Tell us about you.
I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, MI and I’ve lived near downtown for about seven years. I studied graphic design at Kendall College of Art and Design, and while in school I got really involved with the local music community. When I wasn’t doing schoolwork, I was designing gig posters and album art for local musicians. In 2013 I started working with the folks over at Lamp Light Music Festival and have been doing design work for the festival for the last four years. Shortly after I graduated from KCAD, I got an internship at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., and was brought on full time as their in-house graphic designer, and I’ve been working there for the last three years.
What originally made you want to become a graphic designer?
Photography was my first creative outlet. I was really drawn to the challenge of creating compositions in the viewfinder – the restricted space forced me to look at my surroundings in a new way, and I loved that. In high school I started to learn the ropes of the Adobe programs, and I found that I could create similar compositions within a “restricted space” on a screen. I spent a lot of time on the computer. My skills in the programs sharpened over the years, but the work I was producing was a direct result of presets, and consequently felt confined and shallow. It wasn’t until KCAD where my perception of graphic design really blossomed and I started to grasp the capacity of design beyond the computer. I fell in love with typography, language and theory.
How would you describe your approach to design?
A mentor introduced me to a way of thinking that has really guided me over the years. It’s this idea of zooming in and zooming out while you work - shifting between the intricacies of the design process and the bigger picture. At the end of the day, designers have to make important decisions like, what typeface should I use? What should my margin size be? What colors should I use? This is the zoom in. But what’s on the other side of that? How do I escape the damnation of shuffling through my font book? How am I justifying those small decisions, are they purely instinctual? How can I create work that is less contrived, and more revealing?
The world is rich with embedded contexts, and I try to view those contexts as a guide for decision-making. They are tools just as the Adobe programs are tools. How can I utilize historical, cultural, or economical contexts in my daily design practice to help construct a more meaningful message? How can I offer a fresh perspective on topics that already exist, or bend light that is already shining, so to speak? This is the zoom out. I try to center myself between those mindsets, and shift back and forth when the time calls for it.
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?
Mundane things that stop you in your tracks and make you go “huh, weird”. I love that stuff. A handful of months ago I was out to breakfast, and as I was waiting in line I noticed a letter board that read “OPEN 7 AM – 2 PM DAILY”, and instead of using a L in DAILY they used an upside down 7, presumably because they ran out of L’s to use. It was totally one of those “huh, weird” moments. It was an organic, clever use of typography that came out of necessity and urgency. Made me think, well what if I found myself in a situation that required me to create form out of necessity or urgency, what would that look like? What if I’m working on a project down the line where the content of said project suggests similar characteristics? Could I back-pocket this process and unearth it when it’s pertinent? This just one example, but more or less I’m just really intrigued with the idea of emulating mundane, organic processes and seeing how that could inform my own design process.
What would you say is your strongest skill and how have you honed that skill over the years?
I try to stay observant of my surroundings, whether it is immediate or distant, in or outside the field of design. I don’t know if it’s my strongest skill, but it is definitely a skill I’m trying to hone in more. I want to have my finger on the pulse.
What do you want others outside of the creative workforce to understand about careers within the arts?
Designers aren’t decorators. A lot of times we get hired for gigs under that pretense, and we’re easily dismissed as the folks who can embellish a Word document and make it look pretty. It undermines the profession; we aren’t just makers. Part of the job requirement of a designer is to help educate the client and/or the general public on what good design is capable of doing, and sometimes there isn’t a deliverable for that. Listen to designer’s ideas. Collaborate with them.
What are you passionate about besides your work?
The DIY music scene in Grand Rapids. I love going to house shows. The folks putting on DIY shows are doing it with little to no budget, limited resources, and a lot of heart. They do what they do for the sake of community, and I think that is a beautiful thing. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with them, and I feel blessed that my interests get to mix.
What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?
Take breaks. Go for walks. It’s really easy to get caught up in your own shit. Working with blinders on can be crippling - you miss out on all the potential creative catalysts around you. Ideas come at the weirdest times, while you’re making eggs, brushing your teeth, riding the bus, etc. Temporarily walking away from your work can open a lot of doors.