Creative Chain: Connecting creatives one link at a time, week 12


[Emily Potts] Last week on Creative Chain we had an amazing line-up of New York-based designers/artists — Debbie Millman, Emily Oberman and Scott Stowell. Today, in his own words, Scott reveals who inspires him.

I’ve known Barbara for about 20 years — and in that whole time, she (in the guise of her studio, Heavy Meta) hasn’t stopped making amazing things, like identity work for Yahoo and information graphics for GOOD and lots of nice books. You maybe haven’t seen a lot of this stuff, because she’s too busy making more to tell anybody about it. But now I get to do that. I love that everything Barbara makes is fresh and new, and looks exactly like what it is, but not like anything else you’ve seen before.

Molecules That Matter, book for the Tang Museum
I hate drop shadows and highlights and pretty much anything that doesn’t need to exist. So when Barbara showed me Molecules that Matter, in which all the headlines and images are floating and casting shadows on the page, I loved how much I loved it. These shadows need to exist. They’re part of the story. The cover of the book is, too — it’s made of polyethylene, one of the molecules featured in the book. Barbara sets up the rules of the game, stretches those rules (without cheating), and wins.

Public service ad suggestions for Print magazine
A few years ago, Print asked some designers to make something for their “Rants and Raves” issue. By the time I got around to reading the e-mail, Barbara had already made a series of surprising (and funny) etiquette posters. “No Nail Clipping in Public,” is made out of Gotham with the ends clipped off. “Limp Handshakes Are Creepy,” is surrounded by dead fish. And “Headphones That Leak Are Bothersome,” features a Gotham Inline made with white earbuds. This is what Barbara does — she always finds an opportunity to make something new.

Barbara Glauber is inspired by …

One of the major benefits of teaching is the opportunity to work with remarkable students. In my class at Cooper Union, Rich Watts consistently proved himself to be a determined, smart and skilled graphic designer — but ultimately someone who was not satisfied by the limitations of the practice. Ever resourceful, Rich joined forces with various former classmates on a range of projects including a subscription T-shirt service, a feature film and a distillery, churning out everything from fake cigarette packages to e-commerce sites to bottles of vodka, writing code and building camera dollies, and accumulating equipment such as a milling machine and a letterpress. Given this enviously massive set of skills, Rich remains generous, calm and unassuming, as he continues tackling even more ways to make things.

Our Goods
Rich’s expansive redefinition of design and all it can do has been really eye-opening for me. Who knew that designers could tackle alternative economies? But this is just what Rich and one group of his collaborators have done, creating an online barter system for services, materials and spaces via Our Goods and for education through its sister site Trade School. The user’s experience is carefully designed, from the navigation and prompts on the websites to the chalkboards, tables and chairs.

The City Foundry
A similar direct, well-crafted, no-nonsense approach is evident in Rich’s website for The City Foundry, his collaboration with a group of fellow bearded Brooklynites who share his passion for industrial processes and machinery. The site functions like the yellow pages, with links to a mind-boggling range of activities and sights within the Foundry, documented through ads, lists, photos and infographics wrapped in a hybrid vernacular that recalls tool catalogs, Mythbusters, chemistry and OSHA. His remarkably broad approach to making his way in the world is truly inspiring.

Rich Watts is inspired by …

It’s safe to assume that every one of us has one person of whom they can think: “Where would I be and what the hell would I be doing if we hadn’t crossed paths?” Mike Essl has been my professor, studio mate, mentor, client, friend … and continuously an inspiration. His work is equal parts fanatical, irreverent, clever, elegant and lightning bolts. His broad interpretation of the role of design and the latitude it affords those who practice it is the kind of thing you can’t unlearn. Mike is an incredibly versatile designer, but these are my favorite aspects of his practice.

The Battle, created with Robb Irrgang
Mike, the pop-culture surgeon/librarian/scholar: His deft and knowledgeable hands wrangle the loudest, visually striking, graphically violent content into coherent and beautiful structures, all the while dancing around the minefield of a million childhood expectations. As someone who comes from this world, Mike is simultaneously the creator and audience of these works, and I can’t imagine it working any other way.

Blog of the Nerduo, with Robb Irrgang, painting by Brian Romero
Mike, the producer of internet culture: One of the most interesting aspects of Mike’s work to me is that with the internet, there is nothing keeping you from from the total realization of an idea. Mike’s self-contained social experiments, retail events and visual statements are impeccably executed, conceptually simple, and something I’ve been ripping off in my own work for as long as I’ve known they exist.

Tune in next Wednesday to see who inspires Mike Essl …

Take a look at the complete chain any time.

Emily Potts is senior acquisitions editor at Rockport Publishers.

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