I grew up in the 90's when American kids were encouraged that if they put their mind to an activity they would find success. For me that meant designing or drawing objects that I wanted but couldn’t afford in hopes that companies would say “sure, we’ll make that for you and send it right over!” For example, I was really into watches for a while, so I sent a watch design to Timex. Then I was in to bicycles, so I sent designs to Trek and RockShox. I believe Nike received some work during a shoe phase, and as I got more interested in computers and the internet I sent a full-on proposal to Mountain Hardware with print-outs and a demo on CD about how I thought I could make their website better. Mind you, this was all before the age of twelve. Every once in a while I’d receive a letter thanking me for my submission, and I laugh now when I think about how blissfully ignorant I was to believe that such large corporations were so easily accessible.
My father is an architect, so a lot of my childhood was spent sitting in his office, occupied with a pencil and paper as a means of interpreting and exploring the world around me. I credit both of my parents with encouraging my creation and submission of ideas despite understanding that they likely wouldn’t make it too far.
I am the founder and design director of a studio called Rainfall. Our experience is deeply rooted in what has become known as “digital products” – websites, mobile, and web-based applications, and other experiences where people engage via any number of inputs from a screen, to their voice, to simply -- their presence.
My love for graphic design as a whole has led to a number of print-based projects (yes, books are “experiences”), and as an increasing number of companies exist predominantly in digital environments, we have found ourselves creating a number of brand identities designed by bringing our technology and creative teams together much as we would for a typical digital project.
I wouldn’t say that our design work is directly affected by the culture of our surroundings, so much as our environment keeps us inspired and creatively motivated. For example, in Seattle where I am based, there are a number of historic buildings with hand-painted signs from the late 1800s and early 1900s adorning their facades. I might not draw on any of those references directly, but they are a good reminder of the scale, longevity, and interpersonal impact of design.
Designers often forget that their work, if successful, spreads far beyond the attention of other designers to the public as a whole, and could actually affect their perception of the culture of their environment. With our work, we have developed a process that aims to find the best solution for each particular need while evaluating the environment in which that work will exist. This approach creates work that has a more universal perspective and isn’t trapped in a specific location, time, or trend.
I think that internships are a positive way for young designers to experience the industry first-hand, especially while still in school or just after leaving. I would imagine that nearly all of us creative professionals developed some sort of idealistic vision about what we thought a design job would be, and the power of internships lies in providing a bit of a reality check about the business of design while at the same time allowing people to dip their toe in a particular line of work to see if it suits them.
At Rainfall we do take interns, and we pay them (just as every company should) because they are contributing members of our team. Just like other designers they are encouraged and expected to create materials as part of the design process that results in work for our clients.
I didn’t receive this advice directly, but I often think about number nine on DixonBaxi’s list of ten principles of creativity: “Sometimes you have to say no. You’re more often defined by what you don’t do.” When starting a studio from after-hours work it is a natural tendency to take on every project that comes through the door in an effort to keep the lights on. I know from experience that saying yes to everything invites work that is substandard and undervalued, which leads to cut corners on process and a loss of attention to the needs and desires of the audience. I’m ok with a small studio and low overhead because we can be very selective of what we say yes to, and have greater flexibility when considering smaller projects that offer greater creative fulfillment.
I encourage any students who are graduating with a specialty in a more contemporary design field such as user experience or digital product design to have an understanding and appreciation for the foundational elements of graphic design and typography. Grid systems, hierarchy, form, and composition are still imperative to an individual’s success in the field of design and will make those who have educated themselves in such fundamentals more desirable and interesting. Typography is often my first impression of a potential candidate, and it can make or break an application. Aesthetics and beauty are what I look for second, because while functionality drives digital tools, life is too short to interact with ugly products and experiences.
Furthermore, now is the time to really explore the work you want to make, rather than the work you think others want you to make. This applies while looking for work and especially once you have found it. Entry level design jobs often don’t allow for a large amount of experimentation, and the more you explore and create the more quickly you will find your voice. Try a UX experiment that seems out-there, manipulate type, go crazy with color. A young designer with passion and point-of-view is so much more enticing than one who only produces work that matches current trends.