Scotch RuleGunnar SwansonGunnar Swanson Design Office

(I wish I weren’t so suspicious of slogans and taglines. It would be nice to have one to put here.)

Scotch Rule

annual crankiness

Happy as a clam: I don't know if I’m less cranky than I used to be or if I’m just lazier. Either way, my three-year streak of producing little gems in response to irritants has long since ended. I guess I wasn’t really an oyster after all.


La Bandera Gadsden

Tribal politics continue to dominate. What populist movement of largely family-oriented, religious people do you back? And what’s your slimey green veggie of choice? Okra or nopales? (No justice, no pise.)

(Thanks to Christopher Gadsden, to Antonio Gómez, Jorge Enciso and the entire the in-house design group for Tenochtitlan, and to Armin Vit and the Under Consideration Culture Guide and Translation Services Group.)


But, in the end, my recent focus on copies and copying (stay tune for a book announcement) and a pragmatic streak that looks for the way policy plays out for actual people makes Modern Dog’s copyright case against Disney, Jaya Apparel Group, and Target stand out. (I won’t recount the details of the case but material designed by Jaya and sold at Target to promote a Disney film was clearly copied from Modern Dog’s book (links appear in new windows.)

US copyright law is overreaching. Coverage is too extensive and the time periods are absurdly long. I believe that copyright maximalists (like Disney, for instance) are hurting culture and creativity as much as trolls like Bridgeport Music and, despite the blindness of judges to the issue, copyright as it stands violates first amendment rights to expression. I’ll even defend the big guys against the little guys. There is, however, a need to protect creators against predatory business practices.

Jaya might not be the big name on the list but it’s a $150 million dollar company. Target might seem to be another victim but they seem to be competing to become central in a tale of bad faith. And the irony of Mickey’s gang—the forefront of the ever-increasing monster that is copyright—hiring attorneys who would claim that copyright doesn’t apply to Modern Dog’s dog drawing because “there are only so many ways you can draw a beagle” is startling. How many ways can you draw mouse ears or recycle fairy tales?

(Thanks to Jeff Koons and/or Art Rogers, Crayola, and Corr Cronin Michelson Baumgardner & Preece LLP, the folks that show us that there is no “shy” in “shyster.” Click here for larger image in a new window.)


Obama yard signs

I suppose what really made me really cranky in 2012 were the several people who took the Obama signs on face value. Being a “birther” requires being indecent, stupid or naïve, and delusional. Wouldn’t William of Occam or Nate Silver (links appear in new windows) tell us that it’s at least slightly more likely that I’m just one or two of those?

(Thanks to Mannie Garcia and/or Sheppard Fairey, George K. Warren, Soyuzfoto, Alberto Korda and/or Jim Fitzpatrick, John Mayall, Helane Freeman, Roger Excoffon, the nation of Kenya, and the Masai tribe. Click here for larger image in a new window.)


treason poster

See (link appears in new window) if you want to read me kvetching about this one.

(Thanks to Craig Malmrose who printed this with me. [We put up with each others’ cranky tendencies.])

Scotch Rule

QOL Apps/ICD Coach

Sam Sears (links open in new tabs) is a psychologist at East Carolina University (where I teach graphic design.) Sam has pioneered the study of the emotional outfall of implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs.) He lectures and consults widely. The project was to put Sam in a bottle with ICD Coach, an app for mobile devices, a website, etc. QOL-Apps (as in Quality of Life Applications) was the parent company. I designed trademarks (including custom lettering) and navigation icons. I worked with a great team (including Keon Pettiway and Brian Schroeder) that developed websites and the app.

ICD Coach was purchased by Medronics so we have no plans for new versions at this point.

ICD Coach, QOL Apps, and Cardio Coach trademarks


iPhone app image

In the end, the point is to change lives. Anyone interested in a tattoo?

survivor seal

scotch rule

not-so-new jerseys

Cotton Country Century jerseys celebrate the 100-mile annual ride through Eastern North Carolina in the form of stretchy fashion design. See more on the boll weevil below.

2012 Coton Country Century Jersey

2011 Cotton Country Century jersey

2010 Cotton Country Century Jersey

It was a struggle to keep the production people from “helping me out” on the EC Velo jerseys by adding type outlines and making sure that nothing bleeds. In the end, there are a couple of details I could quibble about but they did a better job than I could have hoped for.

EC Velo Jersey image

Graphic designers love to tell you that we’re all about strategy not about mere surfaces. Designers who are Modern Boys (like me, for instance) especially disdain the appellation “decorator” but it doesn’t require a PhD in rhetoric to figure out that most of what you say is how you say it. I’m happy to talk business and communication strategy all day but surface decoration isn’t something separate. I don’t think that graphic design is all about fashion but I suspect that fashion design isn’t, either.

Bauhaus Jersey image

Joost Schmidt seemed confused with the graphic designer/fashion designer question when he designed this one for me. I’m going to need to do a lot of intervals on my stainless steel bicycle if I hope to pedal 88 mph and get back to ask him about it. (I printed the slightly less famous poster in the background with Craig Malmrose [website in new window.])

scotch ruleinordinate fondness for beetles

Weevil Rider

The Cotton Country Century has been an ongoing project. I’ve done posters and tee shirts for nine years and jerseys for four. The feature that has persisted through the years is the illustration of the boll weevil on a bicycle. The bike started out as an old wood engraving. I removed parts and moved other parts in Photoshop, drew the beetle, and combined the pieces. (I don’t think of myself as an illustrator but the Society of Illustrators included it in their annual show and book in 2008.)

close up of weevil rider illustration

scotch rulesomething other than bicycles

Rosemary x 3

Speaking of Craig Malmrose and wood type posters—I was; under the photo of the Joost Schmidt jersey; pay attention—here ’s the typeface I designed that Craig has made into wood type for letterpress printing. It’s called Rosemary. It’s named after Richard Nixon ’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, rather than my wife (a Rosemary with better judgment in the company she keeps.)

It’s a bit like a Clarendon hung on the skeleton of Trade Gothic. I did a bit of orthopedic surgery on the skeleton but a good forensics anthropologist with a former vampire/sniper FBI agent sidekick would identify it. (Wow. Who would have thought that Bones would go on for over a dozen years?) If you’re a lawyer from Mergenthaler Linotype or an heir of Jackson Burke, meet me out in the alley and we’ll duke it out; JB and Trade Gothic owed much to Morris Fuller Benton so maybe ATF Davidson will buy me a beer when I win that fight.

(2' x 3' announcement poster designed by Gunnar Swanson and printed by Gunnar Swanson and Craig Malmrose, Craig’s pantographic mill at work, and Craig hand finishing a letter shown above. Detail of poster—text set in Trade Gothic—below.)

Rosemary poster detail
+1 252 258 7006
1901 E 6th Street
Greenville NC 27858


All rights reserved. Available for reproduction and/or distribution by permission; email me at

(Articles will appear as PDFs in a new window.)

ethics and originality:
Generation Ex
Plagiarism: What’s Wrong?
Response and Responsibility

design and education:
Graphic Design/Liberal Arts
Is Design Important?
Politics in the classroom
Typographic Education
The Illegal Alien

design tips:
Steering Readers
Reader Centered Design
Dressing a book for Success

history and criticism:
Democratization of Typography
Modern design and utopia
Cult of the Ugly letter
The Next Ten Years
Our Boys in Blue
Truth in Photography
Interview with Scott McCloud

design business:
The Case Against Certification
The Web vs. Design

talking headGunnar Swanson

I am a graphic designer, educator, and design writer, currently living in Greenville, North Carolina where I am a professor of graphic design in the School of Art & Design at East Carolina University. I’ve taught graphic design history at Loyola Marymount University, was the director of the multimedia program at California Lutheran University, taught design and design history at the University of California Davis, headed the graphic design program at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and taught design, design history, and computer illustration at various schools in the Los Angeles area.

(The links below open new windows.) You can find my old website here, a portfolio of my work [6.8 MB PDF here, some images of my students’ work [19 MB PDF] here, and my obnoxiously long academic CV [PDF] here (if you want to leave out the details, talk to an IRS auditor before you consider talking to academics.) Like 93.17% of the world’s population, I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn. Or you can email me at or call me at +1 252 258 7006.

Want to hear the sonorous tones of my voice? (My wife mistakenly pronounces that “somnambulistic”) There’s a slide lecture in the form of a [45 MB] Flash movie here where I yammer about design and graphic design and show how my work fits into the theory. (Well, it almost fits.) You’ll need a screen bigger than my smallest laptop to see the controls in the lower right and, of course, sound on.

It is possible that you’re looking for another Gunnar Swanson. There are, despite what most people believe, quite a few of us. There were four Gunnar Swansons in Garden Grove before I moved away. If you googled Gunnar Swanson a few years ago, you’d get 75% me and most of the rest was someone who worked at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and was on computer game listservs. I’m guessing that he’s the Gunnar Swanson who is now at IBM. Now you’re likely to run into a makeup artist for the movies and an Iraq war vet who walked 1000 miles to raise money for War Kids Relief. There’s also a personal trainer in Bismark, North Dakota, kids in Atlanta, Georgia and Duluth, Minnesota, a sailor in Long Beach, California, a baseball player from Washington, and a bunch of others. If you are one of the Gunnar Swansons and want a link from this site, email me.

In case you’re still thinking that I might be the Gunnar Swanson you’re trying to find, here are some search engine grabbers: I grew up in Garden Grove, California and went to Woodbury Elementary School in the late ’50s and early ’60s, then O.A. Peters Junior High, and Santiago High School in Garden Grove and Will J. Reid in Long Beach. I went to UC Berkeley in 1970, Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa (where I studied photography and marine technology) and UC Irvine and UCLA (where I studied art history. I also did a short stint as an industrial design grad student at UCLA.)

I worked in plastics plants and a forklift repair shop, as a marine survey deck hand, a lifeguard, a scuba instructor, and a gardener. I painted and remodeled houses and for a very short time I sold management consulting door to door. I worked as a prop maker for a costume designer and as a stagehand and carpenter for television shows. For the past couple or three decades, I was largely self-employed as a graphic designer (after a short bit of photography and advertising design.)

Starting in 1990, I returned to school for an MFA in graphic design, first at CalArts, then at Cal State Fullerton.

From the mid 1970s until the mid ’80s, I lived at the Sea Castle on the beach in Santa Monica, California. For ten years after that, I lived in Oakwood in Venice, California with Rosemary Swanson. No, it’s not an accident that we have the same last name; we’re married.

In 1995, we moved to Duluth, Minnesota for three years, then Davis, California, then Ventura, California where we lived for six years. We’ve been in Greenville, North Carolina for about eight years.

My sister is Laif Swanson and my mother is Deedie; they both live in Pasadena. My father was Ray and my brother was Thor.