is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. RSS sponsorship opportunities available through /Syndicate Ads.+
Way back when I had no idea how cool the information superhighway really would be — this was the mid-1990s — I was trying to make my way in life as a print designer. I did some lamentable work at a small advertising agency in McLean, Virginia and then at a slightly more glamorous design studio in downtown Washington, D.C., basically graduating from real estate advertisements at the former to stylistically fickle marketing work at the latter. Neither position was particularly satisfying for my creative aspirations.
For a while, I took refuge in freelance work, mostly doing work for the small army of independent bands hiding out in the outer-reaches of Northwest Washington. This meant designing album covers, CD covers, tee-shirts and posters on little or no budget, but getting a fair amount of creative license. I only did this for a few years and, because my day job at the time was so time intensive, I never became particularly prolific, producing only a handful of pieces during my four years in D.C.
Hey, Hey, They’re The Ropers
By far, I did the most of this kind of work for a band called The Ropers, one of the founding members of which had been one of my best friends since the seventh grade. It was a fun collaboration, and when I look back on the work I did during that era of my life, these pieces are still among the few that I can look back at fondly, without cringing.
Recently, I dug up the archived work from some old CD-ROMs and, because I don’t even have a copy of QuarkXPress running on my computer, had to ask a friend to output PDFs of the layouts for me. One day I’ll get around to putting together a proper online portfolio of work, but I thought I may as well put these samples up in the meantime. You can click on each of the images to see them at a larger size.
All the Time
This is the LP art for the band’s debut full-length release, “All the Time,” released by Slumberland Records in 1995. It’s really difficult for me to believe that this was done ten years ago, and when I pulled out my copy of the CD to have a look at it, I noticed the tray card was yellowed with age. Reminisces aside, I drew all of those airplanes — including the full-rendered blue plane that appears on the front — painstakingly with Adobe Illustrator. The design hasn’t withstood the test of time as well as I’d have liked. The layout fails to completely hang together; there are some awkward parts and some miscalculations on the visual strength of the imagery here and there. Overall, though, I can’t help but feel a certain affection for it, because it was one of the first designs I saw through from start to finish with my own concepts intact.
The World Is Fire
For their last full-length album, released by Teenbeat Records, I pushed my illustrative ambitions a bit further and actually painted two images for the front and back — with a real brush, acrylic paint and stretched canvas. The paintings are portraits based on old photographs from a 35mm roll that my mother had recently had developed for the first time: a time-capsule of shots of both her and my father, circa 1970. I thought they had a great attitude to them, and they accurately captured the melancholy and posed coolness that the band’s music hinted at. To mix it up a bit, these paintings were laid out differently for the CD and for the LP; I much prefer the album, which appears below. Not coincidentally, that format offered so much space for design. Looking at it now, it’s really one of my favorite designs I⁏ve ever done.+