The boys from Wedge And Lever tell us the importance of a good internship, how digital is paramount and don’t have a excuse for a shit folio! While also giving us insight into their past in the wild west of media and the “The Monitor Tan.”
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design?
One of us was led into design by making fake IDs, another by growing up fascinated by the works of Saul Bass, George Lois and Massimo Vignelli, and the other was led by fine art, then later found graphic design. Our individual stories vary, but a common thread of early-age creative influence for all of us was skateboarding.
Growing up skateboarding, we were all able to witness brilliant creatives such as Spike Jonze, David Carson, C.R. Stecyk and there were so many more, all producing captivating work. Brands like Alien Workshop, 101, and Girl/Chocolate were introducing iconic graphics and films that embedded themselves deep into our psyches, and brought with them a newfound value for visual communication and aesthetic.
Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?
Two of us are Canadian (John and Koop) and met while attending Alberta College of Art and Design, Sam is American and studied abroad before attending UCSD. We went to work for agencies and brands fresh out of school, and around 2007 we all wound up at TransWorld Media where we met.
John and Koop were doing the Art Direction at TransWorld Snowboarding and Sam was the Art Director for TransWorld Surf. Our second year in, Bonnier AB purchased the company and moved us into a building with 6 other titles (TW Skate, TW Surf, TW Snowboarding, TW Motocross, TW Business and UFC). We have so many stories and memories from that experience. It was like the wild west of media, one week Dana White showed up at the office with $10,000 in cash to buy a photo off of the wall that had “caught his attention”, and the next week a staff photographer stabbed the IT guy with a knife during a meeting (and that was a normal month).
Armed assault and corporate acquisition aside, our time in editorial was like getting several masters degrees at once. You are the art department, with no extra hands, responsible for producing quality content every three weeks. Your laying out a 100-300 page print book every month, then re-thinking and designing how it should function for digital devices, while being responsible for developing franchises, concepting events and producing feature length films, all with serious dollars and responsibilities attached.
You’re constantly having to stand your ground with sales to maintain the brand’s voice, but you also have to work with them on finding new revenue streams, keeping accounts happy, securing partnerships, and sometimes even doing campaigns for advertisers. It’s a rare situation where things are corporate enough to get the “Global Media” side of things but grounded enough to stay connected to the culture. The cherry on top is that you have the opportunity to hone your craft using each one of those mediums, perspectives and experiences. In a world where every brand needs to become influential content creators to cut through the noise, working in media has definitely given us a huge advantage.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.
We take the stairs.
What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why?
Book: Grid systems by Josef Müller-Brockmann. Making and breaking the grid is everything. This book is the bible.
Book:Damn Good Advice (for people with talent) By George Lois. First, read this book at least twice front to back. Then, keep a copy in the restroom and read a passage from it each day. George’s stories contain invaluable wisdom. They will have you laughing, crying, and possibly even threatening suicide at your next presentation (if you know, you know).
Book:Work For Money, Design For Love by David Airey. This book does a good job of presenting many of the situations and lessons that we all go through when we start out. It’s a great reminder that while we all love our work, design is also a business. You have to do good work AND make money (harder to do than it sounds).
Blog:All My Links Ever – this is a seemingly endless updated page of links of studios, people, and tools. This site will suck you in and steal most of your weekend if your not careful.
Blog:itsnicethat.com- Ideas, originality, imagination and creativity in any context.
Blogs: Art Of The Title - Now more than ever, motion and content structure play integral roles in designing experiences. This is a wonderful blog that breaks down classic and modern title sequences from film and television. Take notes.
Podcast: Invisibilia – This is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs and assumptions interweaving narrative storytelling with scientific research.
Podcast: The Monitor Tan – Shameless self-promotion for our upcoming design podcast series. Keep an ear out.
What’s your take on internships? (do you take interns now?)
Internships are VERY important. They can make a profound impact on the rest of your career, and the difference between a good and bad internship is vast. It’s the studio’s duty to make sure the internship will actually provide value, and the intern is involved in meaningful real-world experiences. As an intern, it’s important to remember that you’re here to learn, and pay dues. Hard work and a good attitude go a long way. We all did internships and paid dues just like you.
We do currently have a internship program and accept internship applications. Those portfolios better be good though. As of now we only accept one intern at a time and we get quite a few applications (gifts/bribes are happily accepted).
What do you look for in a great portfolio?
First and foremost, the idea. Then a good understanding of the fundamentals, typography, color, use of space and making/breaking the grid. It’s amazing how many portfolios we see that have some great ideas in them, but the lack of attention to detail overshadows the work.
A great portfolio shows not only mastery of the fundamentals, but also the ability to break the rules when the situation calls for it. We love to see people who go the extra mile, passion (or the lack there of) always comes through in portfolios. No excuses for a weak portfolio. If your shit’s soft, quit design and go be a dentist. Always give it your best, especially when it’s something representing your livelihood.
What qualities and skills do you look for in a graduate?
Passion, hunger, obsessive attention to detail, a sense of humor and the ability to quickly learn/adapt (we only fuck with unicorns).
Any passion projects you would like to share?
We are starting a little design podcast called “The Monitor Tan”. The name is based on spending so much time on a computer that you begin to develop a new complexion (a reverse tan if you will) known as “The Monitor Tan.” Every Wednesday night we order some dinner, open a bottle of the good stuff and have passionate discussions around design, art, architecture, current affairs, and whatever else happens to come up (it gets heated). A few months back we converted a room in our office into the studio and began recording. We will be releasing the first episode soon.
Tell us about any collaborations you have been working on.
We just finished designing a three month installation in the Oculus structure (inspiring architecture) in NYC with Upton. Working on some fun new projects, and we have a collaboration with our good friend Ash Thorp at the end of the year that we are very excited about.
What role does digital design play in your studio in 2016, and how do you apply traditional graphic design skills in a digital age?
Digital is paramount. The future and the present. It plays such a large role in not only our work, but also our lives. If your not embracing digital your either on another planet, or missing an adrenal gland.
The pillars of visual communication and graphic design are timeless, and good design shares common principals no matter the medium. Digital is continually re-defining itself and the boundaries of what is possible, so we find ourselves thinking less about “how do we take these old things and make them work with digital” and more about “we have this idea for this for this project, what technology can we use to make it possible?”. More often than not, if it’s not possible yet, it will become possible by the following week. So much opportunity, change and beauty ahead of us. It’s an exciting time to be “creatives”.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
1. People and relationships are more important than anything. Surround yourself with amazing people.
2. Look for red flags and only do work for good clients. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, and don’t be afraid to fire a client.
3. Selling your work is just as important as making it.
4. NEVER do unpaid pitch or RFP work.
5. Sounds cheesy as fuck but it’s true, follow your passion, the money will come.
Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?
Design is going through a revolution. It’s still figuring out its place in the digital and physical world (let’s not forget that little AR/VR thing that’s happening). So many wonderful things will come out of the next five years, we are going through a turning point for not only design, but also for human beings.
Adaptation is simple, don’t be afraid of change, embrace diversity, remain aware, learn all you can and make a genuine effort to continually participate with new technology and ideas. We are very optimistic about the future and excited to take it on, head first.
What three naughty things have you done in your career to get ahead?
Sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Who’s on the team, what are their roles and why do you love them?
Right now there are five designers and a project manager in the office daily. We have been friends for years. It’s very tight knit group. We get a laugh at lunch when people stop and ask us, “Are you guys in a band?”.
Whats the big goal in the next five years?
What is the design landscape like in your city and where do you fit in?
Honestly we rarely interact with the “design scene” in San Diego, but we are making an effort to go to more events and meet new people whenever possible. We are so focused on our work, sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with all of the design community happenings. That is one of the reasons why outlets like The Design Kids, which make it easier to get involved are so important. There are several shops that make great work, but for the most part the design landscape in San Diego has always been kind of sleepy. We keep hearing that the tide is changing and we are very optimistic.
What career advice would you give your 16yr old self? 1.Work in editorial, (you will learn more in one year, than five elsewhere).
2. Remember, everything in moderation, including moderation.
3. Do one tutorial each day (either learn how to code, or 3D).
4. Watch the Mike Monteiro “F*ck You, Pay Me” talk, and take notes. (or read his book “Design is a Job” for bonus points)
5. Don’t be naive, but don’t get jaded.
6. Stay hungry and stay humble.
7. Wear sunscreen.