Debbie Millman | Audio

Michael Rock

Michael Rock is a founding partner and Creative Director at 2x4 and Director of the Graphic Architecture Project at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. At 2x4, he leads a wide range of projects for Prada, Nike, Kanye West, Barneys New York, Harvard and CCTV. Before starting 2x4, he was co-founder of Information incorporated in Boston. From 1984–91 he was Adjunct Professor of Graphic Design at the Rhode Island School of Design and since 1991 he has been a member of the design faculty at the Yale School of Art where he holds the rank of Adjunct Professor. In addition, he was a fellow at the Jan Van Eyck Akademie in Maastricht, The Netherlands, and a contributing editor and graphic design journalist at I.D. Magazine in New York. His writing on design has appeared in publications worldwide. He holds an A.B. in Humanities from Union College and a M.F.A from the Rhode Island School of Design. He is the recipient of the 1999/2000 Rome Prize in Design from the American Academy in Rome and currently serves on the board of the Academy. He is the author and editor of Multiple Signatures, on the history and development of 21st century design.

Posted in: Business, Design Matters, Graphic Design, Media

Comments [6]

I'm bored with euro-centric views of history... brands likely thrived much earlier, when humans in asia and africa decided cattle (the first branded commodity) was the greatest source of wealth and power.

& on the subject of brands in history, my favorite is Amenhotep IV's personal rebrand to Akhenaten in the 5th year of his reign (the dates are debated, but his reign was somewhere between 1351-1336 BC.)

He was particularly ambitious in his rebrand: created a new city (the first step of the rebrand), changed his name, changed the names of the gods, created a monotheistic religion, and best of all changed the art style to a much more expressive style. A PBS documentary I watched said he was also the first to commission a casual family scene in royal art... very interesting brand strategy.


Thought provoking interview. I'm glad that Rock is very calm, analytical, intelligent. The fictions and communication and "manipulation vs. design" aspect is very tricky. It seems like the analogy would be everyday speech. If you are talking to someone, and what you are telling them is real, they will trust you and your "brand" or whatever. If you are a person that constantly lies or is full of b.s. then people will not trust you. Rock is right to separate content and design form (another layer of content) but no amount of design can sell a lie, or a bad brand. Probably why getting the right clients is 99% of the battle in design.
Ed Nai

While we do live in a capitalist system, we also live in a democracy (at least in western countries) that keeps it in balance. Capitalism is only good when it is ethically sound (another layer in the equation which isn't discussed here). You give me a product and I give you capital. If the product explodes in my face, then it's not ethically good. Companies that put a crap product in a nice package don't really contribute to the good health of capitalism.
Ed Nai

Ironically, even the book/movie Fight Club existed on the consumer marketplace. But can something exist and be absorbed by capitalism and still transcend it?


Kanye West has recently been pushing away corporate branding and product tie-ins. On the flip side, Jay-Z's new album was released as a phone, and his album has been critiqued as elitist and cold, as opposed to Kanye. Yes, capitalism may try to absorb art. But does it really capture the real thing, or reproduce a bastard version?
Putting punk's fashion at the Met does not capture the real thing. It only captures capitalism's endless desire to use counterculture as inspiration. And so capitalism is a slave to innovation and art, not its master.
So maybe designers should start with what they think is good work first, and let capitalism follow as it always does.
"There's leaders and there's followers." - Kanye


Roman empire inspired the ideology of anything that can be created as elements on multiple platforms. That is an interesting aspect that has been around for centuries. I agree with that and design is more about all the elements not just a single one but all the elements form the design and work on various platforms.

The re-direct is the inherent factor for Multiple Signatures. First things First Manifesto that was created in 1999 had a good point and this was an overall good story piece. I think Michael Rock has a good point of view on Advertising as communication capitalist.

A system of Global Capital has grown over several centuries to create the Mass Communication System. The shift of Branding he talked about was very informative and a perspective I had not thought of before.

The concept of this blog in audio version was a unique way to engage the audience. I really enjoyed this blog.

Jobs | July 12