Aswin Sadha: In 1965, you also traveled to Japan. A year after Art Treasures from Japan was published, was there any coincidence?
Louis Danziger: I was first in Japan in 1945 during my last few months of military service. I was stationed in Tokyo and although the city was decimated I found the people and the culture very simpatico.
I returned to Japan for six weeks in 1965 supervising the printing of the Art Treasures of Japan catalog. During those six weeks I had the opportunity to experience Japanese art, architecture and culture at its best. Helped by the Ministry of Education who was involved in the exhibition I was able to visit many of Japan’s best sites in Kyoto, even some off limits to the general public. It was a great unequalled experience. Also at that time, one of my clients in Los Angeles was a distributor and agent for several of the large camera and lens companies so there were also people from that industry who entertained me royally and took me through many other wonderful experiences in Tokyo and elsewhere. Because my reputation as a designer was by now quite established I was able to make connections easily with some of the luminaries in the Japanese design world with whom I had some wonderful lunches and discussions. I made some lasting friends and learned a great deal during those six weeks. Later, probably around 1985, I began to go to Japan with some frequency as I had become a consultant to a large Japanese advertising agency as well as to a group of Japanese art schools in Tokyo and Osaka. That lasted for about 15 years.
AS: You take photography by yourself for the project. Did you take all the images for the book as well ?
LD: No I did not take any of the photographs in that book. In that book as in all the museum catalogs I have designed, the photographs are always supplied by the museum and one has very little control of either the quality or even choice of photographs. You only control how they are presented. Sometimes you can control the sequence, sometimes that is determined by the curators who author the catalog. They may prefer for example that the work be shown chronologically or by artist or other factors and those decisions of course need to be incorporated in your plan for the design. Often even within very strict limitations I can find a way to make the catalog better through the use of visual pacing where I will enlarge a detail for emphasis, or perhaps by the way I might juxtapose certain images but the material, that is the text as well as the photographs or other illustrations are always a given. If I have an opportunity to use my own photos it is only on the cover of the catalog which often is like a small poster designed to attract the viewer to the book.
AS: Do you have any favorite project? Could you tell us the design process for this project?
LD: I don’t have any favorite projects. I judge the value of the project by how well I feel I have solved the particular problem. If I solved it well I like it and if does not succeed in doing that I do not like it. Of course there are some pieces I particularly like because I feel that for some reason I have solved the problem especially well but there are ( I must immodestly say) so many of them I can’t say which are my favorites.
AS: You also taught at the Art Center School for quite sometime, what are the differences of design education before compared with today?
LD: I have been teaching design students at Art Center College of Design and other schools including Chouinard Art Institute, Cal Arts and Harvard University for over 60 years. It is difficult to answer a question such as yours briefly. I would simply say the following; the percentage of very good students, adequate and mediocre students seem to remain fairly consistent over the years. Levels of motivation change more dramatically and are related to economic and societal conditions.
I think earlier students were generally more independent thinkers whereas as the years have passed students have become much more group sensitive in their behavior. Major changes have occurred as a result of digital technology. There was a time when the person with hand skills had a distinct edge over those less skillful. Consequently many schools paid a great deal of attention in developing an fostering those skills. With the ease of computer assisted production this is no longer true and the edge is now in creative and conceptual areas. Schools have now shifted to those concerns.
AS: After dozens years of experiences could you please let us know a piece of advice for students?
LD: For the students, many years ago I wrote something in a response to this question of advice for students. It has been reprinted in many places but it is the advice I would still give and so I will repeat it here:
When I was asked by a Japanese publication what advice I would give to design students, I said I would write only 3 words.
Those are: Work – Think – Feel.
Since the editor was not content with an article of only 3 words I was asked to flesh it out a bit by indicating why I have chosen those 3 words. Here it is.
No matter how brilliant, talented, exceptional and wonderful the student may be, without work there is nothing but potential and talk. Although observing and listening may be helpful, one learns by doing. Learning is an active process! I have never known a successful designer who was not a worker and the best students always seem to be those that work a great deal. It seems clear therefore, that work is an essential ingredient of accomplishment.
Design is a problem solving activity. I take this to mean the use of intelligence and knowledge to achieve a desired end. Thinking is the application of that intelligence to arrive at the appropriate solution to the problem or to evaluate it if arrived at intuitively. I cannot conceive of the design process without thought.
3. Feel Work without feeling, intuition, spontaneity, is devoid of humanity. Feelings are the bridges we use to connect to each other, one to the other. So there is my advice – work – think – feel !
I am a great believer in authenticity. Each designer must find their own voice and path. It is the only way to have any sense of fulfillment and gratification in one’s work.
AS: At last, there are dozens of definition of design. Could you tell us how do you define design?
LD: I think that good graphic design is the appropriately expressive embodiment of content.
That is as concise a definition as I have.
I think of graphic design as a problem solving activity, it is always purposeful and I believe that the problem is best solved by using means that are indigenous to the problem. I see design as being in the service of content and the content and context of the problem generally dictates the solutions to the problem.