it's their table. And the business people get to have a seat at that.
And that's how it ought to be, and not the other way around. That we sort of constantly
prostrate ourselves to apologize for the fact that we're artists, which we are. And yes,
do we put our art into the service of business? Sure. But that's not the product. The product
is we're the ones who have the sparks in our heads that we can then translate into something
tangible. That's what the product is. And that's art.
So again, I think, for myself at least the responsibility is take the stuff in my head,
get it out there, and do it with integrity and do it without self-censoring. And that's
my contribution to the culture, and that's - your contribution to the culture is to
do that with what is in your head. Because that, ultimately, is the payload of humanity.
When you look back at museums, you don't go to look at accounting practices of the Roman
You're looking at paintings. You're listening to music. You're reading poetry. What we do
is - we were talking earlier, Lisa and I, about the proof of your being here, the sediment
of your existence. And that's what it is, is that we all contribute our impression of
what it's like to be a human being right now.
So all that is asked of us is to do what we think is fun, and that in and of itself is
our contribution to the cultural DNA, which is especially true for graphic designers and
product designers, photographers, because these are also objects of everyday life that
everybody interacts with.
We are laying that sediment. We are that ring on the tree. We are the witnesses to our time.
And you know what? For me, it's as simple as making monsters, and for you it will be
something completely different. But I think as long as it's done with joy and it's done
with all the energy and skill that you can possibly bring to it - and I will stoop to
the topical, don't get me wrong.
But as long as it's done all-out and without hesitation and without censoring yourself,
then I think you've done a good job and you've had a good day at work. And that is all I've
got for you tonight. So thank you.
Andrew Blauvelt: I think we can take a few questions.
Stefan: Sure.
Andrew: And a quick Q & A. There are some people in the aisle with microphones, so we
can capture your question for the webcasting and the recording.
Stefan: Great.
Andrew: Thanks?
Stefan: Any questions? Yeah.
Man 1: [off-mic]
Stefan: Oh, hang on. We've got to get you a microphone.
Man 1: Down here? Oh, it's up there, sorry.
Stefan: OK. You know what? We're going to come back to you. We need to get - it's where
the microphone is. That's the law. Yes?
Man 2: Do you ever refuse to work on a project for an artist you don't respect? Like, if
you're doing an album artwork or a movie poster?
Stefan: When I was doing the album artwork, I was working at the record company, and it
wasn't an option. That's actually a large part of where the whole greed control thing
came from, is that I didn't want to work on some of that stuff. And I have - since then,
yeah, I have actually refused some album designs because it came from a political background
that I didn't believe in. So yeah.
Man 1: I got the mic.
Stefan: Oh, you got the mic, fantastic.
Man 1: How do you feel like your self-generated projects have changed the kind of jobs you're
offered from clients, but especially the kind of jobs you choose?
Stefan: It has made it so much better. It has made everything so much easier. Because
nobody wants to be the first to hire you for anything. Everybody needs to see a factory
floor model, and that is what the self-generated projects are, is if I went to somebody and
said, "Well, you know what? I'm going to start doing these ink things, then I'm going to
blow it out here, then - so trust me, that's going to be great."
It doesn't work. And that's why I started doing the posters on my own, and I started
doing the books and everything, and so now I just have a lot of stuff out there that
people can reference and that they can link to. So it has made it - at this point, I don't
get offered work that is inappropriate for me because people know what I do, and yeah,
it has just made everything so much easier.
Reach for that microphone. Reach for the stars.
Man 3: Who do you look for out there in the world for inspiration? Or who do you - what
designers or artists today do you look at currently that really inspire you?
Stefan: I love illustrators. I always have. I love Istvan Banyai. Peter de Sve is fantastic.
[indecipherable 1:29:12 "sompay"] is great, Lara Tomlin. There are so many. I mean, I
could write you a list of 100 illustrators. I'm just blanking a little bit right now.
I'm really inspired by writers, especially by good TV dialogue.
First four seasons of "The West Wing, " I can watch over and over and over again, and
if there is a pressing deadline, God knows I will. Music - you know what is crack cocaine to
me is that VH1 Classic thing, Classic Albums. I can watch that 100 times over. And it's
sad, because at the end you come away with an abiding respect for the glory of Def Leppard.
But what I love about it is just that they have the music, and they have it on the mixing
board, and then they go, "Oh, listen to this bass line." "Oh, listen to what he's doing
here with the background vocals. And then here, to get the stomping feet of the robot
for the Black Sabbath record, we took big cases of silverware and clattered them down."
And that's the kind of stuff where I go, "Oh," like, "What's the visual equivalent of that?
How could I do something different like that?" Looking at other design is fun, obviously,
and it's so comforting to do something that looks like what is out there, because then
you know you're doing it right. I mean, that's fashion, because you want to associate yourself
with a tribe. And that, again, is a sort of like, "Well, I want to be cool and I want
to be accepted. That means I'm going to do it like people are doing it right now."
OK, but again, comforting, but ultimately not that fun, and ultimately I think something
where I would look back and go, "Oh, I just kind of took it easy there." So yeah, I mean,
I just try to go outside as much as possible. I try to read as much as I can about science
and politics and everything. So I'm just trying to read the paper, basically. It's like reading
the paper plus. It's like reading the hyperlinked paper and then just going from there. I mean,
I can look up something for a spelling and then two hours are gone on Wikipedia.
Man 4: I know there are lot of students in this room who are going to enjoy the experience
of job hunting in about a month and a half or so, and I'm wondering if you have any advice
or something to tell them at all?
Stefan: Do I? It's almost like I gave you five bucks before to ask that very question.
No, first of all: putting your portfolio together. Number one. So much anxiety around that, and
there is a sort of weird bait ball of anxiety that forms of all the students going - "I
don't know, how many pieces do you have in your portfolio? 15? Oh, shit, I've got 18.
Is that wrong?"
And, "I don't know, do you have a health care brochure? Because I think that would be really
good. And do you have a car ad?" Who gives a shit? Do you want to do car ads? Then put
car ads in. Do you want to do health care brochures? Then put that in. Who cares? All
it is, show what you can do. Show what's fun to you. Take all the work you have, take all
the work you've done through school, put it on the floor, pick the stuff you want to talk
Because all it is, it's the starting point for a conversation. So just take the stuff
that you want to be asked questions about or that you want to tell a story about. That's
your portfolio. If it has five amazing pieces in it, great. If it has got 68 pieces in it,
probably going to be a long meeting, but why not?
I mean, I made people crack up when I first interviewed for jobs, because I had three
portfolio cases, and I went through all of it, man.
I mean, I would ask "Is it OK? Do you still have time?" And I'm like, well, here's all
my ads, and I have these book designs that I did, and I had these CD designs that I did.
And I had this whole drawing sideline, and these ads that I did back in Germany.
And it was all stuff where, you know what, there's an interesting story behind all that
stuff... Doesn't matter. People will stop you, or if it's not enough, they will ask
you, "Hey, do you also have this, and then you can say, "You know what? I left that at
home. I'll bring it by tomorrow, or I'll bring it by in a week," and then you go home and
then you make it.
You have no obligation to the truth in your job hunt.
The other advice is, once you graduate, sit your ass down and don't do anything for a
month. I took a job right out of school. My first day of work was a month after I graduated
from college.
I was recruited right off campus. I went to 13 recruitment things, and was actually approached
by a few different companies. They were like, "Come work for us."
And still in my head I was like, "Oh God. They're just saying that. I'm never going
to get a job."
So when Wieden-Kennedy said "Come, we want you to work for us, " I was like, "Great,
OK, good," because that means that I will not...It's like come back with your shield
or on it. The sort of warrior ethos, like you have to make it happen, you have to succeed.
And so immediately took that job, which was so wrong for me. Because I was just scared.
I was just really scared. And it has nothing to do with reality. Reality gets pushed very,
very far back at the end of college, because everybody's so freaked out.
And there are so many expectations. By your friends, by your parents, by your family.
And not even in a bad way, not even like, "Well, you've been lounging on our money for
long enough. Time for you to go out and get a job, young man."
No. That's fine. That's easy to resist. Because then you can just go, "Ehh, fuck that."
The thing that's hardest to resist is the enthusiasm of others, because when somebody
wants to do something nice for you, and somebody offers you a job and then everybody goes,
"Oh my God, this is so amazing. They're such a great company. How great is this? We're
so happy for you."
That's what's hard to resist. That's where it's hard to say, "You know what? I don't
think this is right for me." My gut tells me that this isn't right. When everybody's
so excited for you...
That's how I took that first job, because everybody was so psyched for me. And this
is going to sound stupid, but it felt rude not to take that job, because a lot of people
wanted it. So I didn't have the balls to say, "No, you know what, this isn't right. I want
to wait until maybe I can design album covers."
So my advice there, I really strongly urgently urge you to just sit down for a month and
say, OK, no decisions until the end of that month.
And there are jobs where they will pressure you, and they will say-the problem isn't,
"Oh, I can't find a job." The problem is, they say "We want to offer you this job, and
you have to come in on Monday, because we need you right now." And that has happened
to me.
And that you have to look at like dating. Because if somebody approaches you and says,
"OK. This either is going down right now, or it ain't going down," that's a bad date.
That's bordering on date rape.
So you don't want to repeat that in your job search. If a company is the right fit for
you, and they want you, then they've got to be good to you. They've got to take you out
to dinner, and you've got to meet some of their friends, and then, you know?
Be good about it. Don't let anybody boss you around. You have valuable stuff to contribute.
If somebody wants to hire you, that means they know how to make money off of you. So
they're not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. They have identified you
as somebody who will be useful to them. Don't forget that.
Hold your head high when it comes to the job search. At the same time, don't just take
a job to take a job. If it takes you a few extra months to find the right first job,
that's really worth it, because your first job also determines a lot about your portfolio.
So do I have advice? No.
Woman 2: In the NFL logo, what did the barcode scan...?
Stefan: Oh, yes. Thank you for pointing that out. Yes, that also says 43. And you know
what? I had it generated online to say 43, and unfortunately it doesn't scan.
And afterwards, my friends Scott and Lisa had a fantastic idea and said, you should
have just taken some sort of, like that horrible John Fogerty song "Put Me in, Coach, " and
just scan that CD barcode, so it would actually come up on the cash register. I wish I could
tell you that that's what it is, because that's way, way smarter, but it just says 43.
Woman 3: Why did you leave Germany, and come to the US and stay, other than to go to Arts
Stefan: Thank you for asking the question that is now going to keep us here for another
No, thank you for the question.
You know, I always...I never had the plan to come here. I didn't grow up like, "I'm
dreaming of moving to the US."
It was an offhand comment by my dad, because I used to go to London a lot, because I just
loved English. As soon as I learned English, I was like, "Ooh, this is an operating system
that suits me." Like English is my Linux.
So I went to London, and he was like, "Oh, with the exchange rate the way it is, you
might as well go to the US." And I had saved money from doing the little ads, and doing
the illustrations when I was growing up in Germany.
So I just took these trips to the US and I just fell in love, particularly with California,
particularly with Los Angeles, where as soon as I got off the plane, I thought, "Ohh. Now
this all makes sense."
Because in Germany, I'm a big weirdo, and none of it fits in, and everybody's like-I
mean, literally in high school, somebody said to me...I bought a hat. I bought like an Australian
farmer's hat, which is essentially a cowboy hat.
And I was so like, "Yeah. This is awesome. I'm brilliant."
He literally said to me - not even a teacher, another student said to me, "If you want to
wear hats like that, why don't you move to America?"
And I was like, "Fuck you, I will!"
And so Arts Centre was just a means to an end. I just happened to luck out that it was
an amazing school that opened my mind in all ways.
But it was just that. I just fell in love with the city. There are palm trees there,
and hummingbirds on my porch, and amazing bright light and wide vistas, and a lot of
stuff that Germany, lovely as it is, does not have. Few and far between are the hummingbirds
in Germany. Now I completely require it. Hummingbirds are mandatory.
I got my citizenship last year, and this is my home. I think it always has been. It just
took me a little while to make the migration. So there.
Andrew: Thanks. Thanks, Stefan. See you guys next year.