It was in the third year of my design program and we had to design our first logo and stationery. I did a really crappy design for a fictitious architecture firm called “Reisman” but at the time I thought it was the best thing ever. In retrospect, what I think I enjoyed was that it was the first assignment that required thinking graphically across three separate mediums: business card, letterhead, and envelope. It sounds so basic when I say it but at the time it felt like such a breakthrough and discovering that design was something that expands and contracts and you control the consistency. Also, I loved the first negative critique I gave someone during class; everyone always nice things about each other’s shitty work and one day I just said what I thought and it was so liberating. I wasn’t mean, but everybody thought I was the biggest asshole. Today, I literally make a living from critiquing (negatively AND positively) other people’s work, so… there.
I graduated in 1999 from a 4-year design program in Mexico City and had no plan. Luckily, my girlfriend (now wife and also a designer) left Mexico to study at Portfolio Center in Atlanta, GA. So my plan was to follow her. Also luckily, this was the height of the dot-com era and there were a lot of companies hiring designers but I had no playbook on how to get a job. In the nascent “internet” I was able to find a portfolio review event by the Atlanta chapter of the AIGA; I called them up, said I was from Mexico and asked if I could attend. They said yes. I showed up with my portfolio, met a nice lady who wasn’t hiring but her husband was. Next day I went to see the husband; he liked my portfolio and hired me on the spot. I wish I could say it was all planned but it was mostly a matter of being in the right place at the right time and being somewhat prepared.
Execution. Some designers will look for concept and thinking and that’s also a must but in a young designer I’m expecting someone that has a grasp of the basic principles of good design. Having the ability to conceptualize and think is something I gather from the person presenting the portfolio; it will be evident from the way they talk whether they “get” what they are doing, so that’s something I look for in the person but I want to see a portfolio that has excellent work presented perfectly. A poorly presented portfolio or work that is mediocre is an instant turn-off. I’ve seen portfolios with great thinking and concept but execution that is borderline embarrassing. Maybe this makes me superficial but whatever, you either got game or you don’t in design and it’s all about execution for me.
We have a strange business through the blogs and events we run and all the content we generate so a typical day for us is atypical, also in part because we work from home and have two young kids and two energetic dogs. I wake up at 5:00 am and that’s when I write the post for Brand New. It’s like bread baked fresh every morning! At 6:30 the kids wake up and we take them to school. Then I’ll go out for a run and start working again at 9:00 am. We don’t have clients so I’m never out to meetings; 95% of the time I’m at my desk working on whatever our next big project is and intersperse it with smaller projects. I work until 6:00 pm, then it’s dinner and family time and after the girls go to sleep I’ll go back to my computer for another hour or so to answer emails or some other stuff that doesn’t require too much brain effort.
I’m not a big fan of collaboration. This probably has to do more with my inability to collaborate properly and it may be my sole fault but I’ve never felt like I’ve had a good collaborative project or effort. Perhaps it’s also the “wrong” way to work and it leads to a bigger workload or a lesser result but I’m a big fan of DIY, literally. If you want something done a certain way the only way to get to that vision and that result that you expect is to do things yourself; if in the process you have to pick up some skills you are lacking because you are not collaborating with someone who has those skills, then it’s almost like a bonus where you are learning something new.
Getting a job at Pentagram in New York, working in Michael Bierut’s team. It was everything every designer expects from working at Pentagram: great clients, great projects, plenty of respect. Michael was a great boss and seeing him in action around clients was like attending a graduate program I never realized I needed. I would also have to say that being able to have an independent business doing all these unconventional initiatives and making a living out of it is a highlight. Even though we’ve been doing it for almost 9 years now, it’s still kind of baffling we get to pull it off.