The “Modern Dog: 20 Years of Poster Art” exhibit will be on display from Oct. 13-31 in the Viking Union Gallery 507. On Thursday, Oct. 16, the exhibit will feature a lecture at 5 p.m. in SMATE 140 and a reception and book-signing at 7 p.m. in the VU Gallery.
Robynne Raye, cofounder of the design company Modern Dog and former Associated Students employee, took time out of her day at the office for a one-on-one phone interview with the AS Review.
AS Review: Tell me about your new book “Modern Dog: 20 Years of Poster Art.”
Robynne Raye: The book highlights the last 20 years [of the company's work]. It's not everything we've ever done as far as poster work goes, but it's probably about half. It's broken up into five sections: theater, music, self-promotion, social issues and events. It's a publisher's chronicle.
ASR: It was mentioned that you add commentary to each poster. What kind of commentary do you add?
RR: A lot of it is backend stories—how things got produced or why we did things in a certain way. It's a look into our process, and oftentimes I think it's funny.
ASR: What made you decide to start your own business straight out of college?
RR: Well, Mike [Strassburger, cofounder of Modern Dog] and I couldn't find a job. So it was kind of a company by default. It wasn't our intention to start a company, but we went looking for work and couldn't find it. That was 21 years ago, and I'm really glad we didn't find work. But at the time it was painful because we didn't know what we were doing...then we slowly started learning things the hard way.
ASR: So the idea for the company didn't come before you were out of school. How long was the idea in the making?
RR: I had started looking for work before I left school, and it didn't look that promising. I also knew that I didn't really have a lot to offer anyone. Honestly, I didn't think I was going to get a job. So, [Mike and I] took out a business license and started doing freelance.
ASR: Was it hard to get off the ground right away?
RR: You know, I think it was a struggle for about three or four years … because we didn't know how to handle clients, and we didn't know how to charge correctly on things. Honestly, it's always been a struggle; it still is a struggle in different ways. [Initially,] I could survive on 500 bucks a month. I wasn't making much more than that for three years so I was barely paying my rent, barely eating and driving with no insurance … until we started building up a reputation and learned how to price things. It just took a little while.
ASR: So it was a matter of learning how to run the business?
RR: There was that, but you're also learning how to be a good designer. It was like a crash course.
ASR: Why the name Modern Dog?
RR: Well, we get asked that a lot and we don't have a really good answer. If you look back at the 80s, most design companies…were called after a person's name, and that just felt really boring to us â€“ kind of like a law firm. We liked a lot of the stuff that was going on in the ‘60s down at the Fillmore [Auditorium] [such as] The Family Dog â€“ they were making posters â€“ and there was another design group out of New York in the ‘50s called the Pushpin Group. And I kind of like that idea of people working as a collective underneath a name. So it wouldn't be my name or Mike's name; eventually we would have other people who would work with us and we would just be Modern Dog. It wasn't like one person's vision; it was a collective of people. And that is what it has been over the last 21 or 22 years: we've been a collective of people.
ASR: What was your first project as Modern Dog?
RR: It was with Western. I believe the very first project was for Kevin Majkut. It was some type of collateral work for some regional college conference. [Kevin] knew I was leaving school, and I think he needed it done during the summer. When I was in school I did posters for the Viking Union…because I was a DJ at KUGS. I would do posters for my radio show. So we were doing some posters and some typographical work for the Associated Students … and that's how we were connected with Kevin.
ASR: What are some of the most fun jobs you've done that stick out in your mind?
RR: Well, it's not so much jobs as it is clients. Our fun clients [include] a company called Blue Q. We have various product lines through that company. We will be showing some of those in our lecture, actually. One of the product lines we have that is selling really well is called “Cat Butt,” and it's basically just cats' butts â€“ magnets and air fresheners. We probably have anywhere between 45 and 60 products that sell for [the company] that we get commission on. We have been working with [them] since 1994 â€“ that's our longest client relationship…In terms of client relationships that one is really important. We also have a great relationship right now…with the Seattle Aquarium. My partner does a lot of motion work, so he's figuring out really complex information screens. So when you go into the aquarium, there will be a screen with a fish swimming by and you can touch it and it'll tell you what it eats and what area it is from and how it migrates. He is doing a lot of really high-tech stuff, and that is a totally new direction for us.
Mike, my business partner, also wrote music. He was in a band when I met him at school at Western. It is kind of cool because he can still do a little bit of music where now you go into the aquarium and the background music is something he wrote…He is very talented and that client allows him to be all over the place, instead of focused on one thing. Another company we are doing a lot of work with is a company in Austin [Texas] called Olive. [Olive] makes green and eco-friendly dog products. And we do everything from packaging to the Web site design to identity work. We're doing new poop canisters for biodegradable dog bags. Everything they do is earth-friendly and good for the environment and good for your dog. They don't sell anything that is toxic or made in China â€“ they try to avoid all that. So, we try to align ourselves with people's products that we like. And you know, right now we're doing some work with Disney and that's exciting. We do a little bit of everything.