Featured Studio

Gander

September 2018

We recently hung out with Gander Founders & Creative Directors Mike McVicar and Katie Levy to chat about everything from Microsoft paint to their Brand New Conference speech. We discuss applying for jobs and never hearing back (we've all been there 😓), their shifting roles as the studio grows and their almost love/hate relationship with NYC.

What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design?

Katie: I always had a creative family. My dad did a lot of photography growing up (still does), my mom is an artist, Aunt is an art teacher, and my older brother is also a designer like myself. I was always winning little art competitions in elementary school and had people in my life that were always helping me build stuff and bring my ideas to life. I remember making a little diorama in probably 3rd or 4th grade and I sculpted all these people out of clay, collected dirt from outside, stuck in actual plants and rocks, made water out of plexi. Apparently, I said I wanted to be a ceramicist, but wound up following in my brother’s footsteps and went into design. I still work with clay though :)

Mike: I’m not sure if this is a “creative” memory but I started honing my digital craft in middle school using Microsoft Paint! Talk about a throwback. One of my earliest memories of this was zooming in like 800% and drawing the cartoon characters Pinky & the Brain pixel-by-pixel over like 3 days. Beyond that, I was also greatly influenced by my brother who was a sequential artist for years and is now a tattoo artist in Florida. I would beg him to let me ink his pencil drawings and occasionally he would actually let me until I screwed them up too much. From there I started messing around with animations in Flash and designing logos from my video-production class in high school which really solidified my passion for the digital arts. Thankfully, I eventually learned more programs than Microsoft Paint and some design fundamentals, but those early lessons of precision and patience definitely paid off.

What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?

Katie: I decided I just wanted to be in NY and started to focus my attention there. I figured I’d probably just get a job at the coolest design studio, cause that’s what everyone thinks when they graduate. I reached out to Pentagram (so young, so passionate) and was told there was an internship available. I agreed to move up for it, bought a plane ticket, and by the time the date was rolling around they wound up giving the internship to someone else! I didn’t know it then but that was SUCH a New York moment. That threw a wrench in everything and made my first few months here a bit more hectic than I had planned for. One day I got an email saying that another internship was available for Paula and I took it. I guess it all worked out in the end but definitely a rough start.

Mike: I didn’t have much of a plan after graduation but I guess I thought I’d design gig posters for the rest of my life and maybe open my own boutique screen-printing studio. However, that all kind of changed when I wrote a kiss-ass, but somehow compelling, email to Mucca Design two weeks before the summer of my senior year and asked for an internship. New York wasn’t really on my radar, but sure enough, two weeks later I started my first internship with one of my heroes Matteo Bologna and his extremely inspiring team. That summer I caught the New York bug and I was hooked. I had to go back and finish a few summer classes to graduate, but in the meantime, I landed another internship for Landor Associates here in New York and I was officially back in the city for good. Before I knew it, I was designing consumer packaging for some of the biggest brands in the world which wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea but it was a great introduction to the New York design scene. I was eventually able to get back to my DIY roots and indeed open a boutique design studio where we get to create work for brands and people that we believe in. I’ve been here for almost a decade and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else (for now). I think that shows that if you put yourself out there and challenge yourself, you’ll find your opportunities and ambitions growing in unexpected ways.

What does a typical working day include for you right now?

We currently have four full-time designers, a project manager, a studio coordinator and two design interns. The business has grown and expanded quite a bit in the last year and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with more people. No surprise here, growth also means that we are shifting our focus away from day-to-day designing and more toward managing the business. Our schedules are different every day but are usually filled with new business meetings, one-on-ones with team members, critiques, giving art direction, approving files for print, managing our accounts, and if we’re really lucky we get to squeeze in a little design time! That’s the best. We’re also gearing up for our speech at the Brand New Conference this year so we’ve been carving out more time to write and plan for that.

While we both have a hand in every project that comes in the door we do understand the importance of relinquishing control in certain ways and making sure we are not bottlenecks for the business. We have a great team of designers to create amazing work so that part is getting easier.

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The work we do needs to add value to the world we’re living in, one way or another.

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What do you look for in a great client?

It’s super important that our clients are people that we truly believe in and are creating products that align with our values. You can tell our work features a lot of sustainable food brands, and that’s very intentional. If we didn’t feel uncomfortable eating it, drinking it, wearing it, or telling our friends about it, we aren’t working on it. The work we do needs to add value to the world we’re living in, one way or another.

Trust is a big thing for good client relationships. Our best clients are ones that trust our vision and know that we have the best interests in mind for their business. Once we start feeling like a machine that’s being used to execute a client’s art direction, there’s usually a bigger issue at play and we need to reevaluate the relationship. Good clients do their job well and let us do ours.

What advice would you give students starting out?

First and foremost- keep going. When we were fresh out of school we had our hearts set on moving to New York. We were coming from Florida and just had no idea the level of disappointment that comes with applying for jobs in a city as competitive as this one. I probably applied to 20 jobs a day and heard back from 1% of them, but I just kept emailing and following up until something stuck. If you let yourself stop and get your feelings hurt over the lack of response you’ll never make it. Persistence wins!

Another important thing to remember is the simple phrase, ‘I know what I don’t know’ and realize that you have a lot left to learn and grow from. Every single experience, job, and internship is a good experience even if it doesn’t feel like a good fit at the time. You’ll learn where you fit and where you don’t fit, what you need to work on and what you can best bring to the table. Arrive at your next opportunity with eagerness and self-motivation and you’ll be great.

2018 for you in a sentence.

Trust your gut and get some sleep.

Website: takeagander.com

Instagram: @gandergrams

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