Carin Goldberg on design

Cover designs by Carin Goldberg

Some excerpts from an interview with the late designer Carin Goldberg, from How To Think Like a Great Graphic Designer:

“A lot of design has become about schtick. People might take me to task for this, but you know what it reminds me of? It’s like this: Someone starts off in life very beautiful. Then there’s someone else who’s not so beautiful. But in the end, both people get wrinkled and old. We’re all on the same planet, and it really doesn’t matter. The real dilemma is this: Should we just grab the schtick while we can, and use it? Because when we hit our fifties or sixties, we’ll all be in the same boat.

It’s really hard nowadays to maintain a career in graphics, particularly in the field of graphic design. It’s a youth-oriented business. I often wonder about whether I’m relevant or not. But that’s not how I was brought up. It’s not what I saw.

When I was growing up, designers were anonymous. They weren’t celebrities. They did not write books. They didn’t do schtick. Not one of them.

So it became clear to me at a certain point in my career that being publicly clever might be the only thing that could give my career any kind of longevity. It has been a rough thing to come to grips with. I’m certainly not a shrinking violet, but I don’t get great enjoyment out of getting up there publicly and doing that kind of thing. I’d rather do the work. I also think that a lot of people find that when the schtick really works, they’re on planes half the time doing the schtick.

I wonder when they have the time to do the work, and I’m also suspicious as to whether they actually have ‘the work.'”


“I was lucky. Lucky to be there, while it was all happening. But after the luck, there was all the hard work. That’s the part that makes me just absolutely livid, when I hear men talking about women and their careers. In my own career. I had to be as tenacious as a dog with a bone.

I made sure I was observing and watching and looking over the shoulders of the right people and learning from them and killing myself to learn everything I could. So my career has been about luck and hard work.”


“Speaking of compromise, I remember for my first job at CBS Records, I hired Milton Glaser to do an illustration tor a Carole King ad. As I was dialing his phone number, I was shaking in my boots. It was like calling the pope. I remember I rang him up, and I asked him to do an illustration for a full-page ad for Carole King. He sent me an illustration that was-well, let’s say it wasn’t his best. I knew it. Even at that age, I knew It, even though I thought of him as God’s gift to the universe. So I called his rep and told him we were hoping he’d give us something different.

Milton absolutely refused. He just said, ‘Sorry, what you see is what you get.’ And I went home and cried and didn’t sleep for a week because I thought I had offended Milton Glaser. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that he had done the right thing by standing up for what he thought was right. If you don’t, people will take everything you have. You may risk losing a job, but in the grand scheme of things, I believe that by standing up for yourself, you’re doing the graphic design business a service.

I used to get angry with friends of mine who were also doing book-jacket design as freelancers. They wouldn’t charge for messenger bills and they wouldn’t charge for mechanicals, and I’d say, ‘You know, you’re fucking it up for the rest of us.’ And they’d say, ‘I’m afraid I won’t get called again.’ And it just drove me crazy. I’m a big believer in the bungee jump. I think you have to do the right thing and the fair thing even if you’re afraid.

When I stopped designing book jackets, it was a huge bungee jump. I knew I could have been shooting myself in the foot. But I couldn’t get up in the morning anymore and go to my desk; I could not deal with the people I was dealing with anymore. It was over. And I think you have to take those risks. It takes awhile to recover, but in the end, you end up ahead of the game. Morally and emotionally you’ve evolved.”