Jon Burgerman's ready-made design work is instantly recognisable. Doodles and hijacked photography, cardboard cut-out installations that break down barriers between artist and audience. He's a designer inspired by people, and at this year's graphic design convention TYPO Berlin, he's just told the people how he does it.
In his talk 'Encourage the ferret', the Brooklyn-based artist broke down his global success into four key elements. "I've done a lot of commercial work," he tells us, "but I haven't so much sold my soul as licensed it off." And to great success too! Here’s how he's done it.
In his talk, Jon played the packed Berlin crowd a video of a ferret that crashed a football game. His point is simple, and simply applied to design.
Improvise in the face of adversity. Intuitively make stuff. Don't self edit. Jon noted that sketchbooks are immediate, easy and cheap. And who's to say that that sketchbook is always a preperation for something else.
Think of your sketches as the final art. Turn it into a flipbook, or start creating cheap and quick animations. Basically...
02. Use what you have
Use whatever's to hand. Jon was given a camera for a present, so he incorporated that into his work, drawing in things to the snaps. "Cheap and quick can be better than expensive and slow," he says. It's something he’s taken from American sculptor Claes Oldenburg, who famously said that he didn't want art to sit on its arse and collect dust.
Take an object, adopt it, play with it. "Your environment can be altered momentarily, in not a lasting way, and I love this kind of design," he says. Travelling around Korea, Jon found himself riding the subway a lot, and so invented a new game – giving people new bodies.
His reaction to action film posters with him being shot went viral, which brought up interesting questions about commercial art in public spaces. "It's totally permissible to brandish weapons in these posters, but you can’t show a lit cigarette because that may hurt people." In short, Jon says allow your imagination to be the raw material, and...
03. Ignore the idea of failure
Perhaps the hardest thing to follow on the list, making yourself less self-critical, and not allowing doubts grow into an all consuming state of mind can do two things. Open up creative possibilities, and allow you to have fun!
"That notion of 'we're not meant to be doing this' is both harmful and helpful. It's not true – you should try out anything. But also it's good to kick out against. Of course you should be doing it."
Inspired by a street artist's claim to be making luxury products, Jon decided to make a new iPhone out of wood and sell it for $300 a pop. Then came his Molex cardboard watch line, his t-shirts, "with all the brands on them", and his Louis Kitton handbags. Nothing sold, and, yet by ignoring the idea of failure, it really didn’t matter.
For Jon's The Artist is Presently Doodling project, he set one minute for he and a member of the public to draw a portrait of the other. With no time for a fair representation of each person’s full drawing skills, something unique was produced. What you can take from such an experiment? "If you can’t be good be different."
04. Create a new game
By making a game out of your work, you'll encourage people interacting – and that should be the goal of all designers. Set something up for people to come and make it their own.
Jon created a gallery of colourful cardboard props where people made their fun. He’s laid down drawing for and people to colour them in. "Set things up and invite people to come and collaborate, break and make things. And it's okay to not know what you're doing – unless your a doctor," Jon says. "Innovation is another way of saying happy accident. Not expecting everything to be amazing is good."
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