From 19th Street to 19th Street
Last summer I represented Free Range as a judge in The American Institute of Graphic Arts' national design competition “365: Design Effectiveness." When I walked through the glass door of AIGA's storied headquarters on lower Fifth Avenue, in a sense it was like coming home.
In 1995 I was fresh out of RISD, a young, wide-eyed designer working at an agency on 19th street in Chelsea. Through the mentorship of a colleague I soon found myself collaborating with newly-minted AIGA executive director Richard Grefé and the godfather of graphic design journalism, Steven Heller, in designing the organization’s quarterly journal. For a kid out of school, it was a dream come true. Being an active member of that professional organization gave me a solid foundation and contact with my heroes like Paul Rand and Paula Scher.
In designing the journal I learned the art of economy, pushing the boundaries of a one color publication and shaking up a design that had been historically conservative. In 1997 everything changed when a kitchsy post card of Sonny & Cher arrived at my Brooklyn brownstone from Hollywood. Jennifer Shainin, a good friend from RISD, had become a designer at RGA/LA and her note extolled the virtues of swimming pools, palm trees, and movie sets. I had seen the revolutionary title sequence for David Fincher’s Se7en at the Zigfeld theater and couldn't get it out of my head. When I learned that Jennifer was the designer on that project I knew what I had to do.
Leaving the February slush of New York and all I had ever known, I moved my life to Hollywood to begin as a designer at the new incarnation of RGA/LA: Imaginary Forces. It was an absolutely chaotic transition and heady few years. I soon found myself creating brand identities for the likes of Oprah Winfrey, having meetings behind the storied gates of Paramount Pictures with directing legends, and designing title sequences for iconic feature films and television programs. The more involved I became in Hollywood, the less involved I became in the AIGA. My membership lapsed and I lost touch with the professional organization that had given me my wings. Ten years passed and I found myself a commercial director and a marketer for feature films.
Then I sensed a shift taking place not only in my own life but across the design community. I wanted to have a positive and measurable impact on the planet, and began to see this ethic taking hold among my peers. Pure entertainment was no longer enough. When I finally came across Free Range, the fit was too good to be true. 15 years after first setting foot in AIGA headquarters, I had returned a recently renewed member and the Creative Director of Free Range Studios. Richard Grefé was still there. Astonishingly, he remembered me after all these years. We had a wonderful discussion about the state of design and of the world. There is indeed a shift taking place that mirrors my own. Designing for good is now becoming an expressed mission of the AIGA. By providing designers with the tools, resources and opportunities to become integral players in social change, AIGA's Design for Good aims to channel designers and their creative talent toward addressing community needs. The organization is:
- Recognizing the many social change projects currently being led by AIGA members and designers in their communities
- Inspiring and igniting new activity in communities across the nation
- Training designers in the skills needed to work in this challenging new way, and to transform their businesses to meet the needs of this opportunity
- Connecting designers to the resources, support, and networks needed to grow and expand their projects
- Establishing relationships with the influential organizations—philanthropic, corporate and governmental—in the social innovation marketplace
- Providing the means and metrics to measure the effectiveness of our work in this area
- Telling the stories of our work in a creative and compelling way
This new commitment by the bellweather organization for our profession is further verification that our talented Free Range team has been ahead of the curve for the last decade. And now with our expanded strategic offerings and commitment to storytelling for social change combined with our new West Coast flagship (ironically located on 19th Street in Oakland), we are poised for more innovative creative solutions and greater change-making. I am now home.