NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 46/47

Face To Face - I

Broken Promises; Face To Face With Jennifer Sterling

Majid Abbasi

Jennifer Sterling (an AGI member since 2000) founded Jennifer Sterling Design in 1998. She is a designer, artist, typographer, illustrator, writer and educator. Her work has been included in the permanent collections of The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Library of Congress, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Museum Fur Kunst Und Gewerbe, Hamburg and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art hosted a three-month solo show entitled "Jennifer Sterling: Selections from the Permanent Collection of Architecture and Design" and her work has been included in eight of their group shows to date. Numerous groups, including the New York Type Directors Club, American Center for Design, Communication Arts, Graphis, The Society of Illustrators, I.D. Magazine, Print Magazine, How Magazine and AdWeek have recognized her work for a wide range of clients in the technology, arts and education arenas. She has received over two thousand awards for her work in the field of branding, design, packaging, textile design, book and web design. Graphis named her "One of the Top Ten Designers in the World."1

You have a background in illustration and later switched to design. Tell us about this shift in your work.
I think like most designers I grew up painting and was maneuvered by societal demands to putting this into a self-supporting venture; hence, art school. Fine art was offered, but this seemed like a prolonger of my childhood, which I imagined I could still navigate on my own, so I chose illustration as my major. It wasn’t until I grasped the fact that no matter how perfect an illustration I created, someone else would then put type on it and control the layout. This didn’t rest well with me, so I switched my major to design and advertising. In this field, I felt all the elements of my childhood coming together. Although my parents had an extensive library, and I was an avid reader, I didn’t see books or typography as an art form at the time, but solely as communication. I knew they were beautiful and carefully illustrated, but I hadn’t put together just how lovely the typographic play was. Once I understood that typography didn’t just happen, and that it was a singular form of self-expression, I was hooked. Additionally, I had a childhood that stressed art, books, photography, science, and computers — so all these things came together and felt like a perfect fit when I discovered what the role of a designer really was.
Your typographic work has a unique language; it brings together a sense of poetry and music. What is the role of poetry and music in your visual work? I am especially referring to your typographic work entitled, ‘The Politics of Discontent.
Thank you. Music is probably the biggest love of mine, and I wish I read more poetry. When I was asked to contribute to The Politics of Discontent exhibit, curated by Andrew Maniotes, the only caveat for the exhibit was that the poster had to include the words “broken promises”. I designed the poster as follows: The verbiage on the right-hand side is a list of all the initiatives of the United Nations. The area where the type occurs is a typographic metaphor for the initiatives not being followed by other nations (which then fall out visually), the verbiage ends with the words “broken promises”. The red paint mark represents the blood that is spilled by nations that don’t follow mandates for peace.

The role of type and typography is very distinct in your work. You emphasize text rather than type. Do you intend to revert to your illustration period by creating texture? 
I don’t think of it as texture although I can see why it appears that way. I think I’m doing what any designer/artist does, and I’m playing with scale. If the verbiage was direct and in your face (to me at least) it would be an ad. And people don’t hang ads on their wall. So if you want to create a message that lingers in the viewer’s mind it should be lovely (or whatever adjective that connotes desire) as well. 
Your work takes advantage of modern-day typography and some form of geometry, in such works as Deconstructing Type and My Blunote, while being free and liberated within the Discontent of Politics exhibit poster. From where do these highly contradictory effects stem?
Are we entering the psychological evaluation phase of the interview here? (laughs) I think it’s a clear representation of who I am despite my wishes to convey the opposite. I grew up in Miami nestled between Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, South Beach, and the Keys. So, every memory is of being in the ocean with brilliant flashes of color and animals of all kinds around. Parrots, monitors, alligators, stingrays, flamingos, horses, manatee, and dolphins were daily encounters through swimming or just getting the morning papers. That coupled with the times before the internet made me free and brave... the geometry isn’t a profound relationship with math, but rather my OCD tendencies being firmly rooted (for which I take full responsibility.) My BlueNote Series is just a visual cerebral diatribe of the angst I experience when encountering what’s going on in the world. 
In your work there exists a clear overlap between art and design. Are we supposed to regard you as a visual artist or a designer and typographer, or both?
I don’t really think in terms of labels. I think when I approach a design solution it’s about everyone but me whereas fine art is just about me. So with a client, my first instinct is to address their needs and then come up with the proper solution in the appropriate medium with hopefully a highly crafted and original solution. I do think clients seek me out for the typographic or illustrative voice I offer which is fortunate as I’m particularly awful at chasing clients. (A very valuable skill so I’ve been told.)
Design for music, the fashion industry, luxury shoes, textiles… What projects are you currently working? 
I’m currently collaborating with SheVotes 100, which is an organization founded by Elizabeth Kiehner and Keith Olwell that celebrates the heroes of the suffrage movement and drives a sense of purpose and responsibility within citizens today. The goal is to have every female in the country registered to vote in the 2020 election. The poster I designed for SheVotes 100, which will be part of a traveling exhibit, is a visual metaphor. The names of the suffragettes are represented in the folds of the skirt, which represents not only the movement but the restricted atmosphere of both society and the garments women were forced (or expected) to wear.  Additionally, there were be an e-commerce site and a ground campaign to get out the vote. I’m also partnering with the brilliant Julie Anixter to start Jennifer Sterling Press which will allow my work in the form of posters, art, and product design to be privately purchased.

You have introduced yourself as a supporter of the environment, human rights, and social issues. What do you think is the most pressing human problem in the world today?
The most pressing issue is climate change, because if we don’t save Earth the other issues are a moot point. I’m pretty terrified that we may have reached the tipping point and am horrified by America’s current president and his position on this. 
Today’s world is faced with fast-changing technology. How do you think these changes will affect your design and your work as a designer?
I’ve always had a love affair with technology as most of my early clients were in Silicon Valley/San Francisco where I spent most of my life. I sort of have a “bring it on” approach to new technology as I enjoy every aspect of it. I guess I’m an “I can’t wait to live in the future” sort of person.

 1 Website of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI)

Majid Abbasi

is design director of Studio Abbasi active in the international community, based in Tehran and Toronto. He leads a variety of design projects for start-ups, non-profits and educational organizations worldwide. Majid actively contributes to the international design scene as an instructor, jury member, curator and writer. He has been editor-in-chief of Neshan, the leading Iranian graphic design magazine since 2010. Majid has been members of Iranian Graphic Designers Society (IGDS) since 1998 and Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) since 2009.


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