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very now and then a band becomes an overnight success. Its single races up the charts and
its members are being interviewed all over the place. At that point, somebody in the band
usually points out that they’ve been touring the country in an Econovan for the last ten years,
playing songs from their first five albums for a small, but devoted, fan base.
Neal Ashby spent his ten years as the creative director of the Recording Industry Association of America
in Washington, DC. There he created a stunning and substantial body of conceptually and aesthetically
refined work. His RIAA annual reports were design show staples. Those who encountered the actual
pieces in the judging process often ended up as fans. Still, the nature of his work for the association
kept it from gaining a broader audience.
H
IDING IN PLAIN VIEW Ironically, Ashby did have two huge crossover hits with a pair of logos
that together have been reproduced literally billions of times: the enhanced CD logo and the
redesign of the infamous Parental Advisory label. “I saw the advisory label project as a nui-
sance, really. Just like with the enhanced CD logo, I didn’t see it so much as design in its highest, most
artistic form, but design in its most basic, communicative, utilitarian form. I think both of them were done
within an hour or two, in between other projects.” Having produced thousands of pages of exquisite
design over the years, Ashby realizes the irony of being recognized for these two very basic pieces: “It
doesn’t impress me as terribly good design. But it does have the currency of its own fame, and most
people tend to be seduced by fame much more than good design.”
S
OMETHING FROM NOTHING Again and again, key moments in Ashby’s career show his knack
for recognizing moments of opportunity and seizing them. While getting his degree in advertising
design at the University of Maryland, he regularly saw hundreds of college kids queuing up for
$3 pitchers of beer at a local hotspot called The Rendezvous Inn or “The Vous.” Surely some of these
people would love to have a souvenir of their favorite bar. So Ashby designed a poster: “I saved up
the money for printing, got a lawyer to set up an agreement between me and The Vous, hired
a photographer, and actually printed 10,000 of these things.”
Neal Ashby didn’t wait for a lucky break. He cold-called the Recording Industry
Association of America and talked them into creating a creative
director position for him at the tender age of 25. He spent the next ten years
creating work that continues to influence the people that influence you.
NEAL
ASHBY
1987 1994
NOW
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The Vous Ashby’s first big success in design arrived
in the form of this poster for a popular Maryland nightspot
called The Rendezvous, also known among its patrons
as The Vous. Ever the enterprising individual, Ashby noticed
the long lines of students queued up for $3 pitchers of beer
and decided that more than a few of them might like (or need)
a stylish memento of their favorite college watering hole.
He saved up the necessary money, hired a photographer,
and had 10,000 posters printed, which he then started
selling out of the back of his car. More than 15 years later,
copies of the poster can be found in the living room
of Maryland Superbowl quarterback Boomer Esiason
and, as all things in life, on eBay.
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