“Sometimes I feel that I need to move on”
Armin Vit recently announced on Facebook that he and Bryony Gomez-Palacio, his wife and business partner, are packing up and leaving Austin, and moving to (wait for it) . . . Bloomington, Indiana!
The couple is known for their logo review blog Brand New , which is part oftheir design firm, Under Consideration. Both were born in Mexico City, and lived in Chicago and New York before settling in Austin eight years ago.
As one who has lived or worked in several places (including the four cities mentioned above), I can understand the urge. And after San Francisco, and Hong Kong, I spend most of my time now in the sandy sticks of Florida, where they’ve heard of design, but don’t pay much attention to it.
Austin is of course almost design crazy. Bloomington, a nice University town that reminds me of East Lansing, is however not known for its graphics. A Google search of “signs in Austin” and “signs in Bloomington” provides a comparison of design sensibilities.
I was wondering what Armin and Bryony were thinking, so asked some questions via FB Messenger, and was delighted to get these quick answers.
Recently you announced that you are moving from Austin to Bloomington, Indiana. Never mind your personal or social reasons, what might be the design reasons?
Despite design being our profession, it was way down in the list of priorities when we considered the move. Bloomington, IN, is not a hotbed of graphic design but that's very much okay with us after having lived in cities like New York and Austin where design is over-hyped and businesses have to look like a million bucks in order to even compete visually among everything.
There are a few restaurants, coffee houses, and retail businesses in Bloomington that have great design and they stand out quite a lot but I like that there is no need to scream and show off how much good taste the owners have. On the flip side, we've had maybe four or five clients in eight years and we are looking forward to working on small, quick, fun projects with local clients since we will be, if not exactly big fish, at least medium fish, in a small pond.
Do you think there are regional (or even national) design styles anymore? Or have we gone global?
You can still see some minimal graphic mannerisms between regions or at least between diametrically opposed regions . . . like, there is a West Coast vibe that's very different from the New York vibe. But it's harder to tell apart where anything was designed or where that design belongs in.
The same design style you might see for a restaurant could be for a restaurant in Brooklyn, Austin, Portland, or Kansas City. You might see more of a certain aesthetic in some places—like in Austin we have a lot of rugged, roughed up typography, that can be seen all over the place but it's so not so prevalent in New York.
I think you have to go to the extremes to notice true differences. Nordic design for example, is very particular and has a fascinating aesthetic. The Dutch can still do some crazy-ass stuff for, like, a bank and they make it look like it makes complete sense. Obviously, Japan could be singled out but that's in part because of the written alphabet and in part because it's such a wild, unhinged range of creativity that's hard to replicate anywhere else. So, yes, there are still differences but the edges—where they start and end—are very blurry.
Many designers move to New York, or London, or Tokyo seeking cultural inspiration for their work. Or hip places like Austin. But is the cost, stress, and noise worth it? Or can you do better work, more easily, in a place like Bloomington (a town that's a tenth the size of Austin)?
I think it's 100 percent worth it, at least for a few years. Having lived in New York, there really is nothing like the always-on visual adrenaline rush that you are exposed to. The contrasts and density of people, food, architecture, sounds has a definite effect on how you see things and how you interpret or translate that experience into your work. It's a contagious energy that is really helpful for creating bold, exciting work.
It can also drive you mad and there is no room to have your own thoughts or allow your brain to process things. If I had started my design career in Bloomington I don't think I would have the design sensibilities I have today because there is literally a limit—80,000 people in a 23-square-mile area—so I love that I was able to experience New York and Austin in-depth, beyond what you would get from a place when you are just traveling through.
I wouldn't say I have seen everything there is to see and that I can now relax in a tiny town but I do know that having lived in some of those cool places that designers flock to has given me the ability to see and absorb things in a more . . . intense way.
But now I will do so from the comfort of a very large house with a comparatively low mortgage in an environment that is relaxed and takes off some of the pressure of having to be "cool." Not that I was ever cool.
We're eagerly awaiting fresh insights and energy, after the move north.