April Greiman by Charlie Clark

Born in 1948, April Greiman is a contemporary designer. She is a pioneer in the use of computer technology as a design tool and one of the proponents of the New Wave aesthetic in the United States.

Greiman began her career as a designer in New York City in the mid 1970’s. However, she soon decided to leave the then heavily European influenced design community of New York to move to Los Angeles, where there was no entrenched artistic aesthetic. When the Macintosh computer made an entry into the design market in 1984, most designers were opposed to the idea of using it as a tool for design. April Greiman was not so skeptical, and she quickly established herself as a visionary pioneer of digital communications design.

Greiman was introduced to the principles of Modernism at Kansas City Art Institute, and later the International (or Swiss) style at the Basel School of Design. While at the BSD she was taught by Wolgang Weingart, who was at the time experimenting in developing a new design aesthetic that was less reflective of the modernist heritage and more representative of a post-industrial society. This aesthetic, which is now called the New Wave, was an eclectic departure from the grid based design structure so deeply rooted in the International Style. New Wave typography made use of wide letter spacing, changing type weights and unusual angles. In her work, Greiman followed New Wave ideology by continuing to explore typographic mean and experimenting with ways to alter the two dimensional space of a page.

In 1892, she was invited by CalArts to direct its graphic design program. There, she began exploring design education and also gained access to state of the art video and digitizing equipment. She began using video and analogue computers to combine different elements through the new media. She was aware of the rapid changes that were occurring in the field of graphic design and in 1984, she was able to convince the university to change the name of the department from “graphic design” to “visual communications.”

Also in 1984, Greiman completed a poster titled “Iris Light” that was extremely innovative in its use of a still frame of video imagery and its integration of New Wave typography with more formal design elements. In 1986, Greiman undertook a major assault upon the design community’s preconceptions. After being commissioned to design the 133 issue of Design Quarterly,   Greiman saw an opportunity to defy the design community and to question the work and the medium. Design Quarterly #133 challenged existing notions of what a magazine should be; instead of the standard 32 page format, she redesigned the piece as a poster that folded out to almost 3 by 6 feet. On one side, a life-size digitized image of Greiman’s naked body amid layers of interacting images and text. On the other, atmospheric video images are dashed with notations on the digital process. Entitled “does it Make Sense?” the piece questioned the objective, rational and masculine tendencies of modernist design. Designed with the MacDraw application on Macintosh, the process of integrating digitized video images and bitmapped type was a painstaking process; the size of the files was so large and the equipment so slow that it could take whole days to send the data from the computer to the printer.

After the publication of Design Quarterly #133, many designers felt compelled to rethink the role of the computer in the design practice, and today most designers couldn’t imagine the practice without them.

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