This is the first of a series of interviews that I am conducting. I’ve asked select friends that are either artists/designers, or in a profession where they may have particular and unique views on the role graphic design plays, to answer a few questions

Our first interview reflects the latter. Jason Isbell is the Youth Minister at the Manhattan Church of Christ. He excels in one of the toughest professions I can imagine, working with NYC teenagers on a daily basis. He loves his job. He loves New York City, and he loves the kids he works with. Below are his answers to a few questions I asked him this week.

What would you consider the toughest part of your job to be?

JI: Watching young people suffer at the hands of the adults who were meant to protect, guide, and love them to adult hood. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing how great a particular kid is, and having their parent, uncle, teacher, or other adult think they are nothing but trouble or a failure.

What do you think the role of today’s culture in NYC youth is? Have you noticed any shifts?

JI: It’s widely accepted that youth culture is a real driving force in our society. Everything from what we watch, wear, or listen to is influenced by the youth demographic, and for good reason. No other time in history has so many young people had so much access to disposable income. Couple this with the phenomenon of extended adolescence and you can see why marketers cater to the adolescent among us. Trends in New York City however are much more fragmented than they are in the rest of the county. A lot of this has to do with the inherent diversity of culture, influences, and marketing available in the city. So, youth culture in NYC reflects both the more commonly held aspects of youth culture, and the emerging youth culture.


Is MTV still the king of youth culture and trends, or have I already dated myself?

JI: If you are asking does MTV serve as the vehicle by which music (always the biggest influencer of youth culture) impresses itself onto young people, no it doesn’t. MTV rarely plays videos any more and is more invested in reality programs. MTV is still very popular, but it has shifted from pushing youth culture to reflecting youth culture. Which in my opinion is worse because if you get stuck looking at what you think is your reflection all the time, then you might start to believe what you see.

What is the value of graphic design to the average New Yorker?

JI: On a basic level, without good design, we couldn’t get anywhere. The average New Yorker is very dependent on finding their way around the city using public transportation. The public transportation system in NYC is the largest and farthest reaching system in the world. The fact that up to five million people use the system everyday and get to where they need to go without problems has a lot to do with design. Although interestingly enough, when there are changes to routes that need to be made, there is not good design and implementation during for those instances. Perhaps that’s the achilles heal of good design, it takes a lot of thoughtful time to make happen.

How does graphic design help you do your job better?

JI: Graphic design is a key component in communication. Communication is the single most important thing for me to do well and having good graphic design is a vital component of that. Where design becomes problematic for me is when its use or composition seeks to merely copy what’s already there in the secular world as opposed to existing in it’s own space and purposes for the sacred. Fortunately churches are starting to realize the benefit of creating and implementing good, original, design in everything from flyers about programs to how the Sunday message is communicated.

What would your message be to advertisers who target teens and help shape youth culture?

JI: I actually don’t have a lot to say to advertisers. The nature of their profession is to do whatever it takes to get people to make a purchase. It’s inherent to the system and cannot be changed. I do, however have a lot to say to parents and adults who are influential in the lives of teenagers. What I would want those people to hear is that young people are just that…young. We adults have made a big mistake in assuming adulthood on 15, 16, 17, even 18 year olds. If we abdicate our roles as navigators for young people then the distortions of a mass marketed culture will ultimately leave young people feeling abandoned and alone. Which is what they will be.

Jason Isbell, his wife and two sons live in NYC. His personal blog can be found at