Nimble creatives kick off Design Conversations series at W Minneapolis The Foshay

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August 17, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
It’s hard to make a career in media and communications these days without going broke. Or insane. Or both. Just ask the laid-off graphic designer who’s piecing together freelance work. Or the analytics-obsessed blogger trying to wring money from his website. Or the big-agency communicator trying to blast her client’s message through the new media noise. Or — well, you get the point.

With a down economy and a media landscape more fragmented than ever, the design and communication fields are navigating some tricky growing pains. So why not pick the brains of top experts who’ve successfully rolled with the punches? A new lecture series hosted at W Minneapolis ¬– The Foshay seeks to do just that. Through November, the Downtown hotel will host conversations with “top thought-leaders in the areas of visual arts, brand identity and design.”

The series kicks off this Thursday with Kit Hinrichs and Delphine Hirasuna, the creative collaborators behind @Issue: Journal of Business and Design.

From the press release: “Founded in 1995, @Issue is dedicated to communicating how quality design contributes to business success. With print circulation at 100,000, @Issue is part of the marketing curriculum in some of the most prestigious MBA programs and design schools across the U.S. In April 2009, it was launched as an online blog under the url atissuejournal.com.”

The two have also collaborated on a number of books. The most recent, “The Art of Gaman,” about arts and crafts produced in Japanese internment camps in America during World War II, has become a traveling museum exhibit up currently at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

We recently got in touch with Hirsuna over email, hoping to trade thoughts about the current state of media. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

DTJ: So you’re a writer. And Kit comes from a graphic design background. Can you give us a sense of your respective professional paths?

Hirasuna: The title for our talk, “Transitions and Progressions,” emerged out of a discussion of how we have made a lot of changes and adjustments over the 40+ years of our career. For the past 23 years, Kit was a partner in the international design firm Pentagram, heading the San Francisco office.

Although Kit has always run his own design studio, either as a partner or head of his own firm, his assignments involved working for hundreds of companies and industries, from luxury cruise lines to forest products companies to film studios to banks. His assignments have taken him to virtually every continent in the world, except Antarctica.

My career path started in newspapers working for the San Francisco Chronicle. From there, I moved to a national financial public relations firm, then to a corporation as a communications manager. I left my salaried job in 1985 to become an editorial consultant to corporations.

At this point in our careers, both Kit and I want to enjoy the luxury of pursuing projects that we feel passionate about. We want the freedom to do what we love even if it isn’t the highest paying project out there.

DTJ: As a writer, what made you steer away from journalism and toward communications/PR?

Hirasuna: I moved into corporate communications back in my 20s because I decided that temperamentally I wasn’t suited to work for a daily newspaper. Corporate jobs paid better, and as editor of a corporate magazine, I had more authority to shape editorial content and direct the look and feel of the entire publication. Especially as a young newspaper reporter, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. Over the years, I have served as editor of several corporate publications, wrote dozens of corporate annual reports, and met hundreds of fascinating people all over the country […]

I started out planning to become a reporter because growing up on a farm during the 1960s, I thought that if you wanted to write there were only two choices: be a fiction writer or a journalist. It wasn’t until later that I learned that there was such a field as corporate communications. In the early ‘90s, few people ever heard of the concept of web design or web content managers or writing for the web. So, my point is don’t get fixated on the mechanics of your job; that will change for sure. Focus on the skill, the ideas and concepts, the knowledge that will allow you to transfer your talent and your interest to whatever new technology comes along.

DTJ: Times are tough for creatives. Locally, some very talented people on both the design and writing side are having trouble finding jobs, instead piecing together freelance and contract projects. Some with agency jobs have chosen to leave voluntarily to embark on their own ventures, citing lack of satisfaction and creative restrictions. Is there simply less of a role for full-time creatives today? Is it still worth it for young people to vie for jobs in agencies? Or should they just go full-steam toward entrepreneurship?

Hirasuna: Yes, we are living in difficult economic times, and jobs are scarce, but I think the greatest upheaval that we in communications are facing is the sea change as we adjust to the digital age.

We are getting a sense of what blacksmiths must have felt like when people began buying Model T’s rather than re-shoeing their horses. Proactive blacksmiths didn’t bemoan the lack of horseshoe jobs, but thought about ways they could transfer their skills to other types of metalworking. This is a bump (a big one) in the road for those of us in the communications field, but it is also an opportunity to reexamine why we got into the profession, what we want out of it. That’s the part to develop and hang onto.

If you’re young, you think that nothing like this has ever happened before. But talk to designers who entered the field before the introduction of the Macintosh and Adobe software. They will tell you that every design firm had huge production departments doing “paste-up” by hand. That has all gone away. This isn’t the first generation to face major changes. I guess what we mean by transitions and progression is that you have to leave yourself open to change, either because what you thought was right for you no longer is or because the tide has shifted on you.

Kit majored in Advertising at Art Center [in Los Angeles]. That’s because Graphic Design did not exist as a profession or a major then. People who did roughly what graphic designers do today were called Commercial Artists.

Neither Kit nor I left the direction we chose in college, we just tailored it to our interests and the opportunities that presented themselves.

DTJ: So are entrepreneurial projects the key to success these days?

Hirasuna: That we don’t know. We do believe that there is always room for a good idea. It’s important to be idea-driven and innovative. If you hang on too rigidly to the status quo or believe it’s always been that way so it has to be that way, you will get left behind.

Hirsuna and Hinrichs’ talk, “Transition and Progressions,” happens this Thursday at the W, 821 Marquette Ave. Tickets are $25 for AIGA members, $35 for nonmembers and $20 for students. To reserve a spot, visit aigaminnesota.org.

“Design Conversations” benefits Twin Cities’ The Brand Lab, a nonprofit established to create opportunities in the marketing industry for students with diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.