Acclaimed graphic designer DJ Stout launches a new speaker series to offer students the inspiration he discovered at Texas Tech.
Texas Tech University's J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts (TCVPA) has announced the start of “Visions: The DJ Stout Distinguished Speaker Series.” Stout is a 1981 alumnus of Texas Tech who served as the art director of Texas Monthly and is now a partner at Pentagram.
Paula Scher was the inaugural speaker. Scher is arguably the most influential graphic designer alive today. If you've seen the logos of Tiffany & Co., Citibank or the Metropolitan Opera, then you've seen her work.
The speaker series, funded by a generous endowment from Stout, was dreamed up with longtime friends and current Texas Tech School of Art faculty. The endowment will fund the speaker series in perpetuity, leaving a lasting legacy in the School of Art.
“Carla Tedeschi and Dirk Fowler were the ones who came up with the idea,” Stout said. “They knew I was looking for a meaningful way to give back to the university; that's when they pitched the idea of a guest lecture series.”
When he asked faculty what their greatest need was, they said funds to bring in world-class guests to inspire and work with students.
This concept jumped out at Stout.
As a student, Stout himself had been significantly influenced by a guest at Texas Tech. In 1979, he was wondering if he could really make a living in graphic design when a visitor from Los Angeles came to his class.
“Lou Danzinger came to talk with us and offered critiques of our work,” Stout recalls.
Danzinger is a celebrated American graphic designer. His works include designs for Microsoft, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the National Endowment for the Arts. He also worked with the late Saul Bass.
“Bass was one of my design heroes, and here was a guy who worked alongside him, critiquing my work,” Stout said.
Nervous at the time, Stout tells the story with ease now.
“Danzinger had good things to say about my work, and of course notes on how I could improve,” Stout said. “That day was incredible. It pushed me out of the classroom and gave me a glimpse of what was possible.”
Stout decided if Bass and Danzinger could make a living in graphic design, then he could too.
Since graduating from Texas Tech, Stout led Texas Monthly to win the prestigious National Magazine Award three times. He has been selected as one of the “100 most important people in photography” by American Photo magazine, and in 2004 I.D. (International Design) magazine profiled him as one of its “Fifty American Designers.”
Stout's work is in several permanent collections including the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Dallas Museum of Art, and many others. His studio Pentagram has worked on projects for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Saturday Night Live, Starbucks, Saks Fifth Avenue, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, The Art Institute of Chicago and hundreds of other brands.
So, one might say that day with Danzinger was well-invested time. As far as Stout's career has taken him, he unapologetically remains a West Texan. Born in the small town of Alpine, Stout also lived in Big Spring before eventually coming to Lubbock for school.
Now settled in Austin, the designer has no plans to leave Texas.
“I've always been a regionalist,” Stout said. “One of the things I love about Texas Monthly is it's a regional publication. It's about one place, and yes, it tackles global issues, but unapologetically through the lens of Texas.”
Stout himself is a fifth-generation Texan. While he believes conversations about globalization are important, he doesn't believe artists should lose their sense of place altogether.
“Great stories have a place and time – a setting,” Stout said. “If you're going to tell compelling stories through design you need perspective.”
Spending his formative years at Texas Tech helped establish a sense of place in Stout's design, many of which give a nod to the grit of the High Plains.
“What I love about Texas Tech is they embrace who they are,” Stout said. “They're out in West Texas and everything they do, every problem they solve, is done through that lens. They're not trying to be the University of Texas or Texas A&M. They're comfortable in their own skin.”
This is a concept Stout tries to get his clients to embrace.
“If I'm working with a client in the tech industry, they often want to emulate Google,” Stout said. “What I do is discover who they really are, and hopefully, get them to embrace that.”
Stout says well-known brands don't find success because of a great logo. They solved a problem that needed a solution and the recognition of its logo followed. It's for this reason Stout warns clients not to get too hung up on following the aesthetics of others.
Stout capitalized on this while visiting with students this week. Prior to the speaker series on Tuesday evening, Stout and Scher visited classes in the School of Art and engaged in the kind of collaboration that inspired Stout 40 years ago.
A crowded classroom with standing room only awaited Stout and Scher Tuesday afternoon. When the designers came through the door, applause broke out.
Over the following hour, students sat on the edge of their seats, asking questions and laughing over Stout and Scher's candid responses.
“It was inspiring to hear from people with so much experience,” said Natalie White, a second-year graphic design major.
Students asked what the designers look for in intern portfolios, how they've learned from past failures and how the industry has changed over the years.
“It's surreal to have someone from our textbook here in person,” said Arthur Drewen, a second-year graphic design major. “This speaker series will really add to the value of my education here at Texas Tech.”
Stout and Scher talked about typography, early designs they now cringe over and how to sell ideas to clients.
This one-on-one student engagement will offer students at Texas Tech unparalleled experiences in the years to come.
“The college is most grateful for this new lecture series, and Stout's support,” said Martin Camacho, dean of TCVPA. “In a fast-paced industry such as graphic design, giving our students access to top-level practitioners who are on the front line of these changes is critical, and will provide them with a strategic advantage as well as inspirational opportunities.”
Stout also hopes providing students with access to top-level practitioners will further the conversation in which he and many Texas Tech School of Art alumni are engaged.
“I don't want to limit the series to only graphic design,” Stout said. “I hope to bring in artists of all kinds. I want to push the limits of what students think they're capable of. There are many problems in our world today and we need creators at the forefront of the problem-solving.”