Intervista: Duane King

Duane King

Duane King’s style is unmistakably new-generation, his comprehensive knowledge of the history and heroes of design make his vision timeless. As creative director of Santa Fe based studio BBDK he’s produced solutions in print, packaging and interactive that have earned him great recognition. Duane is also the creator of Thinking For A Living, a collection of recommended readings and online links for the modern designer, it’s an ever-growing platform dedicated to the concept of open source design education. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for AisleOne.

How long have you been designing?
It’s hard for me to believe, but it’s been 15 years. I actually began my design career before computers were a staple in the industry. My schooling included no computer training and I had to relearn the business once I hit the job market.

Who or what turned you on to graphic design?
When I was 18, I was hired by a t-shirt shop because I could draw. Once I actually had to draw by hand each character of a font, I was simply amazed by the subtle differences between each letter form. It was at this point that I fell in love with typography and first understood that, as Ellen Lupton said, “Typography is what language looks like.???

Who or what are your influences??
My design influences are Josef Müller-Brockmann, Paul Rand, Otl Aicher, Wim Crouwel, Herb Lubalin, Tom Carnase and many more. In order to facilitate my personal attempts to at creating relevant design I have tried to better understand the history of our craft. I feel that it is only by making references to the past and mixing them with your personal interpretation of the future that we as designers have any chance of obtaining our own place in the timeline of the history of graphic design.

What is your favorite typeface??
Helvetica. No other font has the flexibility of this particular typeface. Even with it’s familiarity this font can be distinguished or insipid at will.

Duane King

What is your favorite color palette to work with?
All of them. Full color spectrums are particularly exciting to me. Technological improvements in printing and screen displays has allowed for increasingly complex usage of gradients.?

Can you explain your creative process from brief to completion?
I suppose that the real beginning of the creative process starts with the decision to be a designer. From that moment on, everything you see, hear, taste, smell and touch will contribute to your design vocabulary and life experience. Travel, listen to music, talk to all kinds of people, read the newspaper, surf the web; keep your eyes, ears, and mind open. The richer your experiences, the more tricks you’ll have up your sleeve and the broader your design vocabulary will be. Have a viewpoint, believe in something, trust your instincts.

Most jobs begin with a creative brief, even if you’re doing a project for yourself. Sometimes the brief is simply a verbal discussion, but usually it is in written form. Having your client put things into writing adds clarity and focus as it forces careful self-examination and helps to defi ne project deliverables. Without a brief, a designer is susceptible to his or her own whims as well as those of the client. If your client can’t or won’t write one, do it yourself and submit it to them for approval. It’s good practice and forces you to walk through the problem solving process in greater detail. This also establishes you as an expert and illustrates the value and differentiation offered in your creative solutions. Briefs can be sloppy, but it’s your job to offer clarity and insight and turn them into great briefs. Milton Glaser once said, “The key is to ask questions, for the answers will result in responsible decisions. Without responsibility, talent is too easily wasted on waste.???

After defining the deliverables and creative challenges of a project with a brief, it’s time to move on to the research phase. Most of us naturally look at visual references for inspiration, but this does not qualify as research. Research, fused with cultural awareness, drives great ideas. It opens up creative possibilities and informs our rationales for why we made something look the way we did. It’s never appropriate to say, “I did it this way because I like it.??? You must support your ideas with objectivity and sound reason.

Most of us begin our research by assessing the competition. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this but you must be wary of duplication of concepts. Remember, that there is meaning in an original vision but once copied, it loses its soul. Just as a picture never captures what you see in real life, or how a copy of a Xerox that gets copied so many times becomes unintelligible. Never look sideways. Clients tend to want to follow, but it’s your responsibility to meld creativity and research to create distinctive work. Marty Neumeier in his recent book Zag reminds us of the words of baseball legend Willie Keeler’s sound advice. “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.??? Willie knew to use brains instead of brawn and looked for the spaces in the outfi eld. Great designers do the same thing. They search out the white spaces in order to help set their work and their clients apart from the competition. This requires an understanding of what the competition is doing, but only so you know what to do differently.

Do you use a grid system when designing and how do you feel about them?
I tend to gravitate towards methodical approaches to most any design solution, but I typically only use grid systems when I have large amounts of text to deal with. A grid is always helpful in creating hierarchical systems that aid legibility and give a design an underlying structure. They can be cumbersome and restrictive if they are over-thought, but with some freedom and flexibility they are invaluable tools for creating order from chaos.

Who do you feel is currently doing innovative work?
Joshua Davis, Universal Everything, Made Thought, Surface to Air, 2X4, Parra Janssen, Karlsson Wilker, Graphic Thought Facility and too many others to list.

What are you working on now?
An ecommerce site and packaging system for an Italian glass company, a self-initiated product line called Beautiful & Useful, a new version of the Thinking for a Living site, and holiday cards for the Museum of Modern Art.

Duane King

What is your favorite color?
At the moment, it’s Rubine Red. There’s something about intensely pure pigments that I am drawn to.

What is your favorite album?
London Calling by The Clash.

What is your favorite movie?
2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick has always been an inspiration to me.

Intervista is a series of interviews conducted for AisleOne with some of todays top talents in graphic design.


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