Mention to Jerry Kuyper that he's the Forrest Gump of design, and he laughs. But the comparison is spot on: From the very start of his career, he migrated from one significant school or firm to the next, landing at seminal moments. His timing would almost seem suspicious until you learn that there was no real master plan in place. He wasn't driven by ambition or anything else. He simply sought strong design experiences and showed up in the right place at the right time, time after time.
At each place, he played a part in pivotal projects. From each experience came life lessons that helped shape the rest of his career and that he passes on to other designers.
Learning around the globe
Kuyper, today principal of his own brand identity firm, Jerry Kuyper Partners based in Westport, Conn., began his design education at the University of Cincinnati. He had grown up in Cincinnati and began in the architecture program in 1966. After struggling with the required calculus, he switched to graphic design. One year later, Professor Gordon Salchow arrived and instituted a much more disciplined and rigorous program that continues to this day.
It was an early indication of his good fortune. "I didn't go to a strong design program, it came to me," says Kuyper.
The school also had a solid intern program. He worked as an intern in London his senior year and was able to travel to Switzerland. Strongly drawn to Swiss design, he worked after graduation to save for the graduate program at the Basel School of Design. In 1972, he returned to Switzerland and ended up staying for four years. The experience of studying with Kurt Hauert, André Gürtlter, Wolfgang Weingart, Armin Hofmann and others was enriched by the international mix of students and cultures.
|Start and finish of undergraduate study, late 1960s.|
|Adrian Frutiger and Jerry Kuyper at ATYPI conference in Basel, 1974. Kuyper has been asked to hold his expanding letterform demonstration.|
In 1976, he accepted a teaching position in graphic design at the University of Hawaii where he continued to be fascinated and inspired by other cultures. In 1979, he received a Fulbright-Hays travel grant to teach for a semester at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India. He used his grant to travel around the world in nine months, visiting Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Nepal, Egypt, Israel and Europe before settling in Los Angeles.
On risk taking:
"In hindsight whenever there had been a fork in the path, I chose the path with the least predictable outcome. Goethe was my muse. He said, 'Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.'"
Offices of Richard Saul Wurman
At age 32, he started looking for his first full-time design position. In the true Gumpian tradition, he landed at the Offices of Richard Saul Wurman in 1980, just at the point the designer was developing the guidebook, "LA Access." Wurman's "Access" books turned information design on its ear: Graphic and typographic information were combined and delivered in ways that were not only useful, but visually appealing as well. In addition, the office was pioneering the concept of designer as entrepreneur.
On being pragmatic:
"All cities are complex and perpetually changing. At one point, I was obsessing over a map, looking for references, trying to figure out why a bike path that I was supposed to place on a map seemed to leap over a harbor. While I was trying to rationalize a five-mile detour around the water, Richard told me to just put the 'expletive' bike path on the map. This was a summary map, not a detail map. It was a healthy dose of pragmatism."
Saul Bass/Herb Yager and Associates
Kuyper had interviewed at Saul Bass's office twice prior to his departure to India, but neither had resulted in a job. During his stint at Wurman's office, he learned that Bass was looking for a Swiss-trained designer. Not expecting much, he sent a resume and, two days later, got a call asking when he could start.
During his time with Saul Bass, Kuyper was one of the team of designers who developed the iconic AT&T globe logo.
|Literal implementation of the then-new At&T logo, initially named American Bell. Kuyper says Saul Bass and Dean Smith asked him to make sure the van did not roll backward.|
On setting ego and fear of rejection aside:
"When you're looking for a position, there's a fine line between being annoying and being persistent. Timing and luck help, but people do want to know you are interested in their work and office. I'm thankful I didn't listen to that little voice telling me to forget about it, that they were never going to hire me."
On being thorough:
"Our four-person design team created roughly 1,500 sketches for the AT&T project, and it was my job to organize them for the presentation. Saul told me he liked the way it was organized, but now we had to fill in all of the empty spots so the entire set of fourteen 4 x 8-foot boards would be filled. Because of my logical presentation of the sketches with non-removable, double-sided tape, we needed to create another 500 sketches to fill the blank spaces. In addition to conveying the thorough 'no stone left unturned' nature of our investigation, Saul also wanted to make sure we hadn't missed any better concepts."
On picking your battles:
"Saul once said to me, 'Don't waste time worrying about things that are really 45/55 percent decisions. Save your energy to push for decisions that really matter."
"The design team was exploring new designs for the United Airlines airplanes, with the goal of improving fuel efficiency by using less paint on the planes. We were looking at wavy and jagged lines, trying to avoid straight lines that everyone else used. Saul pointed out that straight lines on a plane-a cliché-communicated a smooth, stable flight to customers, which is exactly what they wanted. Saul believed that something becomes a cliché because it works and the challenge was not to avoid clichés but to use them in a fresh way."
After working with Saul Bass for two years, Kuyper traveled to San Francisco to interview with Landor Associates, a much larger firm and an office that was hitting its stride in 1983. Again, the interview didn't seem to go anywhere.
The next day over lunch with Paul Woods, a designer at Landor, Kuyper mentioned the disappointing interview. Woods recommended he bring his portfolio back for a review with another design director, and Kuyper, remembering his experience getting hired at Bass, went for it. In three weeks, he was working at Landor.
Over his nine years at the firm he directed and designed identity programs for Banco Santander, DuPont, Fuji Bank, General Electric, Singapore Technologies, Sprint, Stanford University, Times Mirror, Touchstone Films and the World Wildlife Fund. At Landor, Kuyper was given new opportunities and responsibilities, in particular to direct design teams, give presentations and work with clients in Asia and Europe.
|Jerry Kuyper with Walter Landor during logo explorations for Fuji Bank (1988).|
|Logos that Kuyper directed or designed while at Landor (1983-1992).|
"My father had been leery of all my educational and travel experiences wondering if I would ever settle down. During my second interview at Landor they said 'the international experience was great, we need people that can fly to Jakarta and not freak out.' Three year later I did fly to Jakarta and freaked out briefly - the heat, the chaos. Often the experiences that are most suspect are the ones that become most useful."
On giving and taking responsibility:
"Philip Durbrow, who headed up the CI group there, had a remarkable ability to see that people thrived when they were given responsibility. I was in my mid-30s with only a few years of professional experience, but I had the opportunity to work with and present to clients like Disney and the 1996 Atlantic Olympic Games. When you know you are presenting to the client, it is a very different level of involvement and you rise to the occasion. Remembering how valuable this experience was to me has enabled me to give more responsibility".
On audience response:
"Walter Landor emphasized the importance of achieving a positive emotional response to creative work. This approach caused me to reexamine some work that I admired. I realized I was responding to the stark or edgy quality of their designs without much awareness of the audience reaction. The heart, not just the mind, must be engaged."
After nine years at Landor, a period which was marked by the firm's rapid international expansion, acquisition by Young & Rubicam and rounds of layoffs, Kuyper was let go. With two young children to consider, he still wanted to hold out for a new position where the work would really excite him. He landed at frog design, a firm better known then for industrial design, especially the powerful launch of the Apple Macintosh. Kuyper directed brand identity projects for IBM, Motorola, Packard Bell and Zenith Data Systems. frog design provided insight into the creative process of product design, engineering and manufacturing.
On balance of strategy and creativity:
"Form follows emotion was the tagline of frog design and that created a heady atmosphere, often fueled more by emotion, vision and creativity than strategy. I missed having the solidity of strategic thinking to inform the creative development."
Siegel & Gale
After two years with frog design, he moved to the East Coast to join Siegel & Gale and returned to a more disciplined strategic approach. The professionalism and rigor there were invigorating. Simple is Smart was the first thing one saw entering the office. Their seminal work in simplified communications was inspiring to anyone who has ever tried to read a bank statement or fill out a form. Kuyper directed and designed programs for Cunard, Cushman &Wakefield, Digital, 360 Communications and United Technologies.
|Logo created with Siegel & Gale (1994-1996).|
Also on balance of strategy and creativity:
The focus on developing the corporate voice to enable a client to more fully express their brand strategy through content, messages and use of language was powerful and made sense. However, in their interest to promote corporate voice, I felt that the importance of visual communications and design were oddly being diminished.
Lippincott & Margulies
After two years, Kuyper was lured to Lippincott & Margulies. As a senior partner, he learned the importance of fiscal responsibility and business development. It became clear how managing budgets and time effectively yielded better financial and creative results. The firm achieved an ideal balance of creativity and strategy.
Kuyper participated in numerous business development pitches and lead the creative development for clients including Becton Dickinson, ChevronTexaco, Deloitte, ExxonMobil, Hilton, MetLife, Neuberger Berman, Telmex and Televisa. His international experience expanded to clients in Mexico, South America and Saudi Arabia.
|Designs directed while at Lippincott & Margulies (1996-2004).|
On financial management:
"Many creative individuals and firms struggle with the financial side. Lippincott ran a very tight ship in that regard. I learned to manage my teams and budget as well as I managed the creative process."
On business development:
"Senior partners on both the strategic and creative sides of the business were very involved in winning projects. It was a real challenge to select the right team, put together a relevant presentation and be charming for an hour. We used to joke, let's pretend we like working together during the meeting with the prospect."
Jerry Kuyper Partners
In 2004, Kuyper left Lippincott and had the chance to reflect back on over 20 years of lessons learned.
"It dawned on me slowly that the time was right to be on my own. Thanks to numerous individuals, I had patched together an educational and professional experience that had prepared me. I also determined that in six months I would rather be heading my firm than looking for work as an unemployed design director. It all seemed so logical: find clients you want to work for and partner with talented people that you like working with."
|Jerry Kuyper in various guises today.|
Kuyper also realized other shifts were occurring:
Technology and the internet have made it easier than ever to partner.
Seasoned and independent professionals are available to collaborate.
Clients are more savvy and open to working with individuals and smaller teams.
Since 2004, Kuyper has been running his office in Westport, Conn., where he partners with other outside strategic, naming and creative professionals, forming specialized teams as needed. He has worked on projects for American Express, Cendant (Cartus), Chase, Conductor and Fusion. Most recently, he partnered with Joe Finocchiaro on the redesign of the Cisco corporate identity.
|Jerry Kuyper Partners worked with Joe Finocchiaro on a recent redesign of the Cisco corporate identity. Kuyper also partnered with Catalyst Design on the Cartus corporate identity.|
Kuyper adds, "I have more confidence now than I did working with the large consulting firms that I can put together an exceptional team with the specific expertise that a client needs".
"I feel fortunate to have had the chance to study and work with inspiring educators, designers, brand strategists and clients. I have tried to share the lessons that I have learned along the way with anyone that has shown any interest. I believe that mentoring designers by passing on information and experience is vital to the continued development of our profession."
(Jerry Kuyper directed and/or designed the work shown with this article, but he notes that many other people took part in their creation and implementation as well.)
©2007 Logolounge Inc.