I spotted Gail Anderson since the beginning of the Y20 conference, she was chatting with colleagues and listening to the talks from the first row. Gail is a previous contributor for UPPERCASE (issue 10, see related post here) so I recognised her immediately, but I waited until the second day to approach her, as I’m a bit of an introvert and she looked rather serious and intimidating. Believe me, she is not.
New York-based designer, writer, and educator Gail Anderson is fun and kind, she is humble and brilliant, down to earth and absolutely fascinating. Gail began her presentation telling us about the time she posed for a photo with President Obama and – accidentally – grabbed his butt (!). And how she modestly muttered “I make posters” when she was asked by Barack (yes, for the purpose of this conversation we are on a first-name basis) what she did for a living.
Through her career Gail has done way more than posters, and has won a few awards, including the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Medal from AIGA. Her credentials go from senior art director at the Rolling Stone magazine to co-author of several typography books, but what I want to focus on is her role as an inspiring teacher. Gail teaches in the School of Visual Arts MFA, undergraduate and high school design programs, and has lectured about design at organizations and conferences around the world, including a recent workshop she did for design students in Saudi Arabia, which landed her an invitation to a further workshop with none other than a princess.
Gail is the kind of teacher everybody should have. She is proud of her students and supportive, yet she challenges them, inspires them and pushes them to be better. As the topic of Y20 was “design moving forward”. Gail emphasised that, for her, design moving forward has been being a teacher. She beamed with pride as she showed us the new media work from some of her grad students; it was a delightful surprise featuring catchy music and flawless editing. She mentioned that, as the students came from many backgrounds, through exercises she made them comfortable with fonts. “I forced them to have fun! They become so rigid when dealing with typefaces.”
When asked why does she teach, Gail simply answered “I have had many great teachers and mentors through my life. Teaching helps me stay fresh.”
So, I say we should eliminate that infamous quote “Those who can, do; those who can’t teach” from our vocabulary, and start showing admiration to all teachers. How else will the new generations become extraordinary professionals, if not under the nurturing mentorship and guidance of remarkable teachers such as Gail?