We chat with Studio Mast Principal, Creative Director, Project Manager, Receptionist, Janitor, and Dog Walker, Travis Ladue. Travis shares his favorite books, blogs and podcasts and tells us about how he can’t stand when studios make interns get coffee and do production work!
Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs? Arizona State University, I know, I know. Most people tend to think of ASU as a huge party school. It was and still is. However, the design program at ASU is extremely rigorous. While a lot of the school was partying, the design students were in the studio until the wee hours of the morning getting ready for critiques. Often sleeping under their desks to maximize time in the studio. This program gave me a solid foundation in design and a great appreciation for design history. I’ve worked at Tunnel Bravo, Sterling Brands, Fervor Creative, and Foundry Collective before starting Studio Mast.
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened? Well, like a lot of students, I was pretty focused on just making it to graduation. I didn’t have much of an idea of where I wanted to go after graduation. I toyed with the idea of moving to New York, but nothing was turning up as far as a job was concerned, so I stayed in Arizona. While I was in school, I was fortunate enough to work at a studio called Tunnel Bravo (they have since closed). This gave me a glimpse into how a smaller studio operated. The personal connection with clients was something I really appreciated. That is one of the main reason Mast has stayed the size it has; so we are able to have a personal connection with all our clients.
After graduation, I moved to a multidisciplinary studio called Fervor Creative in Phoenix. I stayed there for about a year before moving to Dallas to work At Foundry Collective. Sometimes going with the flow can work out in your favor. I tend to find that when I over-plan, that is when things go the most wrong. Now, I’m not saying that I just wake up every morning and wing it. I think plans and rules are great, but you can’t control everything.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. I run a branding studio out of Denver called Studio Mast. Where I’m the principal, creative director, project manager, receptionist, janitor, and dog walker. We create lasting brands and visual systems for clients large and small.
What does a typical day include for you right now? The typical work day is anything but typical. That is why I like to start the same way (almost) every day. I have coffee and reply to emails at home. This allows me to get caught up on admin responsibilities before getting into the office. It also gives me some extra time with my wife—she works from home most of the week so we get to work together for a couple hours in the morning. My dogs come with me to the office most days. When I have time, we hit the dog park in the morning. This makes for happy dogs that sleep most of the day.
Once I get into the office, I sit down with my lead designer, Jake, and go over the tasks of the day. If its a Monday we take inventory of the tasks for the whole week. Then its time to work. I work closely with Jake on all projects, we sit back to back and rapidly critique each other. This allows us to work a lot quicker than if we were remote. I think working remotely is great, but sometimes the technological barrier can hinder the design process. I try to schedule calls and meetings on the same days as much as possible so I can have as much uninterrupted design time as possible. Sometimes, that is a lofty goal.
Once the workday is over I try to get a workout in, I sit for 6-8 hours a day, have to combat that somehow. Its hard not to go home and throw on Netflix after a long day, but if I can get a workout in I feel like I earned that Netflix time, ha. My wife and I are currently re-doing a 50s ranch-style house, so that takes the place of a workout some nights. My wife is a great cook. I’m good at making fried eggs. My creativity ends when it comes to the kitchen. I try to help take on some of the responsibilities when I can, we’ve been doing Blue Apron which helps me get into the kitchen more.
What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why? Books:
Brand Thinking – Debbie Millman
How To – Michael Beirut
Design as Art – Bruno Munari
Haven’t picked up Draplin’s new book yet, but it looks like a good one. I’m reading Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan right now. Its not design related, but a good read nonetheless.
Whats your take on internships? (do you take interns now?) Internships are great! We don’t offer internships year-round, but we usually have a summer internship opportunity. I encourage students to do as many internships as possible. This will help them figure out what kind of work / studio environment excites them. I think studios should put their interns to work and let them work on real projects. I can’t stand when studios make interns get coffee and do production work. When we take on interns, we throw them right into the mix and treat them like junior designers.
What do you look for in a great portfolio? I look for the thought behind the solution. Anyone can make something pretty—if you can create a thoughtful solution that is also beautiful, that is a student who will go far.
Tell us about any collaborations you have been working on. I’ve been working on a collaboration with my wife for a over a year, she and a good friend partnered together to open a boutique in Denver called Lore. They have home goods, jewellery, women’s clothing, classes, and a full service loose leaf tea bar. We have been lucky enough to have the support of her business partner (Kiley) and her husband (Ben). The four of us have put a lot of hours into getting the shop open. It truly is a family affair, Ben (also a designer) and I work at the shop on Fridays.
What is the design landscape like on your city and where do you fit in? Denver is funny, there are quite a lot of larger ad agencies out here, and a few boutique studios sprinkled around. Most of the smaller shops know each other and root for each other. If we can all do good work, we can elevate the design scene.
What has been your highlights since you started out? We had a logo up go up on Times Square, that was pretty cool. Those type of instances feel cool for a day or so, but I’m much more concerned with creating lasting, meaningful brands that will help companies thrive. I love being able to work with people that are pursuing their dreams. Helping them achieve those dreams in some small part, through our work. That is the highlight of being a designer for me.
What advice would you give students starting out? Get a lot of internships, figure out what you really are passionate about. This is the time to test the waters and see what excites you about design. Make friends with people doing something other than you. You are most likely in the same building as architects, industrial designers, and interior designers. Make friends with them, collaborate, make new things.
Whats the big goal in the next five years? Be happy. Have a kid or two. Hopefully I’m still running Mast in five years. Five years seems so far away, I’m still trying to figure out next week. Ask me again in five years, ha.