Look at the design books on your shelf. They’re pretty, right? Full of glossy images and inspirational tales of successful project after wildly successful project. It’s almost enough to make you believe the act of designing is easy. Scott Stowell is here to remind you that it’s not easy—not even close. But it is fun.
In his book Design For People (now collecting funds on Kickstarter), Stowell walks us through 12 tales of getting the job done. And as anyone who’s embarked on the long road of design knows, it’s not always a pretty process. Stowell is the founder of Open, a New York City design studio responsible for the identity for clients like Bravo, New York Public Radio, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. He founded the studio 15 years ago, and has steadily been building a book-worthy portfolio, which is more or less how Design For People happened.
This isn’t a normal design book. “It’s not just yeah, here’s this awesome stuff we made, and aren’t we the best,” says Stowell. “It’s about, here’s this story of what it was like to really do this project.”
The book isn’t written so much as recorded. Think of it as an oral history, as told by everyone who touched a project. And by everyone, we mean just about everyone. The book is built on interviews with clients, interns, critics, producers, and the people who actually see the work on a daily basis (people like you and me). You’ll hear from Milton Glaser on the studio’s work for The Nation, one of its first clients. You’ll read about the hiccups encountered while designing the Bravo identity system and see the initial sketches for Good magazine’s layout. It’s an unorthodox way to capture a story, but indicative of Stowell’s process: for him, the best designs are the end product of a bunch of people coming together to reshape each other’s ideas.
Design For People is intensely focused on process rather than outcome, which, if we’re being honest, is the most interesting part of a creative act anyway. It’s in the process that you get to see all the flubs, tensions, happy accidents, and brilliant decisions that make a design into what we wind up seeing, using, or experiencing. This meant Stowell had to be hands-off about what went into the book. Still, Design for People is ultimately about success stories. Like all designer studios, Open has had its share of bombs—there are plenty of untold narratives that would make for entertaining reading, says Stowell. “But those aren’t included,” he adds. “Maybe that’s for the sequel.”
You can support the Design For People Kickstarter here.