America’s visual language is imprinted all over the world. Its cultural global influence is immeasurable – from the ubiquity and innovation of Hollywood, Marvel, and Disney, to the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol.

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Art Deco skyscrapers, Mickey Mouse, Superman, CNN, Elvis, and The O.C. are all are all signs recognized the world over. And, while Tony and George indulge in their ‘special relationship’, the creative worlds of the UK and the US have converged and contrasted in interesting ways, too. 
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Jason Arber, senior designer at NowWashYourHands, says American art has a automatic influence on designers from the UK. “American artists haven’t necessarily influenced my work any more than designers from the UK, Europe, and Japan,” he says. “Each area has its own unique style, but taken as a whole they form a general wall of influence.”
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This effect is felt in the US. “The real question is how to avoid being influenced,” says Logan designer Alexie Tylevich, originally from Belarus. “We are bombarded with enormous amounts of processed imagery that distracts and obscures the view. We can’t help but be influenced and inspired on the subconscious level by everything that surrounds us. 
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“It’s hard to separate what one considers to be a source of inspiration from something that has been forced into our brains by virtue of living and working in the visual field.” 
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Other American digital designers feel this cocoon of influence, but sometimes focus on individual forms, with product design being a favourite in the land where the consumer is king. 
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“I’m pretty much an information junkie,” says Tony Passero, CEO of Chicago-based Tribesoft. “Lately, I’ve been influenced by the work of the industrial and product designer Henry Dreyfuss.” 
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Passero points to the redesign work that Dreyfuss carried out in 1938 on the famous New York to Chicago passenger train the 20th Century Limited. “His detail followed all throughout the entire train right down to the design of the silverware and menu in the dinning cars. Dreyfuss took the design project and turned it into a complete experience.”
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“I think that most of the US influences come from popular culture, especially if you look at broadcast design,” says British designer Judy Wellfare of New York-based creative services firm Plus et Plus. “Some print design has more historical inspiration.” 
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Another expat, Alex McDowell, is a former London punk scene graphic designer and music video director who relocated to Los Angeles in 1986. He moved to production design for commercials and then film where his production design credits include renowned work on The Crow, Fight Club, Minority Report, The Cat In The Hat, as well as Tim Burton’s forthcoming Corpse Bride.
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“I am influenced by architects and artists,” he says. “I love a slew of architects, mostly Japanese and European – Koolhaus, Nouvel, Rogers, Ando, but have been very influenced by Greg Lynn, one of the architects at the cutting edge of using animation software, specifically Maya, to design buildings. After visiting Greg Lynn and Frank Gehry’s offices, my design process changed radically.”
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Matthew Clugston, founder of UK-based Web agency Clusta, says designers in the US pioneered online design. “When the online design community started evolving there were some forward thinking US designers making their mark on the Web,” he says. “Designers like Mike Young from Designgraphik had a huge influence on the way we work. “While we were looking at traditional influences here, the stuff we felt that was really pushing boundaries was by the new breed of online digital artists, a great deal of which were based in the States, such as the WWDG and Gmunk. It was a very inspiring time.”
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<h2>Wide playing field</h2>
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Trendsetting

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Logan’s Tylevich says US design is diverse, but getting tired. “The visual trends that are dominant at the moment are illustrative, hand-drawn Victorian flourishes, painterly textures, 80s revival, 90s collage revival, DIY aesthetics, graffiti, processing, algorithm-driven work, and organic forms moving toward psychedelia. Some of this has been going for a while – it’s time to move on.”
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Tylevich says trendsetting comes from a natural cycle of regurgitation. “Music packaging, fashion editorials, design publications, used bookstores and <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.newstoday.com" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">www.newstoday.com</a>,” he says, are influential. 
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Arber also sees instances of design inspired by and related to music, especially the merging of hip hop and graffiti, as an American legacy to design. “Scien and Klor from 123Klan are a husband and wife team of designers who’ve taken this urban style and pushed it to the extreme,” he says. 
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“This really cannot be addressed without making a gross generalization, considering the incredible amount of individual practitioners doing different things, just like everywhere else,” he says. “Maybe in the States there’s a degree of rawness and anti-intellectualism, less burdened by theory and references – more visceral than cerebral. But the fundamental rules of design are not specific to any region or a country.”
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With the universal truths of good design in mind, can there be such a thing as an American look-&-feel to a design? “Hopefully there is no ‘American look-&-feel’,” says JD Hooge, senior designer at Oregon-based Second Story. “There are no rules specific to American design that I am aware of. Look-&-feel should be determined by the content, not by stylistic trends.” 
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Outsiders sometimes see it differently though. “It

“It’s an amazing collision of slab-serif fonts, ornaments, and fancy typography. In general terms, designers from the US tend to go for more cluttered layouts, while Europeans like white space, although there are exceptions to the rule.”

“I’m not sure that there is anything that really ties down the American look-&-feel,” counters Matthew Clugston. “I think there are instances of American artists who have pioneered styles that have been subsequently re-interpreted by designers.

“Mike Cina from his www.trueistrue.com days is a good example, as his work was unique. He has now teamed up with Mike Young to form WeWorkForThem and they produce really amazing work.

“Josh Davis at www.praystation.com is someone who has evolved a unique style. He never pandered to design trends or styles, he’s always kept it fairly unique.”

The sheer size of the country has an effect on the way design is approached, according to Judy Wellfare. “Design in America has to reach a very diverse audience and so the look-&-feel of commercial work has to consider mass appeal,” she says.

“There is less room for experimentation and quirky humour. Europe and Asia on the other hand, have smaller, country-specific markets that are more culturally aligned, and the audience is more apt to ‘get’ culturally-specific and even abstract concepts.” All commercial design needs to satisfy the paying customer, and US clients need to appeal to a large middle ground. “The US is a conservative market on the whole,” affirms Judy Wellfare.

Blue sky thinking

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There is, however, still a lot of experimental digital design in the US. “The designer/programmers are leading the charge over here,” says Girardi. “That’s the most interesting event to watch. When I started digital design, the line between designer and programmer was clear. We were at the whim of the programmers. Nothing we did would be done without the goodwill of an engineer. In the last few years, this has started to change.”
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“MIT – the school – does some interesting things,” says Mike Cina. “John Maeda of MaedaStudio, Golan Levan of Flong, Casey Reas and Ben Fry from Processing… they are from MIT.”
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Kyle Cooper says he is often disappointed with the “reheated leftovers being passed around from design firm to design firm”. Judy Wellfare agrees, saying experimentation generally exists outside of the commercial realm. 
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“A lot of experimental work is driven by new software, but it is usually seen in personal projects,” she says. “I think it has always been this way in the States. Occasionally someone’s personal project will be seen, and the look or technique applied in a commercial execution. Most projects that we work on involve a certain amount of experimentation.”
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<h2>Forward looking</h2>
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<b>Case Study:</b> Mac D Who: Plus et Plus, www.plusetplus.com
Client: Mac cosmetics

“We’ve worked on several films with MAC Cosmetics over the last three years,” says designer Judy Wellfare. “For its summer line of make-up, we had to create a nostalgic film that evoked a sense of the glitz of the 1920s.”

The resulting film explores the memories of a woman in 1920s St Tropez, following her glamorous lifestyle over a single day.

“Working with the creatives at MAC, inspirations came from the time period itself, the style and bleached colours of old postcards, handwriting, flapper culture, and jazz,” says Wellfare. “We wanted to give the film a modern twist, and this is where the animation came into play, bringing postcards to life.

“The design team shot elements in stop motion and live action, created some in Maya and then brought them all together in After Effects.”

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Above: Work by Alex McDowell: Maya The Terminal – 3D (XSI) lighting model of central island in the departure lounge; Cat In The Hat – plan view of 3D design for Transformed House (form.Z model); model of the Precog Chamber, Minority Report.
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<b>Case study:</b> TV spot Sounds Good<BR>
<b>Client:</b> Target<BR>
<b>Whop:</b> Logan
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The idea was to use the tinted z-depth channel as the overall look for this campaign. The end result was a bit of a departure from the original concept.
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