Working in mainly architecture and arts-based projects, Neil Donnelly has the client list of dreams having collaborated with the Guggenheim, Yale University, The New York Times, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Princeton Architectural Press and Domus among many others.
While Brooklyn-based Neil works across various areas, he often gravitates towards book design for the breadth it provides. “It’s the opportunity to consider many variables at the same time – typography, image, colour, materials, pace, rhythm sequence – in order to say something particular through the design that supports or enhances the content,” says Neil. “This is possible in any area of design, of course, but for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, I think I’ve been able to realise this potential most potently through books.”
While his studio works across multiple projects at a time, some titles from this year include: WORKac: We’ll Get There When We Cross That Bridge a monograph on the work of Amale Andraos and Dan Wood of WORKac collecting 15 years of the firm’s projects, Wanderlust: Actions, Traces, Journeys 1967–2017 a tome collecting 40 years of art made and performed outside the confines of the studio, Architecture Is All Over an anthology of essays on architecture’s simultaneous ubiquity and precariousness, and Josef Albers in Mexico an exhibition catalogue for the recent Guggenheim show on the artist and his travels through Mexico.
Each project undergoes rigorous research and analysis to learn as much as about the subject as possible and while each outcome looks aesthetically different, there’s a boldness and sophistication within each book, which feels characteristic of Neil’s work. “I’ve never been the kind of designer who’s interested in the application of a particular visual style to every project. I find it much more satisfying to approach each project on its own terms, to make its form as relevant as possible to the content and context,” Neil says of his style. “Though of course I also have certain predilections — an interest in conceptual and visually arresting typography, bold colour, witty and sometimes even dumb ideas—that I hope provide a through line across projects.”
The challenges in Neil’s work stem from the everyday conundrums any designer faces including taking into consideration client needs versus vision, working with other collaborators, managing schedules, budgets and expectations and learning to work with large institutions as a small practice. “We never know what’s going to pop up from one week to the next, which is one of the things i like most about doing this work,” says Neil.
For the designer, he see his task as “giving form to the material we’re working with” not only forming logical links also also offering viewers thoughtful surprises, which add more meaning. Neil says the design should function as a text in and of itself, in close connection with the content and context. “We’re also often hoping for the appearance of inevitability in the end result – that the thing in question couldn’t have ended up any other way, and that the design is inextricable from the content – in spite of the reality that the final form is only one of many possible outcomes,” he explains.
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