The design world is a pretty big umbrella, encompassing a multitude of disparate disciplines. To the world at large, however, design can be a labyrinth of confusion or a great big shoulder shrug (after all, how many designers out there have heard their parents try to explain to others what you do for a living?)
ADC Young Guns 3 winner Scott Stowell and his New York based design studio Open decided to bridge the gap between the general public and designers and other creative fields by creating Design For People, a book that makes design more accessible to a broad range of creative thinkers.
Alex recently sat down with Scott to discuss Design for People and what led him to create such a book.
Alex: Your book, Design for People, highlights the positive and negative results of past projects. What is so important about sharing how things go wrong?
Scott: We’ve all heard designers talk about how great their work is and how successful they are. I saw Wolfgang Weingart speak years ago, and somebody asked him how he deals with clients asking for changes. He said that nobody had ever asked for one! Either he was totally lying, or he’s an artist, not a designer.
Being a designer is about negotiating relationships with people, whether they’re your clients, your coworkers, or the people that actually use the stuff you make. I’m proud of my work. But sharing the stories behind it is a lot more interesting and useful, both to designers and everybody else.
You are recognized by your peers in the industry as earnestly committed to your projects, determined to make them meet their full potential. Can you describe the process by which you become engaged in a project?
I guess I’ve just never been able to separate my work from my life. Design isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am. So I want to work with people and organizations I like and support, and do work that can help them succeed. Of course there are different reasons for doing different jobs, but that’s my goal, anyway.
So it’s always been hard for me to let things go. For a long time I’ve always wanted to make everything perfect, and that causes the usual problems. Over time I’ve realized that successful work is a byproduct of relationships, not the other way around.
“I guess I’ve just never been able to separate my work from my life. Design isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am.”
What would 20-something old Scott Stowell do with this book?
He probably would immediately pre-order it, and then when it showed up he wouldn’t get around to reading it for years. Then when he did, he would wonder why he waited so long. I’ve been buying design books for years and not reading them. This book is designed to be read.
How will Design for People impact your future projects at Open?
Remembering everything you’ve done and thought about and getting it to make sense is hard, especially when you have to talk directly to people. But it’s worth it. Doing a project like this is a great opportunity to explain yourself and make your own rules. And that leads to more opportunities.
Which of your past work experiences do you draw upon the most?
The only place I ever wanted to work was at M&Co., the studio co-founded by my old boss Tibor Kalman. I started there as an intern after my sophomore year at RISD. I was in the right place at the right time: M&Co. had a unique culture and was full of great people.
As a boss, Tibor was relentless. No decision was left unmade. Nothing was ever good enough. That led to good work, but more and more I think about that place and time. By now Open has been around about at long as M&Co. was, and we have our own unique culture and our own great people. I’m proud of that.
You’ve worked with some dream clients; any others you are still dying to work with?
I have a list of dream projects. It includes an airline identity (we pitched Virgin America but didn’t get it), feature-film credits (we’ve done some documentaries, but still), a tv news network (we did a job for Bloomberg, but not the whole thing), and the Olympics (but that’s on everybody’s list).
When people ask me what my favorite project is, I usually say it’s the next one. Every project is a unique opportunity to meet people and help solve their problems. So my dream clients are the ones I haven’t met yet. If it works out, you’ve done something good. And no matter what, you’ll always have a good story.