Ellen Lupton is curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. An author of numerous books and articles on design, she is a public-minded critic, frequent lecturer, and AIGA Gold Medalist. Read More

Drenttel Doyle Partners

Interview, Ellen Lupton with Stephen Doyle and William Drenttel, July 14, 1994. An edited version of this interview appears in the book Mixing Messages: Graphic Design in Contemporary Culture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.

What was going on in design in the mid-80s?

Stephen Doyle: Personally, the mid-80s was a turning point. We started the company in 1985; I’d been at M&Co for two years. But you have to put the period in context. Who were the totems then, the idols? Pentagram? Ivan Chermayeff? Milton?…Bill, what was your perspective from the Saatchi and Saatchi viewpoint?

Bill Drenttel: What we call the three M’s: Milton, Massimo, and Ivan. They were really at the pinnacle of their careers at that time, in the early 80s.

S: Do you mean the pinnacle as in going down hill after that, the zenith, the peak end? Was there a generational turning point after that peak moment?

B: I’m not making a judgment about whether they went down hill, but that was a high point. Massimo, especially, was doing so many things that were being built in the early 80s, like IDCNY. The Mobil stuff that Ivan was doing, the bus posters, were very vital right then.

S: M&Co came of age, took off, right after I left. I left in June of 85, right in the middle of the decade. In that year, though, M&Co took off.

B: But there were some earlier things that Alex and Stephen were doing that became very important, things from the end of 1984, into 1985-86. Alex’s Kurt Weil record cover with the tiny icons became very important. The buzz over M&Co wasn’t based on a huge body of work.

S: If I had a theme for what we’re doing now, in 1994, it’s logic in danger, letting reason take a leave of absence. That was starting to happen in 84-85 at M&Co—trying to make things quirkier, memorable, flawed. It’s wrongness that makes something right, like the mole on Cindy Crawford’s face. This was against the prevailing ethos of all that good looking stuff that Ivan, Milton, and Massimo were doing.

B: But another way to think about it is that the idea of corporate identity as a system had been perfected—the standards manual and the annual report. If there was an enemy for Tibor, it was the corporations. He wanted to get in there and take the rationality out of it. Looking back, there’s a degree to which designers create a body of work by attaching themselves to one thing. For Tibor, its was the Talking Heads—that work gave him credibility.

S: And an insurrectionist flag to wave.

If there was a generational shift taking place, who was the father?

S: Milton Glaser. My first experience with graphic design was reading Shakespeare in highschool—his book covers had a design credit. And I thought, I want to be an illustrator. On a personal level, I have had closer mentors, but his is an imposing figure. My first job was with Milton at Esquire. There’s Walter Bernard, too, of course, but at a different level in terms of design. And at Cooper Union, I studied with Milton Glaser and Henry Wolf in a magazine design class. What about you, Bill, from your position at Saatchi and Saatchi?

B: When we talked about graphic design, we talked about advertorial art directors.

S: For me it was the magazine world.