Submit Saturdays: Bold type and neon nostalgia from LA-based graphic designer James Anderson
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LA-based graphic designer James Anderson has a portfolio that includes some intriguing experiments and a style that draws from postmodern masters and neon kitsch. James’ work includes poster and packaging design as well as a number of branding projects. We caught up with the self-taught designer to ask about his influences and what he has planned for the future.
You are self-trained as a graphic designer – why did you decide to embark on this career path?
Growing up, my mom was the art director of an “alt-weekly" newspaper. As a result I grew up surrounded by design annuals, pantone books and all the tools of the trade. I was often at the office with my mom. I came to idolize the designers she worked with because they were cool, in their twenties, had tattoos and listened to music that no one else listened to. So, when I was 12 or 13, on days when I didn’t have school, I was ecstatic to go to work with my mom and play with Illustrator on one of the extra workstations while annoying Thomas the designer to burn a CD for me. By the time I was in high school, I was certain I was going to be a designer and I got into a nearby college with the intention of studying graphic design. But in my first year, I began contributing as a designer for American Apparel and, deciding the degree was probably pointless, switched my major to Linguistics, which I had become obsessed with after taking a really great class.
How does your degree and interest in linguistics affect your work and design process?
I’d like to think it has a visible effect on my work, but I don’t think that’s true. If anything, I think linguistics is important in that so much of it as a subject is about social inequality and the extraordinary amount of information about race, class and gender that we convey through even the most banal acts of speech. It’s made me a much more critical person.
How would you describe your style and who are your influences?
Because I haven’t had formal training, my style is basically a timeline of whatever books I have bought or what designer I learned about at a given time. At one point I was all about line art and neon signs and Ettore Sottsass prints, then it was modernism, Wolfgang Weingart, Octavo and more recently, an airshow t-shirt company called Blackbird Intl.
The designers who influence me most now are the ones whose work is based on style rather than canon, and who have a thorough understanding of their influences and the implications their work has. I think Harsh Patel, David Rudnick and Eric Hu are three designers now who really embody that.
What are your favoured working methods?
I don’t have a lot of strong opinions about methodology because I change the way I work all the time. I do have an appreciation for manual/physical methods that I picked up from an old boss of mine who demanded that everything be printed out and taped to a wall, rather than shown on a screen. It’s a much more deliberate act, and I find that I design better that way.
What are your plans for the coming year? What projects are you currently working on?
Currently I’m working on a lot of projects with musicians here in LA, which is always my favorite kind of work – though I’m still waiting for the coveted club poster gig. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been making time for my own projects and designing things for myself and my friends that may never otherwise see the light of day. I plan on doing it a lot more, because it reminds me why I got into this in the first place and it can be beautifully cathartic after working on a draining project.
How did you approach the design of your website? What were your thoughts when organising and presenting your work?
My primary concern making my website was for it to be as innocuous and simple as possible—if only for my own psychological health. Frankly, I just wanted something I wouldn’t have to think about and re-assess constantly. I have a terrible habit of changing, then un-doing, then updating, then removing things on my portfolio, so the design of my current site (kind of) minimizes that compulsion.
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