Response: What did you learn about design during the ’90s?

Published:  May 24, 2013
Response: What did you learn about design during the ’90s?

You may recall that earlier this year we took a trip back to the ’90s. Given the massive cultural and technological changes that took place during the decade (which ultimately transformed the design industry) we thought it was time to start looking back, and seeing what we can draw out from the period that can help provide direction and context for designers today. As such, we asked some of the leading design minds from around the world (who were active and influential at the time) — What did you learn about design during the ’90s that’s still relevant today?

Our guests for this edition of response are Adrian Shaughnessy, Deanne Cheuk, Fabio Ongorato, Ian Anderson, Pom Kimber, and Trevor Jackson.

Adrian Shaughnessy
The nineties? I don’t remember much about that oddball decade, although it was one of the most intense periods of my life. I started my design company (Intro) in 1988 and left in 2003. I remember the long hours, the endless deadlines, the giddy highs, the toxic lows, and the sheer delirium-inducing pressure of growing a design company at what seemed to be a period of limitless possibilities. But I can’t quite catch the flavour of the period in the way that I can for the seventies and eighties. Maybe I dreamt the nineties? Maybe we need more time to pass before we can properly re-evaluate an era? I think the nineties will come to be seen as the last decade before the world started accelerating towards the coming technological singularity.

Deanne Cheuk
The lessons I learned in the 90′s would be the same lessons that could be learned today. I took many low or no-paying jobs for projects that I thought would be fun or interesting, and I also took jobs that I knew wouldnt be interesting for the experience and money, I worked for crappy publishing companies and crappy agencies – but I also created my own projects for many years. When I moved to New York in 2000 that gave me a much more interesting, rich and diverse portfolio that set me apart from other young designers looking for work at the same time. I also think I learn something from every single project I work on and those experiences and lessons can only lead to being a better designer, so in short: take risks and work hard, your first job probably wont be your dream job but learn from it every day.

Fabio Ongorato
The 90’s were an interesting time, because we were starting out in a recession. Being young, we were hungry to develop a sphere of influence – a network of like-minded clients and creatives that defined a new generation. Until then, the vanguards of Graphic Design were but a handful of founders with a defined and singular approach and offer. It was however through our passion for Fashion, Arts, Architecture and Photography – a different combination of interests, that resulted in a new collective view of the world with a unique way of working. Still today through collaboration, we continue to evolve our interest and engagement with many differing creative talents that continue to ensure a degree of newness and currency.

Ian Anderson
Be careful what you wish for. Beware the Template Gothic factor. Use technology because you need to not because you can. Brain Aided Design™. The ‘Real’ world is 3D, graphic design doesn’t have to be. Motion graphics move when a designer can’t decide where to put them. Optimism – Dystopia – Optimism and how to opt out of opting out. Nostalgia for the future isn’t what it used to be. Nothing happens when change becomes the norm. Neo / Neue TDR. Com-human-ication. Failure on your own terms isn’t failure —success on someone else’s is. I need money but harvesting it doesn’t make me happy. Don’t be a cunt all your life.

Pom Kimber
Ok it’s the 90’s – we’re not talking quill pens and hot metal typesetting, but to set the scene, at uni we had one “computer lab” with three computers in it for our entire design faculty. The 90’s was the era for grunge and an experimental hands-on approach. The photocopier was a major design tool, we are talking colour filters, sliding artwork across the top, to create interesting effects and the simplicity of cutting, pasting and collage.  To me these lessons learnt in the 90’s; lovingly stroking paper, manipulating images by hand, truly crafting typesetting and those happy accidents, not dictated by the absolute calculations of a computer, will never be forgotten. Marry that with the amazing technologies at our finger tips now and we can create designs with true character and personality that could never be achieved with a photoshop filter alone.

Trevor Jackson
I gave up commercial design in the 90′s because being a graphic designer became a more of a lifestyle than a skillset. People became more interested in how they looked, where they hung out, and the awards they won rather than things that really mattered. In the 90′s style and ego became more important than individuality and client satisfaction. In the process commercial graphic design became a cliché, a dirty word, and something I didn’t want any part of.


This interview was first published in Desktop #291 — Back to the ’90s

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One Response

  1. Interesting to read these comments about the time. I just remember a lot of bold Helvetica type all over the place, in posters etc, for Nike. And then the opposite end of the scale with David Carson (Ray Gun magazine), and a lot of grunge typography. And Breeders album covers.

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