Stephen Doyle

Born in 1956 in Baltimore, Maryland, Stephen Doyle grew up in a Jesuit high school, where an anonymous woman said to him, “You don’t know who I am, but I’m just calling to tell you that you are going to go to Cooper Union.” Doyle, perplexed, questioned what Cooper Union was. “The best art school in the country.” (#3) Still to this day, Doyle is unsure of who had called. In high school, he was encouraged to not stay within his comfortable bubble and was told to not be afraid of different materials. This mentality stayed with him as he entered Cooper Union. He learned to use every tool in the shop – as Doyle puts it, “use your hands and get things done.” He learned crafts such as wood working, photography, bronze casting, and plaster carving.

His first job out of school was for Esquire magazine’s art department, lasting for three years. This is where he learned how to use the telephone as a design tool, and how to collaborate with others – something his solo-based design school had never taught him. A new issue came out every month, so he learned how to take his time and hone in on his ideas, exploring them and re-exploring them. His next job was working for two years at Rolling Stone magazine. Here, he developed his letterforms and learned classic typography, working under Mary Shanahan. This was only the beginning of his love for typography. Typography for Doyle was an art itself – not creating typography, but manipulating the letters, arranging, bending, cutting, simply playing with the letterforms themselves, and seeing the magic he could create with them. Issues at Rolling Stone came out every two weeks – not four – so he had to quickly learn how to speed his process up. This made him become a versatile designer, one that could do “speed designing” as well.

After five years of doing publishing, he joined Eastern European studio M&Co in 1983. Tibor Kalman, founder of M&Co, described Doyle as an “intelligent lunatic.” Soon after he got on board with the M&Co team, Kalman fired everyone except Doyle, tasking him with replacing the entire staff. He brought in school acquaintances Alexander Isley and Tom Kluepfel, finding exhilaration in a fresh approach. Two years had gone by, and he left M&Co in 1985 with Kluepfel to join William Drenntel, starting their own company named Drenttel Doyle Partners. Together, they designed book covers, environmental graphics, identity systems and created their own prototype for a new humor magazine, Spy. Eventually, Drenttel left in 1997 and the company became Doyle Partners.

Doyle Partners, now a crew of ten, is located near Madison Square in New York City. They do not have a classic design studio – rather a design lab. Doyle created a space where he could feel creative, a space where any project could happen – paper mache, sculpture, skewd letterforms which cast shadows, and intricate towers made from paper. He did not want to create a space solely dedicated to the computer, more so a space where you can play with real life components and later transfer them onto the computer. Relating back to his days in college, he believes there is a resurgence of craftsmanship – to be able to create things with one’s own hands and not be exclusively tied to the computer. Today, their focus is on identity programs, packaging, magazines, catalogs, books, installations, environmental graphics and products created for a variety of clientele. He also collaborates with firms outside of graphic design, including architectural firms. One collaborative project is at Heritage Field, a community park in the Bronx, where the former Yankee Stadium sat. Also, the New York Aquarium’s new shark tank, which is part of the Wild Life Conservation Society. They installed 48,000 little LEDs the size of Post-It notes, that reflect the sun when the wind catches them. It has the effect of an ocean ripple across the side of the building. Other projects the design firm is known for include constructions for the New York Times and Wired, a witty video for American Express on luxury publishing, a new skin for Toronto’s first Canadian Place skyscraper, branding for Barnes & Nobles book design for Stephen Colbert, and branding for Martha Stewart and Cooper Union.

Doyle’s design can be described as effervescent, filled with humor, and mixed with elegance. Being a designer, in his opinion, allows the person to move on and move around. It is a group of weapons that allow the designer to communicate ideas to push the media. It is his philosophy to approach things in a fresh manner because it “makes life more fun.” Because of this philosophy, he never sticks to one type of project within graphic design. He pushes boundaries with what his work and loves to collaborate with other specialists that his firm doesn’t hold. This creates a constant evolution of projects. In his hiring process, Doyle prefers designers that are young and fresh from college, so that the possibility of molding them from their linear, logical way of thinking is stronger. And, when he teaches, he avoids his students from looking at others work and copying them. He would rather there be soul and engagement in a piece, rather than something that “simply does the job” and is “tasteful” because there is far too much “good-looking, mediocre work.”

He tries to provoke graphic design that has meaning. For example, he is a huge advocate for environmental concerns, and tries to take examples from Germany, who is far beyond the United States in the “green” movement. He sees that the average graphic designer is oblivious to environmental concerns and green living, and that most “graphic designers won’t even recycle.” He even commutes to work via bicycle, keeping in mind fossil fuels. He wants to inspire things like this in his work and in the work of his peers, thus creating a movement in the viewers of the piece. Not only are environmental concerns dear to him, but also human rights. One great example of this is his display in the Grand Central Terminal in New York. It is an exhibition on the 19th amendment, the amendment that gave women the right to vote. He put giant 8 foot letters in vinyl across the floor of the terminal. The amendment convinently ended in the word “sex,” something he used to add humor into. As there are many people who walk the terminal, it is near impossible to read the entire amendment on the floor, due to its’ scale. However, most people read the word “sex” just as they are walking in. Doyle describes this as the type of “seduction” that he lives for, that they are reading the amendment without even knowing it.

All of these things combined are what make Doyle an exceptional graphic designer. He is an expert at climbing outside of the box to inspire new, exhilarating ideas, without staying focused on only one topic. He is recognized with various awards, including Alliance Graphique Internationale in 1995, was honored at the White House with the 2010 National Design Award for Communication (which came as a surprise for Doyle, as his work was not “flamboyant,” but the judges were drawn to his work for just that reason!), and in 2014, he was the AIGA Medalist.

 

 

Photo Cites:

Photo by Christopher Wahl on https://www.aiga.org/medalist-stephen-doyle

  1. Wahl, C. (n.d.). Stephen Doyle [Photograph].

Text Cites:

  1. Design Indaba. (2019, April 05). Stephen Doyle: Magic, nonsense and macramé. Retrieved April 7, 2019, from https://vimeo.com/106933252

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  1. Holdengraber, P. (2011, July 06). Interview: Graphic Designer Stephen Doyle. Retrieved April 7, 2019, from https://www.departures.com/lifestyle/technology-gadgets/interview-graphic-designer-stephen-doyle
  2. Lasky, J. (n.d.). Stephen Doyle. Retrieved April 7, 2019, from https://www.aiga.org/medalist-stephen-doyle
  3. Millman, D. (2010, September 24). Stephen Doyle. Retrieved from https://designobserver.com/feature/stephen-doyle/15728

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  1. Slanted Magazine & Weblog. (n.d.). Stephen Doyle (Doyle Partners) / Slanted Magazine #26 – New York. Retrieved April 7, 2019, from https://www.doylepartners.com/about-1

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