'Design your life'

His talk may have been titled “Graphic Design Just Isn’t That Interesting,” but after listening to James Victore discuss his hilarious and poignant experiences as a communication design artist, I beg to disagree. Victore grew up on a military base where he often spent his afternoons drawing by himself. This was because his two sisters wouldn’t play with him, Victore explained. This kind of independence, combined with a yearning to use art to fulfill something within himself, has made James Victore one of America’s most innovative and promising graphic designers.

Victore was the first speaker in the School of Design’s two-month lecture series which will include a range of presentations by artists and designers in many different fields. Victore was invited by visiting professor and Carnegie Mellon alumna Laura Vinchesi. Vinchesi used the lecture as part of the curriculum for her course, Politics and Activism in Design: Using Graphical Media as an Agent of Change.

“The goal of the course is to learn about how graphical media has been and is used to create change, and to allow students to address a personal cause within the context of communication/graphic design,” Vinchesi explained. “Victore is a good example of a designer who uses his skills to address issues of personal concern and interest in a public sphere.”

Victore’s clients have ranged from The New York Times Magazine to a shoe polish company, yet he claims that his best work always contains a political message. “Those projects take lives of their own,” Victore said. “Those projects take intuition. Intuition is a muscle. Use it. It gets stronger.”

Throughout his lecture, Victore talked to the listener like a good friend, often peppering his phrases with curse words and slang. With professors in the audience, Victore talked about flunking out of The School of Visual Arts in New York City and the boredom that is often associated with introductory courses in design. Throughout the entire talk, Victore stayed true to himself; he never censored his words for the university setting or his particular audience.

Such nonconformity can be seen in his art as well. Victore brings his version of the truth to his posters, illustrations, book jackets, and flyers. When asked to design a poster about racism and the death penalty, he created a rather controversial sketch using the game Hangman, tastefully suggestive of a racial slur. The poster has six blank lines at the bottom: On the third and fourth line are two letters, both G, and the last space contains an R. This design was simple, to the point, and startling. It got audience members to stop and think — something that Victore strives to do in all his work. “If you can make a poster,” Victore said, “and people stop [and think]...if you can do that once, you’re a success.”

Victore’s message is particularly inspiring in the digital age, when pretty much anyone can broadly publicize his or her opinion through vehicles such as MySpace and Facebook. Victore told his audience, “You’re a designer — design your life.” In other words: Use what inspires you to create your art, not what other people tell you to do. Though Victore’s message conflicts with the notion that a designer should serve the client above all else, his words are refreshing, reminding artists of the importance of art that reflects the voice and beliefs of its creator.