I left Montreal a bit earlier than usual for the holidays this year, heading to Toronto to see the family, and also to reconnect with a couple of friends running local design studios I greatly admire. Despite the Toronto-Montreal rivalry, I have to admit Toronto is an inspiring city, full of hustle, and it was great to see what these studios were working on and what they’ve accomplished in the realm of social change/social justice design in what must be a very challenging context.
I first stopped off to visit Studio Jaywall, whom we collaborated with last year on our Reading/Writing the Junction project. Jay’s been working on a lot of initiatives related to urbanism and public civic engagement. We chatted about ways to possibly collaborate, and how our studios approached the idea of socially engaged design practice in very different, but complementary ways. One thing that also came up was the real challenge of maintaining a creative engagement in our projects, when so much energy is required in the management of running a studio.
Later, I had drinks with Sheila Sampath of the Public Studio. As usual our conversations spiralled between TV shows, self-care, teaching, bureacracy, precarity, studio structrues, love, dogs, creativity… and the thread of an embodied political design practice tying all these things together. Sheila’s a true powerhouse and I always leave our conversations feeling inspired and grateful to be able to call her a friend.
Between my visit to Jay’s studio and drinks with Sheila I stopped by one of my favorite bookstores in Toronto, Swipe Books. A dedicated design bookstore is a rare thing coming from Montreal. I spent a lot of time there, but sadly found nothing that genuinely sparked my interest. Browsing the graphic design section, I found a few old copies of Fresh Dialogue (not looking so fresh), and Michael Bierut’s new monograph was tempting, but far too big and heavy. I found very little that came even close to design theory, and it made me reflect on the current (and it’s been a long while) dearth of smart, accessible, and critical writing about design. It made me long for the heady days of Emigre, Critique, Looking Closer, etc. and question whether this kind of thinking and writing is even happening anymore, and if so, where?
These visits have left me with a lot to think about for the new year, about my practice, my studio, and the state of graphic design in general. For the studio, sustainability is always a concern and a challenge, but beyond that, where do we really want to go, what are our ambitions, and how can we situate ourselves to make them achievable? Is the dearth in writing something we'd be interested in attempting to fill? Are other designers feeling this need?
But for now, it's time to sign off for the year. We're really proud of all that we produced in this initial year of the studio. Many, many, many thanks to our clients and collaborators, wishing everyone a happy holiday, and we'll see you in the new year.