Sunday, October 18, 2009

VA: Tibor Kalman.

Below are quotes from the AIGA medalists series. You can read the full article Tibor Kalman: Provocateur here.

By the late 1980s, become known as (or maybe he even dubbed himself) the “bad boy” of graphic design.

Tibor believed that award-winning design was not separate from the entire corporate ethic and argued that “many bad companies have great design.”

His own design firm, M&Co (named after his wife and co-creator, Maira), which started in 1979 selling conventional “design by the pound” to banks and department stores, was transformed in the mid-1980s into a soapbox for his social mission.

One Christmas he sent over 300 clients and colleagues a small cardboard box filled with the typical Spartan contents of a homeless-shelter meal (a sandwich, crackers, candy bar, etc.) and offered to match any donations that the recipients made to an agency for the homeless.

He savored the nuances of type and had a fetish for vernacular design — the untutored or quotidian signs, marquees, billboards, and packages that compose mass culture — but understood that being a master of good design meant nothing unless it supported a message that led to action.

When Tibor sold a “design” to a client, he did not hype a particular typeface or color, but rather how the end result would simultaneously advance both client and culture.

“Everyone can hire a good photographer, choose a tasteful typeface and produce a perfect mechanical,” Tibor once railed. “So what? That means ninety-five percent of the work exists on the same professional level, which for me is the same as being mediocre.”

While Tibor’s ire sometimes seemed inconsistent with his own practice, he rationalized M&Co’s use of vernacular as a symbol of protest — a means of undermining the cold conformity of the corporate International Style.

While editing pictures for the photographer Oliviero Toscani, who had created the pictorial advertising identity for Benetton, the Italian clothing manufacturer, Tibor helped produce a series of controversial advertisements focusing on AIDS, racism, refugees, violence, and warfare that carried the Benetton logo but eschewed the fashions it sold. For him, this was sublimely subversive.

Colors quickly became the primary outlet for Tibor’s most progressive ideas. And shortly after launching the magazine, he closed M&Co’s doors and moved to Rome.

Colors was “the first magazine for the global village,” Tibor announced, “aimed at an audience of flexible minds, young people between fourteen and twenty, or curious people of any age.” It was also the outlet for Tibor’s political activism.

“Race is not the real issue here,” Kalman noted. “Power and sex are the dominant forces in the world.”

With Colors the advertisements appeared as teasers for a magazine that critically addressed war and peace, love and hate, power and sex.

Of the two names that changed design in the ’80s and ’90s — Mac and Tibor — one changed the way we work, the other the way we think. The former is a tool, the latter was our conscience.

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