I studied at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) and graduated in 1999 with a BFA in Graphic Design and a minor in Art History. Design was much different back then. Digital (web) was a relatively new thing and the dot-com boom was gaining momentum right before it burst in 2000. I was trained primarily in good, solid typographic layout skills as it related to print. SCAD did not have any web design classes whatsoever. So, as soon as I graduated I had no choice but to throw myself into the world of web because that was where all the good paying jobs were.
I was based out of Atlanta at the time, and I taught myself website design and programming, mostly using Macromedia Flash. My first client was US Jets—a Lear Jet Company. I had the opportunity to design the full brand for the airline. As the only designer at the advertising agency I was working at, I was responsible for designing the site single handedly. After that, I basically cut my teeth building out websites and doing branding for WCW Wrestling, Cartoon Network, CNN, TNT Sports, and Turner Studios.
My worst job ever was for an advertising agency. The egos, the long hours, the little to no recognition for the work put in as the creative director would take the credit. I only worked for two ad agencies. I vowed after the second to never work for a traditional agency ever again. 20 years later, I have kept that promise to myself. I think it has made me a better designer because I have done everything from the solo freelancer lifestyle and working at small, five-person shops, to eventually opening Funkhaus with my business partners.
My varied experience and the fact that I have had the chance to wear every hat in the closet has entirely made me the designer that I am today. If you do not know how to do something, nobody is going to hold your hand and teach you everything. You just have to dive in, figure it out, make a shit ton of mistakes, and then try not to repeat those mistakes.
Be a sponge and take on projects that scare the shit out of you. Everything from designing billboards and bus wraps, to authoring DVD’s, teaching myself Flash Actionscript, art directing photo shoots with professional wrestlers, and creating a package design from scratch, to then working in Los Angeles with Hollywood players—actors, directors, producers, and so forth.
Being a designer means you never stop learning about the craziest industries, people, and products in the world. To design something well, whether it be a brand identity for a rocket company, a television network, or a local restaurant, or a business card for a friend’s pet grooming company, you need to understand as much as you can about that business and tap into something that is human; it’s about giving the client something that they can connect with and will love years down the line.
Being a designer is not about pushing pixels: it is about people, personalities, and designing for each project. It’s not about pushing your style of design on a client.
It’s about taking each design problem, analyzing it, asking questions, and creating a design that is suitable to the client; something that makes them happy and, at the same time, trying to break new ground. It’s also about pushing the client and yourself to do the best work you possibly can within the budget and timeframe allotted. There is no school for that. You can only learn by doing, and by surrounding yourself with other designers, creative directors, and mentors who do this well. It’s so powerful to lean into the community around, whether that means finding a mentor or individual who will let you sit in on their meetings or working with a creative director who gives you the opportunity to speak your mind respectfully.
It’s also so important to ask for feedback on everything, be it your designs or presentations. From your co-workers. Even if you don’t want to hear it, the perspectives brought in from co-workers are vital for growth.
Don’t act as if you’re above anything that’s thrown at you. Work ethic comes from so many different places. Taking out the trash and doing the grunt work from time to time can teach you more than designing the biggest project that the studio did that year. Prima donna designers suck. Don’t be one.
When I was first starting out, one wise designer shared a powerful piece of advice. You will learn 10 years of experience in the first three years out of school. I will not be easy, but you will get good fast if you commit. He could not have been more correct.
The other piece of advice I got was to always remember that, as designers and creatives, we are not curing cancer. If you are like me, you take design very seriously and can really beat yourself when it comes to the little stuff. When that happens, just remind yourself to take a breath and get some perspective.
I would love to expand our internship program at Funkhaus. We have dealt with a few schools in the past and it was not great. We have put out the open call and recieved some interested parties, but nothing that stuck. Honestly, we would love to have a robust internship program. We would like to actually have the interns stick around after and become full-time designers at Funkhaus.
How about this: here is a sampling of what we ask our designer candidates in interviews.
Los Angeles is a desert, but it is flooded with design, advertising agencies, consultancies. I believe the thinning of the herd is coming. There is a ton of great opportunity to do some incredible work in LA right now. There always has been, but especially now because of the whole cannabis boom.
If you are in hospitality design it seems like the sky is the limit because restaurants have short shelf lives and need to be reinvented every 6 months, so if that is your gig you can do some really groundbreaking work in Los Angeles.
Funkhaus is a digital creative agency working at the intersection of design, content, programming, and strategy. We got our start working with leaders in the entertainment world of Los Angeles, carrying the spirit of creative collaboration that defined our early successes through our work ever since. Today, we work across industries, creating, executing, and delivering world-class projects with a working class excellence. We really have a solid foothold in the world of designing for commercial production, VFX, and film studios, but we are gaining a foothold in the world of cannabis, real estate development, and hospitality.
We are a bit of an oddball, but we like it that way.