What is a Designer Statement? (Part 4): Sulki and Min, Stewdio, Brandt, Olson, Catalogtree
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What is a Designer Statement? (Part 4): Sulki and Min, Stewdio, Brandt, Olson, Catalogtree

This is part 4 of an ongoing survey. See part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.

As a design candidate in the MCAD MFA program I was asked to write an “artist statement” which, as a designer, I found inherently problematic. In response I contacted designers whose work inspired and influenced me in some way, asking:

Is there such a thing as a “designer statement,” and if so, how would you go about creating one?

I received responses from 30 designers and studios which I will present here in the coming days. Many of the designers in this survey are represented in the current show Graphic Design: Now in Production.


Sulki & Min

Dear Vadim,

Here is our answer. I hope this prove helpful. Good luck with your project!

Is there such a thing as a “designer statement,” and if so, how would you go about creating one?

I think there exists such a thing as a “designer statement,” perhaps in a form different to an artist statement. In fact, a statement of intention and interest, with a certain rhetorical implications, written by a designer to support or supplement his/her design work, is embedded in a designer‘s everyday practice: in a formally written proposals, presentations, reports, publications, or in a simple e-mail message accompanied by an attached PDF. Of course we normally expect a design work to function as a self-contained entity, independent of an additional statement. But I think we expect the same thing for fine arts, too (not all the people who enjoy arts read artist statements). In some circumstances, however, a statement by a designer can affect the perception of his/her visual work, as much as an artist statement would affect the perception of the supposedly independent but in effect not so self-contained work of art. So, I think both a designer statement and an artist statement belong to a rather specialist realm, not of general public, and they both are important.


Stewart Smith (Stewdio)

Hey Vadim

It’s very nice to hear from you. Sorry to drag my feet on this email! I’ve been here in Germany working on a project since after the holidays and it’s been intense. I don’t have a good answer for you. At Yale we were supposed to produce a thesis book before graduating. In addition to work samples it was supposed to have text describing our approach to design, so basically a designer’s statement. (Edvin Yegir’s is definitely worth a read and I think would qualify as a designer’s statement—a good excuse to get in touch with him.)

But for whatever reason I just couldn’t deal with the assignment. I wasn’t that happy at Yale to begin with and the assignment felt like it was fencing me in instead of being a foundation to build outward from. So I took some content that would have appeared in my thesis book and instead inserted it into other classmates’ books. Some of them allowed me to actually integrate my work into their InDesign files. Some of them didn’t allow anything so I just made some subtle bookmarks and such and hid them inside books randomly. Somehow I got away with not writing a real manifesto and not producing an actual book. (As far as I know I’m the only student ever to graduate from the program without producing a thesis book.)

So basically I’m not the best person to ask. I seem to be unable to produce a real designer’s statement. But because I’m frustrated by that I suppose I do think it’s an important exercise. I wish I had something more coherent to add but it’s after midnight german-time and I’m fading fast. Let me know how your investigation of artist / designer statements go. Maybe Michael Rock (http://2×4.org) is also someone to ask. Or Glen Cummings (http://mtwtf.org) who is a fantastic guy and had the very unfortunate position of being my thesis advisor. (I think you may have met him through Juliette even?)

Ok . . . bed time!

+ Stewart

Eric Olson (Process Type Foundry)

Hi Vadim –
Thanks kindly for getting in touch.

My answer is: I’ll be straight with you, I think this is irrelevant.

Hope this helps.
Eric O.


Thank you kindly for a sincere reply. I have already received a number of responses and their range alone is quite interesting. If nothing else, this survey shows a spectrum of current approaches to the practice of design and its relation to the practice of art (or a lack there of). On a personal level, it feels good to engage individuals whose work has inspired me for many years.

Thanks again,

Vadim –
Thanks for your endurance and understanding because my comment (upon reading it back) seems harsh! I don’t mean it that way at all. There are many tangled terms and titles in the field(s). How about graphic arts? Finger nails on the chalkboard!

Look forward to your results when you post them.
Eric O

Erik Brandt

Dear Vadim,

How well I remember struggling with these same issues as a graduate student, as I am sure many of us have and always will. These questions never go away, indeed, they constantly grow in and out of themselves as time goes on. Today, I feel sure that there is no need to define a difference between artists and designers, and, speaking to your questions specifically, these issues are no different than the struggles of any person who seeks to make things, or is simply moving through life. It’s an essential question that people ask themselves everyday, why do I do what I do? Why am I here, who am I really? In short, if we agree that design is simply purposeful action, the question becomes, how am I designing my life, my experience, my reality?

With only my own limited experience to offer, I thought you might enjoy a look at how I addressed this issue in the introduction to my own thesis work at VCU from 1998. Hoping not to bore you, my work then centered around ‘unconscious’ visual communication systems, natural evolutionary schemes that have taken form over millions of years. I devised that work as a combination of multiple essays and formal projections, but here are the introductory paragraphs.

00:00 Ante Omnia
The orange tree grows oranges to perpetuate itself. It does so without cognitive intent and yet it has purpose. The tree does not know it creates an orange fruit that contains its seeds, yet it does so. The orange itself does not know why it is orange, but the orange orange serves to attract. The beings that are attracted to the orange use it as a source of nourishment. They eat for themselves, not for the tree, but they serve the tree regardless. Seeds ingested or released by this activity are sometimes carried further afar. Once there, they may take root and begin again an endless cycle of life. The orange tree succeeds in perpetuating itself and is spared of being surrounded by too many of its own kind.

All without knowing why.

00:01 In Abstracto
My work strives to capture the eye and then address the intelligence and imagination of the viewer. This does not mean that I weigh (or judge) the relative cognitive abilities of my audience, on the contrary, I try to create a space where viewers might find themselves in relation to the work on their own terms. For myself, I isolate, focus, estrange, and extend simple things.

Looking back, I find this simple orientation still very much appropriate to my current practice. Indeed, I still isolate, focus, estrange, and extend simple things, and I truly hope to be something like the orange tree.

Maybe someday.

All the best to you and your own search for meaning. Don’t worry if you get lost sometimes, and when you do, return to form and giving form to things! It will help reveal your path again.



Hi Vadim,

Thank you for your kind interest in our studio. We would like to answer your question as

Write a ‘Designer Attitude’ instead.

We think it is not about how you define yourself as a designer, it is about what you do when you end up in a place not covered by your definition. The most Beautiful sites are just outside the reservation.

We hope this helps, please feel free to contact us if you need anything else.
Best Wishes!

Look for Part 5 soon!

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