Dialogue: Jarrett Fuller - Design Bureau

Charles and Ray Eames’ “Powers of Ten”

As an unabashed fan of Lost, Fuller created an annual report for the fictitious Dharma Initiative, a mysterious organization featured on the series.


One of 122 original works that Fuller made from April until August of last year as part of his project, Today Jarrett Made.

las artes says:

Great designers are always trying to push boundaries, creating and experimenting with new ideas, some of them resulting in revolutionary trendy design types that keep appearing in the constant shifting web design industry. I really like to see those new ideas coming to life considering that most of them are amazingly well designed, however alongside with such positive feedback, like everything in life, there is a great probability of existing a negative and critical side that acts like a turn point limiting great designs to just that… design.

Dialogue: Jarrett Fuller

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

by Sarah Handelman
photo by Jarrett Fuller 

In a word, Jarrett Fuller is inspired. As a result, the young Warby Parker designer always has more than a few projects up his sleeve. By day, the recent graduate stays busy at the optically and socially conscious start-up, but Fuller’s creative stride doesn’t end after work. On his blog, he publishes a variety of design-related quotes, work, and original writing. In an effort to sustain the design-school level of experimentation he left last May, Fuller and a friend created Sway, a themed zine with few visual restrictions. The publication gave both designers a chance to explore new territory, including EamesPowers of Ten. From his apartment that overlooked the 22nd mile of the New York City Marathon, Fuller spoke more about inspiration, making, and craftsmanship on the web.

What prompted you to write a manifesto? How has it informed your practice as a designer and design thinker? 

I wrote the manifesto about two years ago when I found myself thinking about the future and the kinds of projects I wanted to work on. I was reading back over many of the articles I had written for my blog and began to notice recurring themes — ideas that seemed to parallel not only where I'd been but also where I wanted to go. The manifesto has since become a benchmark of sorts that has fed into how I take on new work, as well as how I approach my own work, and the work of others. Developing these principles enabled me to discover that, at its core, design can make people happier. It can act as a light in an often dark world, and I wanted my work to do that — to help people see the world as something good.

What has been interesting to me is that the manifesto’s principles are not binding. They actually create a space for improvisation and experimentation. They force me to look at something from a different angle, or switch mediums, or notice the beauty in the unexpected. I approach all the work I do through the lens of the manifesto's ideas. I'd like to think that someone could see its influence in everything I make.

"I like to think of the web as a vessel — it's what we fill it with that matters, and design alone isn't enough. We need to also fill it with quality content."

Your personal project, Today Jarrett Made, seems to be a culmination of the manifesto's ideas. What did you learn from the experience of making one piece of art each day?

I started the project as a way of exploring the ideas of the manifesto and the notion of storytelling through graphic design, all by making one piece of art a day. But creating a new, unique concept everyday turned out to be a real challenge. One of the manifesto’s tenets, “inspiration is everywhere,” became very real to me.

When you know you have that task of creating a piece of art each day, you start looking for things to inspire you and jumpstart each day's artwork. Looking through the project, you can see how everything — from Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs, to Bob Dylan, to old science books — influenced the work. By the time I completed the project, ideas were no longer hard to come by. I had developed an eye to spot inspiration wherever I was. 

Because I was doing this solely for my own personal development (there were no clients involved), I was more open to experimentation and discovering new techniques. In the process of creating the works, I would find a new way to make a texture or a better way to draw something or an unconventional layout. Much of what I did for the Today Jarrett Made project has since made its way into my "real" work in the forms of concepts, techniques and processes. 

When we hear about innovation on the web, we can imagine the shiny stuff, but you’ve written that you are interested in developing web craftsmanship. What makes someone a web craftsperson?

For a few months during my freshman year of college, I worked part-time at a small design studio that worked exclusively in print design and production. The studio was just beginning to explore designing for the web. I remember having a conversation with the lead designer, who told me about when he used to design graphics for a local news station back in the eighties. He remembered the feeling of spending time crafting images that would flash on a screen for a matter of seconds and then be gone forever. He said that designing something he knew would be so ephemeral changed the way he approached the craft. He knew what he made would not be something that lasted, and he didn't like that. The intangible nature of the web makes it feel ephemeral and somehow less permanent, much like those cable-news graphics.

A craftsperson is someone whose work is filled with intense care. He strives to make something lasting. Craftspeople are concerned with quality over quantity. They are deeply concerned with the materials and processes behind their craft. We recognize craftsmanship when we see it: in a pair of boots that will last longer than their owner, or a chest of draws that is passed down through generations, or a pair of jeans that get better with age. 

The care of the web craftsperson is easier to spot: web standards and valid HTML and CSS are tools of a web craftsperson. They know how to wield them to the craft's advantage. But what of the part about creating something lasting? I like to think of the web as a vessel — it's what we fill it with that matters, and design alone isn't enough. We need to also fill it with quality content. If people care passionately about the content they design, the medium has the ability to evolve, outlive changing technologies, and get passed from one generation to the next. 

You've also written about the Internet's problem: A lack of real creation, or creativity — and when real, new ideas are realized, the world is quick to judge. I want to know your thoughts on criticism: Can design criticism productively exist and develop online?

The web has fostered an amazing environment to share our creations with the world more easily and instantly than ever. At the same time, it's also a place where we can criticize and judge just as quickly. The platform has instilled us with the belief that our opinions on everything can and should be shared. It’s much easier to push out a 140-character tweet criticizing someone else's work than it is to spend time creating something original.

However, I do think criticism and feedback is a valuable part of the design process. A site like Dribbble, for example, successfully provides a forum for constructive criticism online. Dan Cederholm and his team have created a community where designers can share ideas and feedback. So far, it has largely risen above the baseless criticism and negativity that is unfortunately all too common online.

In Lewis Hyde's seminal book The Gift, he writes about the idea of gift-giving within community. The entire community is exchanging gifts, to each other, constantly passing them around and making them agents of change that expand the reach of the community. I think that's how Dribbble has created a community where design criticism and feedback can act as gifts. The entire community is exchanging feedback. In turn, designers can provide better design to a larger audience.

Anything lately that has made you look twice?

A while ago, Brain Pickings posted about Sea, this book full of amazing photos of sea creatures from Mark Laita, which completely stopped me in my tracks. I've always enjoyed underwater imagery, but these photos are like nothing I've seen before. 

What designer/studio should we have started following yesterday?

Oh man, this is a tough one. Danny Jones, a.k.a. YASLY, has a portfolio that is incredibly diverse. He jumps between aesthetics with little effort. I've been following his work for years, and each new piece continues to inspire me. 

Best place to get things done: 

You know that stereotypical image of the artist in his studio late at night, hunched over his desk with a single light illuminating his work surface? That's me. I tend to be most productive after dark, alone at my desk with the light off and some music playing softly in the background. Also, libraries are great.

Worst place to get things done:

Not sure about this one. I tend to get distracted working in public — whether that be coffee shops, bookstores, and restaurants — as I become more interested in the dynamics of the environment around me, but I think it's good to get distracted every once in a while. 

Best exhibition you've been to lately:

I was gallery hopping about a month ago and stumbled into the Richard Serra exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery. I know nothing about sculpture, but the scale of Serra’s work blew me away. 

Favorite person to follow on twitter:

I find Twitter much more enjoyable when I'm using it to communicate with friends and family; it makes the site more conversation-centered and less a platform for projecting ideas or networking. My sister and I talk though Twitter almost every day, and I most enjoy seeing what people I know in real life are sharing and posting. 

That said, I also enjoy John Maeda's insightful aphorisms, and Anthony Bourdain always makes me laugh.

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