Tony Mann and the bicycle project

May 2, 2013

Picture this: you have just started your university course, and your prof has just announced that you will be grading your own projects. At first I thought it was a crazy idea, but I realize now what Anthony Mann (Tony to us) was giving us life and business lessons.

Tony passed away this week, and this blog is dedicated to him.

It is during this 2-D design class at NSCAD University, over 20 years ago, that I finally got it – I finally understood how to combine image with type. And because of that I have never been able to throw away the project that got me there.

Tony set up a long wooden table in his classroom; long enough to fit 16 mounted projects. Once our projects were complete; he asked us to line them up on the table. He stepped back, and then asked us to line the work, from best (right side) to weakest (left side).

My work at the time was okay. I was shy, and to be honest, it always seemed to stay in the middle of the wooden table – until the bicycle project. One day, Tony asked us take a sheet of blank paper, close our eyes, and draw a bicycle. We opened our eyes to see what we had drawn; we saw interesting lines, naïve, almost child-like bicycle drawings; but they were pretty cool. Then he asked us to turn them into an album cover. I chose to name mine Fahrrad (German for bike). Though one of my words used a font with an outline and drop shadow (something I may not choose today), it finally looked balanced. Up until then, I struggled with typography, but I remember the moment a friend of mine said; "Hey Joce, that's really good!" And I agreed. It was just black and white, but it was good because it was very simple and balanced.

And so my Fahrrad bike made it's way to the front of the table. I dared to move it, but most importantly the whole class also agreed it deserved the number one position on the table.

In Tony’s class we learned to check our egos at the door; we learned that constructive criticism is not a personal attack. If your peers felt that your work was just ok; it stayed in the middle; if it was fantastic, it made it way to the top. We had to toughen up to make it outside in the real world.

We also learned to work together and agree as a team. Sure, one or two disagreed with the order, but most of the time, everyone was on board with number 1 and number 16. Your position on the table measured the quality of your work and if you wanted to move up to the top positions, you learned to see the work of others as something to rise to. Finally, we learned that we had to have a voice. We learned to fight for what we thought was fabulous or worthy (your own work or someone else's) and to constructively disagree (okay… argue) about something that didn't deserve to be at the top. But the group decision always prevailed.

Thanks Tony Mann, and all of my design profs at NSCAD – you made a real impact on my design career.

If you'd like to read more about Tony Mann, go to :

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