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Fresh & hungry: Frank Chimero

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November 23 2010

Greatest Hits by Frank Chimero, a self-promotional package about how good music binds us through shared experiences

Next up in our Fresh & Hungry series, Chris Rubino speaks with ADC Young Gun winner Frank Chimero—a graphic designer, illustrator, teacher, and writer in Portland, Oregon.

CHRIS RUBINO: Frank, can you please start to teach classes in good taste? Maybe you could give seminars to clients?

FRANK CHIMERO: Taste is really important, and the scary thing is I have no idea if you can teach it. We can’t choose what resonates with us any more than we can choose who we fall in love with, you know? But, as a teacher, taste matters because a student (and even I) can't make things better than what we define as ‘the best.’ If your bar for success is low, then your final results will be worse than that. So, the question becomes ‘Can you teach taste?’

I’ve talked to other teachers and all sorts of smart friends about this, and the answers are all over the board. Yes, no, maybe, no—but you can expose them to new and better things. I'm more inclined to believe the last. Show them good stuff and see if they salivate. Hone their senses and tell them where to look.

Also, I’m not terribly sure I have good taste. I just have things I like, and I am very enthusiastic about them. What's that word? Maven? Taste is important if you're making work, but I'm wary of any accolades or acknowledgement that comes as a result of taste rather than accomplishment. Productivity and quality in my own work is more important to me than tastefulness in other people’s work. If you start treading in the other direction, you get a bunch of hipsters arguing over how they liked bands before they got popular. As important as taste is if you make things, it seems like a bad cornerstone for identity. Mostly because it’s shallow and annoying.

Got it, reminds me of this quote by Marcel Duchamp, “I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”  Seems important for us to always have in the back of our minds.

Selections from Frank Chimero’s editorial illustration work

We can’t choose what resonates with us any more than we can choose who we fall in love with…

So, I love how cohesive your body of work is, contrary to what I usually react to I love the consistency in your aesthetic and the freshness of your imagery, do you feel influenced by the big guns, Bruno Munari, Paul Rand, Charley Harper? I personally love those guys, how have you seen your style develop through out your years so far?

I love those guys. They were and continue to be a big influence on my work along with Alvin Lustig. I just like the optimism and aesthetic refinement of modernism. I get questions every once in a while about why I write, and I point to those guys. Writing critically about the craft has been something designers have always done: Rand had his books, Munari has Design as Art, and even Lustig wrote a bit, although not much of it has bubbled up recently. Writing's a process that gives clarity to a problem, so I don’t understand why more people do not do it.

As to the consistency in aesthetic, I appreciate the compliment. It’s funny, because I appreciate flexibility in creative people too, but working as an illustrator, the consistent aesthetic is something that’s expected.

But, with that being said, I think having a consistent point of view is more important than having a consistent aesthetic. As I branch out a bit more into work that isn't strictly illustrative in nature, I’m finding that folks want to have me work on their projects for my disposition in critical thinking, storytelling, and concept. Having a consistent set of goals for the work at a very high level usually results on the ground level as a consistent aesthetic though.

The States, an ongoing personal project by Frank Chimero

The flatness of your work makes it so digestible, the communication so strong, can you speak a bit about your approach to design as a language?

It’s pretty simple to me: I value ideas. That's what the work is about, so things are flat and simple to be more communicative. I’ll add in touches and details where they make sense, but for the most part things go like this: I add things until it starts getting worse, then I take away things until it stops getting better. The sweet spot I usually wind up at is typically closer to 0 than 100. I’d rather have nuance in the idea or message than its presentation. I think this is personal preference.

Well said, I think that is something very important for students to keep in mind for the future.

I add things until it starts getting worse, then I take away things until it stops getting better.

And now the big question for all the Young Guns is, where are you headed? What are you currently pursuing and/or what isn’t there yet that you're interested in making happen?

More personal work! Client work fills a financial need, but the personal work fills an emotional need. To ignore the latter for the previous this past year I think has had a bit of an effect on me. I need to get back to being self-indulgent more often, I think, to work out a few ideas that have just been sitting there.

I’ve been writing quite a bit. And it’s good, because I think lots of interesting things happen if you both design and create the content for the design. When it’s just me, the content can influence the design, and the design becomes integral to the communication because it can affect the content too. I like this push/pull relationship, because that friction creates a better end result. It's such a rarity with my client work because I'm usually provided all of the content initially and then design gets layered on top, like syrup on pancakes. The syrup makes the pancakes better, but no one eats syrup on its own.

But, where am I going? Lunch. If I was in New York, it’d be pizza, right?

Quite often, most definitely, thank you Frank! It’s been a great pleasure.

To see more of Frank’s work, visit

Explore the Fresh & Hungry series:

Chris Rubino is a New York City-based artist/designer whose work has been exhibited in Europe, Japan, Hong Kong and the U.S. He likes to spend his vacations in the desert and has been in a number of motorcycle accidents. He would very much like to meet Lawrence Weiner one day. Visit his work at

Filed under: design

By Chris Rubino