Petter Ringbom

Creating Public Service Announcements to the web community, doing the work for the love of the craft, taking the fear out of facing reality: ANDREW WOMACK chatted with designer Petter Ringbom about his design, your design, and going berserk.

Creating Public Service Announcements to the web community, doing the work for the love of the craft, taking the fear out of facing reality: we chatted with designer Petter Ringbom about his design, your design, and going berserk.

TMN: When did you start doing the Flrt PSAs? What are your thoughts behind the messages?

PR: We’ve (Flat) been thinking about web or email based PSAs for a while, we finally started working on them in November 2000. They’re kind of a tribute to Schoolhouse Rock. We were looking at a bunch of old Black Panther posters and flyers and totally loved the bold, pretty crude illustrations and photo collages. You know, that stuff was made with so many limitations, but they were only concerned with the message and that’s really where the beauty lies. Looking at the stuff out there today, primarily on the web, there are no limitations for what we can do with our computers and ‘trained’ designer eyes but there’s no message what-so-ever. It’s like we have all the tools but nothing to say.

The messages are simply things that concern us, you know, soap box issues. They are issues that somehow relate to our industry and our peers, like ‘The Paperless Office,’ ergonomics etc. I also think that a very important part of the project is to show the design community that it’s OK to communicate something of substance. It’s like, everybody’s got their pet projects…why not try to make people think?

TMN: Indeed. Your work with AIGA seems to connote a similar feeling.

PR: Yeah, In some ways the AIGA work is a continuation of the PSA project, both formally and conceptually. The AIGA National Design Conference 2001 (Voice) will deal with how designers can use their tools to make a difference.

TMN: A difference how?

PR: Look at Emigre magazine, it has gone from a magazine about design to a design magazine dealing with social, political and cultural commentary. But that’s an extreme example, in smaller scale it could be to think twice about what you are communicating.

TMN: Do you bring a lot of this thought—the accountability and potential of designers—into your classroom?

PR: Sure, but it takes a level of maturity. You need to develop your tools before you can use them. Something I’ve tried to teach my students is that your work as a designer can go beyond what you do from 9-5. Straight out of school, you may not have a position where your voice will be heard, but if you keep doing the stuff that matters to you on the side, eventually someone will hear you.

TMN: Let’s talk about what you do on the side: tell us about some of your newest design projects.

PR: I’m doing this insane project together with Agnieszka Gasparska. We’re creating an identity system for three New York hospitals, including Bellevue Hospital. For those who don’t know, Bellevue is one of the largest hospitals in the country (if not the world), it’s like the Grand Central of hospitals, totally crazy. Anyway, they’re all public hospitals and don’t have a whole lot of money, so, were doing it as a side thing pretty cheap. So, soon our logo will be on nurses uniforms, trash cans and things like that. They actually just put it on some wall to wall carpeting, which I’m really excited about.

If I was the CEO of the internet I would use it to match up all the talented designers out there with non profits and institutions like Bellevue. Or match up designers without ideas with people who have something to say.

TMN: Why the non-profits? Nothing against it, we’re just curious what particular appeal they hold.

PR: That’s just an example. I just wish there was a platform were charities and non profits could post their designer needs and designers could contribute to whatever they wanted (if they wanted). We’ve actually proposed this idea to AIGA and I think it will happen. Rather than re working your portfolio site for the 10th time you could actually get some real work done while hopefully contributing to something you care about.

All this talk makes me sound like some ‘good-doer.’ Kind of funny since I, like everybody else, do commercial work that puts food on my table (And I enjoy it, but don’t tell anybody).

TMN: So what’s your favorite stuff out there—in design, on the web, anywhere, anything, What’s inspiring you right now?

PR: I love Marlene McCarty, she’s brilliant. Look at the opening titles for Office Killer and The Ice Storm. But I don’t know what happened to her? Haven’t seen that much new stuff. I love FischerSpooner (of course), total genius and I’ve heard there’s more to come. I love Sweden Graphics. And I like Fellow Designers.

Other than that I get inspired by horizon lines and port wine. Oh, and you gotta check out the exhibition of Cuban posters at the AIGA in NY, incredible!

TMN: Definitely. So what are your plans for the summer?

PR: Stay out of the sun, drive my car fast and get Swedish drunk when my brother turns 30. I’m working on an art site for PBS with the design firm Open and some other fun stuff.

TMN: Uh…Swedish drunk?

PR: ‘Getting drunk’ is a Swedish invention. Did you know that the expression ‘going berserk’ comes from when the Viking warriors (Berserkar) were really drunk and started eating mushrooms and totally flipped out—they went berserk.

TMN: It’s gonna be a great summer. Thanks for your time, Petter.

PR: Sure will. Thank you TMN.


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack