Jordan Metcalf is a well known artist and graphic designer living in Cape Town. He has worked with top brands like Nike Portland and Smirnoff. Jordan was asked to design the cover image for the Popular Mechanics 110th Anniversary Edition. We chatted to him about his design philosophy and the challenges faced when designing for the web versus print.
How would you describe your design philosophy in one sentence?
An attempt to make personal, useful and honest work.
What questions should designers constantly ask themselves in order to improve design?
I’d say creatives, especially younger creatives, should start with the increasingly important questions of ownership: “Is this consciously derivative?” or “Do I feel an honest sense of ownership over this?” There is a huge difference between imitating the work of others to produce something that looks good and actually going through the slower but more fulfilling process of improving your own work. Improving your own work is mostly about time, experience, interaction and feedback. Everything you do should be a small step forward from what came before it. A healthy sense of self-crticism will be your biggest ally. Looking at your work and ask yourself what was successful and what wasn’t and why, how each thing could be improved and whether it is communicated effectively and answered the brief and purpose. Avoiding expedient choices that capitalise on the ideas and work of other people is tough, but will ultimately result in better work.
Which websites, books or people would you say offer valuable advice that you follow?
I spend very little time on the internet, particularly on creative blogs and sites. I check out the Behance homepage and Dribbble occasionally, mostly because I use both myself. The people I learn the most from and admire are generally people I know personally. I share a studio with a few awesome designers and illustrators and have lots of friends and connections in the local creative scene that are big inspirations to me.
What are some of the challenges that arise, when considering the differences in design for the web versus print?
It’s important with print to appropriately design for whatever print technique you’re going to use. Screen printing is different to laser is different to litho. Using legible, comfortable type sizes for the body copy, correct resolutions and sizes for print – you can always save out at a lower DPI, but you can’t always go higher. Colour accuracy from screen to page, don’t use fluorescent looking colours on screen and expect them to come out in print, unless you know you can reproduce that with special inks. On the flip side of that you have to think about all the possibilities that exist in print that you can’t see or feel on screen, like foiling and embossing, die-cutting and so on.
With web, I’m no expert so it’s purely opinion, I feel that websites should be as minimal and unobtrusive as possible. Websites exist in the same realm as frames to me. They should be housing devices that display and accentuate, but not interfere with the content they were made to display. So I guess the problems would arise in learning to not over-design sites. Simple type, beautiful layouts and slick, fast and usable (on every platform) functionality are the most important thing.
You have worked on some phenomenal stuff, such as the Popular Mechanics cover as well as work for Nike. What is your most memorable project and why?
The early Nike work was a tipping point for me in terms of international exposure, so it’ll always have great significance for me. It was also one of the first times that a client contacted me and said ‘we’ll pay you to just experiment’ which is amazing and terrifying all at once. I think it was a great sense of validation for me to work on that profile. To come directly from stuff I’d really been experimenting with in my spare time, and encouragement to continue to try to make it work, both private and commercial, that was within a personal aesthetic ideology that clients would specifically approach me for.
I’ve also been working with a local coffee micro-roastery called Rosetta Roastery, along with a colleague and studio mate, Adam Hill, since their inception just over 2 years ago. It’s one of those continually evolving projects that only goes onto your portfolio years down the line because it keeps getting bigger so you keep waiting for the time when it seems right to consider the project done. It’s been great to be involved with a brand from the beginning, watching it grow from strength to strength. We’ve also become great friends with the clients which has transformed it from a job to a very personal, collaborative process.
What changes do you see for design in the future?
The marriage of technology and design is also going to, and always has, lead to very interesting work. As new technology allows us to create things in different ways, designers will be the ones leading the way in the aesthetic possibilities those technologies create. It’s hard to postulate what the next big thing might be, but graphic design will always be the unsung, but vital, sidekick of every new piece of tech, app, product, communication tool that ever gets made. Design will continue to inform the way we interact with technology and, often shows us its most beautiful and human applications.
I think affordable rapid-prototypers and 3D printers are going to be the next desktop commodity. In five years it’ll be like having a laser printer or scanner. It’s going to be amazing to see what starts happening at a grass-roots level once the designer and manufacturer barrier starts breaking down.