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21 August 2017
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Tuesday, 19th February 2013
An idea with legs
Caught between three stools and a tornado.
Stephen Doyle is a designer I first met while on Milton Glaser’s Summer Program at The School of Visual Arts in New York. It was the third day of an intensive week. I was jetlagged and after a virtual all-nighter working to produce a magazine in 12 hours, I’d fallen out with my class mates and walked off the course in a ‘fit of pique’. 

After an afternoon wandering around MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) I returned to the SVA after missing our magazine crit, and after an emotional meeting with Milton Glaser, I decided to swallow my pride and return to the group. 

After a few nervous handshakes with team mates I thought I'd never see again, I found myself in a lecture room listening to a very enthusiastic Stephen Doyle (at the end of every day a visiting luminary would give the class a presentation of their work). I’d never come across his work before, but what impressed me as much as his passion, was his striving for not only good ideas but his reluctance to use modern technology to produce his finished designs. He was an exponent of old fashioned skills, – draughtsmanship, craftsmanship and patience, resulting in beautifully made objects that were then photographed. No digital 3D modelling. And the difference was immediate, real and so much more convincing. 

So when I found myself in New York last summer (a year almost to the week I’d first met Stephen) I decided to look him up and have a ‘snoop’ around his studio. Prior to meeting up at Doyle Partners I had a meeting at Landor, which was only half a dozen blocks away. After my Landor meeting I was set to leave, when a storm of biblical proportions – the tail end of a typhoon, hit New York. Lightning flashed and lit up the black sky (although it was only 4 in the afternoon), thunder amplified and echoed off the tall buildings and the rain sheeted horizontally across the roads and sidewalks turning them into rivers. I waited in the Landor reception for half an hour for the storm to quieten but it was getting worse. Not wanting to be late for my meeting with Stephen and with a very real fear of being struck by lightning, I set off, head down, teeth gritted into the teeth of the storm. 

I arrived at Doyle Partners and without exageratrion, if I’d jumped into a swimming pool fully clothed I couldn’t have been wetter. I dried myself the best I could with paper towels and left a trail of wet footprints as Stephen introduced me around the studio. After the corporate atmosphere of Landor, this was a creative space with real personality – a fascinating working environment, models and drawings everywhere, found items on shelves and mounted on the walls. 

By one designer’s desk were three plain wooden stools. On his Mac the designer was working out how to combine the stools into a Venn diagram, to illustrate an article about brainstorming. Now many would do this and create a digital illustration as finished artwork. Not Doyle Partners. The computer exploration was merely to aid the making of the Venn Stool for real. I was intrigued and asked Stephen to send me a photo of the finished piece (it has only just been published in Fast Company hence the delay in posting it here). 

After the studio tour Stephen and I went for drinks at a local bar. The storm had calmed. We sat drinking cold beer, the steam rising from my damp clothes. We talked about design, about New York, London and our kids. It was an elightening afternoon and a fascinating insight into a man with extremely high standards who hates compromise, mediocrity and is always striving to create the most beautiful design, regardless of client or budget. 

Stephen Doyle, creative director, is the winner of the National Design Award for Communication for 2010. He lectures frequently here and abroad, talking about where ideas come from...and where they go. Previously at M&Co., Rolling Stone and Esquire, he’s a member of AIGA, and was elected to the Alliance Graphique Internationale in 1995. Stephen teaches in the graduate program at The School of Visual Arts and has taught at Yale, The Cooper Union and NYU. He lives in Greenwich Village with his wife and two children.