How to become a famous designer

Full image.

Erik during his presentation.

oPENING the ATypI conference in Lisbon (in the place of Ellen Lupton, whose flight from Baltimore was cancelled [notes to self: avoid BWI; avoid US Air; allow an extra day for travel to Europe, particularly when giving keynote]), Erik Spiekermann, who is able to speak a the drop of a hat, explained how he does design.

It involves a number of stages, including the "blue sky", stage, and one that involved reference, looking at old design annuals, something I can't imagine Spiekermann doing. This process-heavy development of a project, Erik explains as though he were a good German. But his work is far more spontaneous, and I suspect the process is adjusted to fit the facts.

While touching on the travails all designers share (feckless clients, late nights, scant financial rewards), he didn't really tell us how to become as successful as he has. He gave us a hint, just by speaking so well in a foreign language. It is: Be verbal. Talk a lot. Get known for what you say, and how you say it.

The reason why designers are hired in the first place is because the clients can't do it themselves. They may not know how to do it, but they know what they like. At some level, everyone has an opinion about design. To get a client to make the right choice, you have to persuade them. And that always takes words.

Spiekermann has travelled widely and can present, persuade, argue and tell jokes in a number of languages. He has had a consistent message, consistent with his style, which has to do a certain sang-froid, ironic, practical, lucid forceful, industrial-based typography. The speech that he pulled out of his laptop on two-hours' notice, was first given in German, and has a number of slides familiar to people who have seen him speak before. But it's the consistency, repetition, humor, and relentless enthusiasm, that have made him successful, and finally, at least in our little community, famous. And the evident lack of taking any of it seriously. Of course, as someone has remarked, the greatest pretense is the appearance of the lack of pretense. Erik gets away with it.

At the end of the talk, one designer in the audience (I am told it was Quentin Fiore , the designer of the Marshall McLuhan books) asked what Erik's name means in German. He said, "Lookerman." More precisely, it seems to indicate a more furtive kind of peek. That's an even better moniker for a man who can speak so easily that he used to do the French-English, German-French and other translations at the ATypI meetings, when they were small meetings of (mostly) German type founders. Erik's work shows a rare ability to see things, and to tell us what he sees.

Your Thoughts (2 comments)

2006-10-12 by Roger Black

Nuno Vargas tells me that the fellow asking about Erik Spiekermann's name was actually Robin Fior.

2007-05-06 by Rechtsanwalt Strafrecht München


Hey Roger, very cool blog and a nice design.

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