Fritz Klaetke, the offspring of an architect and a painter, was genetically pre-destined to be a designer. He grew up in Detroit and founded Visual Dialogue in 1988 while still a student at the University of Michigan. Today, the studio is located in a renovated rowhouse in Boston's historic South End neighborhood.
The output from Visual Dialogue ranges from brand identity and music packaging, to print collateral and websites, magazines and sculpture, and book design and interiors. Visual Dialogue has received recognition from organizations including AIGA, Art Directors Club, Type Directors Club and The Webby Awards and the work has been featured in Communications Arts, HOW, I.D., Novum and Sports Illustrated. In addition, several of projects are in the permanent collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
Expanding The Definition
If you have a degree in what field is it? Graphic design from the University of Michigan, but I also had the good fortune of going to a great public high school in Detroit—Cass Tech—that had an amazing art program which included a “commercial art” (the old name for “graphic design”) focus.
What’s the best site you’ve seen lately? What’s so great about it?
It’s not so new anymore, but I remember going to see Aaron Koblin speak at MIT just about the time he’d completed the Wilderness Downtown for Arcade Fire. How it captured hometowns (in my case Detroit’s East Side) actually brought a tear to my eye.
If you were to change professions, what would you choose to do?
As it says in my bio, I was pre-destined to be a designer, so I had no choice in the matter. Seriously, I wouldn’t want to do anything else. But I do want to expand the definition of what I do as a designer to include other things—architecture/interiors, sculpture, public art, experiences...
If you weren’t working as a designer what would you be doing? I’d be dead because I live and breathe it.
What well-known identity is most desperately in need of a redesign? Microsoft. But it’s not just about changing the brand identity, the entire company needs an overhaul. Everyone just accepts that the products and software are OK, at best; this acceptance of mediocrity has become the norm.
Design or technology? Which is more important? Why? Design, and ideas, always come first; technology brings them to life.
From where do your best ideas originate? It’s random. I never know where they’ll come from, but I do believe in the importance of keeping the tank full with input in order to create great output.
How do you overcome a creative block? Get away from it and do something else.
What’s your dream project (not client, but project)? Currently (it could change tomorrow) I’m interested in the holistic design of every touchpoint (identity, website, signage, advertising, interiors, landscape, architecture) for hospitality projects. I’m also interested in the impact of design in politics, both framing the discussion of issues and promoting worthy candidates.
In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new project. High.
Do you have creative outlets other than graphic design?
What music are you listening to right now? Woody Guthrie, for a new boxed set I’m designing for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
What product/gadget can you not live without? Electricity.
What’s your favorite quote? I grew up in a Mies van der Rohe-designed complex in Detroit (Lafayette Park) so I think I’ll go with “God is in the details.”
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession?
You have to love it... to want to do it even if you weren’t getting paid for it. If you don’t, do something else.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? The power of networking. (And to invest in Apple.)