'Radical modernism is my reaffirmation of the idealistic roots of our modernity, adjusted to include more of our diverse cultures'
Dan Friedman was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1945. He received his education at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm and the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule in Basel. In the early 1970s, at Yale University, he developed and published teaching methods in design and the 'New Typography' which became a basis for the New Wave which followed. He also developed guidelines for the first programme in visual arts at the State University of New York in Purchase. As a graphic designer, he has created posters, publications, packaging and visual identities for many corporations and organisations. In the mid-1970s he was senior design director of Anspach Grossman Portugal and in the late 1970s he joined Pentagram, became an associate and helped to establish the New York office. In 1982, he returned to his own private practice and in 1991 returned to teaching as a senior critic in graphic design at Yale University. Although he retains an interest in education and graphic design, his art, installations, furniture and 'Modern Living' projects have generated exhibitions and commissions all over the world. His first solo exhibition was at the Fun Gallery, New York, in 1984. His experimental furniture has been produced by Neotu in Paris and by Arredaesse, Driade and Alchimia in Milan. His work is in many public and private collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Gewerbemuseum in Basel and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Montreal. He describes himself as an artist whose subject is design and culture.
Dan Friedman died on 6th July 1995 [see editorial, Eye no.18 vol.5]
Peter Rea: Could we begin by talking about how you see the graphic design profession today?
Dan Friedman: For more than 25 years I've had love-hate relationship with our profession. I will defend it with pride and passion, but I will also be critical - even occasionally cynical. I've been at it's centre, but I feel more comfortable playing at its margins. It is a profession which involves a great deal of drudgery and concern about minutiae that can only be measured in quarter points and millimetres. Graphic design has always defined its focus in narrow terms - in ways that may stimulate graphic designers into a frenzy but mean nothing to the rest of society. When we try to extend our reach, as with fantasies about the emerging potential of multimedia, our ideas pale in comparison with Terminator 2, a U2 concert or the latest Las Vegas hotel. I believe it is a profession in an identity crisis caused by over-specialisation and deep polarisation.
PR: How did your sense of disillusionment begin?
DF: My disaffection reached a peak in 1982 when I chose to step off a fast track as an associate of Pentagram New York and exhibit my art with graffiti artists in a gallery called 'Fun' on New York's Lower East Side. I found work in commercial design too predictable and not sufficiently sustaining. IN the 1960s I saw graphic design as a noble endeavour, integral to larger planning, architectural and social issues. What I realised in the 1970s, when I was doing major corporate identity projects, is that design had become a preoccupation with what things look like rather than with what they mean. What designers were doing was creating visual identities for other people - not unlike the work of fashion stylists, political image consultants or plastic surgeons. We had become experts who suggest how other people can project a visual impression that reflects who they think they are. And we have deceived ourselves into thinking that the modernisation service we supply has the same integrity as service to the public good. Modernism forfeited its claim to a moral authority when designers sold it away as corporate style.
PR: Where did your interest in design start?
DF: When I was 12 years old, in the 1950s, my parents moved to the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. They had found some success and had the money to build their own suburban dream home, which was the same dream home of almost everyone else in America. So as a kid I was exposed to the process of watching this dream home taking shape. My parents, particularly my mother, were actively involved in the decisions about how the house would be laid out, the colours and the decor. I was fascinated by this process, the first inclinations I remember of being interested in design of any sort. IN dreaming an playing I became fascinated with architecture and would do drawings of fantasy houses, cars, all very futuristic, like the Jetsons. Along with their robotic maid and dog, the Jetson family had the most wild futuristic furniture and decor which to this day seems very modern . . .