We chat with Senior Designer at Jones Knowles Ritchie, Jonathan Lawrence about his passion projects through the ages (well, since 2011); how design is, and will always be, a collaborative effort; and he shares a great piece of advice for new students – ‘Figure out your strengths and make those stronger’.
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design? I’ve always been a really big sports fan. When I was a little kid, I’d pull out a map, pick out random cities and make up a sports team for them. I’d name the team, design the logo and the uniforms. All in magic marker, of course. I’d even play games between the teams I made up. I was in my own little world. I also remember being obsessed with simple things like the shape and color of a toy, typography on a board game box, or even just how things were organized. Things that I now realize to be “design” were there all along, I just didn’t know it at the time. Eventually, middle school and high school art classes, and a silk-screening class (that I think was just called “Graphics”) led me down the path towards graphic design. It felt natural and was really the only thing I ever wanted or tried to be.
Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs? I studied graphic design at Flagler College, in St. Augustine, Florida. It was the only school I applied to, and design was the only thing I wanted to study. I graduated from Flagler in 2008, around the time the US economy/market crashed. This made it incredibly challenging to find a job after college. Agencies were offering me pay that was less than I was making waiting tables at the time.
Eventually I landed a job at Swisher International, Inc., a tobacco company, headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. Swisher was definitely not the big, sexy agency I thought I’d land at fresh out of college, BUT it’s where I cut my teeth in the industry and learned a ton. During my three years there, I was able work on a handful of historic tobacco brands. Brands that had been around for 100+ years, painted on the side of barns, and were part of Americana. I learned quickly that a brand was much bigger than me, and that a brand’s legacy mattered a lot more than just wanting to design something cool.
I also got my hands on a ton of packaging design, including a redesign of Swisher Sweets packaging, which I still get to see in gas stations, convenience stores, and occasionally on the sidewalk. I’ll never forget the first time I realized something I designed was out in the world, part of someone’s day, even if only as trash they passed on the street. It changed my life.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. I’m a graphic designer with a focus on branding. My goal is to create unique, long-lasting identities. Every touchpoint and interaction with a brand requires a design decision. This could be big picture brand strategy or something as simple as choosing the size of a font. My job is to make sure those decisions are simple, thoughtful, and consistent enough to create a stronger, connected brand language and presence.
What qualities and skills do you look for in a graduate? A good portfolio and a good head on your shoulders. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some pretty talented interns and graduates – the best ones have a positive attitude and are eager to help in any way possible. The work is only half the battle, you also have to be a person people want to be around. Design is, and will always be, a collaborative effort.
Any passion projects you would like to share? Passion projects are super important to me. They give you an outlet to have complete creative control, to share your ideas and vision with the world. They’re usually extra-curricular and incredibly hard to manage alongside a full-time job, but they’re always fun. Some take off like wildfire, some run out of steam. Lately I’ve tried to make it a goal to start one every year.
2011 – Jax Type Blog: a typographic study of my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. (jaxtypeblog.tumblr.com)
2012 – Type Hunting: an on-going personal archive of found typography to inspire myself and others. (typehunting.com)
2013 – Bandstagram: I made album covers out of other people’s instagrams… Fun idea, but it was short-lived. (bandstagram.tumblr.com)
2014 – State Plates Project: curation and collaboration with 49 other designers to redesign of all 50 state license plates. (stateplatesproject.com)
2015 – Too Busy To Hate: resurrecting an old slogan for the city of Atlanta and message the world needs to hear. (toobusytohate.co)
2016 – I got married, so I’m going to count all our wedding stationery and invites
2017 – To be determined
What advice would you give students starting out? Surround yourself with good design and things you love. Try to find a thread that runs through it all.
Take care of your projects. School is one of the only times you’ll be completely in charge of your work. Make sure it’s good and make sure it makes sense. Bonus points if it’s contributing to something bigger than just a “cool design” in your book.
You don’t have to be good at everything, just be good at something. Figure out your strengths and make those stronger. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I’m just not a good illustrator, and that’s okay—that’s what illustrators are for.
There’s no such thing as a graphic design emergency. Do your job, do it well, but don’t go running around yelling and screaming, trying to solve it under excruciating stress. I can guarantee you that won’t lead to the right answer. In art and design, you can tell when someone cared about the project. Almost as if you can feel the soul of the worker that was put into work. If something was created in a stressful environment, it will probably break or bring stress to your life. If something was created in a joyful environment, it will probably make you happy.