Communication Arts Names Craig Ward to Hero Status
When Communication Arts compared Craig Ward to Herb Lubalin in their latest issue, Craig was taken aback. For Craig, who has admired Lubalin for decades, it’s a shocking compliment. “That’s pretty big, for me anyway,” explains Craig. “[Lubalin is] somebody who’s always been held up as a real pioneer. One of the most important designers of the 20th century as far as I’m concerned.” Whether or not Craig is comfortable saying it, he is a pioneer in his own way.
A pioneer is an adventurer, an explorer following a virgin route to something new, unknown, and unexpected. Craig works the same way. At first he was working in advertising and became enamored with letterpress for how physical the process was. It happened in real life, not on a screen. “The one thing I really loved about that was the tactile idea, the hands on feel that letter press has because it’s a really physical process,” Craig explains. “It’s always been really important to keep that hands on feel.“ But Craig expanded that into the real world. Building out typography from objects, like most recently spelling out “DIRT” in actually dirt for Vanity Fair.
For years he spent clicking through every design site, considering what was in vogue, following trends, and scoping others’ portfolios. When he opened his new studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, he decided to cut it out. “It took a couple weeks to stop the mouse from clicking to the favorites bar,” he told 99U Podcast. “It was great… It was the year I wrote my book [Popular Lies About Graphic Design], I was more productive that year.” What resulted were projects like the letter A formed entirely from cells in a microscope, a 7 foot tall “1/3” made from $800 worth of produce, 25,000 pennies arranged into a single word. All of these came from exploring beyond what designers are “supposed” to look at, they came from the challenge of looking beyond. “I try to look at work that is outside the normal remit what a designer is supposed to be looking at,” Craig explains. “Outgrow your influences. Expand yourself a little bit.” Later, he adds, “The answers aren’t always found online.”
In fact, Craig encourages stepping away from time to time like he did. (He does admit he spends time looking now, but far less than before.) When someone else curates your creative exposure, it can become a trap. Like you’re being guided by an invisible shepherd. “It’s so easy to rely on being spoon fed that you kind of get a little bit lazy when you have to really go looking for inspiration,” he explains. “You have to make a point to absorb different imagery and different styles.” One has to chase the impossible idea for it to ripen authentically.
This sort of expansive creativity isn’t just a result of logging off the computer and walking outside. It is also the result of over a decade of work. But typography wasn’t the goal when he jumped into the industry. “Everything that’s happened has sort of happened over the last 10 years,” Craig says. “I never even decided I was going to be a typographer. That’s just sort of happened over time. I only started playing with type as a spare time thing.” That spare time thing has blossomed into Craig being one of the most well known and easily recognized typographers, and the Communication Arts comparison to Herb Lubalin. “It’s such a huge compliment to be tossed in like that.”
To get the full story “The Words Are Pictures Studio,” from Communication Arts, check out their website.
The full interview podcast from 99U is available on their site.