My new podcast, The Magnetic Eye, is a series of interviews with artists and designers. The first episode is a chat with graphic artist and pornographic filmmaker Steak Mtn. Listen to the episode online at themagneticeye.com or on iTunes here. I hope you enjoy!
Michael Johnson Interview
Dan Redding: In your presentation, you described a sea change in identity during the last few decades – as though it’s been liberated. Do you have any desires or predictions about how it will go in the next couple of decades?
Michael Johnson: I think you’re right… twenty years ago, everything was so static, and so fixed, and people wouldn’t want to be a logo designer. The fact that people are interested – the fact that there’s a conference about it – that itself is a sign. If people are progressively seeing identity and branding as the core of a project, of an organization, and then things spin off it, that’s very exciting. I tend to think that it can only get better from here, actually. If twenty years ago, [identity designers only worked on] blue chip organizations and now, we’re doing charities and cities and countries…
There’s something infectious about it.
There is something infectious about it! I’m naturally quite optimistic, but I do think that people will always want to identify themselves somehow. In fact, they’ll want to do it more and more. Progressively more and more.
And if you’re taking risks, as you advised in your speech-
Well I am small enough to take risks, to be fair.
If we all do that, then we’ll decide where identity goes.
Armin Vit Interview
Dan Redding: During the last couple of decades, we’ve seen a sea change – identity’s been liberated, it’s come to life with animation, et cetera. What do you see in the next couple of decades? Are there any trends you think will catch on?
Armin Vit: Well, I think the work that has been going on in the past twenty years – moving away from just a simple icon into something that’s a little bit more flexible – I think we’re seeing it pay off now. I think that in the next few years, there’s gonna be more animated identities that can do different things and react to the different mediums… like the iPad. So I think we’ll see a lot more interactivity with identities. You can see that with the PwC identity that Wolf Ollins did. For a corporate client, it’s amazingly interactive, within the context. You’ll see a lot more identities coming to life, just because of all of the different mediums that it has to exist in now.
Are there any other identities recently that you think will have a big impact or will be imitated?
I think the AOL identity – and I’m not a PR person for Wolff Olins – but what they did is starting to have the effect where other brands are saying, “Things can be a little more abstract and ethereal. We don’t have to be so literal.” I think AOL is having repercussions. On the other end of the spectrum, Gap has some big repercussions. It showed that if you don’t it right, it’s gonna come back and bite you on the ass. You have to get it right.
This week, I enjoyed an interview with Pentagram partner Michael Bierut. Interviews like this explain why my first association with Mr. Bierut is not his design work but his persuasive and candid manner of speaking. In this interview, he makes some controversial statements about logo design and crowdsourcing. For example: “The truth about logos is that they are not that hard to do.” Uh, what? I see his point, but it’s strange to hear one of the world’s leading designers veer so close to the “my kid could paint that” argument so popular in fine art. Logo design is so simple, but many of history’s best logos come from designers who spent their lives perfecting the art of visual communication in simple terms. And your kid didn’t paint that.
Bierut elaborates by echoing a sentiment that I’ve heard Paul Rand discuss in the past: the belief that a logo design is far less important than the ‘brand equity’ achieved by successful implementation of the logo over time. In other words, the Nike swoosh was worth very little ($30 in its original sale, according to Bierut) before it was granted meaning in effective advertising for a few decades. “I actually don’t think that brand new logos are worth that much or mean that much in and of themselves,” says Bierut. “The way identity firms earn their money is in guiding a company into making a decision about one of these things and giving them a plan for actually using it so they can start to create value around it.”
During my trip to London in mid-September, I was fortunate enough to interview the very talented artist Rob Lowe, also known as Supermundane. Rob is a man who loves to draw, who loves words, and who loves drawing words. ‘Supermundane’ is a word that Rob stumbled upon in a dictionary, and it spoke to him. The word seems to have vanished from most modern dictionaries, but if you do manage to find it, you might find a definition like ‘not Earthly; without physical presence.’ Rob designs the children’s magazine Anorak and he recently began a new publishing company called Present Joys. In October, he’ll be showing work as part of a group show in New York (his first visit!) at Giant Robot. When I inquired about an interview, Rob suggested that we sit down for a pint at a pub called the Jerusalem Tavern. When my London friends enthused that the Jerusalem was one of their favorite pubs in the city, my anticipation for the interview doubled. Here are the highlights from my long, beery conversation with Mr. Rob Lowe.
Dan Redding: How has the graphic design industry changed during your career thus far?
Rob Lowe: When I was at college, when I was seventeen, there were definitely no computers at all. The majority of my typography was hand drawn. Even my first job – which was at a kettle factory designing boxes and stuff like that – it was all done on a massive drawing board.
I actually admire that because you learned a traditional way of doing typography that many people these days don’t learn, and I didn’t learn. I went to school for illustration, but I kind of feel that I missed out on some of those typographical techniques. Also, the idea of a kettle factory is a very amusing one. It’s so English.
It is a funny idea.
How many kettles could they possibly sell? I guess a lot!
Well, they also sell toasters.
I enjoyed viewing your Truman font because it’s based on a physical piece of London. Are there any other designs of yours or of other artists that come to mind as having a piece of London in them? I’m wondering about works that include a physical piece of London, a piece of London’s history, or the renowned British sense of humor?
Everything I do is done via my way of thinking, and as I’m British or English or however you want to describe me, it’ll always have a certain amount of that in it… So I don’t know if there’s anything specific apart from that Truman Brewery font. The reason I did that was because I couldn’t believe anybody else hadn’t done it! (laughter) It’s just sittin’ there! I literally worked for a while looking at it. It looked – it is a beautiful font. Because it’s on a curve – on a chimney stack – it appears distorted. I was counting all the bricks. It’s the kind of thing that people don’t do anymore. It’s hard enough to build a circular brick chimney. But then to work out where these white bricks are gonna go – unless they painted them, I don’t know. But I don’t think they did. The tower just sits there like a big totem. For me, it’s a bit of a statement of that area. And it’s a good name: Truman.
There are so many great names of streets and neighborhoods here in London. Mudchute, for example.
Mudchute, yeah! Have you been there? It’s quite descriptive. There’s some very funny ones.
It’s interesting to me. The mundane things or the everyday things are really where the personality of a city comes out.
I have always wondered – I had this conversation with someone else recently, drunkenly, I think – who decides the names of streets? I dunno who does it! There must be somebody!
You think there’s one guy somewhere? Going, ‘Mudchute Road!’
Some names are completely inappropriate, like ‘Something Hill,’ and it’s not even a hill. Who did this?
Have you released any of your fonts commercially?
I’ve got one from years ago… You make so little money, I’ve stopped doing it. Whenever I used to do a project, there’d always be a font that came out of it. But now, I’ve stopped. Part of it is that the money you get from it is so small, it’s not worth it. The other side of it is, it you’ve put a lot of personality into your fonts, you’re actually literally giving someone else your design. They can just type something out and it’s like it’s been done by me, really. Also, to sell them, you have to do every single letter, it’s like 260-something bits… then kerning it…
It’s a very painstaking process. It seems like you have to almost devote your whole career to designing fonts, or it’s almost not worth it.
I do know typographers and that is what they do. They’ll do fonts for commercial companies. And that way, you’re doing a specific thing, and they’ll get paid a lot of money to do a font for, like, a bank. But when you’re doing individual fonts for sale, it’s a very different thing. And then other people I know who aren’t designers have no idea that you have to pay for fonts. They don’t even get that. They think you get them for free, fonts just exist.
Like there’s a font fairy out there, bestowing them.
‘Oh, you need something for your…’
Something frilly for your wedding invite?
(Rob does magic wand motion) Ding! There you go! (laughter)
There are a lot of quotes that pop into my head while I’m working. Quotes from former professors, designers, or artists. Are there any statements or words that have stuck with you from people you’ve learned from or people you admire?
I’ve got some items that I really like that are words-based. There’s a Louise Bourgeois hanky that says, ‘I have been to hell and back. And let me tell you, it was wonderful.’ I’ve got that on my wall, and that is a statement I really like. I’ve also got a postcard of hers that says ‘Be Calm,’ which is a good bit of advice.
Sort of a zen truism.
The statement is, yeah. Although I don’t think she’s very zen, as a woman, she’s quite mental… I’m starting a new publishing company called Present Joys and it’s going to be almost pure word-based.
That’s a nice name.
It’s from a song by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, off the Anthology of American Folk Music. It almost sounds like The Smurfs, it’s weird, it’s odd. It’s from about the 1930’s. It’s very good.
There’s something very ghostly about that music. It’s ethereal and strange.
It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before. But it’s a great name. And I’ve been trying to bloody use it for years. A couple of months ago, I thought about starting Present Joys, because I don’t get the chance to do enough typography. I love words and I love writing. And I thought, ‘Actually, there’s not enough places you can go to buy really good, quite simple words to put on your wall or send somebody.’ So we’ve put together a company. It’s going to be things I’ve done, and we’ll get other designers to do things. We’ll be publishing prints and booklets and pamphlets.
What career goals do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I’ll continue with Anorak. Also, I’ve got an exhibition coming up in New York! Well, it’s a joint show – four of us. It’s really soon; it’s at Giant Robot on the 17th of October. Come out to the show!
Many thanks to Rob Lowe.
[Note: this interview was previously published at an earlier incarnation of this blog, and it was also featured on the New York Times‘ City Room blog here. Many thanks to the editors.]
Michael Sayers is the owner and manager of Photoplay Video & DVD, a movie rental and sales store located at 928 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The store has been a staple of the Greenpoint community for nearly a decade. Michael is formerly the Programmer at Film Forum (he was once interviewed by Leonard Lopate!) and his knowledge of cinema is astounding and encyclopedic. I have been a part-time employee at Photoplay since 2003 and Michael has been a truly great friend over the years. He doesn’t give a shit about publicity – he recently half-jokingly referred to business promotion as a “sign of weakness” – and I’m sure he only agreed to this interview because he’s very generous and because he loves talking about movies. I hope you enjoy my chat with the extraordinary Michael Sayers. -Dan Redding
Dan Redding: Can you tell me about a film that’s been a particularly memorable theatergoing experience for you?
Michael Sayers: I remember seeing Blue Velvet at the Waverly Theater at midnight, the week it opened. And just being completely blown away by it. Not knowing what (David Lynch) was doing or what it was supposed to be… I’m just remembering how funny it was. Amazing. Seeing Scarface at 42nd Street with a late night crowd was another great one. People were just going apeshit, you know?
What actor bothers you more than any other?
(long, long pause) There must be some that I hate, but I can’t think of any.
(laughter) That’s okay. You seem to have a very positive disposition, so-
Well, I’m never very fond of, um, what’s her name? Chipmunk face.
No! I like her.
No. The one who ruined Appaloosa.
I didn’t bother watching that one.
She’s in those Bridget Jones movies. Zellwegger.
Oh, God, she’s the worst! Fucking Zellwegger. She and Nicolas Cage are one and two on my shit list.
But Cage is a talented actor! You can’t ignore his good movies.
Sure I can.
Oh, no, he’s amazing in those movies! Adaptation, Wild at Heart…
I kind of think of those movies as great in spite of him.
No, I think he helps make those movies great. Face/Off. Brilliant.
Face/Off is so obnoxious! Cage’s bad films greatly outweigh the good. He reminds me of DeNiro in a way… DeNiro is perhaps the most revered actor of his generation, and rightly so, but he hasn’t been in anything good – or even decent – in many years. Do you think that DeNiro could ever make a comeback?
I don’t think he’s ever gonna make a comeback. I don’t think he’s interested, obviously, since he chooses what scripts he’s in. I don’t think he’s interested in taking on any serious dramatic roles, clearly. He hasn’t done any in twenty years, right? Twenty-five years?
What actor will you go to see at the theater no matter what he or she is appearing in?
Isabelle Huppert is a very interesting French actress. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is always picking good stuff. Charlotte Rampling. Julianne Moore I’d usually go to see.
What did you think of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt?
Didn’t see it. I guess it’s not true then (that I’d always see him) – I wouldn’t go see that. There’s nobody I would go see all the time. Some actors have a good, like, seventy percent standing. That’s the best it’s gonna get.
Huppert seems kind of obscure. She’s not in that many movies.
Oh, she is, actually. She’s been in two Chabrol films, she was in The Piano Teacher, Ma Mere…
You’ve just mentioned Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher. Haneke famously said that his desire as a filmmaker is to “rape” the audience with his films. Why do you think there is a large audience for such a violent style of filmmaking?
I think it’s just a fascination with the darkest elements of human existence that he portrays: murder, acts of random violence and cruelty, suicide… People are fascinated by the extremes of human experience, which he tends to portray.
I never go to a theater hoping to be ‘raped’ by a film.
I don’t think he actually does that; I think that’s misleading. I think he wants to maybe brutalize the audience in some way. Unlike a rape, his movies leave you enriched in some way. I think his description is a little overstated.
Enriched? I find Haneke’s films so frustrating.
Especially Cache. I found the lack of resolution in the narrative to leave me feeling incomplete and disappointed in a way. I guess I’m a traditional viewer in that sense; I like a traditional narrative. I like it when it’s experimented with, but not when certain parts that I depend on are obliterated.
But maybe he’s touching on subjects which have no possible way to be closed off. He’s dealing with colonialism and racism; issues which are still unresolved in France. He may be treating those subjects more accurately by not tagging on some kind of device that would end the film more comfortably.
Over the years, I have only witnessed you strongly object to a few films. Can you tell me why you dislike The Royal Tenenbaums?
I think it’s cartoonish, empty, whimsical… It pretends to deal with events that are of consequence, but in fact, it doesn’t deal with them. It presents this perverse, entitled, all-white New York, with ethnic stereotypes thrown in in the background – usually for laughs. It’s some kind of fantasy of a rich, white New York where the personal problems of bored, wealthy people somehow dominate. Which is disgusting.
Can you tell me why you dislike The Last House on the Left?
I don’t like films that portray rape as entertainment. I just find them abhorrent. Something is soul-killing in films like that. The idea of degradation as pleasure for an audience is something I find pretty unbearable.
I agree. There seems to be a modern school of filmmakers that draws on those ultraviolent seventies films as inspiration. What did you think of Hostel?
I liked Hostel, because I felt like Hostel turned the tables. You have these young Americans overseas trying to exploit women for their own purposes, taking advantage of the economic situation in Eastern European countries… And then, in fact, (those Americans) wind up as the victims of far wealthier, more powerful people. I felt like it was somehow a commentary on American economic power… Although Hostel II was terrible and had none of that subtle social commentary.
Are the Academy Awards an honorable ceremony or an elitist farce?
An elitist farce, I think. At this point they’re just a way for studios to market their films. I don’t know that they indicate any more than who’s promoted their films most. They’re pretty silly.
Are there any new or emerging directors whose work you find exciting?
Charlie Kaufman’s first directorial effort (Synecdoche, New York) was pretty amazing. Um…
I thought you might mention Funny Ha Ha director Adrew Bujalski in response to this question. You seemed to be a fan of his.
Yeah, I liked that movie a lot, and the second one (Mutual Appreciation) a little less. But yeah, he’s kind of interesting. We’ll see where he goes… The director who did Calvaire (Fabrice Du Welz) is interesting. His second feature, Vinyan, was kind of interesting, too.
Dreamworks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg believes that an oncoming trend of 3-D movies will be a revolution equivalent to the transition between silent and sound. Do you foresee a future in which the art of filmmaking is revolutionized by technology?
No. That’s a ridiculous statement. I think 3-D movies will be only interesting for people seeking sensation. It’ll appeal more to, like, video game fans, or people looking for some kind of virtual reality… They’ve been playing with 3-D for over fifty years and it just doesn’t interest most people.
It just seems like technology is evolving at such a rapid pace.
I think technology may create other entertainment options, but the structure of narrative film hasn’t changed that much in eighty years, really. I don’t think technology is gonna make any changes in the way people watch film. It may dictate where they watch the film, but the structure will remain intact.
Robert Altman once said, “Decent films are just disappearing. Everything’s being made for kids.” Do you agree?
No. I think he was probably responding to that first wave of blockbusters like Star Wars and Jaws, which kind of changed the way people marketed films to teenagers. I think that was probably a pretty dramatic shift. In the early seventies, interesting films were being made for very sophisticated audiences. Between ’67 and ’75, let’s say. After Bonnie and Clyde, when the ratings system fell away… Look at the films Altman had made: M.A.S.H. and McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Images and 3 Women and Brewster McCloud. These were very strange, sophisticated films which were being championed by critics and found cult audiences. But after the mid-seventies, that changed; there was much less of that going on. He had a lot of trouble getting things produced after that point.
You once recommended to me the great novel Flicker, which is about haunted film dating back to the origins of filmmaking. You were also a big fan of David Lynch’s Inland Empire, which concerns the filming of a haunted narrative from the past. What do you think it is about the history of Hollywood and the history of filmmaking that is so intriguing and mysterious to storytellers?
Well, the history of Hollywood has such a dark side to it. It’s filled with suicides and scandals and murders… like the stories told in Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger: these outrageous ups and downs of various directors and producers and actors, and this dark underside that permeates the industry itself. It’s a good premise for a ghost story. Inland Empire is about a script that had been around; they’d maybe started shooting it and there were some mysterious deaths… the story itself was dangerous to tell. Which is also the premise of The Ring. The idea that a film can hurt you.
You once watched a whole season of 24 in 24 hours consecutively.
How would you describe that experience?
Exhausting. Stimulating. That show is pure sensation, pure action, pure narrative. It’s an awful lot of fun. Preposterous. Invigorating.
Does Jack Bauer ever take a shit or drink a coffee?
He has no time for that, no. That would be unacceptable.
I recently had a Freddy Kreuger nightmare as well as a dream in which I was being directed by Scorcese in his new feature. Have you ever dreamt about movies?
(long, thoughtful pause) I don’t think I ever have, actually. That’s funny. I seem to get them out of my system during waking hours. They don’t enter my dream life.
What inspired you to open a video store in Greenpoint?
Wanting to work close to where I live and having something that I could do exactly the way I wanted to do it. I’ve always wanted to be around movies because they’re the best thing in the world.
When you were a kid, were you an avid movie watcher?
Yeah, even as a very young kid, I would circle all the movies in TV Guide that I wanted to watch. My brother and I went to the movies and saw a double feature every Saturday. During my entire childhood. There was a second-run theater in town, and they would show two movies, and they would change them every week, and we would go see whatever was playing. I always wanted to go to the movies.
Does anything stand out from those double features in your memory?
I remember seeing Breakout with Charles Bronson, and seeing a man killed by an airplane propellor, and being stunned. Just stunned by the violence. And it was only a PG, but he splattered like a watermelon on the tarmac. Horrifying…
[At this point, Michael seems to have a visceral reaction to the memory; I try to begin another question but he is clearly distracted]
Wow! You’re still feeling that!
It really got me, yeah.
Have you watched it since?
Yeah, it’s not so bad. But at the time, it was the most violent moment I’d ever seen on film.
I guess there’s something especially compelling to young kids – especially young boys – when they see a movie that’s more violent than anything they’ve ever seen before.
Yeah, and I was only eleven or so.
What’s your favorite movie theater on Earth?
I guess my favorite is probably the Castro in San Francisco. Old movie palace with an organ. That’s as good as it gets. Huge screen.
For the record, what is the meaning of the name Photoplay?
Film studios once wanted movies to be referred to as ‘photoplays.’ They felt it was a more sophisticated word than ‘movies’ or ‘talkies.’ They felt that it just had a little more class to it. And then it was a very, very, very popular magazine from the thirties through the sixties, which covered movie star gossip and such things. But the word never caught on with the general public.
I’m always happy when I see an issue of Photoplay magazine pop up in a movie. It pops up in The Postman Always Rings Twice, John Carpenter’s The Thing…
It was the movie magazine for quite a while if you were interested in the private lives of the stars. But yeah, it does pop up in movies once in a while, usually as an anachronism. It never seemed to show up in old movies, but in movies about that time period, it shows up.
You seem to have it all figured out. What’s the secret to happiness?
(laughter) I wish I had that figured out.
If you were going to recommend one movie off of the new release wall today, what would it be?
I would recommend Obscene, the documentary on Barney Rossett, who founded Grove Press, because it was an amazing story about someone who built his own strange empire based on his own strange personal tastes in literature.
Many, many thanks to Michael Sayers and Photoplay Video.
Welcome to another Magnetic State Blog Dept. interview with a creative professional. Today’s interview subject is Ryan Germick, a designer at Google as well as a cartoonist, web designer, Indiana native, and Prince enthusiast. Ryan and I became friends while attending the BA/BFA program at the New School together; we both graduated in 2003 with BFA’s in Illustration from Parsons School of Design and BA’s in Writing from Eugene Lang College.
Ryan’s got a dedicated work ethic and his creativity seems limitless. He comes from a family of numerous talented Germicks; you can check out their multimedia art empire Germart here. Also check out ryangermick.com and Ryan’s comic, Gomance: My First Kiss. Last week, Ryan and I shared a cross-continent conversation about his storied Google career, the future of the internet, design inspiration, and T-Pain. Enjoy! [Note: this interview was conducted in January, 2009, and was previously published at an earlier incarnation of this blog and in excerpt form in Parsons Re:D Magazine]
Dan Redding: What is your job title and place of employment?
Ryan Germick: I’m a Web Designer at Google. But really, I don’t do any web design; actually now I’m more of an illustrator.
There was a book published recently called What Would Google Do? Let’s settle this once and for all: what would Google do?
(Laughter) Google would organize the world’s information and make it universally useful and accessible. That’s the mission statement – like, verbatim. Sorry. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. (Laughter) And they wouldn’t do it in an evil way!
That’s the Google motto I’ve heard quoted, right? ‘Don’t be evil’?
Yeah, I think they’re pretty legit about it… I think at the top of the company there is good in the hearts of the ones running it.
Is Google CEO Eric Schmidt a nice guy?
I think so! He said my video was the funniest thing on the planet. So we’re totally cool. It was really flattering.
And yet Google is so ubiquitous, you guys seem to come under fire a lot… It was recently alleged that performing two Google searches can create the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle and that the global IT industry generates as much greenhouse gas as the world’s airlines.
I noticed that the official Google blog did have a post that sort of tried to explain their power consumption… I know that Google does have a lot of care for their carbon emissions, and like even being around the company, we just got rid of plastic water bottles, you know, to try to be eco-friendly. We’re getting composting. More to the point of people complaining about Google, when anyone’s big, people complain about ‘em, you know? I mean, you could complain about T-Pain, but the truth is, T-Pain is money.
Oh, and I will complain about T-Pain. I was on record today complaining about T-Pain and his ridiculous hats.
That’s why they call people like you a hater.
Google has a search robot named Googlebot. Have you ever met him?
(Laughter) I’m not at liberty to discuss. But I will say, it was consensual.
You have drawn some of the Google holiday illustrations that can be seen on the homepage periodically. What does it feel like to have your drawing viewed by more people than one can fathom in every nook and cranny on the Earth?
I don’t think about it that way. I just try to have fun with them and hope people enjoy them. I’m really grateful that I get paid to draw.
What do you think the future holds for Google’s open source mobile platform, Android?
I will tell you that I’m talking on an Android phone right now and it’s pretty sweet. I’m a believer. It’s pretty darned open source, and I’m a believer in open source. That’s kind of a crazy concept that web applications and development can be that democratic that anyone can have their input. I think it’s great! To bring it back to Google, as far as Google is concerned, they just want people using the internet. People are using the internet on iPhone, people are using the internet on Blackberry, that’s cool, because Google is in the business of selling ads, right? If people are using the internet, there’s a good chance they’re using Google… so they’re happy.
I wonder if the future holds the potential for geniuses whose genius is code. When you think of geniuses and masterminds of the past, you think of artists and inventors. Now in the technology industry, there are brilliant entrepreneurs, of course, but I wonder if there will be someone who comes along and revolutionizes the whole design of the internet.
There is, man! There’s millions of them, and a bunch of them work for Google. The guy who invented the language Python, he’s a code genius, and he works for Google now. There’s amazing people there. They’re out there, it’s just a little less glamorous, because they don’t shoot themselves in the stomach… they play World of Warcraft till the wee hours. There are definitely code geniuses out there. You should look up the Computer History Museum.
Yeah, you’re right, that sounds really boring. (Laughter)
“My proudest accomplishment at Google is designing the animated poop emoticon.”
From Android to Google’s browser Chrome, there always seems to be something new in the works at Google. What do you think is the most exciting venture in the works right now?
Well, I can’t talk about anything that hasn’t been released, but I think Android is really exciting and I think Chrome is really exciting. I was just talking to somebody about this on the Google Shuttle. I think Google Reader is the most underrated Google product. I think Google Reader is really cool. Google Reader lets you collect all the blogs and news sources that you read in one unified place, and then it lets you share what you like to read with your friends, and it’s very well designed and very simple and very effective. I think Gmail is a great product, too.
I totally agree.
Yeah, and they have Gmail Labs now, so there’s all these cool new features coming out. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but – can you put in a pull quote that my proudest accomplishment at Google is designing the animated poop emoticon? There’s a poop emoticon in Gmail, and that’s my proudest accomplishment.
I’m gonna see to it that that’s what it reads on your tombstone.
They’re gonna animate my tombstone anyway. (Laughter)
When do the machines plan to rise up and wage war on us humans?
It’s a goal for mid-2009. If Obama doesn’t give us reason to not start the coup, then it’s on.
Why do you say ‘us’? You’re on my side!
Oh, right, humans. Go humans.
Are you on Twitter?
What is your favorite website to visit for fun?
I really like the Sorry I Missed Your Party blog.
What site do you visit for news?
I go to the New York Times, to the Huffington Post, I read tons of blogs through Google Reader. I probably keep up with like fifty blogs. I’ll give a shout out to my friend Ryan, who runs the Electric Ant Zine blog.
What do you think is the future of web design?
I think the future is going to be information-dense, lightweight, a lot of information through things like RSS, getting things on the go…
Things are getting too small: a favicon, and an emoticon, and a 140-character Tweet…
Basically the future of web design is gonna be on a little tiny screen. That’s okay… In regards to Twitter, I don’t get it, exactly, but I know people are into it. I’m visual, so I like Flickr, I like having photos and comics and stuff that people do. But it’s really cool that a site like Flickr has everything universally formatted, and I can have RSS feeds for it. It’s not the prettiest presentation, but it’s so efficient that you’re basically mainlining information. And that’s where it’s at and that’s where it’ll stay… I think the internet’s built for, you know, the information superhighway. I coined that phrase. Tons of information all the time. And if you can set it up in an efficient, lightweight way, then you can really get your fix.
What is the most important thing you learned in design school?
Time management skills and life balance are really good things to have.
There are a few quotes from Parsons professors that still ring through my head quite often. Like when Viktor Koen told me, “you say you love type, now it’s time to make love to type.” Do you have any quotes that you are often reminded of?
Yeah, there was this professor Richard Waxburg, he was awesome. He said three things that I remember very distinctly. He was the first person to use the word gestalt that I knew of. He talked a lot about the overall feeling of something. It’s like another way of saying, ‘does it work or not?’ But gestalt is so much more German and nice. I like saying that. He also said that you have to take things on their own terms. That concept is the basis of a really constructive critique. You start to say, ‘what is the artist trying to do?’ And you really empathize with the artist. That to me is the basis of constructive criticism and I can thank Richard for that. (And the third thing I learned from him) was that you gotta be ruthless. Ruthless in the sense that if you’re drawing a figure, and you really get into the details of the knuckles, and you feel really, really good about the knuckles, but if you aimed to draw the figure, and it turns out that you screwed up the arm, you just have to be willing to suck it up – to meet your goal, you gotta erase the knuckles, you know? You gotta just wipe it out. You gotta be willing to be really hard on yourself, and not be precious, and do what needs to be done to make it happen. He was really into that. He’d get on his knees and yell.
I remember how crazed his paintings could be. He was a walking gestalt.
He was a walking gestalt. And what else could you hope to be?
Any artists that you’ve been deriving creative inspiration from lately? I forever love Osamu Tezuka. Another artist who I love dearly who recently passed away is Fujio Akatsuka. And then also, two of my friends whose work I really love and are a continual inspiration to me are Bay-area cartoonist Hellen Jo and Calvin Wong. I’m constantly surrounded by inspiration.
What’s the last great graphic novel you read?
I just read Watchmen. I thought it was good. I really appreciate how many levels things were working on. There’s lots of dense layering of symbolism…
When and why did you decide to become a vegetarian?
Well I’m not, I eat fish still, so I guess I’m a pescatarian. I decided in a Dairy Queen in the summer of 1993, before ninth grade. I ate a burger and I was like, ‘This is disgusting, I feel terrible… I don’t wanna eat this anymore.’
What was the most profound change that came from your experience living in India?
There were several things… I saw people who were poor but pretty content. The pace of life was – if you showed up somewhere, people stopped what they were doing and just chilled out with you. Here I am thinking that Americans have it all figured out… But really, these people are the ones that really have time, because they don’t have the ‘resources’ to ruin it.
You’ve been an outspoken Prince fan for many years. We know what Google would do, but more importantly, what would Prince do?
(Long sigh) Um, I’ll tell you what I would like Prince to do. ‘Cuz I don’t know what Prince would do. I wish Prince would go back to basics. I have this fantasy of having, like, a Court TV show where my favorite artists who have disappointed me would be put on trial. I thought of this idea with my friend Peggy. It would be a court show where my favorite artists get put on trial, and I would sentence them to a project that they’d have to complete to get out of a prison. And I wanna put Prince in prison to make him come out with a four-track jail album, where he can’t use a lot of cheesy synthesizers… he’d have to use really simple materials to make a straightforward good song. He can’t just rely on his old studio tricks.
Would it be a purple prison?
That’d be fine. That’d be great.