What is a designer? That was one of the many questions asked as I participated on a panel discussion at Westside High School yesterday. The panel was put together through the Houston AIGA and several board members jumped at the chance to participate (I’m one of the board members that jumped). I love that the Houston AIGA is going out into the community to talk to students, educating them on design and, in return, we get to see a glimpse of what the future of design could be.
It was strange to go back to high school. I felt out of place but also quickly connected to my high school self (sans the Richard Marx hairdo – look it up and I dare you not to laugh).
There were some students that were really engaged and asked questions and others that took this as an opportunity to take a nap. One of the things that most designers I know share is that almost all of us spent most of our time drawing, sketching, doodling, writing, creating, etc. when we probably should have been paying attention in class. I am glad to report that I don’t think much has changed. These students seem to do the same thing. They just have cooler toys/tools than I did.
The panelists were given the questions before hand just so we knew what we’d be getting into before we got in front of the students. I thought I would share those questions and the answers I wrote down about 15 minutes prior to leaving for the event. Almost all of these answers are really just starting points but it was a way for me to gather my thoughts.
What do designers design? Everything. We solve problems for clients. Usually through visual means. Printed, online, etc. The applications range from: logos, identity systems, book and editorial design, websites, apps.
Where do designers work? Wherever we can.
What were your creative habits in high school & college? Do you have the same habits or skills and how do you use them? Creative habits in high school were my notebooks were covered in drawings, doodles, and band logos where I should have been taking notes. Although I did graduate high school with a 3.5 GPA so I did pay attention a little.
What made you decide to choose your career? A college guidance counselor said “You may not be able to do what you like but you better like what you do.” I decided not to take that advice and did what I have always liked to do. When I realized I didn’t have to be a great illustrator (I could draw but not as good as “professional” illustrators) but could still design, that was a real eye opener.
What are some or your personal creative endeavors? I like to shoot photography for myself and friends of mine. Several are in local bands. I’ve started working on posters for them, etc.
Who inspired you most when you were first starting out—in grade school, college or after? Comic books were a HUGE inspiration to me as a kid. It’s how I taught myself to draw. It also taught me how to tell stories – which is crucial to what we do. Actual designers that still inspire me are Paul Rand, Alvin Lustig and too many more to mention.
Your favorite or most memorable example of good graphic design? Signage/wayfinding directions to the bathroom. Something so simple that means oh so much when you need it. (NOTE: you may be able to guess what inspired me for this answer but you know it’s true).
What other types of creatives do you collaborate with regularly? I work with developers, illustrators, writers, and photographers quite a bit. But I should also mention that our clients should be considered collaborators as well. You have to have open and honest discussions. If you can’t tell someone you don’t agree with them you’re going to run into a lot of trouble.
Besides design skills what skills do you use most? Writing, speaking, and applying design-thinking to anything I work on. You also have to know the basics of design: form, color, balance, alignment, contrast, repetition, etc.
What is your favorite example of graphic design? The simplest answer is the Target logo. It’s so dead on, you know it’s Target and they’ve done a great job of expanding that brand. Of course Apple and Nike are great examples too.
What are your sources of inspiration? Just about anything. I look at magazines for their layouts and photography, websites for usability, architecture for structure and scale. I listen to music to feed the soul. And I still read comic books. Most importantly, I go outside from time to time for fresh air and and a different perspective
Any thoughts or advice about education and continuing education? Make sure you know how to talk/communicate with people. It’s essential that our work communicates. As a designer, we need to make sure we can do the same. Don’t just focus on the visual side. Take classes for public speaking. Learn about the world of business and how to speak the language of business. Just make sure you sound like a real person when you do.
I had a great time. Thanks Westside!