Joshua Kramer tells us about the rise of UX and UI in Austin, Texas. To slow down and plan out what you want from being a designer and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call your design hero.
When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started? Ooo, this is a good question, lets start here. My father was a fine artist and taught ceramics at the college level. So I spent my early childhood behind a potters wheel or slapping paint onto random surfaces, which was fun an exciting at the time. But as I grew older, I found myself more and more frustrated with the subjective nature of fine art, which just wasn’t for me. In high school I started to discover the visual styles of the Constructivist movement. I found it fascinating that an artist like El Lissitzky could take basic shapes and colors and clearly and affectively communicate an idea to a broad audience. Something people could relate to and make an emotional connection with. But I still really didn’t know what design was at this point.
I was always an above average student, but once I was in my first year of university, I found it increasingly difficult to really focus or care about my subjects. To the point where I was making horrible grades. After a few frank discussions with my parents, and some school representatives I decided to take a look back at where I went wrong. So I dug through my notes from the last few semesters and noticed a pattern. Every one of those pages had random logos drawn all over them. The front, the back, the margins, everywhere. That’s when I knew I was on to something. Logos! So I called my dad up and told him that I was thinking about making logos or, ya know, doing something like that. He said, “Why don’t you take a look at some graphic design classes, they have some here where I teach, I’ll send you some info.” That was it! GRAPHIC! DESIGN! Up until that point I really wasn’t aware what those two words together really meant. But boy did I fall head first into it. That next semester I started my first class and knew that design was what I loved to do and what I would be doing the rest of my life. I was lucky. Still am.
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened? I was going to take on the world and be the most bad-ass designer you’ve ever heard of. I was going to make things that people thought were cool. I mean, I had “it”, ya know what I mean. Maybe I was going to work for Michael Beirut or maybe Stefan Sagmeister, I hadn’t decided yet. Yeah, that was the plan.
Here’s what really happened…The next 3 years were spent working different odd jobs such as a QA tester for a large video game company, manning the cash register at a large retail chain (with recent TDK interviewee Alex DeSpain) and my personal favorite, managing a vintage store. During that time I was lucky enough to score an internship at Marc English Design and have some freelance gigs thrown my way from friends. It’s that internship that was the best thing I have ever done for my career. So many invaluable lessons and amazing opportunities were made from that.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. I’m a visual designer who focuses on branding. What does that mean? Simply, I help people who share passions find each-other. It doesn’t matter if it’s a product, a cause, or an idea. It’s my job to understand what drives that passion and then to recreate that passion visually so that others can identify or align themselves with that specific product, cause or idea in hopes that it makes their world a better place. Or at least a happier one.
What is the design landscape like on your city and where do you fit in? Just like every Texas summer, the Austin design landscape is on fire! It seems like every talented designer/creative is moving here these days. All types! We have large and small traditional design agencies, but what you’ll find most here in Austin is tech. We have a bunch of tech companies all over town. IBM (of which I am a proud employee of), Apple, Dell, Facebook, HomeAway, just to name a few. We also have a slew of digital agencies as well. So with that said, digital design is huge around here. UX and UI are often thrown around every design related conversation. Which is a good thing.
So, being a brand designer, I get to kind of move around a bit more freely, try new places and solve new problems. But I’ve found my home working in-house for those large companies you can find here in Austin. I currently work as a design lead for IBM Security where I focus on bridging the efforts of our product and marketing teams and help develop the strategy of how that looks under a unified brand.
What career advice would you give your 16yr old self? Stop stressing that GPA and those AP classes. Nobody in the real world cares. Start to really figure out what you might be passionate about and how that relates to a career. Because once you figure that out, you’ll be pretty happy in life.
What advice would you give students starting out? Be patient, it will happen. Don’t be get caught up in where you think you should be or what amount of money you think you deserve to be making. That will all come in time. Slow down and plan it out a bit. Take the jobs that will give you the most education or experience. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve in your first year out? What type of skills would you like to obtain? Focus on that and everything will fall into place as you and your career path evolves. Because trust me, it will evolve in weird ways.
Also, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call your design hero. Tell them you will buy them a meal or a drink if you can have a few minutes of their time. It works more often than not. So do that.