Burning Man: James Victore

Design legend 'needs to dance' all the way to the ADC Festival

Design legend and member of the inaugural class of ADC Young Guns, James Victore hardly needs an introduction. He’s passionate, outspoken and quite possibly a tiny bit crazy. James will be hosting “The World’s Hardest Workshop” next month at the ADC Festival of Art + Craft in Advertising and Design, a workshop that is guaranteed to live up to all of the adjectives we just used to describe James himself. In this interview recently published in our print magazine, James discusses his career, including what he does better than designing.

The design world is well versed in who James Victore is, but what about what James Victore was? 

I grew up outside of Plattsburgh, New York, in a town where not a lot of graphic designers were spawned. I have distinct childhood memories where my creativity was not condoned or endorsed, by school or by my family. In a place like that, you have two courses of action: you can shut down or you can be like an 80s movie and say “fuck you, I need to dance!”

I chose the latter.

It’s one thing to follow your dreams, but when did you discover that it was a viable option?  

That’s very interesting, because even today my job is to be introspective and question the viability of what I do. Through that I know that I can make a living, but in the past five or six years this questioning made me discover that while I am a pretty good graphic designer, I think I’m a far better teacher. And to be an effective teacher, I have to question if what we do is viable. Are we just following some set of rules, or are we contributing to the culture in a meaningful way?

“…you can shut down or you can be like an 80s movie and say “fuck you, I need to dance!”

Is this what led to your popular YouTube series ‘Burning Questions’?

Yes, exactly, and I think that despite my other accolades, my awards, my work being exhibited in MoMA, ‘Burning Questions’ has become my best work.

I had always been fielding questions from junior designers, mid-level designers looking for a change, university instructors and so on. It made me realize that I had been very spoiled throughout my career, sitting in my cozy studio, having bravery and confidence — or at least having other people to deflect my fears and insecurities.

But all these questions I was receiving made me realize that other people simply didn’t have this. There was a real need, a hole to be filled, and I needed to fill it. I wanted more giants and heroes in our crazy industry, and so ‘Burning Questions’ was born. It’s not the sexiest thing I’ve done, but it’s certainly the best.

Has every question been asked yet?

It’s funny, because we do get lots of similar questions submitted, but the way we answer it changes. We may get the same question three different ways, where one person is looking for a hug, another person is asking permission and the third is seeking redirection. It’s fascinating, and so rewarding.

Your events and lectures have always been well received, so it’s a treat to have you at the ADC Festival this year. What do you have planned for your workshop?

Boo-yah! It’s gonna be crazy! I’ve been scripting out what I want to do, and I asked myself “James, why are you doing this?” And I answered “Because I want to make a difference in the lives of the attendees.” That’s awesome and kind of ballsy, but this is not the time to be shy. I want people to grasp hold of their careers, to realize that what we do is important to culture and that we change people’s lives. It’s going to be fun and goofy, but the underlying message is going to be deadly serious. I can’t wait to see everyone there.