CVG Chapter

Chapter Chairs

Hannah Anderson, Project Manager, Kolar Design, Cincinnati
Hannah Anderson
Margaret Vennemeyer, BHDP Architecture
Margaret Lange
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SEGD Award Winning Projects

Scrabble on the Cincinnati Skyline, Mike Ruehlman, University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning
Scrabble on the Cincinnati Skyline
Formica Corporation, Kuhlmann Leavitt
Formica Corporation
Duke Energy Center, City of Cincinnati Department of Transportation and Engineering, Sussman/Prejza & Company, LMN Architects
Duke Energy Center
Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canalway Communications, Cloud Gehshan Associates
Ohio & Erie Canalway

Cincinnati, OH Blog

Even in the middle of what some would call rural America (the Midwest), we are collaborating with really brilliant and extraordinarily creative people daily here in our fab shop. Last week a fellow colleague and client wrote on his Instagram "new level of intimidation- when an artist has to draw architectural renderings for an architectural project with an architectural firm...I feel doomed" - of course this led to an outpouring of support from his fans with comments like; "You got this," "ain't no shame in trying," and my favorite, "dancing with the devil!"

When I was asked to write for this issue of the SEGD blog, I thought about my previous blogs, as it was suggested I follow "that" style of writing and subject matter. My previous blogs were inspired by motivation found within our own design community. Lately I have been looking a little beyond the obvious in my own professional development. I admit, I still read every post on our SEGD Listserve because I continue to be amazed at the willingness to share ideas from our knowledgeable community.

As an artist, I am often asked if I paint for a living. (I don't obviously or I would not be writing this blog.) But the thought has entered my mind a time or two. I know the tradeoff would be immense. My ability to communicate daily with others from all professions would significantly be reduced. My cats would have to fill that gap.

I have an interest in learning from you. I want you to share your passions and ideas with me. There is no better place to be than working to help you find answers and solutions. When we collaborate on this level, my expectation is that we will make great things together. This, I believe, is true for most all of us in this industry.

Just like the fabricators on our shop floor learning to operate new equipment, our role of development must be continual. I have been reading so many blogs lately on theory. I'm not sure how this has become an interest but there is probably a theory on that too. My most recent favorite was about color - specifically Chevreul's chart. Chevreul was a French chemist whose work with fatty acids led to early applications in the field of art. Chevreul lived to 102.

As my title at my job now indicates (Sr.) Sales Consultant, I have come to accept that my younger counterparts and colleagues have much more opportunity to learn and experience than I ever have had. That being said, I am just now beginning to realize how much more I can learn when I seek out the opportunities. Perhaps it's the wisdom-with-age thing that allows the mind to be open to new concepts, conversations, or commitments.

My friend who was nervous to sketch last week for his fellow architects: rest easy. I assure you there is no greater story than your own. I will stand beside you and tell you to raise your hand first, put yourself out there and give what you can to others - minus the fear. I wonder if Chevreul was afraid of sharing his thoughts about fat or knew so many years later that people would be interested? If I make it to 102, I hope I will still have the energy to chat with you about your passions. I can assure you I will still be motivated to create. Remember there are great things that come from collaboration and motivation. We must keep growing no matter our stage and not let fear (or fat) stand in our way.

Sharon Brooks
Sr. Sales Consultant, ISF Sign Specialists
[email protected]

What's on your mind? Have you recently learned something new? We'd love to hear your voice on our blog!

Margaret & Hannah
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When was the last time you were asked the question, “So what do you do?” and your answer began, “I’m a ______”? Whether you thought it consciously or not, your ______ was probably the name of the discipline with which you most closely align in philosophical outlook (i.e. I’m a graphic designer, architect, photographer, etc.) This foundational issue of discipline is so deeply embedded in our origins as designers through our first formal educational experiences that we rarely think to question our allegiances to the intellectual framework we inherited from teachers and mentors. It’s just the way we do things.

But what is a discipline anyway? How is it so powerful that it comes to define our deep identities? And what does it mean to profess discipleship? (After all, that is indeed what pursuing a ‘profession’ involves.) As a ‘professor’ at the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program in the late 2000s, I spent over six years considering this question as I developed class curricula. And after reviewing the scant academic literature that directly invokes meta-discussions about disciplines, the answers are not entirely clear.

Even after centuries of our best efforts to invent new disciplines—and to manipulate, blend, and destroy them—they seem to have a life of their own once discovered. Their boundaries sometimes shift and overlap with those of other disciplines nearby on the spectrum of knowledge, sometimes become unstable or permeable, and sometimes resist and challenge each other. But, they tend to defy our best efforts to corral them into the shapes we desire. It is the rare thinker whose work is so off the beaten path that the disruption it creates breaks entirely new ground and we classify it as a new discipline altogether. This seems to happen only a few times in any given century across all knowledge areas (think “the great minds” like Newton, Freud, Einstein, Picasso…)

For now, I offer a provisional definition: a discipline is a way. It is useful to imagine your discipline as a path, well-trod by those who came before you, along the same way, addressing similar challenges in the same way, with the same tools, technologies, and accumulated skills. Graphic designers seem to have a particular and identifiable way of reading, writing, thinking, doing, and making. Others with backgrounds in other fields may have also cleared paths to those same challenges, but from a different direction, using different tools and methods. Same destination, different origins and orientations.

For members of SEGD, the topic of discipline has caused considerable collective debate. For decades, the organization has struggled to define precisely what it is ‘environmental graphic designers’ do, how they do it, and how one should be educated to do it. The recent name change of the organization to shift ‘environmental’ to ‘experiential’ reveals a perceived shift in the disciplinary boundaries of its practitioners. While empirically recognizing that many practitioners of the EGD arts come from varying disciplinary backgrounds, we have settled on the notion that the true work of EG designers lies between all of them. In other words, we believe that EGD is an interdisciplinary field (stopping short of being its own discipline).

The problem with being interdisciplinary is that it’s hard work to hack your way through a jungle of ideas with a machete when everyone around you has it easier, walking on comfortable paths that simply don’t go where you want. One senses that becoming a radically successful EG designer requires a serious examination of your disciplinary allegiances: shedding at least some of the core tenets with which you were first baptized, overcoming feelings of inadequacy about the breadth of your training, summoning the willpower to claim expertise, and reveling in the uncertainty and messiness of path making. Not for the faint-hearted or those without entrepreneurial spirit!

The schism between academia and practice couldn’t be much more evident here. For one thing, practice moves much faster. In practice, when a client needs a specific outcome to which there is no one pure disciplinary path, you simply hire specialists who have the broad range of skills to get you there, put them in a room like cats in a box, and pour money on the problem until something happens! This cannot happen in academia, where knowledge must be validated through the slow process of research, writing, and peer review before it’s considered a solid foundation on which to build.

I’ve read no more brilliant account of this conundrum than Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University. Menand spends almost a fourth of the book developing this thesis on interdisciplinarity: the anxiety surrounding the topic of disciplinarity in American schools is really a displaced malcontent among professors with the intellectual system they collectively devised and a feeling of irrelevance within the larger culture.

He asserts that in the gradual shift from liberal arts education toward professional programs of study, American intellectuals created an institutional structure of clearly defined disciplines that could provide relative job security for professors within myriad fields of study (“Garbage may be garbage, but the History of Garbage is a discipline!”). But, that kind of specialization has also led to a professoriate with narrow boxes in which to operate and an ever-diminishing ability to engage in meaningful fights that can affect society: the proverbial Ivory Tower trap.

And so, this is the thicket from which SEGD practitioners emerge, degree from some field in hand, ready to tackle big complex design problems, but without much understanding of how to navigate into the cracks between the established disciplines. To help put a more detailed point on SEGD’s existential crisis, Julie Buckler of Harvard University provides the following dictionary to the prefix soup of disciplinary approaches:

Multidisciplinary work draws upon knowledge from more than one discipline, but preserves the disciplinary identities of these multiple disciplinary elements. Certain objects of study—opera and the city, to give two of my favorite examples—seem naturally suited to multidisciplinary investigation.

Crossdisciplinary work, in contrast, illuminates the subject of one discipline from the perspective of another, as when, for an example, a physicist discusses the acoustics of music production or a literary-studies specialist performs a “close reading” of a legal contract.

In contrast to multidisciplinary and crossdisciplinary work, interdisciplinary work ideally produces knowledge that integrates two or more disciplines, contributing to a new foundational unity of understanding, perhaps even a new hybrid field. Interdisciplinary work thus both creates knowledge and redraws the boundaries of that which can, in theory, be known, but interdisciplinary work also entails an understanding of the disciplinary norms that are being challenged.

To continue with our survey of disciplinary evolution: The term postdisciplinarity evokes an intellectual universe in which we inhabit the ruins of outmoded disciplinary structures, mediating between our nostalgia for this lost unity and our excitement at the intellectual freedom its demise can offer us. Is the era of postdisciplinarity upon us now?

Finally, transdisciplinarity refers to the highest level of integrated study, that which proposes the unity of intellectual frameworks beyond the disciplinary perspectives and points toward our potential to think in terms of frameworks, concepts, techniques, and vocabulary that we have not yet imagined. It must be acknowledged, however, that the very notion of transdisciplinarity may strike many of us as chimerical, sinisterly monolithic, or as a ruse for smuggling back in old dreams of objectivity and universal knowledge. Are we then right back where we started, or does our investigation of disciplines and the nature of knowledge maintain our historical perspective?

—Julie A. Buckler, Harvard University
“Towards a New Model of General Education at Harvard College”

This reminds me of the often-quoted model of the ideal design employee proposed by Tom Kelley of the design firm IDEO: he looks for what he calls “T-Shaped People” (perhaps the best model for EG designer?) They are people with broad understandings of the context in which design occurs but who also approach individual problems from a deep disciplinary perspective coupled with hard-won expertise. T-Shaped people can form teams that surround a challenge with interconnected cultural sensitivities and a formidable array of pragmatic skill sets. It looks like this:

IDEO's idea designerTeam Building

…which leads me to propose an expanded system of Kelley’s thinking using typography as a base for addressing disciplinary issues:

Undergrad / Grad

It has always seemed a bit overambitious to expect undergraduate design programs to produce truly T-Shaped people, hence I propose they instead shoot for “lowercase-t shaped” people and expect them to grow into Kelley’s ideal through graduate study and presumably a few years of practical work experience.


Those with purely disciplinary training (‘pure’ theory heads, master-apprenticeships, trade education) may take years to develop broad understandings of the interconnectedness of their skills with culture at either high or low levels while Interdisciplinarians attempt to occupy the areas between established fields and exploit their overlaps.


Perhaps postdisciplinarity is about connecting directly to the larger culture (‘popular’ scholarship) at several depths within a discipline while transdisciplinarity requires a broad interconnectedness of very deep disciplinary skills and perspectives…probably only possible with networks of coordinated specialists rather than within any one designer’s education.

Finally, I propose a new word, Diversciplinarity, to satisfy our collective bloodthirst to constantly commoditize new fields of study, and I end with a question: what shape should EG designers of the future look like?



Darrin Scott Hunter
Dish Design
[email protected]



Better Luck Next Time

Our rain date is threatening to be another wash-out, and so we regret to inform you that our Spring Social  at the Cincinnati Zoo has been cancelled.

We will reschedule a happy hour at a later date. Meanwhile, please keep an eye out for our next event, Documentation: Exterior Signage, coming late Spring (Date TBD).


Margaret & Hannah

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I’ve been musing over the ability to provide “original” thought versus harnessing great ideas. As designers and creatives, we put a lot of effort into forming innovative solutions for our clients and communities. Take a moment and visit a handful of design firm websites. Spoiler Alert: repetitive buzz words abound. We market our profession however necessary to reach our audience, but how do you as a person get down to the business of designing something that is meaningful? Something that is great?

If innovation is one key component to growth as a designer or a firm, is original thought the only true vehicle? I would guess that a great number of us consider innovation to be a completely new method, idea or product. Tasking yourself with the goal of bringing a brand new concept into the world is a tall order. In our fast-paced digital lives we would be hard pressed to form a truly first-of-its-kind, original idea. What about the process of innovating? Creating a transformation or a breakthrough? These actions do not happen without first following the footsteps of an existing process or harnessing a great idea.

Think about it in terms of an early design process. First you go through a period of research and gathering of information. Primarily, you are getting to know your client and defining a project. Then you start to seek inspiration and a framework in order to conceptualize the possibilities. What is the existing or future space like, what assets does the client have to work with, what is their budget? Maybe you made your way over to the SEGD website to review the Global Design Awards profiles. Maybe you’ve started a Pinterest board to gather concepts and solutions that might echo the idea you are starting to form in your mind. If you seek to explore a new technology for your client, where have you seen this technology used? Who has pioneered the way? Stop Here: Think about how important it is to have content and great ideas available to you. Even after something hits screen or paper, becomes refined and is approved, great ideas must be sought out and explored in order to bring the solution to life. “Great” does not mean “most expensive” or “most different from anything seen before.” It simply has to solve and honor the reason the design problem was identified in the first place. When it fits perfectly, tangibly and intangibly, it becomes great design.

I love promoting great design. It’s what grows me and helps me innovate. It’s about soaking up inspiration from all around me, even when I’m not actively thinking about a design problem. I read about all kinds of topics. A piece of internet click bait leads me down a digital “rabbit hole” of content. I get involved in activities and events. I often joke about starting a collaborative blog called “Weird Shit Designer’s Do,” because I am that person who is walking through the Detroit Auto Show, not only observing the marketed content laid in front of me, but crawling into the exhibit sets to see what’s going on inside. In doing so I get to make discoveries for myself and see a different world.

How do you innovate?

Hannah Anderson, SEGD Cincinnati Co-Chair
Kolar Design

Interested in contributing to our blog? Email us at: [email protected]

CVG Blog Image

As soon as I volunteered to post something to the SEGD Cincinnati blog with the goal of reinvigorating our members, I started panicking. For weeks, I’ve been agonizing over what I should write about, fearful that it wouldn’t be the inspirational spark of our members’ next big ideas. The SEGD community has been so valuable to me, and I often think about how I can better contribute as a member. This blog, I hoped, would be a good opportunity to get more momentum and conversation in our local chapter.

I found myself, full of lofty goals, trying to think of something brilliant to share with you all – a project that changed the world, a new material that wowed a client, an Illustrator tip that would blow your mind… I asked my husband, an architect and avid reader of all things design, what I should write about. He responded with lots of ideas – legibility of highway signs, alleys as public spaces, whether buildings should be branded for their purpose or their neighborhood… all interesting things. So why was I anxious? I started to worry, am I a good designer if I’ve never even considered these things, let alone formed an opinion around them? He could sense my anxiety and followed up with, “Just write about whatever is interesting to you.”

I started to think about all the things piquing my interest these days: minimalism, politics, the right way to brew coffee, my new baby and how she’s learning new things every day, and, of course, the new typeface from Hoefler & Co. The defining characteristic of SEGD is our diversity – a diversity of expertise, surely, but this extends beyond the walls of our disciplines. The broad nature of our organization is such that there will be topics within it that don’t interest you, and that’s okay. I hope that this blog post is a kickoff point for anyone out there who is worried that their perspective isn’t worth anything because they don’t go home and think about the next Adobe update or the best way to organize a sign schedule. And if you do think about those things as you fall asleep at night, we want to hear from you too.

What makes you a valuable designer? Is it your love of typefaces, your knowledge of materials and fabrication techniques, or is it the mad storytelling skills you’ve mastered while putting an ornery 3-year-old to bed? The change of ‘E’ in SEGD from “environmental” to “experiential” has caused much debate and discussion within the SEGD community. Whatever your stance, know that the goal of that subtle shift was to be profoundly more inclusive. Whatever your interests, there is a place for you here, and we want to hear from you. As EG designers, we are tasked with taking a great interest in people’s every thought and experience. We extend this interest and empathy to our clients every day, why not to our own community?

I’ll end these 500 words with a plea: If you’re interested in contributing to this blog, or just looking for a way to stretch and put yourself out there, please reach out to SEGD Cincinnati. We know there are a lot of great folks out there with stuff to say, so let’s get to know each other, learn lots, and reinforce the inclusivity, support, and inspiration that SEGD is known for.


Margaret Lange, SEGD Cincinnati Co-Chair
BHDP Architecture

Email us: [email protected]


*Inkblot vector artwork provided by Freepik


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