Good morning! Look! It’s the all-new Complex Chinese Translation of All Access – The Making of Thirty Extraordinary Graphic Designers produced by Business Weekly Publishers in Taipei. 


Check out the mini site they put up for the release. You can find it at this link. If you’re not fluid in Complex Chinese, here is the English version:

1. Can you talk about what happened in your life or at work that made you decide to interview these thirty designers?

The book was my chance to look into the future. I wanted an inside look at what goes into becoming a successful graphic designer, both from 15 people who had already achieved fame and fortune, and another 15 who were just about to break through.

I wanted to know where they came from, what their families thought of their career choice, what their early challenges were, how they became great. I also wanted to see their early work. I wanted to see the stumbles along with the strides.

I chose 30 designers whose work I admired. Pure and simple.

2. You have mentioned on the last page of the book that a friend suggested you can use the ideas from the foreword that you wrote for the book “tellmewhy” by Hjalti Karlsson + Jan Wilker to write a book. I am really curious about what those ideas are. Can you tell me about them?
My friends Hjalti Karlsson and Jan Wilker asked me to write a page for their book “tellmewhy,” the story of the first two years of their design firm karlssonwilker inc. So I wrote a piece comparing their book to the creation myth of superheroes. Superman comes from the dying planet Krypton, Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes Spiderman, and Jan and Hjalti start a design firm. I said that this book would be a time capsule of all their early work that they’d later hide from view and never show again—that here would be on-the-record proof of their beginnings.

I sent the article to a friend, who suggested that this would make a good book proposal — showing the early work of famous designers, along with their creation stories — and that I should send it t our mutual friend Kristin Ellison, who was then an editor at Rockport books. Just so she could have a look.

Well, Kristin read the piece and said “We want to publish this book.” Two weeks later I had an offer for a book contract.

3. The designers in this book are located in different parts of the world, They might be in Japan, Brazil, or United Kingdom.  How did you interview these designers who don’t live in Los Angeles?

I interviewed all designers via e-mail, even the ones who live in Los Angeles. I think better in writing myself, so I wanted to give people the time to think about their answers. But it wasn’t just a standard list of questions. I tailored each interview to the person and the interviews went over many rounds.

4. I decided to collect mottos from all the designers when I first started the editing.  I found that James Victore’s mottos are so intriguing.  He’s a storyteller and what he said is philosophic and encouraging.  These designers’ lives give all of us a good lesson.  How did you choose these designers?
James is a very quotable guy, but all of the designers have great insight into their own path. I pushed all of them to be very honest with me, and to share how their work has affected their personal lives. Paul Sahre, in particular, committed himself to being very open. His may be my favorite chapter.

I chose the designers to give a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. I knew some of them personally, others through e-mail, and some I met doing this book, but the common element is that I admire their work and the way they do it.

Are the design pieces in this book collected by the designers themselves or by yourself?

I asked each designer to send me 20 pieces of their early work, five of their “greatest hits, “ and five samples of recent work. Most designers had so much fun looking through their archives that they sent me dozens (some even over a hundred) pieces. I made the selection what pieces to include in the book. I chose the work that I felt would best illustrate their stories.
6. In all your interviews with these 30 designers, is there anything interesting that you didn’t mention in this book?

Oh boy! My interview with Paul White from Me Company could’ve filled half the book. We had such a good time talking about painting and the space program and and and… but I did try to put everything interesting and valuable into the book.

What you can’t see in the book is that I actually “fired” a few people from the book, because they wouldn’t allow me to ask them about private things, or show their less than perfect early work. As much as I admire the work those people do, they weren’t right for the book.

  Many designers show talent of drawing since childhood.  Did you like to make sketches when you were a little kid? 

Oh yes! I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. Drawing was (and is) my first love.
 What are your parents’ take on you being a designer?

My parents always loved what I do. They’re very proud, and have gotten fairly good at explaining my strange and time-consuming job to their friends, too. My mom is just happy that I didn’t go into the accounting business like my father. We’re both very competitive, so it’s good that we’re in different fields. :^)

9. Can you give us some advice on writing? 

I was very lucky to have many older, smarter pen pals when I was growing up. When I was 12 I started exchanging letters with Elke Imberger, who was then working on her doctoral thesis in history, and is now the deputy archivist of the German state of Schleswig Holstein. I learned how to write from reading her letters. Her writing sounds exactly like the way she talks. That’s always been what I aim for. Early on I tried to put all kinds of fancy words into my writing, because i thought it would impress people. For All Access I set myself the goal of keeping the writing very simple and direct.

I listened to what people had to say, tried to push them when things weren’t clear to me, and then tried to condense what I learned from them into something strong and simple. My editor, Kristen Ellison, also pushed me to cut, cut, cut so that, in the end, there was no fat left, only meat!

You have done the interview, writing and book design for this book completely on your own. Did you present this idea to the publisher?

I came up with the idea for the book, wrote it, did the design, the typesetting. Everything. It’s a one-man effort. That’s why it took me almost two years. I’m a control freak.

Beside the design books, what other types of books do you read? Such as fiction or prose…can you give us some examples?

Oh, I love the books of Douglas Adams, William Gibson, Michael Chabon, P.G. Wodehouse. Adams and Wodehouse, in particular, are masters of language, and very funny, too! I also love the magazine The New Yorker, and the artist profiles by John Lahr, in particular. It’s such wonderful writing every week. There is also a radio program here called “This American Life”  — — fantastic writing!

 You are from Germany, in which city were you  born and raised? 

I was born in Hannover, Germany. When I was six years old we moved to a small town called Rinteln, about an hour outside of Hannover. I lived there until I graduated from high school. Five months later I left for California.
 Why did you choose to go to  the Art Center in Los Angeles to study design?

I wanted to live in Los Angeles. I had fallen in love with the city on two consecutive trips the previous two years. Art Center is the best art school in Los Angeles, so that’s where I went. I felt immediately at home there, more so than I ever did back in Germany, oddly enough. It was home.
14. You grew up in  Europe and you live in the USA, so you have absorbed  two different cultures. Do you think that has influenced your work?
I’m sure it has. I grew up watching American television and movies, listening to American music. Moving here really felt like coming home. But I also absorbed German culture. It’s where I grew up. It’s my first language. So I do have a point of view that’s not German, but not American either. I’m the eternal outsider, and that’s just fine with me. It allows me to connect with many more people than I otherwise would, because I’m not part of their food chain. I’m not a threat to them, and they’re not a threat to me.

Do you like Los Angeles?  Will you stay here forever?

I love Los Angeles with all my heart. I’ll stay here as long as I’m welcome.
16. When you work, do you listen to a specific CD  or a specific type of  music?  

When I design, I listen to all kinds of music. When I set type (which is very boring, but takes time and lots of care) I often listen to “This American Life” podcasts online, because they keep me interested and in my chair. When I write I need silence.

When your client is not satisfied with your work like you are how do you deal with the situation/them?  

At this point I’m happy to say that it doesn’t happen much anymore. The people who hire me know what I do and want my voice. But when there’s disagreement, I try to analyze what I’m missing. Usually the problem isn’t the design, but a poorly defined task. And sometimes I walk away. Life is short.
18. Why do you call your design company  344 Design?  Does 344 have any special meaning?

Originally, the company was named 344, because the office is by the intersection of the 134 and 210 freeways — 134 + 210 = 344. Two years after 344 started I designed a calendar and counted the days and found a surprise: I moved to California on December 10th. I celebrate the day as my American Birthday. In a non-leap year December 10th is the 344th day of the year.

19. You said you created/drew a monster every day. Your monster, however, is nothing like what people would considere a monster – big poppy eyes, wide square mouth and a pair of high-heeled feet. It’s really cute. There is no way to trace where this image came from. Did anyone ever say that your monster looks like you?   

The first Monster appeared on my arm when I was driving on the freeway. (I don’t drink alcohol or take drugs. Things just appear to me.) I drew it and had so much fun that I simply didn’t stop.

Stylistically, they’re influenced by classic cartoons, of course, but also by the caricaturists Ralph Steadman and Ronald Searle. They’re heroes of mine. Nobody ever said I look like the Monsters, but if you opened my head, I bet that my brain looks exactly like the Monsters.

20. Have you been to Asia?  Beside Hideki Nakajima, did any other designers attract your attention?

So far, I’ve not had a chance to travel to Asia. I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not well educated about the Asian design scene. I’ve admired Hideki Nakajima’s work, and also invited Tadanori Yokoo to the book, but we weren’t able to transcend the language barrier. I’m looking forward to learning more about Asian design, and I hope that your books will help me.

 Would you like to say something to Taiwan’s readers? About this book, about the graphic design? Anything.

Practice Greed Control: Lead a humble life and free yourself of debt. Only when you are no longer bound by obligation can you be truly free in your work. There is no freedom unless you have the power to say “No, thank you” and walk away. And once you have that power, it will be written on your face, and you’ll find that you almost never have to say NO anymore. Then all you have to decide is who to say YES to. And that’s when you’ll start having fun!

Remember: Failure is never as frightening as regret!

There you have it. News from the Publishing World.

Need I mention that 344 LOVES YOU


  • 25 February 2009 6:14 am

    No, you don’t need to — but it’s always nice to hear. 🙂 Great interview, Stefan! I love that this guy got so involved in the work he was pulling out the mottoes to post for himself — that really says something. And it’s good to see the message of Greed Control moving on. 🙂

  • 26 February 2009 7:31 am

    While I’ve read lots of your interviews, they never get old. I love getting back stage passes to the minds of great designers. Thanks for introducing me to Company of Thieves too, I hadn’t heard them before. I like.

  • pennydreadful
    27 February 2009 1:36 am

    Congratulations on the book coming out! It must be so gratifying to hold a 2 year project, finished, in your hands! Great interview, too.

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