ARTS REVIEW | Sara De Brondt talks cultural design at the second installment of the Insights series at the Walker Art Center


The Walker Art Center (WAC) and AIGA-MN are co-presenting Insights, four lectures featuring leading graphic designers from around the world who have graciously agreed to share the thinking, methods, and processes behind their professional design work. The presenters have some intense labels to live up to: Lance Wyman/NY is called a humble master (of design) and a legend, Sara De Bondt/London, the epitome of a cultural designer, Martine Syms/LA, a “conceptual entrepreneur” (sic), and Henrik Nygren/Stockholm, a premier graphic designer.

Because there is a fee associated with this series, I’m taking a stab at understanding if attending this lecture series is a good value. Better than, say, buying one of the designers’ books or spending time at home researching their Web sites. Why? Because designers rarely make “big money” ($35K-$55K/yr (senior) per Most of us do work for trade, for the love of design, for the sheer bliss of playing with type, or because we know the “guys in a band.” A few of us have coolio jobs in groovy agencies and design firms. Some of us are already paying a yearly fee of $250-$500/yr to be an AIGA-MN member. When asked to shell out between $10-$24 for a single ticket (based on membership and student status), I wonder, “Is this experience worth the price?”

Each week will feature a brief review of the featured speaker (excluding Wyman). This is a not a review or recap of their work which can be seen on the Internet and in published materials. A wrap-up feature will be included after the Nygren review. The goal of this series is to help cash-strapped designers decide whether “being there” is necessary and worth the dough, or if staying home with relatively free refreshments will suffice. All Insights lectures are streamed online at the WAC Channel and via various AIGA chapters-the Sioux Falls Chapter showed it on the big screen with popcorn. The WAC suggests having an Insights Viewing Party (kit available) and encourages participation by sending in your comments and questions for the speakers via Twitter (#Insights2014).

Just entering the Walker is inspiring, actually—the clear way finding signage, the sparse, white walls, the energy of contemporary artsy-types. After getting the ticket from a dismissive visitor services attendee (ah, attitude is everything), you can wander over to the café for some refreshments and snacks (not budget friendly, but nice to have if one is zipping over right from work). You can feel, pickup, flip through and smell new books about design, and take advantage of a helpful, energetic and passionate book salesman. ARTBOOK @Walker, is a new collaboration with the Walker Shop, that hosts this pop-up shop featuring monographs, surveys, and reading books curated for the Twin Cities design community and offered exclusively at this event. There’s a big plus: review resources you typically can’t.

AIGA and WAC representatives provided a prompt introduction to Insights and Sara De Brondt. With a timid yet genuine presence, Ms. De Brondt presented a moderately engaging presentation (albeit awe-inspiring content) to the live audience. She immediately extended kudos to her home team/office mates and made it clear that collaboration is key to her work. She used “Deconstruction” as a presentation theme, providing her with a unifying point of reference, “How is deconstruction evident here?”

Her exceedingly soft voice became stronger when relaying the process behind her designs. Gasps and brief laughter escaped from the audience when she shared the “aha” moment of a design solution. The audience clearly appreciated her stories of client expectations, budget and time limitations. A highlight was when she shared her philosophy of extending the designer’s responsibility beyond the work into the process. In one Exhibition example, she speaks to becoming an eco-booster—an advocate for using eco-sensitive (recycled, recyclable) materials and processes (re-use, smart use) when creating an exhibit.

De Brondt explained how, in design, the client influences the final result along with time, budget, venue/architecture (as applicable), available processes and logistics. She spoke about her publishing house, Occasional Papers and its mission to make affordable, accessible print publications that recognize unrecognized designers and unsung design influencers.

During the clearly uncomfortable-to-her Q&A session, she shared how she typically begins the design process (Google, walking, designer collaboration, old books). It also prompted a candid and charmingly authentic statement explaining that she feels insecure if the client is immediately happy with what is presented to them. She appreciates and is motivated by client collaboration and enjoys presenting the reasons behind her solutions.

Although a lecture format seems outside De Brondt’s comfort zone, (her presentation was an underwhelming slide/video show), attending the lecture in person allowed you to feel how the energy changed when she got into her groove of design-speak. Also, Insights hosts a post-lecture reception with the presenters. If you’re someone who likes to speak one-on-one with professional mentors, being here provides this rare opportunity.

My overall evaluation of value/cost: Presentation on its own: No. An opportunity to personally engage with a leading designer while having access to cool books in cool space: Yes.