Seven Questions for Edward Leida

Yesterday we told you about designer Edward Leida’s new website and provided a peek into his to-do list for 2009. Today we present the W design director’s wonderfully detailed answers to our seven questions. Read on to learn what beverage Leida (at right, in a photo by Art Streiber) begins his work days with, how he snagged a meeting with and subsequent job offer from Wilburn Bonnell, and what he’s giving this holiday season (someone special is getting a vintage model poodle kit). As if the Paul Rand anecdote he shares below wasn’t gift enough.

1. You’re trained as both an industrial graphic and graphic designer. How does this unique background affect your perspective/design work?
For as long as I can remember, I was interested in knowing how
things worked. I took apart almost every small appliance in our home and then proceeded to try to put them back together—I drove my parents crazy. This natural curiosity spilled over into graphic design, so over the course of my education and career, I guess you could say that I’ve been trying to get inside of a letter.

My first jobs out of school were for design firms that worked on
projects in collaboration with architects, and this allowed me the ability to work in two dimensions as well as three. I was afforded an opportunity to see how things were made beyond the realm of print. Over the years, I met great craftsmen and artisans, and their passion for their work was a tremendous source of inspiration and envy. These guys deeply influenced my life and career—functionality, innovation, and craft are the building blocks to each and every design endeavor I embrace now because of my exposure to both worlds. I’m very blessed.

2. Describe a typical day at work as design director of W.
There really is no such thing as a typical day at W, but I can tell you that my day begins with a large green tea that I get from our cafeteria and a morning visit to our “wall,” where all the layouts that are in the current issue are posted. I’ll probably look at the wall at least five to six times during the course of the day and try to think of ways of shaking up the look of the pages. I never want things to get stale.

There will be chats with my editor-in-chief, visits with my art
director, and plenty of music listened to during the course of my day. Levity is also a big part of our office routine, and imitations of the staff—including myself and interns—are encouraged. No one is off limits! Our creative director has been my collaborator for 23 years, and we meet often during the day to discuss the current and future issues of the magazine as well as story ideas. Fortunately for the both of us, we share similar interests and tastes, so our vision for W is a singular one.

3. How do you divide and conquer the task of designing W?
The fashion layouts are the pages that I design myself, but I oversee the design of the entire magazine. My able-bodied staff designs the front of the book as well as the features and special sections. The mantra I instill is “Go crazy. Have fun. Or else, why bother?”

4. Best/most memorable design-related encounter?
I’d have to say that my best design related encounter was meeting Wilburn Bonnell, known to friends as “Bill.”

When I was in college, I saw a profile of Bonnell that was published in an issue of Graphis that blew me away. This guy had studied industrial design as well as graphic design, he had worked at Container Corporation, IBM, and now had his own New York design firm.

I had already been exposed to the world of interior design as well as furniture design through a college girlfriend, and as it turned out, some of the best and innovative graphics were being created for the manufacturers of contract furnishings—many of which were based in New York City. Knoll’s graphics were being done by Massimo Vignelli and Sunar’s graphics were being done by Bonnell, and both had offices in Manhattan. Although I really liked the traditional work that was coming out of Vignelli’s studio, the work Bonnell was doing combined both the traditional and modernist worlds. He always had a slight edge to his designs—a nuance that said “risk” but always beautifully.

There’s a story about Bill working at IBM in its graphics department, where the task of designing a brochure fell to him. Now this was the time when Paul Rand ruled over everything designed at IBM; he was a consultant for them and he still had some say over the collateral. So Bonnell is working there, designs this brochure on which he places a plus sign and incorporates a drop shadow from the plus sign, which gave it some interesting dimension. The design gets approved and it goes to print. Thousands were printed. Rand sees them for the first time and orders them to be destroyed. Bill is scolded by Rand and told to start from scratch. When I heard that story, I thought to myself, one day I want to meet this guy, and I did.

I sent Bill a custom-made calling card crafted just for him. This was something that I actually did for every design god I wished to meet way back then—there weren’t many, I was very picky. The list included Vignelli, Willi Kunz, Stephen Doyle (who was working at M&Co at the time), and of course, Bonnell. Soon after, Bill wrote me a letter on an engraved piece of letterhead that I proceeded to hold onto for the next 16 years, inviting me to visit and show my work. He offered me a job that day. Unfortunately, I had already made a commitment to another firm and turned the offer down—my loyalty got in the way. Not the best choice.

Years later, I contacted Bill just to chat again and let him know what I was up to. You know, I think I’m going to try to contact him again today.

5. Proudest design moment?
My proudest design moment is really made up of many “moments.” It’s an ongoing thing. I love what I do and I love sharing my love of this work with those around me. I enjoy inspiring, nurturing, and surrounding myself with others who are committed to their craft.

I’ve been blessed to have created a lifestyle for myself that embodies design a great deal: I’ve been fortunate enough to have built a home that I helped to design, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, I have learned to cook meals that I love to create. For me, design has been and always will be a multi-sensory experience. I love the process and it’s just plain fun.

6. This holiday season, I’m giving…
I’m giving a vintage scale model of a poodle, probably from the seventies (un-built, in kit form) to someone. I searched high and low for it. It sounds crazy, but they’ll understand why they are getting it.

I’m also giving/designing a corporate identity for a great organization called the Ubuntu Education Fund based in South Africa. I’m really excited about this project, and I’m really happy to have volunteered to create this for them.

7. This holiday season, I’m hoping to get…
I’m really not hoping to receive anything—actually, most holidays I don’t expect much. I really have a hard time accepting gifts. All I really want is to have a drink or a nice dinner with some friends, a few phone calls with holiday wishes, and I’m good—pretty simple really. I’d rather give than receive.