I’m going to be doing a set of lectures and workshops in Seoul at Hongik University alongside my VCFA compadres Ziddi Msangi and Yoon Soo Lee, as well as with Apple designer Min Bon and Hongik faculty Chris Ro next month. Some amazing posters for the event: this one by Chae Jeongun.

This one by Seungtae Kim.

This poster by Daekeon Kim.

This one by Hong Aerin.

…and finally this one by Jaekook Han. Really awesome set of posters!


Jon Chandler

While in Korea recently, I was asked who my favorite comic artist was after explaining to a bunch of grad students why they should really read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, even after it was assigned to them and they still hadn’t read it.

My answer: Jonathan Chandler.


CalArts X Kookmin University Workshop

Just returned to Tokyo, having finished up a week-long slice of the two-week CalArts X Kookmin University Graphic Design workshop.

CalArts X Kookmin

The workshop had MFA and BFA students of CalArts and Kookmin conduct joint research on Seoul as a focus via a series of cultural studies. The main area of inquiry was the crucial role of one’s cultural background for understanding/expressing verbal and visual languages.

CalArts X Kookmin University Workshop

Other aspects of the workshop schedule included lectures by me and CalArts faculty Michael Worthington, a film screening by CalArts alumnus and Kookmin faculty Kelvin Park, and a hybrid exhibition/pop-up studio by the CalArts students at Common Center called We Love to Design in the Sun.

Ian Lynam lecture

I gave a lecture entitled The Graphic Designers/Type Designers/Design Teachers That Graphic Design History Forgot about the work of Bavarian designers Eugen Nerdinger and Lisa Beck.

Giant thanks to Jiwon Lee, Jae Hyouk-Sung and Michael Worthington for inviting me to participate.




I have a new essay published in the book Creators’ Bookmarks 2 published by G Colon in Korea.

The essay is about desks, most notably the desks where I work.

An excerpt:

“I used to hack out ‘zines from a desk under my loft bed in Oakland, California. I had a really nice, expansive work area in an apartment in Portland, Oregon the first time I lived alone. I had another one in Shibuya a few years ago. I’ve had a lot of shitty desks between the two—dank ones in Los Angeles and Portland; cold, unfeeling ones in New York; bright and airy desks in Berkeley and Los Angeles. It’s a never-ending parade of places where I’ve worked.

But the ones where I’ve done my best work are the ones that were not desks at all—a lawn chair on a veranda and a family restaurant table, both in Tokyo, accompanied by sunshine and by really bad pizza (and never-ending refills). To fetishize the physical environs of the graphic design studio is to do it a disservice—most designers I know do not own their own homes. Their work areas are temporary—either at employers’ offices or in rented or leased properties. These are not the liminal spaces of dreams—they are the raw concrete of limited means. 

It’s an affront when we see the neat and tidy white-painted concrete box offices that are flouted in Graphic Design documentaries like Helvetica and in books like Unit Editions’ Studio Culture. The lone office semi-worth working in that I have spied via widely-disseminated media to date is Geoff McFetridge’s studio in the film Beautiful Losers. Why? Because it was a mess. It speaks of the nature of humanity and not trying to fit into the mold of wannabe-architects’ tidy Modulor boxes. That’s where I live and where I want to live.”



I spent the day in Los Angeles on May 16 at a study day at LACMA weighing in on how the museum might approach curating a collection of graphic design alongside graphic design luminaries Lorraine Wild (LACMA), Victor Margolin (University of Illinois / Design Issues), Andrew Blauvelt (Walker Art Center), Paola Antonelli (New York MoMA), Benjamin Weiss (Boston Museum of Fine Art), Marina Garone Gravier (National Hemerotec of Mexico), and many of the best design curators, critics, and historians working today.

I presented this timeline of Japanese Graphic Design History in my efforts to show how a Japanese Graphic Design collection might be given form through both the inclusion of Japanese graphic design periodicals, as well as providing touchstones for being comprehensive in assessing the canon of Japanese Graphic Design.

The timeline is very much a work-in-progress, but it’s helpful in helping to provide a rudimentary narrative of the history of Graphic Design in Japan.

Many thanks to Wendy Kaplan, Staci Steinberger, Britt Salvesen, Claudine Dixon, Minyoung Park, Lorraine Wild, and everyone at LACMA, as well as Anne Coco at the Margaret Herrick Library for organizing such a terrific event!

Photo by Victor Margolin


We had an excellent final class at Meme Design School this past weekend—tons of great work and excellent critiques by teachers Akiyama Shin, Shirai Yoshihisa, and Meme founder Nakagaki Nobuo.



I have an essay called “The Empire of Grey” in issue #23 of Slanted. This issue is all about Swiss typography. An excerpt:

In the introduction to the classic book Empire of Signs by Roland Barthes, the author summons forth a fictive landscape of signs and symbols without tangible connection to meaning within. It is a country where sign and meaning are divorced. A place whose language consists of intimation and suggestion, but never direct articulation—it is layers of overlaid shifting gauze of semiotic mystery and displacement in the stead of the absolute. He then goes on to name the place “Japan”. Within the book, he is both talking about the nation state of Japan and about the “Japan” that exists in his mind (as well as, in particular in the introduction to the book, an imagined, fictive other place which just happens to be saddled with the moniker “Japan”).

It’s both the second and third versions of “Japan” in this book that interest me, especially in the context of this essay—a place that as a global community, we retain a series of impressions of, stereotypes toward, and collective ideas about, even if we have never visited that place.While Japan may be exceedingly important to people studying semiotics and young people across a strata of interests across the world seeking their “otaku moment”, there is another simultaneously fictional and very, very real place that is firmly rooted in the minds of graphic designers… I name this place “Switzerland”.


Jennifer Renko, our amazing Program Director at VCFA will be in Boston next week for the HOW Conference. Be sure to swing through and say “‘hello” if you will be attending!


I contributed an essay to the new book 20th Century Editorial Odyssey compiled by Yuichi Akata and Barbora, collecting their writings on the development of the 20th Century subculture-focused independent press which was just published by Seibundo Shinkosha. The book is an amazing guided tour through some of the most engaging publications of the past 100 years including The Whole Earth Catalog, The Picture Newspaper, Now, Heaven, Zoo, and many, many more. From hippie magalogs to punk zines to high fashion glossies to doujinshi, the book charts a unique course through active readership and its affect on culture.

My essay focuses on Wet, the “Magazine of Gourmet Bathing”, published and steered by Leonard Koren in the 1970s and 1980s. It was previously published in Idea #352.


Ian Lynam Meme Design School

I did a lecture at Meme Design School yesterday on American Graphic Design History.

Road Trip lecture

The lecture was called “Road Trip” and was about social, economic, and graphic mobility in America, all framed by the windshield – America’s equivalent of the grid. Over the course of an hour-plus, I went over the tenets of American graphic design from the pre-Modern period to the Modern period to the PostModern period.

graphic design defined

First, we got down to brass tacks as to what this thing called “Graphic Design” really is, or at least how I define it.

While the historical aspect was great and introduced students to a number of designers they might have been previously unfamiliar with, perhaps the most important part of the lecture was helping to define the concepts of Modernism and PostModernism from an American perspective, heavily informed by R. Roger Remington’s book American Modernism. These ideas are things that many undergraduate and post-graduate graphic design students stumble over.

Modernism defined, Part 1: Process Values 


- to reject traditional forms and decorative elements
- 伝統的な形式と装飾の要素を拒絶する

- to seek a solution that was simple and direct
- 簡潔で単刀直入な解決法を探す

- to be concerned with the process by which the designer worked
- デザイナーが使ったプロセスの成り行きを意識する

- to use systematic methods rather than intuitive ones
- 直感よりも、秩序と体系に基づいた方法を使う

- to use rational, objective approaches to the solving of a graphic problem
- グラフィックデザインの問題を解決する際、合理的で客観的なアプローチを使う

- to think about relationships in form and content
- 形式と内容の関係について考える

Modernism defined, part 2: Formal visual values 


- to use geometric shapes: the circle, the triangle and the square
- 幾何学的な形を使う:円、正三角形、正四角形

Interestingly, one of the facts rarely mentioned in the mythos of the Bauhaus was how notoriously sexist the school was—women were denied instruction in architecture, graphic design and product design and were instead relegated to the field of textile design. (In essence, the message from the Bauhaus to its female students was, “Nice tits, now go weave”.)


Modernism defined, part 3: Typography 


- to use sans serif typefaces
- サンセリフ体を使う

- to show contrast in typographical material
- タイポグラフィ間のコントラストをつける

- to base work on pragmatic issues printing, paper sizes, photo engraving, standardization
- プリント技術、紙のサイズ、写真製版、標準化などの実用性を念頭において作業する

Modernism defined, part 4: Imagery


- The use of photographs and photomontage rather than drawings or illustrations
- スケッチやイラストよりも写真やモンタージュを使う

- The use of silhouetted photographs with white backgrounds
- 白い背景のシルエット写真を使う

- The use of maps and diagrams
- 案内図と略図を使う

- The use of graphic symbols and icons
- 図記号とアイコンを使う

Modernism defined, part 5: Organization


- the use of asymmetric page layout
- 非対称のページレイアウトを使う

- The use of a grid or clearly delineated page-organizing method
- 方眼紙やしっかりと線引きされたページでまとめる

- to apply a planned visual hierarchy in the manner in which the graphic elements were integrated
- グラフィック要素を総括した方法をもとに考えられたビジュアル階層を適用する

- to know and apply perceptual laws (I.e. Keeping elements grouped)
- 知覚の法則を知り、適用する(要素をグループ分けする)

- to apply continuity in page flow
- ページフローの継続性を適用する

This was all backed-up by looking at a survey of American Modern designers like Cipe Pineles and Louis Danziger (their work pictured above), and ran the gamut from Paul Rand to Alvin Lustig to William Golden to Saul Bass, including a large selection of work by European immigrants’ work, including Will Burtin, Alexey Brodovitch, Dr. M.F. Agha, and innumerable others.

We also got into Lorraine Wild’s concepts about graphic design in the 1950s being split into two fairly discernible camps: consumer modern, graphic design which aggressively targeted the general public; and high modern, which was the business of selling design itself to corporations and potential clients.

rob roy kelly

We went over developments in graphic design in the 1960s and 1970s, as well, including the work of Aaron Burns, Pushpin Studios, Rob Roy Kelly, and the psychedelic poster movement in San Francisco, including each of these practitioners’ contextual relevance and impact in terms of graphic design in Japan.

This was followed by an explanation of the development of PostModern graphic design, starting with the introduction of the term in the 1977 exhibition, “postmodern typography: recent American developments” organized by Bill Bonnell.

PostModernism defined, part one: Principles


- complexity

- contradiction

- dystopian / non-utopian / deals with the world on its own terms

- appropriation

PostModernism defined, part two: Principles


 - juxtaposition / fractured meaning

- recontextualization

- layering

- interaction of text and image

- hybridity

These ideas were supplemented by a survey of American PostModernist work – from Dan Friedman to Ed Fella, and April Greiman to Lorraine Wild.

From there, I explained the devolution of the inquiries of semiotics and experimentation as a basis of studio practice as instigated at the Cranbrook Academy of Art into the dumbed-down “grunge” aesthetic as exemplified by the work of David Carson, through American graphic designers’ interest into systems-based design, and into the contemporary moment in American graphic design.

The past 13 years have been characterized by a mix of previous graphic styles. Most American graphic design can be summarized as “a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll”. Expressive formal experimentation is often accompanied by retro typographic treatments, and occasionally underpinned by a modern grid.

I summed up the state of graphic design in the U.S. of A. in this final statement:

“It seems that the time for dogma graphic design is over in America—there is just a stretch of infinite highway out in front of us, and simultaneously everywhere and nowhere to go at once, all framed by the windshield.”

Ian Lynam Meme Design School

Afterward, the students participated in a workshop I called “Looking Through the Windshield” about the analysis of spatial hierarchy, and how we can translate that hierarchy from a photograph to a typographic composition.

Ian Lynam Meme Design School

Loosely based on Jeffery Keedy of CalArts’ first two steps of his “1-10 Project”, the students used a numeric hierarchy to evaluate provided imagery and then use Letraset dry transfer lettering, Formatt adhesive lettering, and lettering stencils to create poetic typographic interpretations of their hierarchy.

Ian Lynam Meme Design School

All-in-all, it was a really rewarding day followed up by a lengthy chat with many of the students over coffee at a nearby café – the whole experience was the perfect introduction to teaching at Meme – a good mix of ideas and hands-on synthesis of what was discussed in class.