Graphic designer Lawrence Azerrad, a native of Los Angeles, grew up drawing pictures and fighting the inferiority complex that comes with being a “normal” in the city of stars. Since then he’s designed iconic album covers like Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, won a Grammy for the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition box set, and authored & designed a book, Supersonic, about the fabulous style of Concorde. Turns out having his head in the clouds, playing amongst the stars, is right where he belongs. Listen:
What is your earliest memory?
One of them was the oil pump at Beverly Park Ponyland, where the Beverly Center stands today. It would have been better if it was still Ponyland.
How do you feel about democratic design?
The truth is that democratic design sounds like a nice concept, but sometimes workable is the enemy of perfect. It’s one thing to be open to the input and critique of fellow experts, people who’s talent, knowledge, and experience informs and validates their opinions. An open and creative community of talented colleagues can raise the net result at the end (think dream design studio, brilliant design class, think tank) high tide does raise all boats. In many cases today’s most forward thinking designers consider and analyze the input, uses, and context of the user...this is smart design, but it’s in the interpretation and analysis of user data by the experts that lead to successful outcomes. The designer that considers the use and the needs of the democracy, using her or his expertise in fulfilling the needs of the public is what is required. If democratic design means that any one, is actually doing the design (ala open mic night at the local pub) I’m leery of where this leads. Aiming to please all of the people all of the time results in creativity by mob rule...and this does not end well.
How do you record your ideas?
Many pads of lined office paper, lots of lists. I usually build a fresh list at the start of the day, one at the end of the day, with amendments to them during the day and weekend. I almost always keep a pad of paper in reach, hanging on to them in the car, in a waiting room. I’ve never been one for special sketchbooks or apps for idea keeping. Something about the office pad is so regular that it’s comforting. I take the pages from the past lists and keep them in an office folder, then aggregate the undone work regularly.
What’s your current favorite tool or material to work with?
The tool I use the most is the Adobe suite on my Mac, but really my favorite tool goes back to those pads of paper. To sit, and think, and thought map, cluster ideas, build out steps to ideas, this is my favorite part of the process. It's where the conceptual DNA is seeded, the rest is making it happen. So in short a Sharpie, Uniball pen and an office pad.
What book is on your nightstand?
Right now on the nightstand is The Way We Wore, A Life in Threads by Robert Elms a passionate record of late 1960’s London street fashion.
Why is authenticity in design important?
Authenticity insures quality, reality, and utility of meaning. There is a popular trap out there in Pinterest, Designspiration, Tumblr and the like. Out there is page after page of great and seductive design on these culture streams...but what is usually missing is context. I have a pretty good collection of design books, and of course i go through them looking to jog inspiration. But books, magazine, and longer form blog posts provide an understanding of context that requires and spotlights authenticity. Which is why you can see 2000 hand type chalk drawings of inspiring quotes on Instagram and somehow their strength is equal and fleeting. Seminal creativity - in design, music, literature, and art draws on the authentic, it strikes at the core of something humans can relate to. Just like an inauthentic human gesture, inauthentic design doesn’t have meaning to us.
Favorite restaurant in your city?
Terroni Downtown Los Angeles. It's perfect true Italian. A block from my studio, and they make a great martini.
What might we find on your desk right now?
I like to keep my desk pretty clean. Other than the papers im utilizing that day, I try to keep the area open so im not surrounded by distractions. That said, on the credenza across from my desk, I keep a 22-inch model of an Air France Concorde, an Eames house bird sculpture next to a plant, and the Grammy Award that we won for the Voyager Golden Record, and a copy of my book Supersonic. I can’t see those things when I’m at my screen, but they are there, if I want to look at them.
Who do you look up to and why?
The quick answer is Charles and Ray Eames. The why is not a quick answer, because their work was so rich, creative, and inspired. But in a few words, they provided an access point to quality design for so many, without people even realizing that they were being exposed to “design”. From their films such as “The Powers of Ten” the furniture, to the architecture, a thoughtful purpose driven integrity informed every detail. Nothing was superfluous, everything had a reason, and in many instances that reason was to reflect the joy in a quality life. Charles, Ray, and the entire Eames office achieved design success through diligence, dedication, and pursuit of quality in concept and execution. For these reasons, and many more, I look up to team Eames.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve done and why?
The Wilco record “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”.
I’ve had the privilege of designing many album packages, and five Wilco records. The most fulfilling part about designing for music is designing something that fans (hopefully) appreciate, that has an impact (ideally a positive one) on their life, even in the smallest way...of contributing something to someone’s world that they enjoy. "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" is a brilliant record musically, beloved by fans, it marks a time in cultural history in its own special way. The cover art is simple. It wasn’t simple getting to that final cover but, in the end, the simplicity of the art paired with the potency of the record has yielded a combined result that fans appreciate...it's the appreciation from these fans that make this my favorite project. The fact that the buildings on the album cover (Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City towers in Chicago) are colloquially referred to by some Chicago locals as “the Wilco Towers” makes me smile.
What are the last five songs you listened to?
Grace Jones “I’ve Seen That Face Before”
Iggy Pop “The Passenger”
Aretha Franklin “Runnin’ Out Of Fools”
Kamasi Washington “Street Fighter Mas”
Bill Evans “Song For Helen”