Both Damon Styer and Christian Cantiello mentioned his books as a source of inspiration. He has written a small library of them, and his name can be found on many a dusty bookshelf in sign shops and design studios around the world. The American Institute of Graphic Arts wrote this of him:
In this process of impossible Herculean output Heller has managed to completely chronicle the past hundred years of graphic design to such an extent and depth that his influence cannot help but be felt by every design student and practitioner everywhere in the world.
How and why did you first get interested in design?
I was a wanna-be cartoonist, publishing in underground papers. Design was not an issue. I learned to do paste-up and the next step was composition. Design or layout was what came next. My interest evolved as I saw what could politically be said through type and image.
Do you still see design as a political tool?
It can be. Look at the first Obama campaign. Graphic design is a means, it can be a tool for anything.
You’ve written a lot of books about design. Is there any danger that you’ll run out of ideas?
I’ve done 168 books more or less. Ideas come easy. But I am in a niche. There are some ideas I wish I Could do, but don’t have the chops.
I’ve always wanted to do a full length feature film on the history of propaganda.
Do you prefer designing/art directing or writing?
I prefer saying things. I loved designing until I reached my limits. I loved art direction but after 40 years I was spent. I love writing, but I’m not that good.
Louise told me that she has another book on the way (Grafica della Strada), Were you involved in that one at all?
Only moral support.
What projects are you working on currently?
A book on Edward Gorey covers, a book on “anti-design,” books on Stencil Type and Slab Serif type, book on design entrepreneurship, a book on design education, a revision of my Becoming a Graphic and Digital Designer, and a bunch of other things.
Here in Australia, the stencil is almost an icon of rural culture, because of the stencils used on wool bales. Each farm had its own stencil, with the name of the property. Many still do. That book sounds like an interesting one.
I wish I had known. I don’t cover Australia. The book is part of the series with Scripts and Shadow Type. It’s a compilation of how faces are used as stylistic language. Lots of examples that show the roots of the style and its long running applications.
Which designers do you admire the most?
How did you first meet Louise?
I admired her work and invited her to a book opening.
Have you noticed a resurgence of ‘craft’ in the design industry, in recent times?
Yes. I see students more interested in the hand than ever before. Its great. It will be integrated into common practice. Craft is essential.
What do you think is behind this trend?
Stuff happens. Too much computer, perhaps. The need for the unique.
Do you photograph old signs on your travels?
Sometimes. But I leave that to Louise. I buy paper and artifacts for my books.