Graphic Design: A conversation with Steven Jurgensmeyer

Steven Jurgensmeyer is an Arlington-based Creative Director who specializes in developing high-end concepts and strategic branding to execute clean, effective and functional design. He also enjoys working with local artists and businesses to help realize their vision, and is currently teaching as an Adjunct Professor at Mount Ida College in Newton, MA. Steven was formerly the Creative Director at trailblazing independent record companies Rykodisc and Rounder Records, and has worked with several Grammy Award-winning artists. He is also the designer of the AIFF website, and sits on the AIFF poster judging committee.


How do you define Graphic Design? Is it considered a true art form?

I would define Graphic Design as a visual intelligence. For the most part, graphic design is meant to inform or persuade the consumer, whether it be a website, brochure, an infographic or a bumper sticker. I always make the distinction that I am largely a commercial artist rather than a fine artist.  Commercial art means it is something that is bought and paid for. Commercial art serves a purpose; fine art, to me, is a bit purer in that the artist is free to express whatever he or she wishes to express. Now. Do those lines cross and blur? Are ad campaigns and logos “art?”  Of course!

What are the challenges that the graphic designer faces at this time, i.e. the new millennium?

Do you mean aside from the more crowded and competitive marketplace, the ever-changing canvas in which to present ideas and the consumer’s shrinking attention span? People today are processing information faster, differently and in more quickly changing formats than ever before. However, the role of designers remains the same, it’s just a different toolbox at their disposal. Some of those work better, some not as well. It depends on the client, the product, the audience and the goal.

What are the skills that a graphic designer should have?

First and foremost, intellectual curiosity. A strong desire to learn something new every day. On the technical side, I’m very much type-centric, so I’d advocate first for a good understanding of what makes for good typography: font selection, size, readability, relationships with other typefaces and images, color.

One of my principal beliefs is the importance of a “visual hierarchy,” as established by the graphic designer to communicate what’s important. A visual hierarchy structures information that way, basically to have you read a piece in the way and order that I want you to. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it always happens that way.

Does the graphic designer need to be creative and what are the reasons?

A good one does, absolutely. And he or she has to be driven. That’s a big one for me. I’ve been teaching some college level courses over the past couple of years and I do see a big drop-off in intellectual curiosity amongst the younger generations. Maybe it’s because fewer people are reading, primarily due to the web and its instant gratification, but there’s no substitute for research and curiosity. The other thing is that most good designers are excellent problem solvers, because a lot of what we’ve discussed comes down to solving problems visually.

How do you recognize a good graphic designer?

Everyone processes information differently, but I look first towards the typography. As mentioned, that’s very important to me. What’s it look like? How does it read? What’s its relationship to the art? My design tends to be very clean and efficient. That said, I’m also drawn to the wildly artistic or illustrative because that’s not a skill I can do well. I hire out for that.

If you have a gift of design, is it necessary to go to school and take classes?

I think so, definitely. Not only for the variety of reasons we've discussed, but also for the opportunity to measure yourself against your peers.

Is there a subliminal aspect to good graphic design? 

They say the best art is subversive and I would agree with that. Anything that makes you think, or question what you “think” you may be seeing is a good thing. Anything that stimulates conversation is a good thing. But art is, of course, subjective and graphic design is too. One man’s Picasso is another man’s velvet painting of dog’s playing poker.


To see more of his work, or to contact Steven, please visit: