Several weeks ago, I penned a post calling Joe Duffy, one of the top graphic designers in town, “the dean of the Twin Cities design community.” There were undoubtedly people who know the Twin Cities design community better than me who read that and said, “well, a dean, anyway.”
No one would deny that Duffy and his firm, Duffy & Partners, do brilliant work. But in a metropolis as rich in design talent as the Twin Cities, there are too many big fish in our relative small lake to cite one as the top tuna.
Tim Larsen, whose Edina-based design shop celebrates its 35th anniversary early next year, is certainly a co-dean. (Doesn’t quite sound right, does it? But you know what I mean.) The academic term is certainly appropriate: He’s long been active in local design education. And he’s seen the local profession arise some 30 or 40 years ago from a collection of small “art studios” to one with an international reputation.
You can’t summarize Tim’s history in a mere blog post. Better to check the portfolio on his firm’s Web site. Though his roots are in graphic design, the work his “design agency” (his preferred term) creates has gone far beyond that. See for yourself, but be warned: You could become distracted from your own work.
A couple of aspects to note: Larsen’s firm designed the signage on the U of M campus, as well as the new way-finding systems at the new TCF Stadium, the Guthrie Theater, and the Minneapolis Public Library.
You’ll also see a lot of work for high-tech firms, notably those in the semiconductor space. Technology has been a longtime fascination for him, even before he bought his first computer, an Apple 120 at the Ridgedale Dayton’s electronics department. “I like finding out how things work,” he says.
In the mid-1990s, thanks to tech firms that he’d worked with, Larsen opened an office in the Silicon Valley. During the dot-com boom, the shop had, totting up both Minnesota and California, about 80 employees.
Post dot-com bust, it has about half that now. But there’s still work out west, like this Web site for Applied Materials’ new solar energy farm manufacturing system. Indeed, these days, Tim says, “The Web is about half of what we do.”
This weekend, local designers will be getting rustic and heading up to Design Camp, an annual conference sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of the national design association AIGA. Larsen not only got the first Design Camp (first called the Minnesota Graphic Design Conference) under way in 1980—he got Minnesota to start the first AIGA chapter outside of New York.
Why has the Twin Cities developed such a strong design community? Tim points to the presence of schools like MCAD (where he’s a past adjunct instructor) and the College of Visual Arts
(where he's the chair of the board of trustees) as one reason; art centers like the Walker, the Weisman, and Minneapolis Institute of Arts are another; noteworthy corporate and advertising-agency headquarters are another.
“Ad agencies have embraced design and interactive,” he says. “There used to be a real distinction between public relations, advertising, and design.” Those distinctions may remain in some agencies, but the lines are melting.
Another factor, perhaps: the area’s parks and lakes. “Designers,” Tim Larsen notes, “are attracted to beautiful places.” His firm’s Web site portfolio would be one of them, IMHO.
BTW: Local photographer Clark Patrick, who put together the recent “Temporarily Retired” party for Twin Cities creatives looking for work, is organizing another creative-class event: Unite Bike. According to Clark, it’s a group photo open to bicycle commuters in the Twin Cities to help promote bike commuting and show how many locales do get to work on their velocipedes. It’s happening this Saturday at 5:30. Sign up, two-wheelers! If only I hadn’t crunched my old Schwinn Super Le Tour into bad sculpture last year. (A long, embarrassing story.)