Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli Quote

Today marks one year since the passing of design icon Massimo Vignelli. I was in Europe when he died last year and didn’t get a chance to write about his impact on my design career. So I thought today was a good opportunity to pay my respects to a designer who truly influenced the path I currently walk.

While I was studying design, Mr. Vignelli came to speak at my school. It was my first semester taking design classes, and I wasn’t even that serious about it at the time. I had no idea how big of a deal it was to have him speaking at our school. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I had no idea who he was, and went to the lecture because I had to.

That talk changed the course of my studies, and ultimately, my life.

Hearing Vignelli share his passion for Helvetica, the range of projects he worked on and his strong beliefs about design was infectious. It was the first time I saw design as a lifestyle, not just a career. It was the first time I saw all the ways design touches our lives. He showed me that design thinking can be applied to any situation in life, and that there are endless ways to explore creativity. He showed how collaboration can produce stunning results as he discussed designing jewelry with his wife. He showed me that the life of a designer takes many forms; the roles can change through the years but the brains behind it is what’s most important.

He taught a lifetime of lessons in the span of just two hours.

As I’ve worked to shape and re-shape my life as a designer, his voice occasionally pops into my head. Even though I am technically an illustrator now, I still feel like a designer at heart. It’s all fluid anyway. The thought is still present, it just takes a different form now.

I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity I had to even sit in the same room as this man, let alone hear him impart his wisdom to us young designers. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to make a fraction of the impact that Mr. Vignelli was able to achieve. Still, I show up every day to my art practice striving for greatness, considering the world around me, examining how we all experience the world, and how design could make it better. Design is born from a place of hope, innovation, and optimism, that we might be able to create something that changes our experience of the world, and this is the greatest lesson I could ever carry with me.

Thank you, Mr. Vignelli.

Creative Mornings PDX: Gary Hirsch

Gary Hirsch Creative Mornings Notes by Bryna Shields

Creative Mornings is one of my favorite parts of the design community. There is so much to gain from the insights of others, and I always walk away from these talks feeling energized and renewed. Gary Hirsch's talk last week was the first one I've been to since moving to Portland, and it was so lovely. 

Gary shared the way he combines the philosophy behind improv into work environments as a way to brainstorm creative new ideas. For instance, before the lecture he had us write down our 3 favorite things, and later on we had to combine one of our favorite things with another person's to create a business idea that doesn't already exist. Admittedly, I was initially nervous about this, but it was so freeing to give in to the process and just have fun with it. You'd be surprised how quickly an exercise like this brings out new ideas. Honestly, it's brilliant.

The last part of his talk was about creating experiences through art that invite others to participate. He has created over 30,000 (!!!) bots that he hand painted onto dominos, and places them in different locations around the world, to see what people do with them. Often people will bring them to a new location and photograph them, or write about the outrageous compliment the bot was programmed to give them. Whatever the case may be, I loved this idea of letting others step in and decide how they will experience and interact with your work. It embraces this idea of not being too precious with your ideas, which is something I've been considering a lot these days. It's about seeing your art as a starting point for co-creation, and I truly think this is the key to creating something larger than yourself. These are the things that can grow and change, and create a long lasting impact in our world.

If you'd like to learn more about Hirsch's bots and how you can get involved, please check out his website!

Struck + Nick Animation Studio

Design Talk: Struck Portland

A couple of weeks ago, AIGA Portland hosted a talk with the brilliant creative agency Struck. The talk centered around their work with Nick Animation Studio. I was enamored with their process, and their ability to produce engaging content that harkened back to the quirky and wild visuals I enjoyed as a kid of the 90s.

They emphasized the importance of showing what you're doing, rather than telling people. In our world where nearly everything is conveyed digitally, this resonated so much with me as I consider the kinds of experiences I want to create through my own brand, online and in person. How can I make that experience more personal? More compelling? What kinds of stories inspire and excite others? How might I grow and nurture a community with my art and photography?

During their talk, I was fascinated with their thought process, how they approached different problems they encountered along the way, how they worked with budget constraints. These are the things that excite and inspire me, and encourage me to go forth and create my own content from a place of enthusiasm and authenticity. So much of the content they created for NAS was centered around creating an experience, lifting a veil by showing process sketches of what Spongebob could have been, for instance. Creating walls in their office that looked like a giant yellow sponge added playfulness and demonstrated an abstract way to incorporate the characters they create into their work environment, so that walking through their offices becomes a unique experience unto itself. I was especially struck by the brilliance of this idea.

My biggest takeaway from this talk was that there are endless ways to approach a branding problem, that goals can drastically change in the discovery process, and that unforeseen obstacles are opportunities to create something even more brilliant. What started out as a website redesign blossomed into the creation of engaging video content, environmental design, and even a custom puppet resembling a camera-shy employee who was being interviewed. All in all, I came away from the talk feeling empowered by Struck's willingness to face challenges head-on and create beautiful solutions on the fly when it was necessary.

26 to 26 | E

26 to 26 project | EE, for Evolution. Over the last year or so, I've seen a real, tangible evolution in my work, and it's finally heading in a direction that makes me feel excited. The most exciting thing about it is that it's not at all what I thought it would be, and my artistic interests today are totally different than they were a year ago. It has been a tremendous learning experience, working and reworking pieces, experimenting and researching. It's still a long road to travel, but I'm happy that I've been able to at least get to this point. This evolution has inspired so many different project ideas that I will begin sharing over the next few months and my only regret is that there are not enough hours in the day to follow up on all the projects I have brewing in my head.

26 to 26 | D

26 to 26 project | D D, for dreams.

We are all presented with difficult decisions in our adult lives, there's no question about it. There are so many paths to choose to attain the life we want. And while no decision has come easy these days, I've felt more comfortable surrendering to my dreams, no matter how silly or unattainable they seem. At this point, I'm not really sure how else to live my life, and I no longer feel guilty about that. In an economy where nothing is stable, there's really nothing to lose by choosing a path lead by passion. I've also taken comfort in friendships with people who are also lead by their dreams: of acting, traveling, starting life in a new city, starting their own businesses. With such limited time to live, why on Earth would we ever follow anything other than the things we absolutely love?

Chicago Lettering

This image came out of a strong desire to do some lettering late one night. I've been spending a lot of time over the last few months lettering in my daily sketches. I decided on the word 'Chicago' for no particular reason. But I soon realized that cities - no matter how long we spend in them - symbolize different phases in our lives, they hold stories from the best and worst parts of our lives, and they may change the way we think about the world. So I'm curious: what city holds an important story from your life? If you share a short, meaningful story about it I will letter that city. I'd love to hear a story that had a significant impact in your life; it doesn't have to be long or elaborate, just meaningful to you. I cannot wait to hear your stories!

Chicago was the first city I moved to after graduating from college. As I've navigated through all the craziness a young twentysomething must wade through, the thing that remains a constant comfort in this city for me is the architecture. I often find myself getting lost in the small details of these buildings. You can truly find beautiful architecture anywhere in this city; there is potential for a pleasant surprise around every corner. It reminds me to stay hopeful, to stay the course, because you just never know.

Color studies from Polaroids

Color studies from polaroids3I've been really working on creating fresh color palettes - I tend to use a lot of similar warm, bright palettes but it feels good to break away from it. Or at least try to. In college, one of my design professors would always tell us to "Avoid default" and there are so many different ways to interpret that advice. Over the next few weeks, that means color palettes for me. Especially since I've been missing painting dearly and might bring it back into my life soon, along with lettering. These Ruined Polaroids by William Miller have really helped in my journey to collect new color palettes. Color studies from polaroids4Color studies from polaroidsColor studies from polaroids2

A Valentine

With all of the recent transitions I've been going through lately with my career as well as my personal life, I am forever grateful for all the incredible amount of love and support that is present in my life. I hope you all can say the same - Happy Valentine's Day. Let's celebrate love in all of its forms, today and always.