Steven Heller | Art Director, Journalist, Critic, Author & Editor

Steven Heller

Steven Heller is an American art director, journalist, critic, author, and editor who specializes on topics related to graphic design. Steven Heller is author and co-author of many works on the history of illustration, typography, and many subjects related to graphic design. He has published more than eighty titles and written articles for magazines including Affiche, Baseline, Creation, Design, Design Issues, Design Observer, Eye, Graphis, How, I.D., Oxymoron, Mother Jones, The New York Times  Book Review, Print, Speak, and U&lc.


steven-heller_P1My Highlights | You have heard this before, I’m sure. My proudest life highlight is my wife and son. I would never have imagined I’d be married for over 30 years with a 26 year old son who is a filmmaker. Career? I’ve done a lot without a lot of formal education. I even have two honorary doctorates. I guess that makes me feel satisfied.

The Difference Between Good and Great | Patience helps. Focus is important. I’m fine at what I do. I’m not great at anything. But I compensate by doing a lot of what I do and sometimes what I’ve never done before. It all balances out.

A Key Talent | I’m not being modest when I say I’m not certain what my talent is. I see so many people every day with real inbred talent. I am clever, resourceful, and imaginative but my talent is probably taking a bit from here and there and making myself into a catalyst. My role for 33 years at the New York Times was as an art director. I used that position to help talented people reach an audience. I do that now as a co-chair of the SVA MFA Design / Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program. There is no step-by-step advice I can offer regarding my “luck.” But I think everyone should build on their strengths and the weaknesses will be overcome by circumstance.

steven-heller_P2The Characteristics of Success | Before I said that patience is a virtue. I think that my impatience has been a useful tool. I can’t just sit around waiting for something to happen, I must make it happen or find out why not. Some call it obsessive behavior, but that’s not a sin.

Principles I Live By | That’s simple:  try to do no harm to others. Be fair. Be loving when possible. Be open to new things.

Critical Skills I Develop | as an arbiter of design I have to be able to see past the veneers of things. I’m not sure I have succeeded in that, but it is a goal I strive for. Design must be judged as much for what’s inside as outside.

How I Use My Mind | Actually, there are times that I just lie in bed or sit in a chair and try to PUSH ideas out of my head. Sometimes this works. Most of the time, the best ideas come under pressure, but not always. Stress-free ideation is my goal.

Dealing With Doubt | Self-doubt is a constant. Some days greater than others. Fear enters in to that. But every single day, except Sunday, I wake up believing I’m not going to succeed. Every day, except Sunday, I have to prove to myself, even if it means writing a letter no less writing a chapter of a book, that I have self-worth. I guess that is the definition of ambition.

steven-heller_P3Performing At My Peak | Of course this is a relative determination. There are moments in the day when patience and focus meet good ideas and I’m on top of the world. But that same day the opposite can be true. It’s hard to stay peak.

Resources I Use to Stay Inspired | I am inspired by all the creative juices flowing around me. Students, teachers, friends, my wife and son. I read but that is a passive influence, it’s the people that are the true resources.

My Future Dreams and Ambitions | I wish in the next life I can play the bass with a band.

The Best Advice I’ve Received | Always judge an artist or designer by their BEST work.

Advice on Building Wealth | Do NOT obsess about wealth. Be responsible to yourself and family, but being rich is not a goal it is a consequence.

The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | That one of my books may live longer than me.

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