I’m the director and producer of Graphic Means: A History of Graphic Design Production. In addition to making my film, I am an assistant professor of graphic design at Portland State University. My passion for teaching is probably the reason it even occurred to me to make a movie like this. I love sharing design history tidbits with my students. The more I shared the idea, it appeared that it wasn’t only students who were hungry to learn about these recent, but now archaic design practices. I was lucky that the director of one of my favorite documentaries, Linotype: In Search of the Eighth Wonder of the World, Doug Wilson, has been an incredible mentor for me pretty much from the start.
How would you explain Graphic Means to somebody who has their head up in the clouds?
Graphic Means is a documentary film the explores the production methods designers used before the desktop computer existed. Essentially, it will illuminate how a design went from designer’s sketch, to the printing press, without any digital methods. There are plenty of parallel topics that come up in the film as well like discussions of the democratisation of technology and design, the social structures of design studios, type shops and service bureaus, typographical unions, and the proliferation of women in the field of typography and design due to new technologies.
What sparks your interest in the vintage publications over the years?
Looking through a vintage publication allows me to feel like I’m time traveling. I get a chance to see what designers were shopping for in the ads of “Art Director” magazine, or understand the incredible skills and tools of a paste-up artist when I look at a production manual from the 1970s. I’m making this movie so others can get a sense of these things, without having to amass the ridiculous number of books and magazines I have.
How did you find your own experience studying Design pushed you into the direction you find yourself in now?
I studied design in the mid-to-late 1990s in San Francisco, California. It seemed likely that I would have to work in the tech sector somehow, as this was in the midst of the first dot com boom. Frankly, I was uninspired by the graphic culture of the start-ups I saw, and didn’t feel like web design allowed me the typographic control I enjoyed in print. I had studied originally with the aim to design museum exhibitions. I wanted to educate and communicate important ideas and information. I didn’t want to sell things with design. Ultimately, I managed to become art director of “Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture”, which was founded by two young women who realized there was no magazine that addressed their pop culture obsessions through a feminist lens—so they started one. Working at Bitch not only taught me a lot about publication design, but also that if there’s something you want, and it’s not out there – make it!
Briar Levit. Explain your own working practice in five words…
Designing complex content and experiences.
Explain the three pros and cons of changes to technology and how we’ve come about it from (roughly) 30 years ago to today.
Perhaps the only real drawback to the advent of desktop computers is that we move so fast now, that we may not be as deliberate in designs as we once were. If you had to sketch, then make a tighter sketch, then a presentation sketch, and then had to order type and images from outside vendors before you could then paste up each element by hand—you were probably more likely to be very deliberate and precise about the work you were making.
All this said is no question that the advent of the desktop computer has been a boon for the design industry. More people have access to design tools, and therefore more people can get their messages out. Designers can work on more projects, more quickly, and have more hands-on control of their type and images in the development process. The designer-as-author has flourished because we now have tools that allow us to have our hands in all aspects of a project—for good or for bad.
Describe your day-to-day roles as Director/Producer for Graphic Means.
I am an assistant professor of graphic design at Portland State, so my days vary greatly. Deepening on the week, I work about 1/3 of my time on Graphic Means. A lot of this has been historical research, image/footage acquisition, fundraising efforts, as well as reviewing clips my editor sends, and music my composer sends. I like to keep up on the Graphic Means Instagram with images of what I’m reading, or new acquisitions to my mini graphic design tools archives.
Quick Round Questions:
Graphic or Type? Type—but the best is type integrated beautifully into an image.
Morning or Evening? Not a morning person, even though I really wish I was.
Coffee or Cocktail? I will not choose one!
If you want to fish for a little more information about Briar’s fascinating world, you can do so by visiting Graphic Means Website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. It is with heavy hearts that they announced film participant and friend of the Linotype, Carl Schlesinger passed away on November 9, 2014. You can watch the video created for him ‘Linotype: The Film’ right here.