Jens Gehlhaar and Somi Kim Dish On Graphic Design


Two Brand names took the stage for the first session of the Schools of Thoughts conference: Jens Gehlhaar of Brand New School and Somi Kim from LA’s Brand Integration Group (you heard us right, it seems BIG/NY is “Innovating” while BIG/LA is still “Integrating”). The question “What is graphic design and where is it headed?” was answered by these two practitioners who occupy opposite ends of the graphic design spectrum.

Gehlhaar focused on what they do over at BNS that isn’t considered graphic design. Apparently posters created as production designs for a Coke commercial they directed can’t be entered in an AIGA competition for typography. An animated Python-esque spot for MTV counts as illustration. A live-action commercial for IMF has lots of graphic design in it, but it’s still not design. “That’s part of the reason we’re not really good at anything,” Gehlhaar said, “Because graphic designers can do so many things.” But are they even designers over there? BNS is identified not as a design studio but as a “bicoastal directorial collective.”

When Kim took the stage, the tone was ultimately more personal. While she also sees graphic design as the endless pursuit of many different skills, she didn’t talk about the strategy-oriented/immaterial design created at BIG, but rather her own trend analysis about where graphic design was going. One fact that made us shake our heads in disbelief: An extremely high percentage of high schoolers today expect to become famous (ooookay…). Kim also advocated “slow design” and a new international design movement, akin to the Al Gore Show.

What Kim and Gehlhaar both agreed on was that two things needed to be emphasized in education to address their concerns: type and craft. Type, in the sense that it’s the only thing that designers can truly own, said Gehlhaar (makes sense, since as Kim pointed out, “graphic” comes from the Greek word for writing), and craft, which they explained differently, but we’ll go ahead and say that it’s something you hone, over time, to help communicate an idea even more effectively. And you better be damn good at it or no one will be paying attention.