The packaging that your shoe comes in. The album cover of your favorite artist. That ad in a magazine. Do you ever think of the minds behind the things we take for granted?
They come from the mind of graphic designers like New York’s Anthony Harrison Jr. Anthony has designed products and ad campaigns for some of the top brands in the world–Nike, Mighty Healthy, Mecca, Akademiks and more. He’s also worked in the music industry, starting as an intern at Jive, then a Junior designer at Arista, and working his way up to several positions including Bad Boy Records.
So first off, What’s Your Name And Where Are You From?
My name is Anthony Harrison Jr. I was born in London, England and I’ve been a proud New Yorker since age 12.
How Did You Get Started In Graphic Design?
I interned at Jive Records for a semester and then got my professional start at Arista Records as a Junior designer while still in my third year at the New York Institute Of Technology. It was s good old-fashioned pound-the-pavement endeavor. I made a list of the companies I’d like to work for and called them. A minority were rude, others were too busy but most were really accommodating and helpful. Arista just happened to be looking for a Junior designer and it didn’t hurt that I was able to paint, draw and create logos and caricatures.
What was it like to work in a label art department? What was your favorite label design?
Oh, it was great to work in a record label’s art department. It was the absolute best place to learn as a junior designer. I worked under seasoned veterans right at the inception of the Mac so there was a mechanical room for the first two years I was there. I already considered myself pretty eclectic in my musical tastes, but the people I worked with exposed to different music genres which also broadened my design capacity.
My favorite design for a label has to be the Brand Nubian’s Foundation. I had been promoted to Art Director and Drew Dixon was the A&R. Her excitement about the project made it easy for me to do what I knew was right. We shot it all with photographer Christian Lantry at the Brooklyn Navy Yard prior to all the renovations. The Monty Python Reissue albums were also a treat because I had to find all the old vinyl assets and lay out these new packages. I remember begging my boss for the project when I found out it was coming down the pike. Good times.
Were you the mind behind the Akademiks “Read Books Get Brain Ads?” What did you think about the reaction?
Yes I was. That was great! First off, the Daily News said it was banned but it never was. It’d been running for about three month already when the reporter called the company to see if that was what we meant to say. I told her flat-out “Of course that’s what we meant to say”. I went on to explain that idea of the traditional nerd is pretty much extinct, and that young people are all too aware that the smart kids run things later in life. That is the truth that the ad speaks to. Young people have always been smarter and faster than their elders give them credit for and anyone who thought it was too sexual for 16 and up hasn’t watched MTV at 4PM for the last 10 years.
The morning it hit page 3 of the New York Daily News, my cellphone caught fire as I drove to work. I got into the office and a few of my colleagues pretended they didn’t see me. None of the owners were there but upper management was having an important person’s meeting and were asking my what It meant. This, three months after I showed and explained the campaign to the entire staff during a national sales meeting. Comedy. The fact that people understood what it meant and the Daily News was obviously looking for some cheap outrage was pretty clear to all. The owners came in and said “Anthony, great job!”
So there was the press conference at the Akademiks offices and all the local channels and papers came by. Pablo Guzman (local folk hero and CBS Newsman) came with a dude from the New York Times and was laughing his arse off. He shook my hand and said ‘Brilliant work”. That was a career highlight for sure. It made Adweek as well which was utter freshness at that time. My inspirations are Tibor Kalman, Olivier Toscani and George Lois among others and I’ve always tried to do what they did for my own time.
Talk About Your Work with Nike. What do you think about Street wear then and now?
I’ve been a Nike consultant now for about 3 years and I find my work with them most enjoyable. The departments I work with want good design – end of story. I used to think that was the norm, but they are one of the few places who have an interest in culture and how it shapes design. They have an high-minded approach to everything which suits me just fine. I get to put everything I know to use, so I’ve done logos, caricatures, type treatments, packaging and copy writing.
Street wear. OOF. The word ‘street’ has been overused for the last 15 years and has finally lost all it’s meaning. I can’t sit here and talk about it with any clarity especially since it has been used as a cash-cow for people who have no interest in a fair exchange with a customer. They got away with a that ‘buy it for 5, sell it for 20’ thing for a long time, and that’s what killed the beast. They labeled it ‘urban’ but it’s exactly like the rest of the that side of the industry in that the customer is the enemy.
A Lot of Your Blog Work Has a Sense of Humor. How do you come up with some of these designs?
All these things would pop into my head from time to time and I had no home or use for them other than my own entertainment. The posts appear exactly as they come to me, so it is all very much from my natural point of view. The most productive way for me to deal with anger and frustration has been through humor. Those who do it well prove that there is a lot of pain involved and you have to be willing to bare all.
I found your Tea Party designs quite hilarious. What were the inspiration behind these?
Those were fun to work on. I think the Tea Party members are suckers like a lot of other groups around the world – but the fact that they are so blatantly dishonest and cynical renders them fair game in my opinion. If you’re not honest about your stance then there is no room for a resolution and things can go from ridiculous-to-dangerous in seconds. So I liked the idea of creating posters espousing those same narrow-minded beliefs in plain English. My father refers to it as ‘pulling the ladder up after yourself.’ That’s where the tag line APATHY IS OUR GREATEST WEAPON came from. That said, I’m not particularly in love with the Left at the moment.
You seem to pull from a variety of sources. What’s Your Inspiration For Your Work?
I definitely look to my elders and where they fit into the history of design, but I’m usually inspired by things other than art and typography. Music, film, food, travel, and sports to begin with. I think technology has told us that the programs and equipment will do the work for us but it’s the thought that generates the feeling that gives birth to the work. Music in particular helps me channel that.
What would be your advice for someone starting out in the game?
I’d tell anyone getting into art direction and graphic design to set high standards for your own work and stay interested in life’s little things. It sounds a bit trite but that’s how you’ll be able to keep a fresh stock of ideas at your fingertips. Soak it up and pour it into the work.
What are your the top 5 songs on your iPod right now??
‘Mongrel Heart’ by Broken Bells
‘Ones Who Fly, Twos Who Die’ by Johnathan Boulet
‘Silver Sands’ by Stereolab
‘J’s Day Thme #3’ by Madlib
‘Broken’ by Gorillaz