“My design mantra is, “Solve the problem. Don’t decorate.” It is my guiding principle. There are a lot of designers out there who just try to make things pretty or follow the latest design trends. I believe that as graphic designers we are first and foremost visual problem solvers. I try to understand what the problem is before I go about trying to find a design solution for it.”
DJ Stout served as art director of Texas Monthly from 1987 to 1999. He joined Pentagram as a partner in 2000 and is the principal of the Austin office. In 2010, DJ was the recipient of the Society of Illustrators’ Richard Gangel Award and honored as an AIGA Fellow that same year. He is the author of three books, including Variations on a Rectangle, his design retrospective that was published by the University of Texas Press in 2015.
Here’s a snippet from Stout’s interview:
What is your work philosophy?
My design mantra is, “Solve the problem. Don’t decorate.” It is my guiding principle. There are a lot of designers out there who just try to make things pretty or follow the latest design trends. I believe that as graphic designers we are first and foremost visual problem solvers. I try to understand what the problem is before I go about trying to find a design solution for it.
What are the most important ingredients you require from a client to do successful work?
I do my best work when I’m partnering with a client who trusts me, and can make a decision independent of a committee. “Design by committee” will kill a good conceptual idea every time. Potential new business clients often mention that they are calling my office because they’ve seen my work for other clients and from those observations they believe that “I think different.” If I end up working with them, I always mention that during the engagement, they will ponder one of my proposed design solutions for their particular project, and say, “I just don’t know, DJ; it’s so different.”
What is the greatest satisfaction you get from your work?
I still get a big charge from doing my best design work. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a high-dollar client, a low-budget job, or a freebie. If it turns out to be visually dynamic, conceptually intelligent, and a good design solution, I’m jazzed. It keeps me going.
What advice would you give to students starting out today?
I always tell students that if they are contemplating going into graphic design they should definitely do it. I tell them that what I love about my job is that I’m challenged every single day to be creative and to solve my client’s communication and marketing problems in unique and interesting ways. I’m actually asked and encouraged to think differently daily. I point out that there are a lot of jobs where you learn how to perform a task and then you just do that same damn thing every day. Boring jobs, like doctors or lawyers, ha!
Read more of DJ Stout’s interview and discover other great artists and educators in Graphis Journal #375, which you can purchase online at graphis.com.