Design studio focused on book design, illustration, and environment design



What is design for?

Design is problem solving.

Art may follow the muse, but design always has a goal. The work of the graphic designer is to exercise creativity in the service of some purpose. While the artist has the freedom to express and explore—in a sense, to ask questions and create “problems” for the audience—the designer is always working to solve some problem on behalf of the audience.

Design is hospitality.

At a basic level, the designer plays the role of a thoughtful host, welcoming the audience into an unfamiliar space and guiding their attention around the material in a way that makes them feel at home.

Design is gift-giving.

A design project is not complete until it has been put to its intended use. A designer working to create a piece for the audience experiences the same joyful expectation that a gift-giver has in choosing and wrapping a Christmas present— but the gift has not really been given until it is unwrapped and enjoyed.

Design is teaching.

The designer takes the time to thoroughly understand the material he or she is presenting, to sort and order and arrange that material, and to guide the uninitiated audience through it. The writers’ maxim that “easy reading requires hard writing” hold true for us as well—if the designer doesn’t do the work to create a thoughtful design, the audience will have that much more work in trying to decipher the final piece.

Design promotes human flourishing.

Signs that help us navigate the streets, books that are easy to read, menus that help us find our preferred foods—graphic design done well is design that serves people well. In fact, design is only worth doing to the extent that it promotes human flourishing. The street signs, or books, or menus will all eventually be mouldering in the landfill but the humans we have served are eternal.
The graphic design industry is sometimes guilty of a condescending attitude toward clients who say, “just make the logo bigger” or give unhelpful feedback like, “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.”
While those can be frustrating exchanges, the designer cannot permit himself to adopt a sneering posture toward the client. In the end, the ultimate measure of the value of a designer’s work is how well it serves two sets of people: the client, and their audience.


Someone recently asked me for recommendations on books about typography and I was nerdishly delighted, because books and typography are two of my favorite subjects.

The Elements of Typographic Style

The first book that came to mind was of course Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style (first published in 1992). For one thing, both the book and language are beautiful. Bringhurst talks about letters the way a Carpenter talks about wood . He is a well-known poet, and letters and type are his material of choice. In this masterful and thorough book, Bringhurst discusses type and page layout in lyric prose, both in terms of design and page layout and from a historical standpoint. It’s a great resource to use as a reference with an easy-to-use index, and a detailed look at typographic best practices that have been the hallmarks of good style for the 500 years or so.

As he says in his foreword, “If you use this book as a guide, by all means leave the road when you wish. That is precisely the use of a road: to reach individually chosen points of departure. By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately and well. That is one of the ends for which they exist.” If you want to use type well and you read only one book on typography, this should be it.

Anatomy of a Typeface

The second book I would recommend is Alexander Lawsons, Anatomy of a Typeface (1990). In this book Lawson rights what amounts to a biography of a couple dozen of the most influential typefaces since the early days of Western movable type. He writes about the origin of each typeface, the influences that led to their creation, and some of the stories of their creators which are as interesting and varied as the typefaces he discusses.

The book is arranged chronologically, starting with the earliest typefaces of the 20th century (Goudy and his Blackletter type) and ending with type that may be more familiar to modern eyes (Futura and other geometric sans serif types). It also provides an overview of the methods and techniques used to print those typefaces, and explores how those printing methods help shape the forms of the letters themselves.

Just My Type

While the first two books I mentioned have a more academic tone, Simon Garfield’s, Just My Type (2011) is light-hearted and irreverent, but equally informative. The book opens with an introduction by Chip Kidd which includes examples of type from his own work and from around the history of typography and use. The introduction is almost worth the purchase price.

The book explores everything from the appropriateness of using comic sands and the inappropriate use of all caps to the last chapter in the book comma the worst fonts in the world. It’s a great sampling of both the history of typographic design and best practices for using type in modern graphic design contexts.  

Thinking With Type

Anyone who’s taken anything like an “Intro to Graphic Design” class in the last 15 years probably has Ellen Lupton’s Thinking With Type (2004) on their shelves, and for good reason. It’s interesting and accessible, and does a great job of systematically explaining how a designer uses type (and layout) to make information clear to the audience. More than the other three books mentioned above, Thinking With Type explores how and why a designer chooses and uses different typefaces, with helpful discussions of type mechanics, grids, and information hierarchy among other topics.

“Typography is what thought looks like.”

The very first page says, “Typography is what language looks like.” I agree, and because we are a society that reads more that we speak, I would push that even further: “Typography is what thought looks like.”


COVID-19 Vignette

As she takes my temperature just inside the first set of doors, my eye wanders to her interrupted sudoku puzzle. She makes a point of conspicuously sterilizing the thermometer as she asks about my symptoms, or lack of symptoms in my case. Voices muffled by our masks, she asks about my health, the health of my close contacts, of my family.

It reminds me of our visit to Uganda, when people we met greeted us, inquired about our health and the wellbeing of our families. Maybe that is our new custom, our new normal. “Greet your family for me. And do any of them have an elevated temperature?” She picks up her sudoku, and I pass into the building, a walled garden where everyone has been greeted, and no one has an elevated temperature.


Christmas finds us unready.

Star of Bethlehem over three trees

Christmas finds us unready.

On the way to our Christmas Eve service tonight I found myself feeling, more than anything, unready. The book of daily advent readings we’ve been going through with our kids is open to day 17; there are presents yet to wrap, and some still being shipped, and some I forgot to order in the first place. Instead of being contemplative and focused on my family or on my God, my heart and mind are full of holiday plans, project deadlines, concerns about our kids—I feel unsettled, unprepared for Christmas.

But as I sat in church it occurred to me that no one has ever been “ready” when Christmas found them. Joseph probably wanted more time to get his pregnant wife home before the birth. Mary certainly would have liked a few more days to find better conditions to give birth. Even Herod would have wanted more time to scheme. The shepherds, religious leaders, the people he came to save—Christ came and found them all before they were “ready” for him.

And there is for me immense comfort in that—the fact that Jesus did not wait until I had my house in order, my deadlines met, my heart right. He came to me before I was ready—he rescued me from myself, not because I had sorted my life out and gotten myself “ready,” but precisely because I never would. As Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

So Merry Christmas, from our unready hearts and home to yours. May our hope be in Him, and not in our own readiness.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as from the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”


South Dakota Stamp Show

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to participate in a group show created by AIGA South Dakota—the South Dakota Stamp Show. For this show AIGA asked 13 area designers to each create a set of five concept postage stamps around a topic related to our fair state.

I chose I-90 as my topic. Interstate 90 runs through the center of the state and is the main artery of travel for most people moving through South Dakota. I-90 unifies the state, and touches on a lot of common elements of the experience of living here.

There was a lot of good work in this show, and you can still see it at the Sioux Falls Design Center for the rest of the month.

If you don’t make it down, here are the 5 stamp designs I created, with a brief explanation of each (with sources cited—my junior high English teachers would be so proud!)

Bisontennial: 200 years ago there were an estimated 75 million bison roaming the countryside. By 1895, that number was cut to 800 due to reckless and wasteful hunting. It was said, probably only with slight hyperbole, that “a person could walk on buffalo bones from Texas to North Dakota without ever touching the ground.”

Now, after 200 years, the North American bison is again thriving in commercial herds and roaming in both wild and protected places. The population is now estimated to be about 500,000.

Snowplow on I90

Accumulation: In a state that averages between 30 to 70 inches of annual snowfall, snow (and snow removal) is a large feature of life. For every mile of interstate, South Dakota spends more than $2800 on winter maintenance.

Among other things, that figure includes roughly 800,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 60,000 tons of salt. (And that’s only a fraction of the nearly $22 million budgeted for snow removal in the 2017-2018 winter highway maintenance plan.)

Abandoned gas station with two 1950's era gas pumps

No Services: Many early American towns grew out of settlements established where the great waterways (the Missouri River, or the Mississippi, or even the more humble Big Sioux River) met long-traveled cart trails. As the railroads came through (and especially with the 1869 start of the Transcontinental Railroad) thousands of settlements sprung up along the tracks.

Then as the automobile became more common, the presence of good roads and the people and money who traveled them became more important to a community’s thriving. And finally with the straight lines created by the 1956 Interstate Highway Act, small towns that found themselves too far off the interstate gradually lost ground to those communities that were closer. Sometimes towns bypassed by the interstate saw business come to a standstill literally overnight.

Home Alone: My first car was a 1984 Subaru GL station wagon, light blue and relatively reliable. I loved that I could throw everything I needed in the back and drive wherever I needed to go. I put Christmas lights in the back windows and installed a switch by the gear shift—I’m lucky the whole thing didn’t catch on fire.

My second car was a 1990 Subaru Legacy station wagon—no Christmas lights but just as great. I’ve never owned a kayak or a teardrop trailer, but maybe someday.

Share the Road: Of the 546 motorcycle accidents reported last year, 51% involved another motor vehicle.  And I drew a helmet on this guy because in 245 (or 55%) of last year’s accidents the riders weren’t wearing helmets.

Of the 546 motorcycle accidents reported last year, 51% involved another motor vehicle.  And I drew a helmet on this guy because in 245 (or 55%) of last year’s accidents the riders weren’t wearing helmets.