MFA ComDes NYC: Day 2

Day 2 was less lively (walking wise–we stayed in Chelsea) but was no less interesting than the prior day. The first meeting was scheduled with  Carin Van Vuuren of Landor, followed by Woody Pirtle formerly of Pentagram, and lastly with Tom Kluepfel of Doyle + Partners.


Carin Van Vuuren

Carin Van Vuuren is a creative strategist at Landor, a full-service agency housing about 100 employees. On a daily basis, Carin is bridging the gap between strategy and creative, ensuring each is equally brought to life. She helps bring the creative to life for such companies at Smirnoff, the 9/11 Foundation, a multitude of P&G products, and a variety of companies seeking pro-bono work. Carin ensures the creative courage–the surprise and delight–of Landor sees the light of day.

Notable takeaways:

  • Landor has offices in 16 countries and is apart of WPP, a larger housing company. The NYC office has about 100 employees. It was founded by Walter Landor in 1941 in California.
  • To help clients do new work, Landor will hold “innovation sessions,” quick-fire, 24-hour sessions where Landor creatives gather for an intense brainstorm session which leads into new, presentable work for the client the next day
  • Great ideas are had in the strategy rooms. Great ideas are protected in the conference room (with the client).
  • To protect those ideas, Landor will include the creatives on the meetings. It is imperative to include the designer, that way when the client has a question, the creative can bolster the idea with their insights, research, and decision-making process.
  • Show the client how you arrived there. Give them a 360 degree view of the idea. Make it tangible for them.
  • Educate the client, but in a respectful way. They are obviously very capable in their own right; show them you are, as well.
  • It is also important to educate creatives. As a strategist, she helps the creatives connect the dots of the creative brief. To ensure the right creative comes out of the strategy.
  • It is important not to pigeonhole designers. Landor has plenty of specialists–environmental graphic designers, packaging designers–but it is important to let designers “spread their wings” when the right project comes up.
  • Creative and strategy is Carin’s passion: she founded Design Indaba, an organization with the belief that “creativity will fuel an economic revolution in South Africa.” Going on 16-years old, the organization continues on strongly.


Woody Pirtle

Woody Pirtle, former member of the Richards Group and Pentagram, is an artist and graphic designer freelancing from his home outside the city. In 1978, he created Pirtle Design in Dallas, TX; by 1988, he merged with Pentagram here in New York City.  He is a 2003 AIGA medalist and a highly sought after designer, having re-established Pirtle Design in 2005. Woody met the students in their hotel restaurant, demonstrating his wholly humble demeanor.

Notable Takeaways:

  • Learn, learn, learn as much as you possibly can about your client, and about design. Be literate.
  • Be multidisciplinary. Show that a hand created your work, not a machine.
  • “My favorite project is my next project.” In other words, be passionate about design. Let it drive you, and keep you learning (a student of life, a la Milton Glaser).
  • When he teaches, Woody does not allow his students access to a computer until an idea is fully fleshed out.
  • The more you can travel, the more you can bring to design.
  • Having lived and designed in Texas his entire life, Woody eventually needed to be apart of something bigger. For him it was the international appeal of New York City and Pentagram.



Tom Kluepfel

Tom Kluepfel is a founding member of Doyle Partners. Tom went to the Cooper Union where he met his partner Stephen Doyle. Together, the two are Doyle + Partners, a full-service agency with 25 years of good clients, staying small, and keeping their game on through it all. Doyle +Partners is 10 workers strong. The pair played host to the students for a meeting which lasted well over the intended hour and a half, showing that great designers can be great people who leave any idea of an ego at the door stop.

Notable Takeaways:

  • Always, always keep a high level of game. Never let your design guard down; keep the work excellent, no matter what, that way a client will never see your bad side (a client can then tell another client that).
  • When creating an agency, it is helpful to stay small while keeping that high level of game. Staying small and keeping good clients allows you to be picky about what work you want to do.
  • Avoid egos, avoid too much money. Avoid “feeding the machine” of your business (i.e. do not let your firm get too big, because than all of the work/money goes towards maintaining that machine).
  • Tom often begins on the computer, allowing more experimentation to happen faster. It’s also because he feels comfortable enough with his creative process that he can skip the sketch phase.
  • Even when his firm was asked to be bought out, he said no. Being small was in the interest of the firm.
  • Keep the work about people, not about just work. Know you have an audience to design for.
  • Don’t be afraid to break the rules.

Stephen Doyle eventually joined the conversation, giving us a tour of his office, his multitude of scrap books, and even the office library/inspiration room.


MFA Students Having Fun


2 Comments for “MFA ComDes NYC: Day 2”

Gram Garner


I didn’t realize you have to click on the photos in order to see the comments made on each, so I’m reposting this here because I really enjoyed Tom’s outlook…


Garner:Can you give your personal definition of “design?”

Kluepfel:“It used to be called Commercial Art. Then it became design. And then all the sudden it’s Design with a capital ‘D.’ And then all the sudden it’s design for social causes…and it gets really serious. And almost its like there’s too much talk about design, right? There’s design blogs and everyone’s got a tape recorder [gestures at the recorder lying on the table and we all laugh]. And everybody has an opinion about design. Whether they can design or not…not important, but everybody’s got opinions…opinions, and opinions.” Kluepfel likens design to cooking and music as a craft, an “inspired craft, that involves creation, that involves engaging other people. You make food so that people smile. You play music, sometimes for yourself, but so that other people sing along, right? And in order to get good at it, you just have to practice. You can’t have opinions about food. That’s a food critic, right? But to be a cook, you have to practice. You have to practice, you have to try a lot of things. To be a musician, as I am finding out, takes an awful lot of practice, because I still suck! To me there’s a practical aspect to design. I think it’s about taking (client) messages and getting them to (the audience), in the best way that I can, using the skills that I have, that I’ve developed, and that I’ve practiced. And I hope that I create a dialogue between (client) and (audience) with me, kind of ‘ducking,’ sort of the invisible conduit.”

“There’s a discipline to the thinking, and I think it’s focused on audience. A lot of what we do is listen really hard to our clients, pick their brains (they understand what they’re doing a little bit better than we do), and then we use our story telling abilities (and) the tools that we have; type, color, scale, photography, things like that. Then you go into the kitchen. Then you start cooking. Then you make whatever it is that you think needs to be made to achieve that ‘perfect dinner’ between (client and audience).”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To use RetinaPost you must register at