Creative Class

Graphic design is not just for 'Mad Men' anymore.

Graduates of Tyler's Department of Graphic and Interactive Design have created work for MTV, the estate of Jimi Hendrix, Willams‐Sonoma and more.

One of the first professional graphic‐design projects Phil Yarnall, TYL ´90, created was a set of advertisements for HITS magazine. He was hired by Peter Corriston, TYL ´72, then the creative director of Chrysalis Records (and also the designer of iconic album covers such as Led Zeppelin´s Physical Graffiti and the Rolling Stones´ Some Girls). For his work, Yarnall says he was paid a shoe full of money—literally.

“They gave me $1,500 and I went to a bank and cashed that check, and then went limping down the street with this wad of cash jammed into my big, black cowboy boot,” he recalls. “But the whole time, I had this big grin on my face, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’”

“This” refers to becoming a renowned graphic designer in the music industry. For the past 20 years, Yarnall has designed products for musical acts ranging from Janis Joplin to Connie Francis to the Velvet Underground. Those products include an AC/DC box set packaged in a working amplifier and a compilation of Hank Williams´ 1951 performances on the Mother's Best Flour radio show packaged in an antique radio that plays Williams´ introduction on that program.

In addition to all that, Yarnall also is the official graphic designer for the Jimi Hendrix estate, designing posters, books, album covers and box sets related to the guitarist´s work. After Hendrix´s family won the rights to his music in the late 1990s, they wanted to re‐release his entire catalog in a polished, high‐quality manner. (Yarnall says the previous owner of the Hendrix catalog had released some of the works, but they were of poor quality and released in a disorganized fashion.)

A representative of the family had seen some of Yarnall´s work for PolyGram Records, his first job after graduating from the Tyler School of Art. The family wanted Yarnall and his business partner at the time, Stan Stanski, TYL ´90, to work both on the re‐release of Hendrix´s music and the cover for the album Hendrix recorded just before his death in 1970.

“To have someone come and ask you to work on something iconic like that, you wonder, ‘Can I do this?’” Yarnall says. “We just jumped right in, and started this connection with the Hendrix family that´s lasted almost 20 years now.”

Yarnall´s story of success, and of being able to do what he loves, is one of many emerging from the Department of Graphic and Interactive Design in Tyler. Beyond the historically traditional ad‐agency jobs like those portrayed on Mad Men, these graduates have parlayed their degrees into interesting and quirky careers in movies, television, music and even food.


The high‐end food retailer Williams‐ Sonoma is best known for its lines of gourmet food and its professional cookware, but

Solvita Marriott, TYL ´07, says the company´s attention to product packaging also sets it apart from its competitors.

“There´s a certain look [the company] has that customers expect,” says Marriott, a senior packaging designer for Williams‐ Sonoma.“The projects I work on are really aren't many companies that design the packaging so nicely.”

This past winter, Marriott worked on the packaging for a line of seasonings for that retailer—small glass jars with vintage‐looking labels and polished silver lids.

She also worked on a line of holiday candies and a collection of gourmet chocolate bars. Marriott designed the envelopes in which the bars are wrapped and labels and gift tags.

Though Marriott did not set out to design specifically for the culinary world, her work for Williams‐Sonoma is not her first foray into food‐packaging design. In a freelance capacity, she also has created brand identities for a restaurant and a startup company specializing in artisanal food, both in her home country of Latvia. Prior to joining Williams‐Sonoma, she designed labels, advertisements, store displays and promotional items for E. & J. Gallo Winery´s Apothic line of wines.

For that winemaker´s spring 2011 advertising campaign, Marriott designed two versions of an in‐store ad. One featured a bottle of Apothic´s white wine, backlit and surrounded by glowing white moths. In the second, a bottle of red wine was lit from above, a snake coiled around it.

“Traditionally, the design for wine is quite serious,” she says. “You have your images of grapes and cheeses, but Apothic is edgier. It’s geared toward younger people. I worked on different concepts for how to show the wine and how to combine images in an appealing display.”


Jessica Hische, TYL ´06, also has designed for the food industry. Her antique‐inspired, looped lettering has appeared in advertisements for Dove Chocolate, Special K cereal and Bertolli pasta. She has even created typefaces named after foods: Brioche, a modern take on a 19th‐century font, and Buttermilk, a bold cursive. Hische draws heavily on antique samples to create her typography—a technique she learned through Louise Fili, a New York‐based graphic designer whom Hische deems “a legend.”

“She´s pretty well‐known for having a vintage style,” Hische says. “I worked with her for more than two years, and during that time I was exposed to all different kinds of type. I had no idea lettering existed as an industry.”

Indeed, when Hische was a student at Tyler, typography was not at the forefront of her career goals. “I was totally into all the classes I took,” she says. “So when I was doing photography, I loved photography. When I took painting, I loved painting.” But when she finally took graphic design, she felt she had found her niche.

“It was freeing,” she explains. “Once my teachers saw my work and how hard I was working, they let me be more experimental. I always loved to draw, and I began to incorporate a lot of lettering into my designs. I ended up falling in love with drawing again.”

While Hische worked with Fili, she also worked to get her own business off the ground. During the day she worked for Fili and on freelance projects at night. “There´s no shame in having a day job while you're building a freelance career,” she says. “It can take a while to get paid for a job and diving in without a reserve can be stressful.”

Since embarking on a full‐time freelance career in 2009, Hische has become something of a design icon herself. In 2011, she was included in Forbes magazine´s “30 Under 30” list for art and design. One of her biggest projects thus far was titling Wes Anderson´s 2012 film,Moonrise Kingdom.

Hische worked directly with Anderson to create a modified version of Edwardian Script for the film's opening and closing credits and for promotional posters. “I was amazed at how involved in the process he was,” she says.

“I can answer those ‘why’ questions now. I couldn't when I was a freshman and a sophomore. That ability has always been really key to what I do.”
-- Evan Dennis, TYL '02
= “I can answer those ‘why’ questions now,” he continues. “I couldn't when I was a freshman and a sophomore. That ability has always been really key to what I do.”


Not only do the titles and credits in movies need to be designed; so do the props actors use on camera. Erica Wernick, TYL ´08, had no idea that designers could be employed in that manner until she saw one listed in the credits of a film.

While an undergraduate theater major at Penn State, she thought such a position would be an ideal way to combine her love of both acting and art. “I started making flyers and posters for shows I would perform in,” she says.

Wernick transferred to Temple, and after graduating, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a Hollywood graphic designer. Within a few weeks of relocating, she got her first job, designing sets and props for the TV show Trust Me. Since then, she has done work for other TV series, including The Middle, Brothers & Sisters, The Office and Glee.

“Glee is fun,” she says. “The graphics are always quirky or different, and you never know what you'll be working on.” For that show, Wernick has designed certificates that hang in faculty members´ offices, posters that adorn the walls of the fictional high school in which the show is set and a concession‐stand sign for the school´s football stadium.

Though enjoyable, Wernick says that designing for a TV show can be hectic. “An episode films about every eight days,” she explains. “As soon as I get the script, I read through it to see what graphics are needed, and I start working as quickly as possible. I design something, and we print it up in just a few hours.”

Wernick—who last year designed and wrote LA Bound, a guidebook for moving to Los Angeles—also has designed for movies including The Five‐Year Engagement and The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard. For the latter, she designed a manual for a toy called the Hippity Hop. “I learned how to make books at Tyler,” she notes.

Her goal is to have people recognize her graphics from the shows and movies in which they appear. “I worked on a couple of episodes of Entourage, and a friend of mine designed the movie poster in that show for [main character] Vinnie Chase´s movie Aquaman,” she says, adding that she has since seen the poster in friends´ houses. “It´s cool to design things that stick with people.”


Lance Rusoff, TYL ´96, is behind the redesign of one of the best‐known brands that sticks with people: MTV. In 2010, Rusoff—who is design director of off‐air creative—helped give the network a face‐lift. That included bolder fonts and cleaner, simpler graphic layouts. He also oversees design and branding for the network´s two biggest properties: the MTV Video Music Awards and the MTV Movie Awards.

“That has been one of the highlights of my career—updating such an iconic brand,” he says. “I´m proud of the MTV logo.” But he also admits it was a little intimidating. “We had to keep the essence of the brand and maintain what makes it unique,” he says.

As a part of his job, he does a little bit of everything. “I´m like a mad scientist when I work,” says Rusoff, who was nominated for a 2013 Daytime Emmy Award for his work as design director on the MTV series I´m Positive. “I'm all over the place. I like being connected to the work, picking the type settings, art‐directing the photo shoots—things like that.”

Rusoff says a background in graphic design lends itself to working in TV. “I love typography, I love photography, and I love art, and this job combines all those things,” he explains. “‘Graphic design´ doesn't only apply to print. Today, it´s all interactive—on your phone, your television, your computer. It´s everywhere you are.”


Since 2005, Evan Dennis, TYL ´02, has directed commercials, short films and music videos for clients including Mountain Dew, Guinness, Cartoon Network and Scion, and also for the university´s Temple Made campaign in 2012. (Also see: Temple, fall 2013, “Temple Made Originators,” p. 48.)

“In filmmaking, graphic design definitely comes into play,” Dennis says. “It´s very visual; you blend images with effects and music. I love how they all coalesce.”

One of Dennis´ favorite projects was N.Y. Adorned, a short film he directed for a New York‐based tattoo shop and piercing parlor. “It was only the second project I did that was live action,” he says. “But it was something I was passionate about. [Tattoo culture] is thriving in New York—there are a lot of artists and shops—and it had never been represented in this way. I was a young filmmaker who could offer an authentic take on the culture.”

Dennis—whose ultimate goal is to direct feature films—says that in all his work, he strives to create something that will evoke an emotional response from viewers. “It can't be anything forced or fake,” he says. That philosophy echoes what Phil Yarnall calls “the Tyler concept.” That is, Tyler faculty taught him that everything he makes needs a reason for being.

“If someone asks you why you did something, you should be able to tell them,” Yarnall says. For example, he once used octopus tentacles as the font for a poster he designed for the 2001 New York Underground Film Festival. “It´s underwater, it´s underground,” he explains. “The movies are weird and freaky; octopus tentacles are weird and freaky.

“I can answer those ‘why’ questions now,” he continues. “I couldn't when I was a freshman and a sophomore. That ability has always been really key to what I do.”