12 Questions: Meet Allen (Utah, USA) Ross | April 20th, 2009

In our 12 Questions blog series, we feature interviews with someone from the crowdSPRING community. For these interviews, we pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice.

We’re very proud to feature Allen (crowdSPRING username: vibes35) today. Allen lives and works in Utah, USA.

1. Please tell us about yourself.

Well, I live in Salt lake City, Utah, where I was born and raised. I enjoy traveling from time to time, especially right within our beautiful state – Moab, Zions, lake Powell and other fun areas.

I really just enjoy life and spending time with family and friends. This provides a great release and break from sitting in front of a computer screen day in and day out (Which by the way is very easy for me to do).

2. How did you become involved with graphic design?

This is really a great question. The closest I can pinpoint the moment when art and design really entered my mind heavily was in 7th grade where I had a wonderful art teacher who spent time really teaching and inspiring his classes.

More specifically I remember vividly where he taught the class about 1-2 and 43 point perspective in drawing. I was hooked – I had always enjoyed freehand drawing and much in those days was art inspired from reading the Lord of The Rings Trilogy – but when I began to play with perspective and architecture – a whole new realm opened- up in my mind.

I am grateful for that 7th grade teacher for taking the extra time to encourage and inspire me, always willing to answer questions and even stay a bit later if needed to help me understand specific ideas and concepts.

The second moment was in 9th grade where I began working on the school computers and learning some basic programming. I enjoyed the WYSIWYG of working with computers. I remember the drawing tools in basic programming were very rudimentary and basically consisted of point and line drawing (something like draw 0,0 to 100,150 or something similar – it’s been a while). :)

Anyway, I remember trying to take what I learned from art classes and work on creating perspective drawings using basic programming (I wish I would have saved some of that work). It was very difficult at times to use basic programming to convey the image or thoughts I had in my head – but this practice forced me to think carefully about each item and line.

I really can trace my beginnings to those 2 key moments. Of course the tools today are far superior and beyond anything I dreamed of then.

3. You’ve written that “design is truly meaningful when it communicates a clear message.” How do you ensure that your designs communicate a clear message?

Wow! This is a big one and what I consider to be at the heart of true design.

Let me begin by saying that there is a clear and defined difference between art and design. What I mean by that is this – art is very subjective in nature and usually reflects the personal and inner thoughts of the artist.

Design on the other hand, when done for a client / buyer, is or should be objective in nature.

Here is where I believe it gets a bit sticky at times: any image or solution is always subjective to a degree. Even when working with clients – there is always the like and dislike factor – as there should be.

I personally try to focus on creating a visually attractive piece that also communicates and answers the basic needs of a business objective (does this image or design communicate clearly the message the buyer wants to convey? Does this align with the current culture? Brand? Image?).

All these questions which speak to the heart of the problem (design is a problem solving discipline) can and should be a primary focus when designing for a client.

There have been times when the client did not like my design at first – often because they had a different vision in mind. But after spending some time talking about the rationale and theory, and how and why the design or element was handled a particular way, I’ve often been able to persuade the client to think differently about the design.

I believe that we have to remember as designers / creatives that many times (most of the time) we work with business people who do not understand the creative side of things. They may have ideas (and some of their ideas are good), but we are the professionals – they come to us for our expertise and opinion.

I truly believe that if we want to succeed in this field, it is up to us to close the gap of communication and learn to speak to the business side as well as creative when working with clients. The burden is on us. If/when we do this, I really think then that design will be taken more seriously as a business solution, and not considered as just a pretty picture.

4. Who/what are some of the biggest influences on your design work?

Seriously, some of my biggest influences are just everyday life – I know this sounds a little cheesy but I truly can find inspiration from just about anywhere. The key is to keep an open mind and look at the details around us everyday.

I also find it very helpful to continually be a student and learn from all areas, not only design related. I think this helps keep the mind active and alert. Of course, classic paintings and architecture (old and new) are wonderful sources. But so are movies, music and television.

5. How do you come up with ideas for concepts after you read a buyer’s creative brief?

If the briefs are written well – and many are – I look for key words and follow closely if the buyer has asked to visit a specific website or look at any additional information.

I believe that the buyer knows their business far better than I do and I will always take the time to understand them a bit more.

I think it also important to private message or ask buyers additional questions (as needed or to clarify a point).

I also think that opening a line of communication with the buyer and explaining the design or reasoning behind the design will help to inspire and engage the buyer in the creative process. Again, design is about communicating a clear message and engaging the viewer towards a specific goal – whether purchase of new or more product – making a statement etc. – it is meant to connect with an individual on a personal level in a meaningful way.

I really try to use the opportunity when explaining my designs to also educate the buyer about the creative process. This works well and cannot be understated enough – that when you have the buyer on board and engaged in the process of collaboration, your chances of persuading the buyer that yours is the best design  go up tremendously.

I am still amazed at times when I see a new project hit the boards and designs are posted that clearly show the brief was not even read, or at least not fully read. I believe that discredits the creative and reflects poorly on the community.

Read the brief – stand behind your design – and do not be apologetic!

6. Which of your designs are your favorites and why?

Although I love to work on projects that meet specific client objectives and see the result of the real world application – some of my favorite designs are ones that serve no other purpose than getting an idea out and just having fun:

This is one of those! I had this crazy thought one day of what it would be like to live as a fish on a golf course! Ok… I know – kinda weird. Anyway, that drove the inspiration for this design.

It is hard to pick only a few or handful of favorites as all have meaning and purpose relevant to the moment.

7. How has technology affected your work?

Wow! Obviously technology has greatly affected the way I work – and has impacted all designers. The tools, speed of processors and shear storage available are growing and improving at a tremendous pace.

I work on PC / MAC – personally I am partial to neither one! My personal philosophy is that it should not matter which tools are used as long as the final product meets the objective.

If you must ask though – I rely on the Adobe Suite as the core staple – Photoshop, Illustrator – I also do a lot of 3D work (the rendering of the fish on the golf course) using 3D Max and Vue.

I have been blessed in my life with the ability to learn new tools and concepts rapidly. Most of my training has been through hands-on with some formal schooling in design.

Dig in and make it happen – that’s my philosophy! I truly enjoy the learning process, and I believe this has helped me in this field. And because technology and software constantly evolves, if you are not a student of the tools, then you will be left behind eventually!

8. What are your favorite websites for inspiration or learning about graphic design?

Here are a few that are of note – the web is such an immense storehouse of inspiration and learning -

http://www.notcot.org/, http://www.lukew.com/, and http://accidentalcreative.com/

9. Please describe your typical work day.

Well, there is nothing too exciting here – a typical day includes spending most of my time in front of the computer, pushing pixels.

The most enjoyable times come when I am working on a project that inspires and challenges me to stretch and learn something new.

I continually try to improve and learn at least one or two things each week I did not know before – whether that has to do with the specific design tools I use or some aspect of design theory. But each day I look for an opportunity to grow and learn.

10. What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being a creative professional?

Most challenging at times is finding and running with that initial concept! One challenge I think we all face here on crowdSPRING and those who have or do work in the real world as designers know – is that face-to-face with a client and having the ability to present in person is a huge plus. That is a hurdle when doing work online. However, I have been surprised at how well online projects could approach offline projects. I have had the opportunity to work with several buyers where the experience has been very rewarding and you would think there were no barrier at all.

The most rewarding aspect is seeing the real world use of a design come to life – whether it is a logo design, web design, architectural construction or media. When opportunity presents itself, I particularly like to see the reaction of people to a particular design where they do not know I had worked on it.

11. What advice would you offer to someone considering graphics design as a career?

Do not get so hung up on the tools as that will always change! Look for meaningful ways to express yourself and be unique. If I were to do one thing over it would be to take more business classes to complement my design training. Meaning that I feel the burden is on the creative to communicate effectively the design message and part of that entails understanding and speaking the business lingo.

I have also worked for and with a few agencies and been exposed to and partnered with others. Some of the lessons that have stuck with me are these: enjoy what you do and learn to work as a team – collaboration is KEY – do not get caught up so much in the culture or egoism of design and remain teachable above all else – find your personal niche and that element about you that separates you from the pack and run with it!

12. What do you do with your free time?

Free time…. Hmm… there seems to be less and less of each day! When not working though I enjoy spending time with my family first – playing chess (ELO 1928) – and reading to expand my knowledge and mind.

_____

Thanks, Allen!

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