This is the first in our October series of interviews with the six designers featured in the exhibition By Design, now in the Baer Gallery of the Bush Art Center.
Would you describe a typical workday?
I currently work full time at an agency, so my work day can include any or all of the following: brainstorm and strategy sessions, client meetings and presentations, design and illustration–actually doing the work, selecting and overseeing the work of vendors (photographers, designers, illustrators, developers), drinking lots of coffee and La Croix (though not at the same time), production work, project management, photo searching, sketching, directing a photo or video shoot, researching design trends and creating decks for presentations. I always make an effort to leave as close 5:00 every night as possible to have dinner with my family. The evening is for family time: spending time with my kids, helping with homework, sports practice, etc. Once the kids are in bed, I try to catch up on on household duties (paying bills, chores, etc) and then will finish up any work I didn’t finish during the day or work on a freelance project. Once the work is done and/or I’m too tired to go on, I’ll go to bed in the hopes of doing it all again tomorrow.
What were your “next steps” after graduating from SNC?
In the fall semester of my senior year, an SNC football teammate of mine put me in touch with his mom who worked at a publishing company. While she didn’t have any open design positions at the time, she offered to send my resume to some of her contacts. In the spring, prior to graduation, her company decided to add a designer to their staff. She brought me in for an interview and I ended up getting the job.
Describe the journey to the work you currently do. How has your design work evolved over the course of your career?
I’ve been drawing and painting since I can remember and always wanted to do something with art as a career, even though I didn’t necessarily know what that was. I heard graphic design was a way to make a career out of being creative and not starve, which sounded great. My first job out of school was at a small publishing company where I was an Art Director for a B2B quarterly magazine. We never had an art budget, so I became the in-house illustrator out of necessity. This allowed me to try different illustration styles as well as learn how to develop concepts from a stories that many times were very technical. It taught me not only how to find the interesting in (seemingly) boring subject matter but also how to make something out of nothing. I later moved on to agency work, where I’ve worked on a number of design and advertising projects either as a full-time employee or a freelancer. I’m currently full-time at an agency but continue to do freelance work on the side as well as work on my own personal projects. These days I do a lot more digital work (web sites, social content, video) and illustration than traditional design. I don’t do much print work anymore, which is what I used to do almost exclusively when I first started out. While I like digital work, there’s something nice about print that you can hold the finished piece in your hand at the end of the process. The shelf life for digital is so short that if feels like by the time you finish the project you need to immediately start thinking about the redesign. Overall, I think it’s important for designers try to constantly evolve, learn, change and grow. Things change so fast these days that it’s really the only way to stay relevant and employable. Plus, I get bored doing the same thing over and over again, so knowing that there are opportunities to take my work/career in new directions is exciting.
What advice do you have for current SNC Art students? What opportunities should they take advantage of at SNC? What should they best do to prepare for life after college?
Design can be tough to break into as a new grad, but don’t give up. Interactive/digital experience (web, mobile, video) is in high demand so being able to design for that will give you an advantage over many other student applicants. For job hunting, you should have a well-executed portfolio site that shows a range of styles, a good use of typography and the ability to conceptually think through a problem. Proficiency in the Adobe Suite is a requirement. Interactive/digital experience, as I mentioned earlier, is a huge advantage. A positive attitude and a willingness to learn go a long way. Also, the ability to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing will set you apart from many candidates. For interviewing: dress appropriately, research the company and know what they do, present your work in a professional manner, be on time, be nice, and send a handwritten thank you note to everyone who took time to meet with you. Seek out designers you admire and reach out to them. Informational interviews are a great way to network and make contacts even if there is no full-time position available. Networking has never been easier thanks to social media and is really the best way to find a job. Don’t be afraid to work really hard or try something new, like moving to a new city or state. You are young and have a lot of time and freedom (something that you won’t always have), so use that to your advantage. One last important thing to remember: no matter how long you do this, your portfolio is never finished.
Who and what are you artistic inspirations?
Inspiration is literally everywhere and, oddly enough, I rarely find in by looking at design – or at least design exclusively. There are certainly illustrators and designers that I admire and it’s very important to keep up on the design trends but lately I found things unrelated to design and illustration to be much more interesting and inspiring. I use a mix of news, music, technology, design and social media sites to stay connected to current events, technology and trends, which is just as important as keeping up with design aesthetics.
Music is a big part of my creative process, and I admire musicians who continually push themselves to grow and evolve as artists like Radiohead, Dan Bejar (Destroyer), Britt Daniel (Spoon), Kurt Vile and Sufjan Stevens, to name a few. Live music is always inspiring and a great way to unplug from everyday distractions.
Reading good books (a mix of history, philosophy, theology, and classic literature) is great for inspiration, since reading is a way to feed your mind and helps you be a better designer. Michael Beirut once said, “Read more. Design is about making things readable so one must be very good at reading.” Reading other media (news, magazines, other digital media, etc) is good too.
I try to stop constantly checking the iPhone (which is a struggle most days) be quiet and pay attention to my surroundings. Being able to see things in the small and sometimes seemingly mundane experiences is very important because you never know what will spark an idea. It’s good to step away from the computer just sketch and use your hands to create something. Making things with your hands is an inherently human activity and is something that seems to be getting lost the more we rely on technology.
Finally, working with smart and talented people every day is a great way to stay motivated and inspired.
Brian Danaher is an art director, designer, illustrator, chronic doodler, coffee drinker, music addict and lawn care minimalist working in the Twin Cities. He is a 1998 graduate of SNC.