Step by Step


I love being a graphic designer. For years it’s been what I live and breathe, day in and day out. While it brings me fulfillment and joy, the profession isn’t without its drawbacks. It’s caused my brain to operate differently than it did before; as a designer I silently judge most things that I look at, no matter what they are. I’ve become an unwilling critic. For example, the world’s endless carousel of logos tirelessly calls my ire, no matter if I’m simply walking down the street or scrolling through my phone. This is a gift and a curse, because on one hand I’m more likely to enjoy something (no matter what it is) if it’s well designed, but on the other hand I’m more likely to dismiss something (sometimes subconsciously) if it doesn’t meet a certain aesthetic standard. Aside from all that though, there is one other major drawback to being a graphic designer that inspired this exhibit.

Most people don’t know what the fuck a graphic designer does.

There’s a tinge of dread that runs through my system when people politely ask what I do for a living. The phrase “graphic designer” is inherently general, with so many sub-occupations within it that it almost invites investigation. Sometimes I’ll be open to the incoming smalltalk, but in a very Larry David fashion, sometimes I just won’t. After four years of doing this kind of work at an agency level, one would think I’d have mastered the art of answering this question, yet it always seems to catch me off guard. I always end up modge-podging an answer on the spot that probably isn’t as great as it could be.

Over time this whole debacle creates a kind of resentment, and perhaps the book that is the focus of this exhibition is proof that the resentment has festered — the final straws being family members (who I repeatedly try to explain my job to) asking me if I draw pictures for a living. Truth be told though, the journey to creating this book began years ago.

In July 2022 I first began the idea for something that would later become Step By Step. I was taking a course called Intro to Contemporary Art and Theory in which I had written a paper about the divide between those who go out of their way to appreciate art in any form, and those who refuse to, wrongly seeing it as part of academia or intellectualism that they felt disconnected to or saw as impractical. I felt that this topic fit within the resentment I wrote about above, and reached out to friend and fellow graphic designer Daniel Schrier of Canada to talk about creating a zine that would address this topic in a creative way. We talked about it extensively a couple times, but never ended up getting back to it. Regardless, our conversation fueled my excitement about something like this even more. I’m happy to say that it wasn’t all a waste of time and this exhibit is the product of those conversations.

Fast forward to 2023 and I finish my thesis about local store signage in White Bear Lake being overwhelmingly made up of Arial and Cooper Black, a further exploration into common apathy towards design. When I was made to translate this into an exhibit in 2024, I remembered the zine idea I had nearly two years prior and Step by Step, at this time tentatively titled "In Daily Life" came closer to reality. Initially, I came up with two concepts, one being a very straightforward and blunt zine closer to my original idea, and the other concept being a book about what design is and how it touches our daily lives, written for adults in the style of a children’s book. It was overwhelmingly more interesting to my peers in class and became my choice.

The key to what made it interesting enough for me was the spite needed to make it possible. The condescending writing became a fun outlet for the quiet resentment I’ve had for years, while also seeking to educate people (somewhat earnestly).


The concept chosen was made with some specific design inspiration in mind. I tend to keep track of new fonts released by foundries I admire, and one of them is Grilli Type Foundry, established in Sweden. A few years ago they released GT Maru, a typeface based on Japanese sign painting. There was a microsite made for the release with fantastic demonstrations of the font used with cartoons, and I remember wanting to use it when the right time came along. Step by Step ended up being that opportunity. 

To match with Maru, I chose GT Alpina (from the same foundry). It has a lovely design color to it that instantly gave me the feeling of the Scholastic book fairs I attended as a kid, and that was the exact feeling I wanted to inject into the book’s design.

Rather than go with a straightforwardly childish cartoon style, I wanted some kind of tonal seriousness to come through in the illustrations. This is where I felt inspired by airplane safety manuals and the illustrations found inside of them. These illustrations are clear and to the point, and even though many of them are in a cartoon illustration style, it’s done for ease of information digestion rather than trying to appeal to a young audience. It became a great middle ground for me to base my illustrations off of. 


Early on, I decided that the book would be highly structured, based around key moments from the average day in which any sort of person would come across everyday things that were examples of graphic design at varying degrees of invisibility. Invisible, in this case, meaning the difference between a road sign and a movie’s title card, one of which is meant to be clear and uninteresting, while the other can be more expressive and attention grabbing. Regardless of any given item’s intent, the book would make clear how a graphic designer was responsible for it. To my target audience (those uninformed about graphic design’s purpose) this would be a somewhat eye-opening read that allowed them to further understand the impact of the graphic design profession.

The moments I chose to split up the day with were:

  1. Starting the Day

  2. Going to Work

  3. Doing Your Work

  4. Running an Errand

  5. Making Your Dinner

  6. Taking It Easy

Each of these moments were intentionally written in a three-word structure to correspond to the design of each spread.

The left-side pages were all split into three rounded rectangles, each one corresponding to a primary color. The identity is built on primary colors in order to reinforce the childish nature of the project; primary colors are one of the first art-related things a child learns, and the intent of the book is to continue a delayed education of sorts. Each of these left-side pages starts with either the blue or red shape on top, and the yellow shape remains in the center. Each spread alternates between red and blue being the first color, and the vocabulary word on that page corresponds to the color (and remains in that color in the glossary).

The right-hand pages are where the meat of the book lives. There’s the aforementioned illustrations which I’ll discuss later on, and underneath there’s a paragraph. These paragraphs open with a centered sentence to introduce the vignette situation of the day, and the paragraph underneath describes more about what’s going on from a design perspective. What brings the book together is the way these paragraphs are written. There’s an entirely smug and downright condescending nature to the writing, much like children’s books that are written to introduce a child to a concept for the first time. Adults obviously know what a road sign is, but they’ve probably never thought about someone having to make choices about their design. The book’s writing bridges that gap, just in the most petty way possible.

As for the illustrations, this is where the visual inspiration really came through. Each one was created with consistent line-weight and style considerations, with an attempt at a relatively equal amount of complexity present in each example. That being said, I didn’t want them to be completely homogenous or it could jeopardize the intent: if each page illustrates a different kind of design, it doesn’t make sense for everything to look alike. This line of thinking can be seen when comparing the calendar illustration with the recipe illustration. The calendar is an homage to the Massimo Vignelli calendars, Helvetica and all. The recipe, though, can’t be made with Helvetica and a tight grid. It should feel more natural, based on an equally real thing. Having grown up watching my grandmother use church cookbooks and family heirlooms for her recipes, this is what I wanted to replicate. The recipe title is set in Schmaltzy by Herzberg Design Co while the handwriting is the best I could find on Adobe Fonts that gave enough of an authentic feel. While I could have used my own handwriting, I felt it would have been too out of place in the context of a cartoon design language.​ In the road sign illustration I also made sure to use Interstate, the actual highway signage font, and based the arrows on their real-life counterparts.

The Final Product

After putting together the spreads, I also chose to include an epilogue and the aforementioned glossary. The glossary was made to further tie back to the children’s books I remember reading as a child, and the epilogue was even more important. In all the pages preceding it, the text is wildly tongue-in-cheek, so this was my only opportunity to truly speak with a sense of earnestness. The only challenge was keeping it concise enough not to become preachy.

The last thing was the cover. The cascading stair-step look was a crucial part of the initial idea that visually represented the Step by Step theme, and I chose to let it shine on the cover. The back cover reflects it around a circle, creating the illusion of an eyeball. This was intentional in order to emphasize the importance of seeing and recognizing the design work that’s instrumental in just about everything.