Anthony Acock is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Cal Poly Pomona and a freelance art director focusing on the nonprofit sector. He formerly served on the Board of Directors for AIGA Los Angeles as an Education Co-Director, and is on the Ambassador Board of the Innovation Center of Design Excellence. Acock writes regularly on the subjects of; empathy, interdisciplinary collaborations, and punk culture. Skateboarding deep into middle age, being comfortable with a can of spray paint, sloppily playing drums in punk bands, and chasing his two delightful but not particularly useful children around are his other areas of interest.
Hi Anthony, this is the second LAForum Newsletter you have designed in as many years, how did your job as a designer change between the years of 2019 and 2020?
2020 is wild and awful in most measurable ways. So much has changed in how I view the world as a designer, the meaningfulness of design in general, and my own participation in the design process.
In 2019, On Listening was a really inspired project. I was given an audio recording of ambient city noises and google map directions, which I was able to replicate with a camera, walking around, shooting pictures of things that looked interesting or useful, and getting a feel for the subject matter before I started designing. It was honestly a great time.
2020 is not hospitable to a similar process. Leaving the house becomes an exercise in cost / benefit analysis. Can I go shoot photos of XYZ for this project safely? Is it worth it? How does leaving the house put my children at risk?
Additionally, with the subject matter of both publications there is a lot of outside-looking-in happening, so I do go to these places and document what I see in a way that is non voyeuristic and doesn’t fetishize poverty. The 2020 Newsletter has made me reevaluate my participation in documenting Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. I put a lot of effort put into creating a hospitable and holistic newsletter for 2020.
2020 has required all of us to “bear witness” to so many unforeseeable events and calamities, did designing the Newsletter in any way transform your perspective on our current predicament?
2020 has made me look at my own complicity in economic injustice and racism. I am also aware that it is a privilege to be able to spend time thinking about these things, versus living them firsthand. Having the luxury to philosophically consider one’s role, without fear of the rent not being paid, or whether food is being put on the table is a real privilege.
For the 2020 publication, it was important to design the newsletter so that it could reach beyond its’ core communities of design, planning and architecture. We decided to translate as many parts of the newsletter into spanish as we possibly could. We also determined to make the 2020 Newsletter free for download. Emphasis was put on extending the accessibility of the document both financially and culturally.
The 2019 LAForum Newsletter “On Listening” included a vinyl LP as well as images and text, what was it like to synthesize all those different modes of media into one package?
The 2019 publication was very much in my wheelhouse. I have long collected vinyl records and enjoy the design of their packaging immensely. The whole concept of recording the ambient noises of Los Angeles (which is one of my favorite cities), documenting class disparity, and packaging collectible vinyl, are all areas of interest to me.
The day I captured the images for the project, I rode my motorcycle down to Skid Row, and went for a long walk shooting photos, careful not to capture people, or fall into the “ruin porn” trap. The walk eventually led me through gradients of gentrification adjacent to the Los Angeles Central Library, Central Market, and back again to skid row.
Aggregating those photos and the text into a coherent package was quite easy. My job is really fun sometimes, and I learned a lot about Los Angeles from that walk, from studying the written content, and through the process of designing the 2019 publication.
This year the 2020 LAForum Newsletter is dual formatted for “no cost” download, and for “low cost” on-demand printing, what opportunities does that afford to the reader?
This drastically expands the accessibility of the document, which was very important for all of us, especially in 2020. The information is free. If you enjoy the ephemera of a physical piece, you can purchase one. Formatting the 2020 Newsletter to be printed ‘on demand’ means that it will never go ‘out of print’. The 2020 publication was as much an exercise in accessibility as it was a designed artifact. Both are important to me, but in 2020, accessibility takes precedent.
Do you have any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
For better or worse, as I get further entrenched into teaching and academic work, I see myself making a transition from being a ‘graphic designer’ to being a ‘design educator’. I think I am mostly okay with this. Last year I became Chair of the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Communication Design at Cal Poly Pomona. It is a role I take very seriously, for a program I very much believe in, and in a College that I believe has immense capacity for doing good. Being Chair of a Department during a pandemic falls somewhere between playing ‘wack-a-mole’ and adjusting chairs on the deck of the Titanic. It is a complicated balance, riddled with catholic guilt and fear.
As I spend more time being concerned with design pedagogy, curriculum development, faculty / student engagement, and student wellbeing, I do spend less time creating logos and websites than I did previously. I am fortunate to be able to pick and choose my extracurricular projects. These days I favor those that are in the realm of advocacy, nonprofit work, and projects which allow me to involve my students. For instance, many of the photographs in the 2020 publication were taken by my students. I recently completed a book for Nader Tehrani which involved students documenting his teaching practice. I also do a lot of work for the Inland Valley Down Syndrome Association, where my students have done everything from designing their logo and website, to painting their office and building furniture.
Any upcoming projects that I take on in the near future will continue to foreground issues of social justice, student engagement, and accessible pedagogical design in academe.