Inside Job 2016: Emmet Byrne

The Walker Art Center looms large in the history of design, strenuously contributing to both its past and present. In short, its activities stretch beyond the expected curating and chronicling, to catalyzing and critiquing—even creating. Emmet Byrne, as the Walker’s design director and an associate curator, leads trail-blazing efforts in every one of these areas.


Byrne heads an in-house design team like none other in the art world. Uncommonly close collaboration results in designs that faithfully and vividly reflect the depth of thought behind the exhibitions. This is clear in the recent catalogue for Hippie Modernism. For an exhibition that unveils a hidden thread of countercultural utopianism across art, architecture, and design, Byrne crafted a smart solution. He mashed up the era’s polished visual language of corporate advertising with the homespun primitivism of the Whole Earth Catalog.


He also oversees a brand identity that’s similarly unique in the art world—the Walker’s boldly protean approach has plainly influenced the wave of “flexible” identities that followed. In 1995, Laurie Haycock Makela commissioned legendary type designer Matthew Carter to make Walker, a dynamic typeface. A decade later, Byrne worked with Makela’s successor Andrew Blauvelt on Walker Expanded. Blauvelt called it a “graphic identity that functions as a typeface but instead of bold and italic fonts is grouped into related words, or vocabularies, and repeating patterns; it sets lines of words and textures that, like a roll of tape, can be applied to virtually anything—from printed matter and Web sites to merchandise or even architecture.”


Byrne’s team handles its lecture series and conferences with the same smart, inventive spirit. Insights 2014 distilled and sculpted its lecturers’ names into a series of abstract forms. This year’s series seems to play with patterns and a flat metallic palette to create an almost talismanic feel.


AIGA Houston is proud to present the director of the art world’s premier in-house design department as a keynote speaker at Inside Job 2016.



By Roque Strew
Published November 4, 2016
AIGA encourages thoughtful, responsible discourse. Please add comments judiciously, and refrain from maligning any individual, institution or body of work. Read our policy on commenting.