Design Doyenne: Plazm Media’s Fluid Approach to Design

creativepro.com’s Design Doyenne Margaret Richardson has been visiting design agencies around the world. This is her latest dispatch.

Dear Pamela,

I’ve been catching up with your friends and mine at Plazm Media now in its 11th year. I”m so happy for them — this Portland design firm not just survives but thrives here and at its “virtual” New York office (Plazmites Niko Courtelis, Enrique Mosqueda, and Jon Raymond now live and work there).

What is unique about this firm is that it was conceived as and continues to operate as a cooperative, a merging of “raging individuals” (as Portlanders are often described) into what Joshua Berger, principal and creative director, says are “philosophically partners.”

Housed in a former Black and Decker service center, Plazm Media encompasses: Plazm Design, the main source of revenue; Plazm Magazine, a creative “cauldron” for experimentation and Plazm’s main promotional tool: and Plazm Fonts, a source of contemporary type design. Berger and long-time collaborator Pete McCracken are the driving force behind Plazm here in Portland. Berger’s focus is on Plazm Design projects, working with McCracken, a graphic artist and type designer who oversees Plazm fonts. They, along with with the New York team and Sarah Dougher, Plazm’s project manager and publicist, exemplify the multiple talents and the creative dynamic implicit in this cooperative studio.

McCracken also runs Crack Press, an art/music studio known for its exceptional letterpress and silk-screen work. (He’s also a formidable musician — he recently was part of a sound installation project at Savage Gallery here). Dougher is a musician as well (that’s her CD cover shown here, a Plazm Media design. of course) and a classicist teaching at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

Voicing Concern
The Plazm coterie (West and East) and frequent collaborators relish Plazm’s continuing dialogue on the influence of design, the social responsibility of designers, the role of design as an agent of change and as an important cultural force. Dougher positions Plazm as “an activist design studio,” adding her own feminist perspective to the discussion. And Plazm shared its ideological musings earlier this year at the Voice: AIGA Design Conference in Washington DC. Selected as one of 20 design firms from around the country to speak for one-minute, Plazm’s presentation was provocative and featured a McCracken image of an American flag silk-screened with the words “Save Me” and supplemented by text drafted by Dougher that asked a series of questions such as: “What does your art save? Who does your art serve? What does you art conserve?” (I’ve included some samples below, but you can see the entire presentation here ).

At a breakout session afterwards, Plazm posed more questions: How do you experience the conflict between commercial and pro-bono work? How have you reconciled it? How does your work build community?

These questions are pressing for the Plazm team as they attempt to balance their work for major firms with projects that support and enrich the community.

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Posted on: November 5, 2002

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