Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Re-publish: A foot in the door

(Note: This was my first post and I've decided to re-publish it every few months to give people an idea of what my blog is all about and why I created it. Thanks for checking in to cas:ev, I appreciate what little feedback I get)

A few months ago I met with a well-respected owner of a small design firm in downtown Saratoga Springs, NY, named Rich Kline. Rich is principle owner of Shannon Rose Design, which specializes in illustration and graphic design.

The meeting was set up by a mutual acquaintance and was a very informal sit-down; not an interview. Yet, despite the fact that the meeting likely wouldn't lead to a job, I was genuinely excited to meet a man that had built a successful firm with little other than passion, a dream and some good-old ingenuity.
Rich planned on showing me a flash site they'd been working on for a company that manufactures custom crew shells (long, lightweight boats used in rowing competitions) and give me general advice about how to begin a career in design.

Prior to the meeting, I asked a friend of mine, who oversees design for Warren County Tourism, if he had heard of Rich. He told me that Rich was the real deal, a big name in the field and that the meeting would surely be fruitful.
I knew I would have to eat my pride. My portfolio was heavy on writing clips and light on design work. My concentration in graphic design didn't require I take a portfolio building class, which, I've come to learn, was probably the most important class in the design curriculum; it's the culmination of all your hard work and wasn't required to complete my minor.
Needless to say, I'm glad it wasn't a formal interview.

So I arrived at the studio with an open mind and empty hands, hoping to take something away rather than lay something on the table. (Let me just add, design studios are cool places. Maybe it's the laid back mood, the creative energy or the natural light; whatever the case, Shannon Rose was no exception. The hardwood floors, natural light, bold advertising posters adorning the walls, the works).

It was expectantly quiet. Rich was working at his computer. He greeted me, gave me a brief tour of the two floors of the studio then we sat a large wooden table and dialogue commenced.

I told him about my my passion to be a designer and how I was frustrated that a lack of a bachelor's degree in design had been holding me back. He reinforced much of what I already knew: that I needed a good portfolio and that the best way to do it was to essentially do what I'd been doing, which is pro-bono design work and network with other designers.

He also presented to me his theory of how, in today's approach to design, print advertising is only one component in a larger circle that encompasses a brand. He told me that a job starts with a solid plan on paper, and branches off into print and web from there; with an emphasis on web.

He used his current project with the boat manufacturer as an example, showing me draft plans, sketches, ect. We then walked upstairs and I got a look at the designers (a total of four) implementing the plan -- halfway through the web development of an ultra-sleek, super-cool flash Web site.

As we peered over one of the developer's shoulder, a less tech-inclined Rich told him he wanted to see the boats "change color." The developer began effortlessly typing code and, Voila!

The others were working on different aspects of the site, all of them all-stars at what they do. One of the designers introduced himself and politely excused himself from the encounter because he had a concert to go to. I wondered if it was the same one I was going to that evening. Either way, I loved the casualness of it. And, naturally, I was jealous. Here I was working for a company with a design standard that stuffs you in a tight box and strips you of your creativity while designers at Shannon Rose were defining their own design standard each day. It might be presumptuous for me too think I'll land a job like that one day, but as long as I know it exists, it's a level to attain.

Upon leaving, I felt fortunate. I was given an intimate tour of working design studio and saw professionals at work -- something I wasn't able to do at school. I had also extended my network to include a few designers, including the owner of a firm.

One piece of advice Rich gave me that I wasn't expecting, was to create a blog that would showcase both my writing and design skills. He showed me a couple blogs he followed and seemed really excited about what a blog can do for a designer.

Well, here it is. My first blog, I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks Rich for the great advice; it was truly an invaluable experience.

Let the evolution begin...


  1. You left a comment! Atta boy Johnny.

    And I agree with you in principle: If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It.

    When it comes to outreach, and identity, the same marks can get a little tired, no?

    D. Bros. has used the same silhouette logo since 1996. It was time for a change. While there's a measurable amount of recognition and brand equity wrapped up in that original mark—a fresh new image, when presented publicly (and properly) can capitalize on that history and pay it forward.

    Love the cardboard masthead.

  2. Not for nothing, but it might be worth talking to my roommate (he is also the one that The Post Star hired). He went to BU as a graphic design major, but will be the first to tell you that you don't need a degree. He's now basically the AD for advertising department of a widely distributed Boston newspaper. He also comes from a writing and artistic background. If you want his contact info, I know he would be more than happy to talk to you!

    Anyway, your blog looks great and I look forward to reading more about your take on sustainability!