SEGD Love Stories – David Vanden-Eynden, FSEGD

The 2024 SEGD Love Stories series is presented by Archetype.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the industry.

I started my career as a young and inexperienced graphic designer in the dark ages of the early 1970s. Radio had reached the FM stage, vinyl was king of recorded music, and personal computers were still the stuff of science fiction. Designer labels and brands were not yet all the rage but some products did hold a certain caché, such as Coors beer.

As I matured as a designer and person, finding my own set of values and interests, I moved away from the two-dimensional world of print graphics to the three-dimensional world of signage and architectural graphics, as it was known then. Somewhere along the line, likely in the late 70s, I learned of the Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD), its name at the time. Chris Calori and I joined SEGD soon thereafter and began attending SEGD conferences held at Cranbrook Academy in Detroit. And, yes, the Cranbrook conferences became the stuff of legend. 

The early SEGD conferences had few industry members in attendance and certainly not in the numbers they are now. Gradually, and wisely, SEGD encouraged more fabricators to join the organization thereby diversifying the membership and expanding the knowledge base. Designers were good at designing but were less knowledgeable about the manufacturing aspects of sign and display production. The goal was to integrate industry members into the membership and provide opportunities for collaboration. The integration and shared knowledge served and benefited the entire membership.  

As it was, the early conferences in which industry member participation increased were not without growing pains. Some designer members felt the conference focus was being compromised. Others embraced industry participation for the material and fabrication information it provided. Still others felt put-upon and annoyed by the glad-handing, requests for office visits, and the ubiquitous sales-pitch introduction: “Hi! My name is….., and I’m with….., and do you have any projects for me?”

However, as the projects in the studio I founded with Chris Calori – Calori & Vanden-Eynden (CVE) –  grew in scale and complexity, the need for greater knowledge in the areas of materials, coatings, fabrication, production, and installation became apparent. The studio spent hours researching vendors and material suppliers. The Sweets catalogs, if you had a set or access to a set, was a good source of info but it was really focused on the construction industry and, at best, provided a selection of stock sign products. We contacted paint and coatings companies to request new or updated swatch books. We reached out to suppliers of metals and plastics for product catalogs and samples in order to build and maintain a resource library. We had shelves of binders with product information. We searched databases and web sites. And, yet, we couldn’t keep our information up to date.

Chris and I realized that even with our resource library, our material samples, and our past experiences we could further benefit from industry members’ knowledge. Time for a re-boot! The industry members of SEGD became THE obvious resource to tap. 

At the same time, industry members were also changing. They, too, realized the value of collaborative partnering between designers and producers. Just as CVE realized the potential of working together, industry members realized that designers were more than just sources of potential projects. The SEGD Expos became opportunities for vendors and suppliers to demonstrate their capabilities and craftsmanship and for designers to keep up on the latest innovations in materials, systems, and processes. 

Designers could recommend vendors. Vendors could recommend designers. The relationship between designers and industry members became more complementary and productive. As a result, the work at CVE became more creative and innovative. Our industry partners welcomed the challenges our projects posed and they were eager to demonstrate their capabilities. Our relationships with industry members allowed us to see our projects beautifully executed. And in the end our clients and their audiences reaped the most benefit. A win win win!

The annual SEGD Conference and Expo is now a showplace for industry members to strut their stuff and for designers to keep current of trends in the industry. Booths showcase vendor capabilities and provide information on new materials. Demonstrations and presentations of the latest manufacturing methods and materials are available in abundance. The conference Expo provides opportunities to learn which vendors are specialists and which are generalists. This alone became invaluable when making vendor recommendations to our clients. We got to know the people behind the products and processes and called on them whenever we needed expert, experienced advice. 

Over the course of my career, many SEGD industry members have become good friends, trusted colleagues, and valued collaborators. I can call on them for advice at any time. Chris and I still meet with them socially. The industry members of SEGD are an extremely valuable resource. Their experience, dedication, and willingness to provide advice is unmatched. It’s a relationship that endures within the ranks of SEGD.

And what’s not to love about that?

David Vanden-Eynden is a co-founder and principal of Calori & Vanden-Eynden in New York. David is a 2007 SEGD Fellow and 2004 Angel Award honoree.

If you would like to share your SEGD Love Story, click the link below. We’ll highlight a range of SEGD member stories on our website and in our weekly newsletter throughout the year. The 2024 SEGD Love Stories series is presented by Archetype.

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