Sean Adams is ‘sending the elevator back down’ – he quit his successful branding agency to run the graduate program at ArtCenter & Command X at AIGA, AND to teach online courses through Lynda.com/LinkedIn – and all to help young designers! Sean talks about how most of his designs as a kid looked like Nazi propaganda (it was the only graphic design book in the library!), and his number 1 piece of advice for new students – Get your s*!# together!
When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started? In art class in high school I drew letterforms while everyone else did pottery. Eventually, someone asked me to design a poster for a school play, then the spring concert, homecoming banners, everything including the school’s stationery. Unfortunately, the only book about graphic design in the school library was about Nazi propaganda. So everything kind of looked like that.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. I used to have a successful branding agency, and then I decided to quit and work to help young designers. I do that by running the graduate program at ArtCenter, doing Command X at AIGA conferences, and teaching online courses through Lynda.com/LinkedIn. I’m sending the elevator back down.
What qualities and skills to you look for in a graduate? Typography is at the top of the list. If a designer can manage information and content with clear and beautifully crafted typography, he or she can probably do anything. Next, is the graduate open and hungry to learn? There is nothing worse that having someone roll his or her eyes when I suggests a different direction.
What have been some of your biggest disasters and how have you learnt from it? I’m assuming you mean over my career, not just today’s batch. I wouldn’t call them disasters, perhaps missteps. They all seem to be about staying at the party too long (not literally, but I do that too). I worked with a bad client when I should have quit and found better ones. I ignored that voice in my head that said, “It’s time to move on,” for years and wasted time. Of course it all has to do with fear of change. I learned if you don’t follow the fates, they will drag you along.
What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way? 1. Be open to all ideas and ways of working. My approach may be vastly different from another designer, but embrace that rather than oppose it and make it bad.
2. The world belongs to you as much as the next person. Why couldn’t I reach my highest goals if someone else could? The responsibility to succeed or fail was entirely mine.
3. Don’t worry about people liking you; just try liking them. It’s hard to dislike someone who thinks you’re nifty.
4. The pushy bird gets the worm. I know it sounds harsh, but sometimes you need to push to the font of the line or be the first to speak up or volunteer for a task. Others will hate you, but that’s their issue.
5. Be kind. Everyone you know is fighting his or her own battle. Nobody gets through life with no problems. Everyone wants to be recognized and validated. It costs so little to be kind and results in so much good.
What advice would you give students starting out? 1. Get your s*!# together! Have every project well documented and stored in an image asset folder. Have an easy to understand website up and running. Don’t wait for every project to be perfect. It will happen when you’re 70. Get the site up and running. You can refine as you go. “Under Construction” is a disqualifier.
2. Go for the work. Don’t take the highest paying job; take the one that will lead to the best work. You have two to three years that you can show student work. After that you need new projects in your portfolio. Good work gets more good work.
3. Be patient. Things will work out, but maybe take a little longer than you’d like.