Friday, June 22, 2012

Good Thing #12: Meeting P. Scott Makela

Some people you know for a short time, but you're changed forever by them. Hopefully in a good way.

P. Scott Makela changed graphic design in the '90s. He defied convention by overlapping text, violating borders, using text as a graphic element and not just for communicating a message, daring to be ugly and dissonant. There were other designers at the time who did something similar, but the difference between those and Scott is the difference between a talentless musician who plays a few random notes on a trumpet and calls it jazz and Miles Davis. The 90s were an interesting time for design because of the advent of desktop publishing. A lot of people broke into the industry not because they were talented designers, but because they knew how to use computers. A number of designers violated graphic design conventions because they didn't know any better. The best of them just pushed their lack of ability to the point where it looked intentional. P. Scott Makela, however, was classically trained in Basel. Every transgression against design convention was done precisely and deliberately. 

I had the good fortune of taking classes from Scott at the Kodak Center for Creative Imaging and it changed the way I design. At the start we had to pick our favorite and most hated fonts, and explain why. From then on we could only use the fonts we hated. We were allowed, however, to go into the font with Fontographer and edit the font to change it into something we liked. That's actually way harder than it sounds and I wound up with a font that looked totally schizophrenic because of my lack of ability, but turned out to be perfect for what I needed it to do. It was an eye-opening experience. Designing with a font you hate can actually push you to design something better than if you'd gone the conventional route. 

I always thought P. Scott Makela deserved a whole lot more attention and credit than he got. Sadly, he died in 1999 at age 39, before his titles for the movie Fight Club made it into the theaters. That might have been his breakout moment. Still, I'm grateful to have met him, and I still use what he taught me to this day. 


Carmela Makela said...

I'm so happy I stumbled across this! Scott was my dad, and he would be so stoked to know that he inspired you. Thank you
Carmela Makela

Matt LeClair said...

I'm so glad you saw the post! I only had a couple weeks to learn from your dad, and that was, wow, 20 years ago! But I'm a better designer and a better teacher for having met him.