Jordan Metcalf Studio

We recently caught up with letterer/designer Jordan Metcalf who recently made the move from South Africa to Portland. He shares some amazing portfolio insights, we talk about trends and motivation, and we discuss what it's like working in a saturated creative city like Portland, plus (of course) there's a little Portlandia chat too

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

Some of my earliest memories would be when I was a tiny kid at school and realising I could draw slightly better than other kids and trying to find ways to use that to impress people by copying popular cartoon characters. Then a new kid joined the class and would draw these cool He-Man style guys with big muscles and I was super jealous and in awe of him. It was my first taste of the cold hard world of competitive creativity. In retrospect it was a primer for Instagram culture 20 something years later.

A career councillor led me to design, I went for an aptitude test and the result was Graphic Design. I honestly didn’t really know what it was properly, but I thought from the description I got that it might be a good overlap of art and commerce, a way to live in the middle of the 3 way Venn diagram of creativity, problem solving and (hopefully) financial security. It was before the internet as we now know it, so that probably seems ridiculous, but hey, it worked out.

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.

I run my own design practice in Portland, Oregon, working on a pretty wide variety of projects but primarily dividing my time between custom lettering and branding work.

Design work by Jordan Metcalf Studio The Design Kids interviews Jordan Metcalf Studio work-2

What do you look for in a great portfolio?

Consideration and personality generally.

The internet has made it too easy for everyone to see and emulate the same cool work and so it results in these tidal waves of style that are ultimately bland and homogeneous, date quickly, and often are not appropriate or relevant to their application. We also all see the same work coming from the most visible makers, so having a portfolio of work that looks a lot like your favourite designers work isn’t fooling anyone either. So I always find it great when someone is either making work that feels intelligently considered and applied and/or bringing something really unique and unexpected to the table. Work that is on trend definitely has it’s place, but when it comes to an entire portfolio, all the coolness has to be underscored by thoughtfulness and honesty.

What do you look for in a great client?

Any person or company that is excited about good work and collaboration, trusts you to do your job, but also doesn’t expect you to read their minds. Has a good idea of what they want but is open to adjusting or pivoting those ideas if something better or more appropriate presents itself. Ideally someone who wants to enter into a mutually respectful, beneficial and equal creative partnership and, ideally, has the appropriate amount of money to pay for it.

Design work by Jordan Metcalf Studio The Design Kids interviews Jordan Metcalf Studio work-4
Design work by Jordan Metcalf Studio The Design Kids interviews Jordan Metcalf Studio work-4

Work that is on trend definitely has it’s place, but when it comes to an entire portfolio, all the coolness has to be underscored by thoughtfulness and honesty.

What qualities and skills to you look for in a graduate?

I’m not hiring graduates, but I’ve done some moderation of student work and I always try to look beyond the aesthetics or technical ability, which are learnable skills, toward someone’s versatility, raw talent, clarity of thought, authenticity and self-awareness. I’ve seen students make great looking, but highly derivative or blatantly copied work, which makes me weary of their level of self-awareness and motivation. It’s a signal that they’re more interested in expedience and instant gratification than creating valuable substantive work. Other people are maybe a little rougher round the edges aesthetically, but you can tell there is honesty, thought and personality in their work. These are likely to be the people that want to do the best possible job for each project and will push themselves to learn, grow and improve over time. They end up creating the work that those other people copy in the future.

What is the design landscape like on your city and where do you fit in?

I just moved to the USA, and specifically Portland about a year ago, partially because there is such an incredibly dense and diverse creative scene here. Especially for a relatively small and highly liveable city. I like that there is a great blend of traditional maker/craftsmen culture typical of the Pacific NW and cutting edge design here. It makes for a really rich and expansive creative culture that offers everything from high-end digital agencies to illustration studios to traditional sign writers. It feels like a city where 80% of the people here are working in some kind of creative field, or at least making something on the side. Everyone works at Nike, or Weiden, or Instrument, or runs a print shop, or has a product range, or is a film-maker, woodworker, illustrator or some kind of freelancer, and despite that saturation they’re all great at what they do. I think there is a perception that Portland is kinda goofy based on Portlandia, but it’s really an incredibly dynamic and creative city, that’s managing to simultaneously preserve traditional making and craft while fostering an expansive and growing culture of edgy contemporary design. I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in in all of that, but time will tell.

Design work by Jordan Metcalf Studio The Design Kids interviews Jordan Metcalf Studio work-6
Design work by Jordan Metcalf Studio The Design Kids interviews Jordan Metcalf Studio work-6

Where to find Jordan Metcalf Studio online.

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