Graphic design is his daily bread. Art director, journalist, critic, writer and editor, Steven Heller is co-chairing the course “MFA Designer as Author” and writes the Visuals column for the New York Times Book Review.
When did you first realize that you wanted to become a graphic designer? And an art director?
I decided I wanted to work as a designer and art director when I was 17. That’s when I got my first job. I wasn’t sure what a designer did. But I stumbled into becoming a cartoonist and art director. I did enjoy working in this medium very much. Good or not, I’ve been doing it for over forty years.
Where did you start off, before becoming art director for 33 years at The New York Times, and who were your mentors?
My first job was at a leftwing underground newspaper, The New York Free Press. I went from there to an underground “sex” paper called Screw. From there I went to the New York Times as art director of the Oped pages. After a couple of years doing that, I moved to the Book Review section. Mentors? I’ve had a few. Brad Holland, without him I don’t know where I’d be today. Paul Rand, Seymour Chwast and most important, my wife, Louise Fili.
If we could take the mood of what graphic design is today, how would you describe it?
Graphic design is in a major transition from print to digital. Where it will lead is not certain. There is always give and take when new media take over an art form. I think people who are print based are still focused on print. But the new generation is more screen based.
What has been the rule played by the Internet in the transformation of graphic design as a mean of communication in the last years?
The internet forces new design problems and challenges. Just like the majority of digital media. I see aesthetics are changing to address new digital forms. I’m not sure that’s the best thing. I don’t like it when standards of beauty change.
Today many new typefaces look carefully handcrafted, calligraphic and customized. Why do you think this is?
The ability to do so makes it appealing. Also, with digital work looking so clean, hand work is a virtue.
How can a magazine continue to inform and delight through graphic design, even in the iPad era?
Become an iPad magazine. How to do it will be accessible to everyone. Personally, I love that graphic design is more motion-based than ever before. What a thrill to see fonts move and ideas become kinetic.
What are the most interesting Internet magazine designs which combine graphic and information architecture, so far?
Wired, Martha Stewart. My students did an iPad magazine that’s quite nice. It’s called Ideopolis.
And the most interesting graphic designer experimenting new solutions to keep fresh and enjoyable as ever?
Scott Dadich is doing a good job. But the print environment is still offering up some great designers. We’ll see where all this goes in the next few years.
In 1998 you co-founded with Lita Talarico the “MFA Designer as Author” course at the School of Visual Arts in NY. What is its mission? What are the major challenges that young students might face in today’s market?
The mission is simply to get designers to think, conceive and produce their own content and put it into the marketplace. Be an entrepreneur as part of the design toolkit. Being able to bring ideas into the marketplace is such an empowering thrill. I love the idea that it is so democratized.