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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Sahre, Victore, Wilker: A Workshop Unlike Others


Sahre, Victore, Wilker: A Workshop Unlike Others

Posted on July 30, 2008 and read 1,631 times

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“From the outside it appears to be a normal design workshop, but from inside it was a completely different experience. I would describe it more as a psychological challenge workshop and a wonderful social experiment.” — Davey Whitcraft, Senior Lecturer, Otis College of Art and Design

Last week in New York City, three good friends who all happen to be well-known and controversial graphic designers, presented a new and provocative, weeklong workshop attended by equally passionate designers. Paul Sahre, James Victore and Jan Wilker have all held workshops all over the world, but this marks the first time they presented one together, combining all of their talent and knowledge under one roof. Happily for us, that “one roof” happens to be the amazing gallery that is the home of our friends at the Art Directors Club. Forty workshop participants traveled from around the globe to attend, to be challenged by a succession of great assignments, some surprising guests, and not one surplus minute to take a breath!

The whole idea for this trio-team workshop came about a year ago during a party. Paul, James and Jan simultaneously realized that a large percentage their time was now devoted to teaching, traveling around the world doing lectures and workshops. “We figured we should just do one big workshop here in Manhattan and invite the participants to join us” said James. “We’ve never done something like this before, all three of us together, and that was a good enough reason.”

Jan enjoys the independence feature “It’s a huge difference to do something like this for yourself, with your own name, rather than doing a workshop it for someone else, under their banner. We did it for us. It’s our workshop. Nobody hired us to do it. It feels great.”

Unlike some workshops, particularly ones with a global reach and very limited capacity, this did not require a portfolio prescreening for admission. If you were 21 or older, you could sign up, pay the registration fees and get in. Paul spoke to us about this process. ”We tried to do something as democratic as we could, so we didn’t do a portfolio review. We didn’t know what we were going to get. Going in, I had a lower expectation of the talent and ability level of some designers. It ended up being totally not true. There were a lot of people down there that should have been teaching a workshop. Really!” Paul concurs about the talent level. “It is an interesting group because we have some excellent designers, teachers of design, and some people who specialize in web design, or interactive imaging.”

Paul, James and Jan wanted to take some risks, do something dangerous, but primarily they wanted to inspire the participants and introduce them to a lot of work. As Paul says, “one goal was to overwhelm them.” Adds James, “this first time will probably be a clusterfuck, and if it’s not, then we have done something wrong”.

With three different workshop leaders, the participants did really distinctive assignments, covered by a global process. A day and a half was planned for each segment, but as these things tend to go – it sometimes ended up being more.

First at bat was James, the independent artist and award-winning designer, with a client list which includes Moët and Chandon,, Aveda, Apple, Yohji Yamamoto, Yamaha, The New York Times and the School of Visual Arts. James ran the workshop from Monday afternoon until Tuesday. His session was divided in three different sections, and through clear instructions, precise times, students had to tell a story about love – “yesterday, today, tomorrow” ¬– using only three hand crafted drawings with no computer work allowed. James says “I am doing the workshop I used to do because it is something that I enjoy doing, it’s playing with ideas. It’s trying to really find meaning in graphic design.”

When all the designs were completed, everything was posted on the wall, for the participants to discuss them. For Kristin, one of the workshop attendees, this was a really challenging and meaningful assignment. “In my job, I’m used to presenting facts. Everything is based on the appearance, with no story behind the design, or at least not any I’ve ever thought about before. Now that will change.”

Next up to lead the workshop was Paul, the graphic designer, illustrator, educator, and lecturer. Paul decided to leverage the 40 designers in the workshop, a mass collaboration between them all. “I would admit that a part of my interest in doing this was just to see what it would happened if we left 40 people to their own devices to design one thing. Maybe even on an impossible deadline. They had 20 hours to create a web exhibit of an assignment that we started.”

In this assignment, Paul initiated this collaborative process and required the creation of content that they could be used immediately. Students were not sure where they were going, but I knew that they were going to get there.”
The timing was really important. Until the final step, the realization of the website, everything was working great, then “the fun begun. And, I don’t know, maybe the opposite of fun” joked Paul.

Through this experiment, it became interesting to see how everyone reacted without any structure of decision-making. There was a lot of discussion at the beginning, then the discussions turned into arguments including people getting angry and leaving the group. Paul had planned not to interject himself into the group, but at a certain point he jumped in and insinuated a structure, offering up an idea of electing people that could fill certain roles. So the participants selected a Creative Director to be responsible for the final creative say, a Project Manager to keep everyone organized, and a Technical Advertiser who is in control of the writing.

Despite the hierarchy model, the whole project remained pretty wild. “I think it’s a minor miracle that they were able to do what that were able to do.,” said Paul afterwards. ”I assumed there will be some chaos, but there was much more chaos than I imagined. But I also think that the story behind the project is more interesting than the outcome.”

The last session, from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning was moderated by Jan, the award-winning German graphic designer, author and teacher at Parsons The New School For Design. The closing project didn’t sound like a standard assignment; it didn’t begin with a question, a comment or a problem.
“This project starts from the back,” Jan explains. “I give out the material and the students come up with the question that they want to ask, the content and the form of it… It doesn’t go from one to three, but from three to one. All I give them is the material”. The project involved using public space; students had to identify a spot in the city where their question/comment/problem could take place.

After five days of intensive creative production, and after being influenced and taught by Paul and James, I wondered if the students might be quite prepared for this third session and not react with the same level of excitement as they had with the earlier sessions. Jan wasn’t worried. “I don’t think they are prepared for my part, and they shouldn’t be. Which is great. Even if they were really influenced by James and Paul, I’ll be judging them with fresh eyes.”

Though the goal was to inundate with challenging work Paul, James and Jan didn’t stop there frequently surprising workshop attendees with an oft changing exhibition in the sub-gallery in the ADC’s Kodak Room. The workshop’s special guests Mike Essl, Debbie Millman, and Ella Smolarz. Among others brought design gems of their own. Daily, the group took field trips, sometimes riding in limos around Manhattan – from the UN Building to the Guggenheim Museum – or simply grabbing a pizza, beer, bagels or whatever seemed right.

Despite their extensive experience, the attendees astonished Paul, James, and Jan… mainly due to the verbal participation. “Students usually don’t talk, even if I am lecturing in front of graphic designers,” says James. “When I finish a talk and ask for questions – I’m lucky if I get one or two” This group was really vocal. They brought energy, and that makes it more exciting for everyone.”


Floriane Pic
Graphic Designer






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