Matt Livengood // PSU Assistant Professor

Posted on Sep 28th, 2008 by Command Save


Detail images of Matt Livengood's work. More images below!

Please tell us a little about your education.
I received a Bachelor of Graphic Design from North Carolina State University (Raleigh, NC) in 1997, and an MFA in Design from NSCAD University (the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design; Halifax, NS, Canada) in 2006.

How did you break into the field?
I started working in design full-time as a junior designer at Design Kitchen, Inc. in Chicago. That was in 1997, just after graduating from NC State. I found out about DKI when I was attending the student AIGA conference — also in Chicago — in 1996. I was at a break-out session with some friends in which the facilitator asked us design- and print-related trivia questions as a chance to win copies of some new design magazine. When he asked us what popular film was named after the old slang term given to cheaply-produced novels (I'm paraphrasing here), my hand shot up. "Pulp Fiction" was the right answer and so I won a magazine. I don't remember the magazine name (it was short-lived), but it profiled a number of Chicago studios and firms. After deciding to target the Chicago market as the place to find my first job, I used that directory to send packets/resumes to as many firms as I could. Design Kitchen was among the companies listed and they were hiring; I flew up for an interview, and it all worked out. Moral of the story: free stuff is good.

Please tell us a little about your design work history.
Design Kitchen is a fast-paced, corporate-oriented, and urban environment with a rather high-end client base (Motorola, Monsanto, McDonald's, several national restaurants, several product lines, etc.). The company specializes in brand identity, packaging, and the like. It was an adventure to start my career there, but I only stayed for seven months; it turned out not to be a good fit for me, personally. For a number of reasons both personal and professional, I decided to leave to look for a position that was less directly aligned with the marketplace and commerce, and I found such a place in Good Studio, a small Chicago company that worked on artists' publications, gallery announcements, information design and other such graphics for a national science lab, plus an assortment of catalogues and posters, etc. That lasted for over a year before I left Chicago for life in a smaller town. I was in Asheville, NC for a while, then here in Portland, doing occasional freelance work in both locations. 

Eventually, I landed a position as the graphic designer for the Student Union at UNC-Chapel Hill. That was an amazing experience. For three years I was the steward of the Union's identity and its printed 'persona' in the community, as well as the main design force behind the Performing Arts Series our staff produced. There was also design work done for various student groups, departments, and university events, plus some freelance on the side. The work was great, the pay was lousy, and I was happy. It was actually my time at UNC that convinced me that I could forge a place for myself within the discipline of design that felt… right for me. It was at UNC that I reconciled my professional relationship with (graphic) design — up to that point, it had been a touchy, uncertain involvement that made me fairly grumpy from time to time. Because of the positive impact my work at Chapel Hill was able to have on local communities in the town and on campus, I decided to go to graduate school to further my commitment to and understanding of the discipline of design. I then ended up teaching immediately after finishing grad school in Halifax.

Where have you taught design?
I taught design full-time for two years at the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) in Toronto. My pedagogical CV from that institution includes: Graphic Design (studio) I, II, III, and IV; Research Methodologies for Graphic Design I and II (II being a thesis-prep class, primarily); and a seminar-style Contemporary Issues in Graphic Design course. I also taught one class at NSCAD, Non-Digital Graphic Design, the curriculum of which was developed as a project for my graduate pedagogy seminar.

What is the focus of your creative research?
The title of my MFA thesis and exhibition was "Getting Over the Rainbow: Same-Sex Wedding Invitations and the Cultivation of Visual Identity." My work in graduate school was mostly centered around issues of cultural/national/personal identity and the role that designed objects/messages play in informing individuals' and communities' senses of themselves. The thesis work, a sort of culmination of these investigations, examined conceptual methods for (re)framing what same-sex wedding invitations might look like if the history and culture(s) of homosexual identity were acknowledged and then infused into the ephemera and aesthetics associated with (same-sex) nuptial ceremonies. I didn't make same-sex wedding invitations, per se, but I forged a palette of graphics and graphic treatments that might be used for such objects — these were largely guided by a set of archetypical principals/concepts that kept appearing as I conducted my research. (This set included: sensuality, festivity, spectacle, dignity, subversion, mutuality, and bricolage.) 

Basically, my stance was that if a couple's wedding day is such an important, personal event, then it doesn't make sense to borrow traditions solely and directly from an external (or perhaps parallel) tradition that happens to have been created by the wedding industry. I was interested in sparking a discourse surrounding the choices that are available to (same-sex) couples when planning their weddings. On the surface, of course, this is about sexuality and ritual, etc., but in reality what I was interested in was battling meaninglessness. I think that too much of our contemporary culture and practices are void of genuine representation and actual meaning. The thesis work and my attempts in general as a design practitioner are meant, quite simply, to be meaningful.

Also, I've been planning for some time to design a deck of tarot cards that utilizes semiotic knowledge and moves away from imagery that is primarily symbolic in its means of signification. I hope to begin that work during the Fall quarter. Overall, I'm slowly returning to serious research and a personal practice after 'coming down' from graduate school and launching my teaching career. Returning to the US and not being under the legal constraints of a Canadian work permit should open up several avenues of possibility for me here in Portland.

What is your teaching philosophy?
In the classroom, both teachers and students must be committed and hard-working. They must also be honest and truly 'present' in their engagement in order for certain levels of trust and respect to be maintained. Without this trust and respect, the classroom is not a haven where risk-taking is welcomed or rewarded — if this is taken away, then what do you have other than distance and, sometimes, antagonism? That's no good. I also believe that students must be shown that they can produce and understand more than they might have previously thought was possible: i.e., students must be challenged and they must stay very busy. I feel that the critiquing process is very important. I feel that reading is very important. I believe that design instruction must strike the appropriate balance of focus upon the conceptual, the technological, and the relevant contextual (in terms of audience/user) frameworks in order to be of benefit to students.
I also think that design instructors today must acknowledge that we are to address both the portfolio of the individual student (design-as-practice) AND the larger field of Design, in general (design-as-discipline). That is, there is a difference between providing design training versus design education; the former helps a student look good in a job interview, while the latter acknowledges that design is a discipline that is ripe for development (in terms of research, theory, etc.) and promotion. I firmly believe that in today's world, a degree in design is one of the most useful and beneficial degrees that a person can earn. The tenets of design and what design has to offer have yet to be ingrained into our culture's mindset and behavior to a degree of which the discipline is deserving. Regardless of what a student does after s/he graduates from design school, having one more citizen out in the world who respects and understands design is truly a benefit for everyone. I try to keep this in mind as much as possible as a professor.

What classes are you teaching this year?
Over the next three quarters, I'll be teaching Digital Page Design I (200), Communication Design I (224) and II (225), and Typography I (254).

Who inspires you?
Hmm. (This type of question is usually difficult for me.) In general, I respect people who use their positions and talents to raise the presence of truthfulness and humanity. I also tend to respect smart/witty personalities, a
nd/or people who simply do their jobs very well. Artists like Stevie Wonder, Sin