Recap: Michael Osborne – Design That Matters
Monday evening, I, along with more than 100 of my AIGA DC design colleagues, gathered at the Charles Sumner School to hear a presentation by San Francisco-based president and creative director Michael Osborne of Michael Osborne Design. Michael Osborne Design, established in 1981, is a branding and packaging agency that has worked on some of the most recognizable brands in retail. His clients (and sample projects) include: Jack Daniel’s, Kettle Chips, Williams-Sonoma, Gymboree, and Robert Mondavi Winery.
In addition to running a highly successful (and prestigious) agency, Michael runs a non-profit 501(c)(3) design studio called Joey’s Corner. Michael described for us his personal journey which lead him to establish Joey’s Corner.
After graduating high school, Michael joined the Navy and was almost immediately sent to Vietnam. Upon returning from the war, it took Michael over ten years before he could visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. When Michael was finally able to visit the Memorial, he did so at night and he made a series of rubbings which he subsequently turned into anti-war posters. (We’re still searching for a photo of these posters.) Michael described this experience as therapy.
After Michael’s return from Vietnam, and prior to making his anti-war posters, Michael received a call from a military friend who was living in California. The friend suggested that Michael would be better off living in California as he could enjoy all the “palm trees, booze and women he wanted.” Many years later, Michael’s friend, who he later learned as gay, died of AIDS. In 2003, Michael was attending Academy of Art University for his MFA. Based on Michael responses on a “welcome to the class” questionnaire, Michael’s professor tasked him with coming up with a way to use design to fight disease in a foreign country. Michael’s assignment lead him to working with the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, an organization founded to fight the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharian Africa. Michael used his connections to commission an illustration with the accompanying text “Smart Young People Abstain from Sex…Know Your Status” and worked with a silk-screening vendor to print the shirts. He later received a donation from Nike to print additional shirts. This was Michael’s first taste of using design for the public good.
Every year, Michael’s design firm sent Valentine’s Day cards to its clients. One of Michael’s cards landed on the desk of Ethel Kessler, art director for the United States Postal Service. Just days before Sept. 11, 2001, Michael received a call from Ethel inviting him to submit designs for the next Love stamp. Michael spent the days following 9/11 alone in his studio writing the word Love over and over and over. In an interview posted on the Postal Museum website, Michael describes his mental state: “In light of the horrific events that took place only a week earlier, I put everything I had into designing the Love stamp,” he said. “Once I started, the emotions I felt fueled the creative process.” The USPS selected two of Michael’s designs for printing as postage stamps.
In 2004, the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation approached Michael to help them launch Hearts in San Francisco, an art installation to raise money to fund projects that would increase patient comfort and care. Michael worked with the organization to find artists and sponsors, and then place 130 hearts throughout the city of San Francisco. The hearts were later autioned off and to date have raised over $2M for the hospital. Additionally, Michael designed a book of photographs of the hearts which was sold to raise additional funds for the hospital. Two of Michael’s hearts are pictured below. The heart on the left was sponsored by Intel and the heart on right was sponsored by Wells Fargo.
Death and Birth.
In December of 2004, Michael’s 24-year-old son Joey died in an accident in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
As a way to ensure Joey lived on, Michael began Joey’s Corner, a non-profit design agency providing pro-bono design to non-profits focusing on health care, children’s and social issues. To help fund the agency, Michael applied for, and received, a $50,000 grant from Sappi’s Ideas that Matter program.
Joey’s Corner has helped local non-profits develop identities, raise funding, and gain sponsorship. A selection of their work can be found here. Additionally, Joey’s Corner has a corner store where they sell wrapping paper, journals, and cards to raise additional funds.
During the event, Michael shared a slide with the following statement: “Life is really about helping people if you are able and doing something good for our planet…” Through his educational experiences, experiences as an artist, and experiences through Joey’s Corner, Michael has helped people and organizations through design. And that proves design matters.
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