December 2, 2012

Chicago CreativeMornings #13 with Scott Reinhard on Good Graphic Design

Scott Reinhard is a Senior Designer at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, working on all aspects of the museum’s wide range of visual communication—from identities and installations, to books and posters. At the 13th CreativeMornings in Chicago, he shared his keen fascination with artists and art, and how graphic design helps their visibility and perception:

Like an actor coveting a script, the designer’s relationship to information is also an intimate one, focused to the point of wrestling. The “content” is the source material, open to interpretation. Scott—in his soft-spoken, even reverential tone—expressed a sincere sense of wonder. He adopts the artist’s point of view and co-opts it from a designer’s point of view, without dismissing the artist’s original perspective or body of work as a mere collection of footage.

Scott has an agility to transform content from a catalog into an exhibition, from flyers into signage, while still maintaining the artist’s voice, kept uninterrupted. His careful handling of content echoes design pioneer Paul Rand’s struggle: “I use the term play, but I mean coping with the problems of form and content, weighing relationships, establishing priorities. Every problem of form and content is different, which dictates that the rules of the game are different too.”(1)

When it comes to receiving content and engaging it, Designer and Illustrator Mike McQuade, who spoke at the ninth Chicago CreativeMornings, said it best, “I feel lucky.”

Scott repeated his and his team’s practice of preserving the artist’s intent, not obscuring it—dubbed “overstepping.” Jason Fried, who co-founded Chicago-based webapp maker 37signals and spoke at the second Chicago CreativeMornings, highly favors design that gets out of the user’s way. As iA’s Oliver Reichenstein leanly put it, “Good design is invisible.” Design realized as intervention, not interference.

At first, I reacted to this statement as being counterintuitive. But I reneged. Every design decision begets more design decisions—zooming in, out, and back again, then returning to clockwise motion. Scott was referring to book design, especially the exhibition catalogues of artists that are artistic objects themselves. Such efforts exemplify the trifecta demanded by book design: typography, materials, and production methods. And the results are a testament to hard work, reciprocated with honesty.

Scott and his team’s attention to detail, whether they be tactile or not, remind me of the process and its commanding pace undertaken by Jay Ryan, who owns and runs screen printing studio The Bird Machine. At the fifth Chicago CreativeMornings, Jay revealed his steps toward achieving an ideal, marked by patience and exercised with maniacal enthusiasm.

(1) Source:

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In speaking of the non-profit nature of his workplace, Scott disclosed “limited team and limited budget.” As his presentation unfolded, there were no signs of yielding to the potential harshness of these realities. The opposite took hold: steering limitations into a defiant, ultimately better direction. Design pioneer Charles Eames once posed a similar timely challenge: “Design depends largely on constraints.”

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Big thanks: to Digital consultancy Acquity Group for hosting Chicago CreativeMornings #13; to organizer Mig Reyes, videographers Chris Gallevo and Erick De La Rosa, for their great work on making CreativeMornings happen in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008. The fifth chapter was launched in Chicago, June 2011—my write-up and photos.

Read more about the people who make the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings possible.

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Typeface of quotes is called Massive designed by Shawn Hazen, who also makes wonderfully bold typographic illustrations for Design Feast series Creative Roles.

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My coverage: view more photos of 13th CreativeMornings in Chicago; read more write-ups about Chicago CreativeMornings.

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2011 was Chicago CreativeMornings’ excellent debut year. Download a collection of insights.

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