Jarrett Fuller is an independent designer, writer, podcaster, and educator based in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s worked with clients large and small, including Instagram, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Wondermade Confectioners.
He currently teaches in the graduate communication design program at Pratt Institute, in the undergraduate graphic design program at The New School Parsons School of Design, and is a Senior Lecturer at The University of the Arts. He previously was on the adjunct faculty in the undergraduate graphic design department at Maryland Institute College of Art.
He hosts the weekly podcast, “Scratching the Surface,” where he interviews designers, writers, critics, and researchers about the intersection of design criticism and practice. Previous guests have included Michael Bierut, Alexandra Lange, Steven Heller, Experimental Jetset, Jessica Helfand, and Michael Rock.
From 2013 to 2015, he was a designer at Facebook on their Business Marketing team where he worked on a range of interactive, branding, and environmental projects. Previously he was a designer at Warby Parker and helped develop the brand through a range of web, print, and retail projects. In 2016, he was an intern at The Whitney Museum of American Art. He was a 2016 participant in Triple Canopy’s Publication Intensive, a two-week workshop that explores the history and future of publishing.
Jarrett received his MFA in graphic design, with a critical studies concentration, in 2017 from the Maryland Institute College of Art and his BFA in graphic design in 2011 from Kutztown University.
VCFA’s Ian Lynam took time out to chat with Jarrett and find out more about his take on the state of graphic design in the current moment.
At this point, you are over 50+ episodes deep into your self-initiated podcast “Scratching the Surface”—what do you feel like are the most valuable things that you have learned from this project?
I can’t understate how much I’ve learned from the practical to the intellectual. At a base level, I learned how to edit audio, structure an interview, promote myself, and build an audience. I learned there are more people craving a critical discourse around graphic design than I realized.
I think I started the project with some preconceived ideas about how design should be practiced or what design criticism should like and so many of those assumptions were challenged and reconstructed. What I’ve learned is that ‘design’ (whatever that word means) is a lot bigger than I thought it was. It can be practiced in all sort of ways and can mean different things to different people. If the podcast started as my own inquiry into how to connect criticism and practice, it’s goal now, I think is to catalog examples of people practicing at the edges of design and talking about their work in new ways.
You are currently teaching at three different schools—what things have you discovered through these experiences?
This past semester really felt like a crash course in teaching design. The year before I taught one class and then I immediately jumped up to four. On Monday mornings I’d go to one school to teach introduction to typography—literally these students’ first design class ever!—and then head to another to work with thesis students in a graduate program. The first few weeks were this weird intellectual whiplash going from teaching the basics of type anatomy to talking with students who were studying feminism in graphic design or artificial intelligence or material culture or something like that. After I got my bearings, I started finding a lot of connections between these two extremes (as well as the other two classes I taught that fell between them). Discussions in one class would come up again in another. A reading recommended to one student would become a text assigned to another class.
By going all the way back to introduction to typography, I have to rethink how I talked about type and it forced me to look back on my own education and work. In a lot of ways, this reinvigorated my own interests in graphic design and got me excited about the profession again. I know it’s a cliche but it’s totally true—I feel like I learned just as much from the students as I hope they learned from me.
Where do you find yourself in regards to the cross-section, or lack thereof, of theory and practice presently?
Related to the previous question actually, I think teaching has become the place where these connect in the clearest way. The classroom has turned out to the place where all my interests really come together into one thing — in preparing for classes I’m designing syllabi, structuring lessons, researching, reading, writing presentations and assignments. It’s designing, it’s writing, it’s thinking, it’s reading. Design education comes up a lot on the podcast and I think that’s the place where we can really change how we talk about graphic design. In every class, I’ve tried to close that gap that sometimes exists between theory and practice — I always assign readings in my studio classes to go along with their projects that we talk about. Then in my graduate classes, I have them to respond to the readings/lectures/discussions through design so there’s this constant back and forth between the thinking and making in hopes that they begin to see these don’t need to be opposing threads.
What was your reaction to discovering that you had left your work wife?
HA! That was a heartbreaking discovery! But Molly’s description of me I’m pretty sure is the best compliment I’ve ever been given: “Jarrett was consistent in the way that a large pile of rocks or a sequoia is consistent, with an unmoved integrity that I’d previously experienced only in natural landmarks. He spoke at the pace of a molasses drip and almost no part of his face moved when he did so; the overall effect was of an animal conserving its energy for vital tasks in winter. When Jarrett said hello to me in the morning, it was like seeing the word printed in Helvetica.”
Are there any other roles that you’ve discovered that you filled retroactively?
I’ve started to see a lot of what I do as a sort of librarian. (The trendy word, I guess is ‘curator’ but my mom is a librarian, so I might be predisposed to take on the title.) A librarian has to organize large amounts of information, access it quickly, and then point people in the right direction so they can find what they are looking for. Both on the podcast and as a teacher, so much of what I’m doing is pointing people—listeners, students, friends—to texts, books, films, podcasts, music, people that are relevant to their interests and research pursuits. I think I’m pretty good at drawing connections between things and if I’m at all a good teacher, I think its because I’m able to pinpoint what a student is interested in and immediately give them a list of things they should be looking at and aware of. (Shameless self-promotion: I realized how often I was playing this role of librarian that earlier this year I created readings.design—an online library of sorts that collects all the books, essays, PDFs, etc in my collection that I find myself sharing the most.)