Shannon Harvey grew up spending summers in rural Saskatchewan, a thousand miles away from her home in Victoria, British Columbia, to farm her family’s land. Twice a year, the family traversed the Canadian Rocky mountains in a Volkswagen van, to seed in spring and harvest in fall. This vivid image, of space and wildness, perfectly serves Harvey’s narrative.
The acclaimed designer, who now runs the L.A. studio, IN-FO, with partner Adam Michaels, is perhaps best known for her work as a principle at the now-disbanded Project Projects, whose print and interactive work in the cultural sphere lived, for many years, at the forefront of contemporary graphic design, particularly in New York City.
“The impetus for moving to L.A.,” she says, “was to return to nature, it was my return to the west coast. We were looking for more expanse and space to think. [Growing up] I learned to love a variety of landscapes, and journeys across those landscapes.”
Harvey initially studied architecture in Ontario, then moved back to British Columbia to attend the graphic design program at Emily Carr. “I was always interested in the communication of architecture … and in L.A. there’s a lot more interaction with the architecture here. There’s so much variety and different spaces, that all contribute to new ideas.” Because young architects aren’t immediately tasked with designing new buildings, she explains, “they spend time developing ideas and images, drawings, texts, and books. These are the ways concepts manifest other than architecture itself.”
After working at OMA in Rotterdam, designing exhibitions, Harvey returned to Canada to earn a master’s in Urban Design at McGill University. For Harvey, “it’s all design. It’s a question of scale. I’ve always been interested in multiple scales, being able to convey that in a serious way. Convincing someone of something. The power of graphic design in relationship to conveying big ideas.”
In June, Harvey will be speaking at Typographics about space, architecture, and its cross-sections with the typographic landscape, a sort of sweet spot that deeply informs IN-FO’s working process. A decade, a studio, and a cross-country move later, typography, of course, still drives much of Harvey’s work, both at IN-FO and at the publishing imprint she directs, Inventory Press.
Describing their “fluid” process, Harvey says they rely heavily on “an initial, fairly specific typographic impulse.” Because so much of their work involves spaces – IN-FO and Project Projects were both always heavily involved in exhibition design – the typographic focus is often about scale and interaction. “It’s very challenging to evaluate letter spacing, let alone see the spatial impact of typography without a human, bodily scale for reference, so we continuously print things out to scale. The process is one of constant printing, tiling, adjusting, printing again, tiling, taking a step back, changing one’s angle of view, adjusting, and printing and tiling again.”
This thorough process, and deep respect and consideration for space, are hallmarks of the quality of Harvey’s design work. Recent interests in augmented reality and the role of typography in space ignited in her a curiosity about legibility, depth, and how to look at type in the world around us, because, as she says, “fine details of typography can make an idea stick.”
See Shannon Harvey talk about “typologies of exterior and interior topographies of typography” during her presentation at the Typographics conference this June.
Parasto Backman is a formidable graphic designer based in Stockholm, whose stunning work weaves her Scandinavian surroundings with her Iranian roots. Backman’s inherent critical nature drives both her design process and her role as a senior lecturer in the Masters Program in Visual Communications at Konstfack University College of Arts, Craft & Design – an intense teaching role, which she says is an extension of her design practice. In advance of her talk at Typographics in June, we spoke about how she questions and engages with design, our collective role in it, and that “Modernism isn’t truth” …
“I can be picky about projects I choose to work on,” Backman says, because after ten years in her own studio, she has developed a reputation for creating striking works that push against the boundaries of what we’re used to seeing. “When I went to design school 11 years ago, when I was talking about intersectionality then, it was a total blank to people, especially the teachers. ‘Okay,’ they said, ‘we’ll put you in the critical thinkers.’ Of course I am! But they still didn’t understand it. The global awareness around these perspectives are much more recognized now than they were before.”
Born and raised in Sweden, Backman’s Iranian roots often clashed with her environment. “This Eurocentric making and thinking in graphic design is so dominant. These rules and structures that I’ve been taught and that surround us all the time is the opposite of the culture I was raised in. The dominant philosophy in Western culture is Modernism, the notion that form follows function.” Her observation that ornament is seen as superfluous in Modernism ran counter to the importance and intent of ornament in non-Western culture and design. This created the impetus for her work, and for her proclamation that “the rules around modernism are not ‘the truth’.”
Influenced by these dominant traditions, Backman’s work integrates both worlds, while layering in complex content. She starts by writing down the collisions within traditions that she wants to overcome, and chooses which parts of cultural traditions will suit her goals. “I still relate to the modernist grid, for example. I just did film graphics for a well-known hip hop artist, Silvana, whose roots are in Syria and Sweden and Eastern Europe, and she is also gay. A lot of different layers. She’s quite complex, so they’ve done this documentary about her and within graphic design I chose to work with all of her layers. I want to make the complexity take space.”
Backman describes her approach to graphic design as “a conscious choice, to reflect design choices and put them in a broader context. There is poor coverage on graphic design, at least in Sweden, which leads to a rather superficial conversation.” Instead, she believes in diving deeper, and while design isn’t exactly going to save us all, “graphic design and visual communication have an important role in how we mirror the world, and if one is interested in striving for change with design as a tool, focus needs to be directed towards ourselves (designers and practitioners). Design cannot change anything before it changes itself.”
See Parasto Backman talk more about complexity in graphic design and typography during her presentation at the Typographics conference this June.
The NYC designer on translating MLK Jr’s energy into typographic form
Posted April 26, 2018
The sixth episode in the 2018 Dissection/Typographics podcast series features Typographics conference speaker Bobby C. Martin from Original Champions of Design. In the interview, Martin talks about his design for Atlantic magazine’s special issue commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
The iconic designer reflects on more than 50 years of designing for Mexico City
Posted April 3, 2018
The fifth episode in the 2018 Dissection/Typographics podcast series features Typographics conference speaker Lance Wyman. In the interview, they discuss the branding, typography, and industrial design Wyman has done for the City of Mexico, which started with the iconic Summer Olympics in 1968.
A conversation about typography, coding, and modern mapmaking
Posted March 8, 2018
The fourth episode in the 2018 Dissection/Typographics podcast series features Typographics conference speaker Lance Wyman. In the interview, they discuss Walton’s process for designing maps, including the relationship that typography has in the work and her process for choosing typefaces to use in her maps.
Behind the scenes of CHIP’s design work for film projects
Posted February 22, 2018
The third episode in the 2018 Dissection/Typographics podcast series features Typographics conference speaker Teddy Blanks, co-founder of the Brooklyn based studio, CHIPS. In the interview, they discuss Teddy’s work on the title design and prop design for the films Listen Up Philp, Queen of the Earth, Golden Exits, and Everything Sucks!
Veronika Burian & José Scaglione with insights on developing an information-centric typeface and matching icons
Posted February 16, 2018
The second episode in the 2018 Dissection/Typographics podcast series features Typographics conference speakers Veronika Burian and José Scaglione of TypeTogether. In the interview, they discuss their recent type release, Protipo, which was made for informative design and user interface work, including intelligent icon glyphs. They also talk about the process of working together on typeface designs from opposite sides of the globe.
The Brooklyn-based design duo talk about using type for an artist’s site
Posted February 6, 2018
The first episode in the 2018 Dissection/Typographics podcast series features Typographics conference speakers Anton & Irene. In the episode, they discuss the branding and digital work they did for NYC-based artist Shantell Martin (whom they first met at a previous year of Typographics).