On February 24, 2016, Scott Stowell, along with an ensemble of editors, designers, researchers and assistants, presented a behind-the-scenes look into the making of his monograph at the AIGA/NY Design For People at The New School.
The evening’s discussion was a collaborative effort, much like the making of the Design For People itself. After introducing the panel of speakers, a guest from the audience was invited to come on stage and join the panel. The group discussed the origins of the book, which dates back roughly to 2005, when Stowell decided he wanted to produce a book to showcase the work of his studio, Open. However, unlike nearly all of the monographs of famous designers and studios that had come before, Stowell wanted his to be different. He wanted a book that didn’t simply showcase beautiful work for impressive clients; he wanted a book that would tell the stories of the work in many voices–clients, consumers, and critics. As Stowell and the team at Open began to embark on interviewing various people for the stories of the twelve selected projects, it became evident that the book was about more than design, it was going to be about people.
The first 2-3 years of the book’s development went slowly, and it wasn’t until Stowell brought on additional researchers and writers that the pace picked up. With a list of 10-30 people to be interviewed per project, the sheer volume of information being collected was overwhelming. A team of 2 full time employees and 4 freelance transcribers wasn’t enough, and eventually lead to the use of an online service that would take the 73 hours of audio recordings and transcribe them. Stowell and his team discussed how the recordings themselves became part of the story of the book, “I just paid someone to transcribe conversations about loaded doritos and salad,” he said, and that comment itself would then find it’s way into the book. This is just one example of the self-referential nature of Design For People.
Stowell shared stories and examples of how the process of recording interviews, critiquing the work and editing the writing would then be reframed as part of the book itself. Stowell and Karrie Jacobs described the introduction of the book with laughs from the audience. Karrie wrote a first draft of the introduction, and sent it along to Stowell for his review. Stowell responded with a long list of suggested edits, but prefacing his painstakingly crafted comments with “please don’t use the fact that I’m sending you this email as fodder in the revised version of this introduction”… and of course, Karrie did exactly that, making Stowell’s comments a part of the content.
As the book neared completion, Stowell and his team had to make a decision on how they would be able to publish this book. The answer came quickly, as they decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign. “It would be a way to fulfill the idea of the project, a means to an end, involving the people we’re writing this book for,” said Stowell. Once again, the concepts of self-reference and process informing content was an integral part of the development of the book. The Kickstarter campaign was launched in November 2014 and in one month, the book was backed by 1,001 people and raised $63,830. The successful campaign then lead to a deal with Metropolis Books, who now offers the book on their website.
The evening concluded with a short Q+A and a book signing by Stowell, as AIGA members enjoyed wine and the mandatory cheese sticks. Thank you to The New School for hosting another wonderful event in their theater.
Special thanks to contributing writer Christopher Holewski for the AIGA/NY Design For People event recap and photos. Christopher Holewski is an Art Director at JK Design and can be found at behance.net/cholewski
Design for People from Metropolis Books is a book with 12 chapters about design projects by Scott Stowell’s design studio Open, told in the words of people who made them and people who used them. Chapter 13 is a discussion about Design for People itself, told in the words of people who made it and people who’ve read it.
Here are some things regular people have said after reading Design for People, taken totally out of context:
· I had such high hopes for getting a lot of work done today, but then Design for People arrived.
· Parts of it nearly brought me to tears. The logic and form of the book are so smart.
· Underneath it all is a sense that the people involved were having the time of their lives.
· To see that nobody actually knew what they were doing before actually doing it and still succeeded in making remarkable things because they just worked for it to happen was such a hope repairer for me.
· This book made me want to be a graphic designer again.
Join us for a unique event about a unique project–and learn how mistakes can be opportunities, what it’s like to interview 200 people, and why most design books (besides this one, anyway) are kind of the same. You can order your own copy of Design for People with your ticket–or buy it at this event.
Here are some things you might hear about…
· how hard it was for Scott had to cajole people to go on the record (and how many people wouldn’t do it)
· the disembodied voice of Milton Glaser, delivering a very honest critique of Open’s covers for The Nation magazine
· that time Open’s intern rifled through a client’s old email, only to find out that client once wanted to fire Open
· what it’s like to balance what you want to do with time, money, the realities of the publishing industry in 2016, and the feelings of hundreds (and thousands) of people
· why the book had to be 1.8519% smaller than it was supposed to be
…and here’s who you’ll hear them from:
· Rachel Bozek, Design for People copy chief (and editor and interviewer and researcher and writer)
· Chappell Ellison, Design for People editor (and idealistic civil servant)
· Karrie Jacobs, Design for People essay writer (and famous editor and writer of many things)
· Martha Kang McGill, Design for People book designer (and excellent designer at Open)
· Bryn Smith, Design for People editor (and co-author of Twenty Over Eighty)
· Scott Stowell, Design for People director (and proprietor of Open)
· and some early readers of Design for People
Our moderator for the evening will be Willy Wong, Design for People mini-essay contributor (and former AIGA/NY president–and creative director of New York City).
Don’t miss it! See you there.