“Art, Design and Commerce,” Signs Of The Times

For more than a century, when it comes to the professions of art and design, there’s been a question of where they intersect at “commerce.” Should they be treated with equal respect? The question is still answered differently and perhaps diffidently, depending on who you ask.

On Wednesday, September 13, AIGA San Diego, SEGD and the Mingei International Museum partnered in a wonderful event, “Art, Commerce and Design.” Refreshments were served while people mingled and watched three local artisans demonstrate their crafts: calligrapher Suzy Lee, woodworker Matt Hebert, and traditional sign maker Roderick Treece.

The museum’s current Kanban exhibit (through October 8), features elegant, humorous and thought-provoking 19th- and 20th-century Japanese shop signs, advertising everything from tea to textiles, hung against a backdrop of spicy-hued orange walls.

Situated neatly next to the Kanban exhibit, local design professionals took the stage. In a series of seven-minute presentations, they showed the crowd in the packed theater examples of influential work created for their clients. Contemporary themes of retail environments and branding were presented. Some designers chose to use the traditional methods of graphic design to advertise and package products, while others chose some very unusual materials such as living plants and recycled yoga mats. There was also a sidewalk stamp historian, Eric DuVall, from the Ocean Beach Historical Society. Who knew? Now we do.

“This was my first time at the Mingei International Museum and I’m so glad I went. The event was very inspiring and I learned so much about our local creative talent and the impact they have on small businesses,” said Monica Preston, AIGA SD board member.

Chalsey Falk, a recent transplant from Minnesota and a new AIGA SD member, also said it was her first visit to the Mingei.

“I had a great time mingling, interacting with the crafts booths and listening to the humorous and fast-paced synopses of each presenter. There was something for everyone.”

In seven minutes (yes, presenters were held to that), each design team impressed the audience with the concepting behind the final signage, including how and where the materials were derived and (especially in the case of Rainwater Arts) why. Most if not all were civic-minded, democratic and dynamic in thinking. John Ball of MiresBall gave us his three ingredients for good design: See me… Understand me… Love me.

San Diego Letters proved that advertising works best when it’s about the person advertised to. Displaying artfully hand-painted murals around town including “Ain’t It Swell?” and “Stay Palm,” people are enticed to make use of them as photo ops which get posted on social media. This kind of sign design has the advantage of giving clients free advertisement, better brand and location awareness, happy customers and a growing business.

“I loved the event and how it offered a special connection from the Japanese signs of the 19th and 20th centuries to how signage is currently being designed and constructed today. Well-designed signs ARE beautiful, and in many cases should be considered art,” said Alexis O’Banion, Design Services Manager at Mingei International Museum.

Brian Dyches, FRDI Director, REX Retail, commented to AIGA SD board member and event coordinator Petra Ives, “The whole time after I spoke I kept thinking, wow, I live here. How could I not know about these like-minded design advocates? Thanks for bringing us together! It’s sparked my belief that San Diego really does have a great community, and showcasing its diversity of talent is something we need to do more of.”

Japanese graphic designer Kôga Tsuyoshi once said, “You should not have to separate the shape of something from its meaning. The composition should demand that the reader receive it with all five senses.” In the case of AIGA SD’s “Art, Design and Commerce” event, each person there would no doubt agree that every designer who gave his or her time to speak showed us how it’s done.

By Joelyn Brickner, Copywriting Director
Published September 19, 2017