How much does your city—or your neighborhood—influence your work? For many Chicago designers, the city itself has always been a muse of inspiration.
And understandably: It’s a city obsessed with it’s own history, civic pride and yes, even its political corruption. You’d also be hard pressed to find another American city so enamored—so narcissistic—with its flag; a flag so interlaced with historical nuances that local designers like Meng Yang has used its symbolism to make a name for himself.
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The Chicago-based designer and art director at creative marketing agency, REAKT, is all about promoting local businesses, local art and educating oneself on the history of the city: a notion popular in the Chicago artist/ designer community. His Know Your Flag project is an homage to the historical facets of Chicago’s city flag (where each star has a meaning), among other Windy City tributes. It’s touted as “a love letter to the City of Chicago.”
In Yang’s portfolio you’ll find an impressive billboard marketing campaign for the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago Blackhawks at a past agency, as well as prints for popular neighborhood festivals. He also runs a t-shirt company, Support Your Local Industries, promoting, well, take a wild guess.
InspiredMag caught wind of Yang’s work and rising popularity in the Chicago art fest circuit and asked him about why local designers are so drawn to the city for inspiration, what he’d like to design out of the city limits and how he escapes from his work routine.
1. What fascinates you to devote so much of your work to the city of Chicago, it’s history and iconography?
For the first four to five years living in Chicago, I just never bothered learning about the city. It was only when I landed a job (as a freelance designer) in Evanston, biking daily from Logan Square that I discovered how diverse and eclectic the city was. That discovery created a deeper appreciation and a better understanding of Chicago for me. Also, I was creatively frustrated with the professional design work I dealt with on a daily basis and was looking to do something that was personal and meaningful. With those two factors in mind, I set out to make art that I cared about which I hoped would resonate with other people. So far, so good.
2. Why do you think there is such a fascination for designers and artists with shopping and promoting local businesses? In Chicago especially, there seems to be a big “shop local” movement with no shortage of graphic design and inspired art.
I think this applies to a larger topic. The idea of ‘supporting local’ is so important these days because of a globalized economy where so much of our (American) products are manufactured elsewhere. The support local movement reinforces the notion that people still care and take pride for hand-crafted goods made by a person that could well be their neighbor.
3. When did you get the inspiration and the start to do the Chicago flag set, how methodical was the design, and for those that don’t live in Chicago, why does the flag hold so much pride?
Again, it was all thru discovery. For a good while, I thought Chicago had a large, prominent Jewish community because I would see this white and blue striped flag with four six-pointed stars. It was just through curiosity that I finally researched the Chicago flag and discovered what the design meant. I was simply awe-struck and I figured if I felt that way about learning this little bit of Chicago history, there’d had to be others that would feel the same way about it too. That’s when I started designing the posters; the most important part was to communicate history in an interesting way. Also, the Chicago flag is a great design by itself, which is why people gravitate towards it. New York has the “I Heart NY” design and we have our awesome flag.
4. What other projects outside the city would you like to tackle?
Over the past two years since launching Know Your Flag, I’ve mainly focused on Chicago because it’s shaped me as a designer/artist and as a person. So it was very important for me to visually express my gratitude to the Windy City. However, I was raised in Michigan in Detroit (elementary), Bay City (junior high) and Holly (high school). And I have family and relatives all over the Midwest so I consider myself a Midwestern boy. Recently I just went on a Midwest road trip with my girlfriend and am planning to design a series to highlight my love of the Midwest.
5. Who inspires you as a designer? And why is their work so influential?
There are so many artists and designers out there that inspire me but the handful I can think of are Mike Mignola, Bruce Timm, Batman and Mike Mcquade. As a kid, I loved comic books, which taught me how to draw and read, which is why I thank Batman and all the artists that have drawn him. Mike Mignola and Bruce Timm, ‘til this day makes me read comics and appreciate the art of drawing and lettering. Mike Mcquade is a friend of mine and he is a machine that continually spews great designs.
6. What would you go back to school to study or what classes would you like to take to learn more about (if given the time of course)?
Business. I wish art/design school taught students the business end of freelancing and financing.
7. What’s currently blasting on your iPod?
Mastodon, the hunter. Listening to them reminds me of the first date I took my girlfriend too.
8. How do you escape your work routine? What would you prescribe as best practices for living a life separate from your work life?
To get out of a repetitive way of thinking and designing, I usually do some physical exercise. I’ve been taking Brazilian jujitsu and kickboxing to get my mind out of a rut.