We are happy to feature longtime member Chris Dissinger—Assistant Director of the Fleming Museum of Art at the University of Vermont. In this interview, Chris talks about his less conventional path into a design career through publishing. At the museum, Chris has the benefit of being surrounded by amazing artistic works—some centuries old— which provide a continuous well of inspiration to influence his day-to-day work on museum branding, communications and exhibition promotion. AIGA Vermont extends our kudos for Chris’s recent recognition by the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) Annual Publications Design Competition for his newsletter design. Way to go, Chris!
What do you do for a living?
I am the Assistant Director of the Fleming Museum of Art and also serve as the Director of Outreach and Visitor Engagement. In my current role I handle everything from marketing and public relations to graphic design and photography. I also manage the Education, Finance, and Guest Services departments.
How long have you been in the field?
I’ve been with the Fleming for 14 years. Prior to working with the Museum, I was the publisher and editor of two daily newspapers in New Mexico.
Why did you get involved with AIGA? Why should someone become a member??
I did not have formal education or training in design. Instead, I discovered a lifelong passion for design through learning by necessity while serving as the publisher for two daily newspapers. As a lifelong learner, I have sought out opportunities to appreciate the history of design as well as discover the many new developments in what I believe to be one of the richest and most influential disciplines in the arts. I have found that AIGA is without peer as the essential design resource in America today. For anyone with an interest or passion in the field, AIGA not only provides a broad barometer of communication design, but also is a vast resource of information and inspiration.
What advice would you give your past self?
Be thoughtful, generous and constructive when offering a critique. In my past, I feel that I have been quick to be critical of something without fully appreciating the context, thought, and motive behind the work. Having now spent a decade working in a museum of art, I have come to understand that the recognition of all of these things, and many more, are essential when considering the work before you.
Describe your creative process. What are the major steps?
Since most of my work involves sharing the art of others, I believe that it is important to be contemplative and respectful of the artist. In doing so, I like to spend time with the art and learn as much as I can about the artist’s process and inspiration so that the designed communication, whether it might be a poster, newsletter spread, exhibition catalog, web page and social media post, is thoughtful and considerate. In doing so, I find that the design I start off with is often simplified multiple times through edits and revisions to something that does not unwittingly compete with but rather complements and supports the intention of the art featured.
What gets you through a rough day?
First and foremost, don’t beat yourself up. It doesn’t solve anything and usually prolongs the process that leads to a solution. When I am confronted with an especially challenging task or unexpected criticism, I try to break it down into digestible pieces without losing sight of the forest for the trees. I also believe that it is essential to step away from a project, especially when it becomes most confounding. Lastly, and this is one of the big benefits of working in a museum, I spend time walking through the galleries and soaking in the art from around the world and through-out the centuries to help me remember that great solutions come from unlikely places.
Where can we find your work?
My work can be found in most of the common outreach related to the Museum, including all branding, newsletters, invitations, signs, posters, advertisements, web, email marketing and social media. But it also can be found in other less expected areas like exhibition catalogs, design support for the exhibitions team, development collateral and the like.
Any projects you want to highlight?
We just learned this month that my design for the Fleming Museum’s newsletter was awarded first-place in the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) Annual Publications Design Competition. The AAM is the nation’s premier museum advocacy association and represents over 4,000 institutions, making this recognition a special honor.