Executive Director of Tennis – Marcello Gortana and the team tell us it’s important having a good process and how they actually prefer to see sketchbooks as well as portfolios with finish work. How a intern is someone they can teach, but also someone they can learn a lot from. Also the Tennis team give us some interesting insight into where they believe digital tech is going next!
When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started? We sat down with everyone in the studio and asked this question. Surprisingly, none of us have ever specifically fallen in love with design. It’s always been seen as a tool to us. Design is as much a tool as programming; and we all ended up in design because we liked making things so I think the initial inspiration was around creating and building. I guess education in university honed that passion and molded us into designers and appreciating design as a tool for creating.
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened? A handful of us actually planned on going to grad school. But, we started the studio instead continuing with the passion we had been fostering in university, now I think starting Tennis was a better investment in education than any grad program—that we know of. It was cheaper and the learning curve is steep. We still feel like we are learning about all sorts of aspects in running and growing an agency.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. We help companies put their best foot forward when it comes to connecting with customers and stakeholders. We do this by helping them navigate the complexity of options and strategies when it comes to their brand and tools for communication.
What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why?
Podcasts: 99% Invisible, Planet Money, Radio Lab
Who are your top five design crushes right now?
Jessica Walsh, David Reinfurt, Frank Chimero, Muriel Cooper, Rob Giampietro
What’s your take on internships? (do you take interns now?) Internships are great! We do take interns, but special ones. An internship with us is a stepping stone to becoming part of the team for the long-term. You will not be fetching coffee, or copies, or working on internal passion projects; we get our interns to work closely with us on client projects. We think of an intern as someone we can teach, but also someone we can learn a lot from. Being open to learning from someone regardless of how long you’ve been working is important for growth, and staying up to date with what’s going on. Interns also bring good playlists.
What do you look for in a great portfolio? We love a great portfolio, and we love seeing finished work. However, we actually prefer to see a sketchbook. Process is really important to us. Finished work is just the tip of the iceberg, and process work is the mass just below the surface. When we see process work, we get to see how someone thinks through problems, or ideas—all of the good and bad stuff. Having a good process is important, because it means that you have a baseline approach to any problem (even if you encounter something you’ve never seen before).
What qualities and skills do you look for in a graduate? Academics is important to us, and we get really philosophical about design most of the time. So having a good understanding of history, and social justice is very important to us. At the same time, we think that a graduate should be someone who knows that the academy is a vacuum, and that the studio is a new context that may require new education. We’ve seen in the past that there is a lot of un-educating that needs to happen. Too much thinking, and not enough work just leads to more thinking.
Who’s on the team, what are their roles and why do you love them? Ali (Alexandria) Gagnon; graphic design magician who can make anything work. Ali is an avid cyclist who comes in early after going on long 5am bike rides. Micah Domingo; she is our most recent intern, and is learning how to program faster than anyone else we’ve met. Marcello Gortana; gets us to liven up and as we say “makes business’y things happen” other than the business Marcello just surfs… all the time, in the lakes—waves or no waves. Bohdan Anderson; In another life, he would be a DoTA2 champion. Bohdan’s skills bridge design and development and he always come up with kooky inventions. He used to run our now defunct Department of Inquiry. Lisa MacDonald; speaks in books, thinks about books, and can’t stop making them. Lisa always seems to know what the next thing is when it comes to publication styles (10 years out). Symon Oliver; He keeps to himself, and is way too serious. We think he’s building a secret spaceship somewhere in the building.
What role does digital design play in your studio in 2015, and how do you apply traditional graphic design skills in a digital age? Digital design is an everyday thing for us. It plays a huge role in how we operate. We have consistently seen less print only projects, and all of the work we do is a hybrid between physical and digital. We used to think that getting the web to feel like a book, or a printed piece was an important bridge between traditional design, and digital design; we were not the only ones thinking this way.
The last five years saw a lot of discussions about translating print to web, and how to make the web less skeuomorphic, but as comfortable as a book. Translating print principles to the web gave us great web typography (which was hard to come by 4 years back, and even harder to implement). The move away from skeuomorphism was a pretty big change for design, and Google’s Material Design principles kicked off the next chapter, after flat-design had its reign. We believe the next big translation will come from borrowing from film theory and principles; not sure how that will look, or what we will get from it, but that is the vibe we are getting.
Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt? Design will definitely become more and more democratized, and that’s a good thing. It’s this democratization that let’s someone get a logo designed by a stranger for $50. And services like Fiverr are just going to grow, and so will the quality of the output. This low barrier to entry means that it’s relatively easy to start something.
Design is not the only industry seeing these changes. Education has been undergoing significant changes. Let’s be honest, you don’t need a university degree, or a diploma to be designer, or even a full-stack developer. We met with Hacker You, and interviewed some candidates for a front-end developer position. The experience was nothing short of inspirational.
It’s this access to education and the tools that will continue to change the industry of design (plenty of others as well). We are no longer the gatekeepers of the profession, and we are excited to see the wealth of new ideas and work that come from it.
What do you think the design community could do more of to give back?
Education. Design is one of those things that can definitely be taught, and a working knowledge of the tools goes a long way. There are plenty of populations locally who would benefit significantly from design thinking within their organization and communication strategy.
2016 for you in a sentence.
When you discover a new all-you-can eat food, that you crave constantly—in an unhealthy way—let it take you; hot pot.