Hand-drawn typography this weekend with The MVA and Northern Spark

Don’t know what you’re doing this weekend? We figured it out part of it for you.

9AM–12:30PM: The MVA Studio for “The Illustrated Letter”

Illustration by Zachary Keenan

Illustration by Zachary Keenan

We still have some spots left for our first workshop at The MVA Studio’s sunny workspace in NE Minneapolisa morning of hand-drawn type exploration with MVA partner and MCAD faculty Zachary Keenan (Namdev will be on TA/hype-man duties). Zach’s work has been seen in Mike Perry’s best-selling Hand Job: A Catalog of Type, on advertising for the Star Tribune and Vita.MN, and on his ever updated Tumblr.

Registration is $75 (save $10 each if you sign up with a friend or bundle it with Namdev’s Experimental Alphabets workshop on 6/28) and includes coffee and pastries. Sign up now.

10–11PM: Public Acts of Drawing at Northern Spark

Mock-up of the Public Acts of Drawing projection

Mock-up of the Public Acts of Drawing projection

You’re probably going to Northern Spark anyway, right? From 10–11PM, Namdev and Zach will join our friends in Makeshit and anyone else who walks by to produce a collaborative typographic drawing to be projected 9 stories high on the Hotel Ivy in Downtown Minneapolis. Namdev will be hauling out his crate of Letraset to put the final nail in the coffin of his 2001 Ebay-haul. For the full night of Public Acts of Drawing programming, vist Makeshit.

Namdev’s ever-dwindling stash of rub-down lettering will be yours for the abusing at Northern Spark

Namdev’s ever-dwindling stash of rub-down lettering will be yours for the abusing at Northern Spark

Let’s make some words together.

Summer 2014 classes at MCAD now open

We’ve been so busy planning classes that we forget to tell you about them! In any case,  here’s the Summer 2014 line-up with classes in typography, graphic design and marketing as well as our first two independently organized workshops at the studio.

So, first, classes at The MVA (coffee and pastries will be served):


Classes at MCAD

Developing a Visual Identity (6 sessions)

Starts Monday, June 9th! Registration closes June 5th so act now.

A visual identity is more than nice‐looking words on business cards or a website; an effective visual identity can tell a story about a business's working methods and core values. Done correctly, a strong visual identity should be part of a larger communications strategy for getting clients, sales, connections and exposure. This six‐week class will take students through the process of revising a brand and identity, or starting one from scratch.

Schedule: Mondays, 6:30–9:30pm; June 9–July 14
Instructor: Namdev Hardisty
Non-Credit Tuition: $210 

More information and financial aid opportunities here.

Intro to Graphic Design (10 sessions)

Starts Monday, June 9th! Registration closes June 5th so, again, act now.

Graphic design is everywhere. From t‐shirts to posters, traffic signs to logos, graphic design is used to visually communicate an idea, a message, or a statement. Students in this class will explore graphic design as a practice and learn to put to work the concepts and principles of design.

Schedule: Mondays, 6:30–9:30pm; June 9–August 11 
Instructor: Zach Keenan 
Non-Credit Tuition: $380.00  
1 Credit Tuition: $750.00

More information and financial aid opportunities here.

Intro to Typography (10 sessions)

Starts Thursday, June 12th! Registration closes June 9th so you’ve got a minute but not much more.

It's one thing to make a message legible—clear to another person and beautifully typeset (meaning how the letters have been arranged)—but quite another to render that message so that it has emotional and aesthetic qualities. The ability to do so is grounded in a thorough understanding of the history of typography. In this class, students will learn how to do just that. They will explore the development of typography and then apply what they've discovered to an engaging series of assignments and projects.

Schedule: Thursdays, 6:30–9:30pm; June 12–August 14
Instructor: Namdev Hardisty
Non-Credit Tuition: $380.00
1 Credit Tuition: $750.00

More info and FAQ here.

Stealing from Start-ups: Marketing Strategy Workshop (2 night intensive)

This is not another class about how to use social media for business promotion. Rather, students in this class will investigate the ideas that have built multiple billion dollar tech brands and thus far, have evaded traditional marketers, small businesses, and solo entrepreneurs. 

Terms like Growth Hacking, Lean Development, and Product/Market Fit may seem like Silicon Valley buzzwords, but in reality these ideas offer an approach to marketing and business design that may be most helpful to the kinds of businesses burgeoning creative entrepreneurs run—small, boot‐strapped, and flexible. Over two nights, students will be introduced to the ideas behind start‐up success stories like Twitter and Instagram but more importantly, will discuss how these strategies have been appropriated by artists, designers, and traditional marketers.

Schedule: Wednesday, July 2nd & July 9th; 6:30 PM–9:30 PM 
Instructor: Namdev Hardisty 
Non-Credit Tuition: $76.00

Registration closes June 30th. Go here to register.

Typography Bootcamp (2-day intensive workshop)

Typographic Score by Carol D. in Namdev Hardisty’s Typography Bootcamp, Summer 2013.

Typographic Score by Carol D. in Namdev Hardisty’s Typography Bootcamp, Summer 2013.

Designers rarely have the opportunity to focus on typography without having to worry about brand standards and client tastes. This workshop was created especially for professional designers looking to get back to their roots (though it will also serve the novice designer quite nicely) through an immersive and fast-paced experience exploring typography as both image and text.

During the first session, students will shake loose the functional aspect of typography and explore the letter as an abstract symbol and design element through a series of expressive projects that are all made by hand (don’t worry—no drawing required!). In the second session, you’ll return to the basics of typography by focusing purely on hierarchy, information-flow, and composition, and the myriad ways they affect communication and reading.

Final Hierarchy Study by Kat C. in Namdev Hardisty’s Typography Bootcamp, 2013.

Hierarchy Study 1 using only 1 typeface in a single size by Carol D. in Namdev Hardisty’s Typography Bootcamp, 2013.

By the end of the workshop, students will have re-kindled their passions for typography and will have new insights to bring back to their work

Schedule: Saturday, July 19th & July 26th; 9 AM–3 PM (with 1-hour lunch break)
Instructor: Namdev Hardisty 
Non-Credit Tuition: $114.00

Registration closes July 15th but its a small (and awesome class) so do it now.

#tbt: Minneapolis 55408 exhibition poster, 2004

My briefs at Intermedia Arts almost always said “Budget: $0.” This meant I would be running off laser-prints and if I wanted to get fancy then I would use colored paper. This bored the hell out of me so I would do whatever I could to make things more interesting. In this instance, I screenprinted 16x20" posters on random construction paper that we had at the office. I don’t remember how many we did (I know I have 2 posters in my collection) but they were almost all on different colors (the yellow and green on black was doooope). While it was mostly a gesture of economy I did like the idea the multiple colors reflected an idea of diversity.

The graphics came from walking around the 55408 zipcode and picking up random stuff on the ground—leaves, metal scraps, mesh; the unappreciated residents of the area if you will. I photocopied my treasures and then, for reasons that escape me, I traced the photocopies by hand and scanned them in order to design with.

My friend Randy Larsen started a band called Cable way back in that magical time known as 1994. When people asked him what they sounded like he’d say “We’re a bad Hoover rip-off.” When I showed this poster to Dan Black before we printed it I told him “Here’s my bad Non-Format rip-off.”

Digging in the Crates, Volume 1

We keep filing bins, magazine boxes and 3-ring binders full of printed ephemera and scrap bits of paper, often for no other reason than “huh, weird”. Here’s 5 things from the crates.


1. MCAD Details magazine, Designer: Jan Jancourt, 2002

Why do I keep it around? Sure, there’s the nostalgia factor of keeping things from my time at MCAD but the real reason is the masterful post-Constructivist design. There’s an underlying structure that you can see best throughout the elements that have been centered to anchor each page but the magic is in the internal logic of how different chunks of typography and blocks of color interact. This is so good that there are parts of it that look bad (I’m not a fan of the cover or the Helvetica) but are undeniably working. Also, check out how the color overlays the photos to create this strange sense of depth. This is genius and I wish I had kept more of these.

2. Women With Vision: Amid Chaos program, Designer: Scott Ponik (Walker Art Center), 2005

Swiss Typography is like air. It’s still so prevalent that we take it for granted that it isn’t just basic graphic design. This catalog may not use a classic International Style typeface like Univers or Helvetica but its a masterclass in utilizing a grid, 2 colors and a minimalist type approach (1 typeface at 1 size) to create a dynamic, rhythmic read. The full floods of color work really well to create visual drama.

3. American Tableaux publications, Designer: Walkert Art Center, 2002

The Walker Art Center produced this series of publications during the American Tableaux exhibition. Each one had a theme based off a piece of art with a short story and a critical statement by a Walker curator. Apparently I have 2 of these, Fortune and Beauty.

4. Corbis mailer, Designer: Segura, Inc., 2005

Precise technical Modernist typography. That’s why I keep this.

5. MCAD/McKnight Artists 2004–2005 catalog, Designer: Emily CM Anderson, 2002

This thing is goddamn perfect. I’m still jealous of it. The informal collage style photo arrangements and over-printing are balanced by a delicate binding, bookish typography, metallic ink and the interplay of papers (images are printed on high-gloss coated stock and text on textured uncoated sheet).

What I’m Doing When I Design

Graphic design is a lot of things. For me, it’s a form of story-telling.

I know people who can get the name of a company and what it does and have 3 logos for that company done by the end of the day. These logos will have a concept, be aesthetically-pleasing, and be considered “appropriate” for the company’s industry. A win all-around.

I hate people who do this. Actually, I like the people, I just hate what they do.

I hate it because their logo is not about the company, the way it works, what it believes or its history. The logo is simply a reference to the industry the company works in. This is not good enough for me.

When I design a logo it should contain some element of truth about the company or the individuals involved. It should tell a story. I don’t mean a story in the sense of some over-wrought illustration of a chef in front of a background that’s half cityscape (to reflect “urban refinement”) and half-country (locally-sourced ingredients) but a story in the sense that each element—symbols, color, quality of line, typeface, visual style—is a visualization of an idea about the content (the content being a company in this case). I confess that I don’t always care if a casual viewer doesn’t pick up on the story as long as we (me and my client) believe in the story and what we’ve created. 

I’ve worked with designers whose research consists of browsing blogs and Pinterest and grabbing things willy-nilly. They’ll then reconfigure all this “scrap” and make something beautiful. Chances are their work is way more beautiful than mine. But I hate their work, too. 

A simple design transformed by process—an interpretation of curatorial intent of a group exhibition. What Remains flyer, 2010. Art Direction & design: Namdev Hardisty & Kimberlee Whaley; Illustration: John Vogt

A simple design transformed by process—an interpretation of curatorial intent of a group exhibition. What Remains flyer, 2010. Art Direction & design: Namdev Hardisty & Kimberlee Whaley; Illustration: John Vogt

I don’t have a problem with references. I just don’t get why you wouldn’t try to tell a story with those references. When I work with The Soap Factory we have a shared love of Joy Division designer Peter Saville’s work for Factory Records and Swiss Typography (that stripped down Helvetica-driven aesthetic of the 1960s and into the late 70s). No one whose seen the work would be surprised by this but the first layer of every project we do with them is a story about the content whether it be the curatorial intent or threads that connect the artists work. We could execute that story in a number of styles but we tend to come back to these minimal movements because that’s a story about us. We (The MVA and The Soap Factory, especially Ben the Executive Director) have faith in that work so we inscribe it in the surface.

Haunted Basement poster research board on Pinterest

When we conduct research its purposeful—we want the first image search to based off an idea. For The Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement poster we knew the content we wanted to focus on—1) a reference to hallways in the event with people trapped or hiding behind fabric walls, and 2) prison showers (when we began the project there was to be a “scene” utilizing group showers) but visually we wanted it to be about horror posters. So we researched them. Through our research we started to find different genres of posters that “felt” right for the Haunted Basement. Then we started looking for “institutional typography” because the event had an abuse-of-power theme. The type that we ended up producing was not what I had in mind when I first started searching for images but I saw a dialogue between some of the movie posters and the typography of hospitals. Our poster is a multi-layered story. There’s a thread about the Haunted Basement. An idea about perception. A homage to 1960s and 1970s movie posters. An observation about institutional typography and Dirty Harry and Rosemary’s Baby. And, of course, its a story about us—what grabs our eye and what we chose to take.

Escpaing or coming for you? “Haunted Basement poster, 2013. Art Direction & concept: Namdev Hardisty; Photography and illustration: Jordan B. Anderson

Escpaing or coming for you? “Haunted Basement poster, 2013. Art Direction & concept: Namdev Hardisty; Photography and illustration: Jordan B. Anderson

When I design (when I’m doing it right) I am taking a piece of content and finding a perspective on it that I can turn into an image. All I’m doing is writing a story. And I don’t understand how you can write a story without understanding your characters, their motivations and the world they occupy.

A story about the relationship between curator and artist and a homage to 60s psychology book covers. Resonating Bodies poster, 2013. Art Direction: Namdev Hardisty; Illustration and typography: Timothy Cronin

You can design without doing this. You can make everything you produce look the same regardless of the content (this is known as having a style). You can make each package you design look exactly like those it shares a shelf with (or making it visually appropriate). You can make your poster a mishmash of everything you’re into right now. These are all legitimate and time-tested approaches to design. I just don’t get why you wouldn’t want to say something that can only come from the combination of you and the content at hand. 

I wouldn’t feel right doing it any other way.


Namdev Hardisty is co-founder of The MVA Studio and author of Function, Restraint & Subversion in Typography (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011). You can find more of his writing on design and process at Medium.

10 Things You Should do Before You Hire a Graphic Designer

A guide to make working with a designer easier by Namdev.

“Anyone who has had to hire a graphic designer more than once (or more than one) has been disappointed. At some point you will get results you’re less than stoked on. I’m lucky that I’ve never had to hire a straight up stranger in a pinch to design a major project BUT I have been the designer that disappointed someone. While I’m happy to take the blame for things I did wrong like being late, poor communication or causing typos, there’s a trend I see in the disappointed people—I was the first or second designer they had worked with and they had no idea what to expect or their expectations were based on one experience that went dreamily. I’ve got ideas on how to not get caught in this situation in the future but here’s some strategies for not being disappointed by the process *in general* for those of you who might need to hire a designer (especially if you have limited experience with designers)...”

Srini and James have gotten me excited about using Facebook as a writing platform. Follow me for more.

Forget social. Focus on media.

I tried to get a former client back this year. They fired us awhile back. We deserved it. 

They have a visibility problem. Their search rankings are terrible and when they are mentioned on social media channels (especially YouTube) they aren’t the beneficiary of any of that traffic. So I sent them a list of 10 things that I thought they could do both online and offline. I even offered for us to do the work on their behalf (hell, I may have said we’d do it for free just to prove a point).

I thought we might get them back for a minute but then I got this email:

“I'm just not the guy to get with Tumblr, The Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and folks blogging. I sort of loathe all of that. I’m more of a one-on-one guy. My marketing plan is me getting in front of people and showing them our cool site and [portfolio]. It’s been working great, and seems to be bringing in the business we need. Short of that we send out an email newsletter once in a while. But I think those things are white noise in this cluttered Attention Deficit Disorder world we live in.

    …You will never see me reading a blog or sending some blogger information about [our company]. I will never have a Facebook account, and I’ve closed the one we used to have for [the company]. I truly believe it’s time to get back to the basics of communication. One person standing in front of another and talking. It’s what I’m best at. And it’s what I like most. So I’m a lost cause to your great ideas. I’m old school, and I’m planning on staying old school.”

If I had the energy or grit or something I would have pushed back on this but I had other stuff going on and it was hot out, so I just sent a polite “Thanks for your candor, I can really respect your position” email. I’m pretty sure I meant it at the time.

But in retrospect I don’t respect his position at all.

First, let’s ignore for a second that blogs and podcasts have quite honestly changed my life and my worldview on more than one occasion and to just toss them out the window with Twitter is ridiculous. And let’s ignore that blogs and podcasts aren’t even close to a fringe media outlet at this point and we’ll ignore that they are obviously the present and foreseeable future of news media.

My former client is shooting himself in the foot on 3 fronts:

1. A fundamental denial of the “cluttered Attention Deficit Disorder world we live in” or, what I like to call reality. There is a new media landscape and by refusing to understand this landscape as an individual, he is refusing to participate in it as a brand. And this is a problem because his company sells a service that is used in moving media. How can you spot new opportunities to grow your business if you’re ignoring the fastest growing part of your market? YouTube and other channels are natural environments for your product and by pretenting that they don’t exist you deprive yourself of the ability to take any kind of a lead. Never mind that you do your clients a disservice by refusing to understand the changes that affect their distribution.

2. He’s missing the “social” part of social media. He’s doing one thing correctly which is that he’s getting himself, his brand and his work in front of actual human beings and that can’t be discounted. But his dismissal of social media means that he is missing out on a simple and easy way to cement and grow those relationships. He thinks social media is all about “likes” and that its this casual, shallow way for teenagers and morons to communicate with each other while hiding. And often it is. 

But he’s a self-professed “one-on-one guy” and Facebook alone would allow him to amplify those relationships. When have you ever asked someone that you just met, “When is your birthday?” You don’t do it because its weird and it would be off-putting since the person would know you’re up to something and they’d get awkward about it. But Facebook automatically wants you to know when someone’s birthday is coming up because they want you to engage with other people on the site. You could just add a “Happy Birthday” to their Timeline like everyone else but you could also use this information to do what other people won’t do—like call the person up the week before and say “Hey, I want to buy you a piece of cake for your birthday. Are you free on Thursday for lunch?” (actually, I’m going to start doing this). You couple this with LinkedIn and you have a basic CRM and research tool that would allow to build on face-to-face contact. 

The point of the IRL meeting is to show a genuine interest in the people you’re meeting with. Its a way of saying “I really value you what you do and its so important that an email is not enough.” So if you have easy access to information that they want to share with you why wouldn’t you take advantage of it? What would you rather hear when meeting someone on a Monday morning after a particularly trying weekend—“Hey Jamie, good to see you. How’s things?” or “Jamie, before we get into business I just want to say how sorry I am to hear that you had to put your dog down. How are the kids taking it?”. One is small talk, the other is you giving a shit about your friends. 

And there’s the social aspect when it comes to fans. If I search for his business on YouTube and Tumblr I honestly get a bit jealous because there are people who are passionate about what his company does. These people are talking about his company and their work with no prompting whatsoever from anyone else. If he turned on the TV right now, and the local news gave his company 15 seconds of attention, he’d call them up and thank them for it while also trying to get that relationship to the next level. Well, there are people all over the web talking, giving him more than 15 seconds of attention and all it would take is a few comments along the lines of “Wow, thanks for the compliment. Its great to know that our work is so loved.” to amplify that goodwill.

3. He’s missing the media part. Too focused on the social (“Likes” and “Loves”, etc) and not enough on the holy-shit-someone-built-tools-that-allow-you-to-get-attention-for-free part. Right now, his business could take advantage of Soundcloud, YouTube, Vimeo and Tumblr for publishing work as well as a number of industry-blogs. Their presence on these channels would dramatically change search results as well as give an impression that his company is everywhere. And you want people to think you’re everywhere because then you start to seem larger-than-life, your cachet improves, and if you really seem like you’re everywhere then off-line media will notice.

If someone came to you and said “Here’s a TV station. Do whatever you want with it.”, you wouldn’t respond with “I don’t watch TV” you’d take advantage of the opportunity to make things and get attention. The new marketing is precisely that. “So, here’s a TV channel. We’ve also got a radio station for you. Oh, would you like a news channel, too? We’ve got plenty.” I mean, if you were to take anything from this article, make it this: fuck social and focus on the media. Focus on the free media. Focus on the fact that most of it sucks and even you are only average you’re still in a better position than most businesses. Focus on the fact that if you’re amazing (and my former client’s business is amazing) then you can really move the dial.

Like I said, I don’t have the energy to argue with him. Great clients are often demanding and opinionated which can be a force for doing quality work but not so fun if you’re trying to change an opinion. But maybe you or someone you know is struggling with these opinions. Maybe you can let me inside your brain to say “Stop acting like you’re a hundred years old and get with the program. Stop making excuses and take advantage of opportunities you would have killed for 10 years ago.”