Designers are like kindergarten teachers for grown-ups. Their particular skill set—making complex concepts easy to understand and lovely to look at—puts them in the unique position of being able to educate us in a way that doesn’t feel like learning. Think of all the great infographics that unpack and clarify so much through highly organized and often deceptively simple graphics, icons, and charts. Or ponder pretty much anything the type designer Jessica Hische has done.
Tim Nolan, creative director at BBH-Labs, wanted to do something similarly instructive. He began tapping out the idea for the ABCs of Contemporary Creatives on his iPhone back in November 2011, and spent the subsequent year and a half refining it—with the help of a talented team of collaborators.
He and partner-in-crime Jen Lu (known together as Universalscene) had the entire Bernstein & Andriuli roster at their fingertips, thanks to a fortuitous meeting with the illustration rep at the highly regarded talent management agency. They assigned each letter to a different artist; the results ranged from a scratchboard M to a watercolor N to paper sculpture S and T.
So how did Nolan choose the words each letter would represent? “I originally looked at it as a primer of sorts,” he tells Co.Design. “I was working inside of a very large advertising agency, and interacted with a fair share of traditional creatives who could have benefited from a Cliff Notes of modern creative techniques.” Once those were in place, he wrote the accompanying descriptions to bridge the gaps between info, insight, and inspiration. “I didn’t want them to be a straight definition,” Nolan says. “Each is meant to make the readers aware of a bit of tech—or at least a bit of digital thinking—and it is then up to the them to interpret how they can use that tidbit.”
Shotopop designed the layout, and Nolan solicited forewords from five contributors to offer a varied take on the concept of what it takes to be a contemporary creative. The endeavor represents quite an evolution from its origin as wayward thoughts on a smartphone. “As a person who focuses primarily on producing digital output, I am often amazed at how long the process is to produce quality work in the tactile world,” Nolan says.
A limited number of print editions were shared with a select client list. If you’re keen on printing a copy for yourself, download Nolan’s free PDF from his Slideshare page. Or scroll through the Tumblr for the knowledge nuggets.