The World is their Oyster, Design in Portland, Oregon

August 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

July, 2011

1. Flint Design
1231 NW Hoyt Street
Portland, Oregon 97209
Link: 

2. Nike World Headquarters
Action Sports Division
One Bowerman Drive
Beaverton, Oregon

3. Lloyd Reynolds Exhibition
Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery
Reed College Library
3203 Southeast Woodstock Boulevard, Portland
Link:

Flint Design

While in Oregon we caught up with Professor Margaret Richardson who teaches History of Modern Design at Portland State University. Ms. Richardson, an eloquent speaker and author on art and design since the early 1980′s, has written for publications including Print Magazine, How, and U&lc and wrote Type Graphics (Rockport Publishers), 2000. Professor Richardson generously invited us to join her summer session students on two class trips, Flint Design and the Nike World Headquarters in nearby Beaverton.

Flint Design, owned by Catherine Healy, is located inside a nicely converted industrial building in the Pearl District of Portland. The firm specializes in packaging, servicing a number of local food manufacturers (the well-known Tillamook Creamery, Nancy’s Yogurt) and wine and beer producers, (Kona Brewing and several Willamette wineries). Catherine and her small band of designers offer a complete service flow: research, naming, identity, packaging, branding and marketing.

Catherine showed the extensive project books compiled for each client showcasing the research, inspiration and the logic behind a suggested design solution. Above all else we were most impressed with Catherine’s sophisticated and philosophical discussion of her process — plus her take on the practical aspects of working with clients over long-term relationships. ** Students take note, speaking about your work is not necessarily something you will learn in the classroom but it is one of the most important skills a designer can cultivate. **

[Since the next day was the start of the 4th of July weekend we took in the sights and tastes of Portland—Voodoo donuts, wine and cheese at local wineries, oysters at Pacific Seafood Company in Pacific City on the coast, picnics and walking in Bob Straub State Park, excellent restaurants everywhere. Plus roses in full bloom]

Nike World Headquarters

On the Tuesday after the 4th of July weekend we again joined the class, this time at the epicenter of the sports behemoth, Nike. The 200-acre Nike headquarters is hidden from public view, completely surrounded by a high earthen berm that is backed by dense rows of mature evergreen trees. The implication is clear—random visitors are not invited. One enters an arched gateway identified only by Nike’s red swoosh. The main entrance had a Taj Mahal like approach— centered upon a long rectangular pool of water. The campus unfolds ahead of you in a series of buildings, each named after a sports legends, (Tiger Woods, Mike Schmidt, Nolan Ryan, etc) surrounding a small lake. Sculptures and artwork abound. Everything is manicured, well maintained, and sparklingly rich.

We joined the class as they assembled in the Nolan Ryan building and were met by a PSU graduate and current branding director for Nike Action Sports, Damion Triplett. Damion guided us into a conference room where he introduced us to the work in his division—one of Nike’s smallest categories with “only” about 140 team members and 500 million in sales after almost 10 years of carefully building their brand. Mr. Triplett described their target market (snowboarders, skateboarders, surfers and BMX bikers) along with the challenges he faces compared to the more conventional sports divisions of Nike. Action sports clients are by nature, edgy and hip risk-takers, rapidly picking up and discarding trends. Because the entire process of product development and launch can take up to two years, Triplett and his team must be a combination of trend-spotters, design innovators and soothsayers.

Margaret Richardson, Damion Triplett, Nike Lake, No Finish Line

Triplett described a two-pronged approach to their marketing. One is periodic releases of short run collectible shoes that are only carried in smaller “mom and pop” stores. These releases are supported by special point-of-purchase displays—(he showed us an example of a hand-painted risers used for shoe display). High performing athletes, such as skateboarder Eric Koston, have been signed to endorse these limited editions. The second involves mass-market campaigns targeted across the entire action sports category. We viewed a number of the upcoming commercials, all featuring ‘rock star’ action sports figures but no product, only a Nike logo in the closing frames.

We viewed a number of handsome corporate manuals and sales manuals but Damion’s most impressive strengths lie in his agile and inventive problem solving skills. With a background in industrial design and theater set building he has learned to both plan ahead yet be adaptable to last minute curve balls, proving the value of a creative mind (even within the constraints of a corporate environment). The genre of action sports deals out a unique set of problems, for example retail store mannequins often have 6-pack abs and over-developed arms suitable for lines such as Abercrombie, etc but they do not fit the body type of a surfer or skateboarder; or edgy T-shirt slogans suitable for action sports types cause trouble in the main stream world (as in the case of a tee-shirt campaign using phrases such as “Get High,” “Ride Pipe,” which did not go down well with the Mayor of Boston.)

(Images from the nikeblog.com).

The team was gearing up for the Nike sponsored US World Cup of Surfing (the 2011 events concluded in August), an event that attracts tens of thousands of board shorts/bikini clad youth. It is likely that the event offered Damion a fair share of opportunities for surfing through his own problem solving.

We left Action Sports and Margaret’s class behind and walked across the campus, (treading over a “Nike, There is No Finish Line,” bronze sidewalk plaque) to the the Nike Department of Archives (DNA) exhibitions, “40 years of the Swoosh” and “The Bowerman Centennial.”

The celebration of the Swoosh anniversary included the release of 28-page booklet exclusively for “the benefit of Nike employees” but you can see it online at a number of sites, Slam online  and a Steven Heller article , the complete  logo story can also be read online.

The handsome centennial exhibit centered around a vitrine that held the original waffle iron used by Bill Bowerman to create his new, lightweight running shoe sole. Most of the shoe prototypes on exhibit were thought to have been lost but were unearthed during a construction project at Bowerman’s former home and workshop. The DNA staff were conducting a number of guest tours but when free they were very helpful in answering questions and offering information.

Waffle iron, an unearthed prototype, early waffle soles

The campus is not open to the general public but someone made a YouTube video which gives you a better idea of the facilities Finding America.

Lloyd Reynolds
 A Life of Forms in Art
Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery

I was disappointed to learn I had missed the exhibition, A Life of Forms in Art,  but I phoned to request to see the archives and was excited to learn that the exhibition was still hanging intact. An appointment was set and I drove to the green, leafy, summer-slumbering campus to see Reynold’s work. It is clear that Reynolds, an artist who had strong convictions and passions, expressed himself freely in his teaching which partly helped raise his calligraphy class to a “cult status.”(This was back when it was normal for a professor to express both cranky and loveable sides without fear of students slamming them on RateYourProfessor.com or end-of-the-semester class evaluations)

A self-taught calligrapher, Reynolds held a Masters of English Literature which explains his lifetime interest in the “three Bills: Blake, Morris and Shakespeare.” Former student Chuck Bigelow described Reynolds’s teaching as follows, ” calligraphy was the visible means of literate expression and, through that, a gateway to the history and lore of civilization. Moreover, it was a link between one’s own simple, utilitarian practice of handwriting and the accumulation of knowledge and scholarship through the ages.”

Notes on student work

Reynolds started teaching at Reed in 1929 but concentrated on calligraphy from 1949 through 1969. Some of the most influential type designers of the early digital era, including Sumner Stone and Chuck Bigelow, were introduced to letter design in Reynolds’s class. Reynolds built up an international reputation, was awarded many honors and starred in a 20-part series on italic calligraphy for public television. One of the episodes was playing on a large screen in the exhibition which was wonderful because you got to see the man in living action. A YouTube video clip discusses rhythm and gives you an idea of his thoughts on writing.

Reynolds demonstrates writing via video

Reynolds was a “William Morris Socialist according to the Stephanie Snyder, the Reed College Gallery director and curator of the show. It was fascinating to read about his experiences with J. Edgar Hoover. Because Reynolds had been a member of the Reed College Young Communist League the FBI summoned him to testify in front of the House  Un-American Activities Committee to “name names.” He refused, saying, “I am no hero, but I hate to get down on my knees unless I’m planting or looking for collar buttons.”

Reynolds also invented an improvisational calligraphic form he named “weathergrams.” These were haiku-like poems (10 words of less) drawn with ink onto small pieces of brown kraft paper. The weathergrams were hung on campus trees and allowed to weather through an entire season.

Our whole trip was 10 days but it flew by like a weekend. There is so much to see in Portland and the surrounding area. Luckily the next week we were at Wells College (in the finger lakes region of Aurora, New York) taking a summer class with Portland School of Art professor and master printer Barbara Tentenbaum. Although we’ve attended the Wells Summer Intensive several times previously, this time our eye was caught by an old poster (lettered by Lance Hidy) advertising a lecture by Reynolds at Radcliff in 1976.  Small world.

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