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John R. Rieben, 1971
A Designer in the United States by Hans Kuh for Gebrauchsgraphik 11/1971
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The following is an article published in the 11/1971 issue of Gebrauchsgraphik. If you enjoy articles like this, and would like to support the project, subscribe to Logo Histories.
John R. Rieben was born in 1935 in a small German-Swiss community. In 1957 he graduated from the University of Michigan, College of Architecture and Design. After release from military service, two years of which he spent in Paris, he worked for one year in an advertising production studio in Chicago. Then he continued his studies at the Indiana University. In 1962 he obtained his Master's degree in visual communication, and in 1963 he was awarded the Master of Fine Arts. This latter phase of training aroused his interest in the ‘Swiss School’ of functional design. To quote his own words: “...and as part of my degree thesis, I spent a year in Europe on a fellowship visiting designers, studios, type foundries, etc., learning far more in the process than in the formal school situation.”
In 1944 John R. Rieben was employed by the Container Corporation of America and became Manager of Design a year or so later.
We shall again quote from his own description of his further professional career and his comments on the situation of the designer in the USA:
“During my five years at CCA, I worked for and with, John Massey, the Director of Design, advertising and public relations, and found it a continuing educational experience. In January of 1969 I left Container Corporation and joined Unimark International, as I wished experience in a large design company and had always wanted to work overseas. After a very interesting year and a half, helping to set up an office in Johannesburg, South Africa, I was transferred back to the USA and was assigned to the Denver Unimark Office.
“A couple of months ago I bagan my own firm and am at present very busy with a variety of interesting clients and am happy working in this pleasant city of Denver. During the process of deciding to establish my own business, I have of course done considerable informal analysis of professional goals and the state of design in general... It appears to me that business is the viable force in the United States. Government, from the civic level to the federal, tends to be very conservative and... is at least a decade behind the business community in design achievement. Education, both the training process of producing designers, and the output of its institutional design, lies at least another decade behind the government. The staffs of the U.S. educational design institutions (the professional schools as well as the universities) are made up of those unable to function successfully in the design business, or professional educators with little or no knowledge of the pragmatics of design problem-solving. Therefore, it seems that to use ones skills and time effectively, a designer must align himself with ‘business’. To be an ‘in-house’ designer for a single company has some advantages: knowing in depth the corporate goals, problems, needs, etc., yet it has the subtle influence of sameness, rigidity of outlook, and operationally losing the outside stature of a specialist. The other alternative, the large design corporation, has, I feel, more serious and easily detected weaknesses. Being in itself a large com pany, it has tremendous financial overhead, and as a result must demand huge fees. This limits the available potential client list, and there is a tendency to ask for very large fees for the initial establishment of identity systems (trademarks to manuals) with a lesser concern for a long-term relationship (brochures, annual reports, etc.). At these fee schedules, even large and wealthy corporations will hardly accept a continuing massive cash outlay.
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Jumping from client to client, establishing the corporate look for one company today and another tomorrow, can hardly be conducive to understanding the real nature of each and every client and his special and unique properties. The results of this system are around us now. Most corporate identities spring from the same mold, looking alike and as a result, are just as invisible as before. The answer seems to be a strong designer-client relationship with a few com-panies, becoming intimately aware of the nature and needs of the individual client. Profits must come from a continuing relationship and client economies must result from the designer's concern for the details. Real problems must be solved as a result of in-depth research. In the development of long-range relationships, the designer will establish through his performance a true power base where his influence can have a meaningful effect. While management's message is extremely important and the proper visual structuring of the message tantamount, the obligation of the designer does not end here. Through his skills of organization and more important, his ability to visualize concepts, ideas and philosophical directions, he can become a creative force within the circle of management. Particularly now when U.S. business is taking a retrospective view of itself in terms of race problems, environmental mismanagement, the war, etc., the input of a creative force, able to inspect, dissect, structure and transmit effectively, is especially useful. To view design as merely an anonymous extension of the corporation's voice, making pretty pictures, and without a directional force, is to hopelessly restrict the effective role of the professional designer.”
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