Category: about rat

Heroes

If you have to look past the dinner table for your heroes, then something’s wrong.

Dr. Joe King, The History of Baseball, Texas Tech University, Spring 1988

 

These words have been firmly entrenched in my mind since Dr King first spoke them during a round table discussion on the role professional athletes play in our society. A very profound thought that rings as true today as it did 30 years ago.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think heroes are limited to those who perform amazing feats of strength or courage. Or being defined as one who put the needs of others before their own, even if it is at great risk to themselves. True, those are heroic acts, but heroes are often times so much more, and complex.

In my worldview, heroes show you what life could be like and compel you to be bigger than yourself. They offer inspiration and influence that brings out the very best in us.

A couple of my heroes died this year.

The first was Anthony Bourdain. I’m not a foodie, hate cooking shows, disagree with his politics and cannot condone his drug abuse, but for whatever reason I found him to be endlessly fascinating. I suppose much of the appeal was his attitude. He behaved like a a rock star with this who-gives-a-shit way of living, acting, talking, etc.

Always provocative, always interesting, he showed us the world through his own lens (beautifully filmed)  in Parts Unknown. I do not care much for television, but I have watched every moment of this series, often multiple times,  and relish the stories, the people and the sites. The show opened my eyes on some subjects, my heart on others. What amazing power and what a gift given to the world.

Over the summer I broke down and read one of his books – Kitchen Confidential. About midway through, there is an entire chapter where he goes into painstaking detail about a day in the life of a chef that is thoughtful, frank, key-opening, and full of take-aways, that even a crusty old designer such as myself finds useful.

I enjoy reading his stuff because you could hear his voice, just like on the narration during Part Unknown, as your eyes silently glided across the page. I can only hope my prose is as expressive.

I thought about writing this remembrance in June after he died, but I held off, and as time went past it no longer felt relevant.

That changed this week when Stan Lee died.

As big an influence as Mr Bourdain had on me, it dwarfs in comparison to the impact Mr Lee had. Stories he told, characters he created filled my head with so many ideas that I could probably credit Stan Lee with pushing me into the design business. There was no way I could ever make it in comics – that is one hard way to make a living, and I do not have nearly the talent to be able to do it.

I have most of Marvel memorized from elementary school til midway through high school. Formative years that were heavily influenced by Stan Lee. He helped get me through it and imagine a better, brighter future. Again, what a gift to be given.

There is a lot written about Stan Lee already, and I won’t tread the same ground here, other than to say if you were to look at authors who had the biggest impact on the 20th and early 21st centuries, you would be hard pressed to find anyone whose words and ideas changed the world.

It’s harder for me to write about Lee than Bourdain. As I cobble together the words, my mind drifts back to long, lazy summer afternoons where I’d spend a day lost in the world of the Fantastic Four, or waiting on the front porch at the mailbox on a Tuesday afternoon – because that was the day my Marvel subscriptions would arrive. Or trips to flea markets and comic book shops looking for buried treasures.

I have lists of other heroes: Jack Kirby, David Ogilvy, Paul Rand, Henry Rollins (who, much like Anthony Bourdain, I cannot stand his music or politics, but love him), Charles Eames, Joan Didion, Hunter Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, George Nelson and many others. I could write at length about any of them, but it’s that two of my heroes died this year. Their book is closed, they will not be creating anymore, that I can reflect on their impact.

You know someone had an impact on your life when you come to the realization that you would not be the person you are today had it not been for that other person. That is pretty heroic, isn’t it?

The I’s Have It

As this site has been assembled over the years, it has lacked focus.

Although it is a personal website, being that I am one of those people who is strongly defined by their work, it has needed that glue to hold it all together. I’ve been stewing on this for a while and I am finally ready to move forward with a philosophy, a cohesive thought about what I do and what I had to offer the world as a Designer.

I used to think I made logos, ads, movies, websites and other sundry things. That is true. Along with that simplistic view on my work, I have also proclaimed that it’s the act making these things that gets me out of bed every morning — the challenges that keep me interested in the things I do. This has been truly a simplistic way of looking at things and entirely wrong.

So I dove into the deep end. Pulling a Simon Sinek, I asked myself “Why?” over and over again. Much like a scene out of Ant Man and the Wasp, I’ve gone deeper and deeper down inside and found an answer to all those why’s. I was looking for answers that were not about me, why design, and how I can help make the world a little better than before.

Over the past few weeks I have been working in earnest to compile work I’ve created over the years. It now populates this site. Not everything, but numerous pieces that represent this philosophy and shows the world what I actually design:

Identities, Information and Influence.

I’ve looked at a number of other words to describe what I do, but all those words merely describe things. For me, Identities, Information and Influence are not things, rather they are outcomes. These are what I strive for, toil over and pour myself into so that together with my clients we will  make the world a better place.

Not only are Identities, Information and Influence outcomes, this is also a flow. A way of looking at design in total.

Identities are the most basic building block of communication, the starting point to broadcast who you are to the world.

Information design helps people you are trying to reach make better decisions.

Influence is the goal — to encourage change and make it easy to take further action.

This is a simple yet rich view of Design, one which I will continue to explore conceptually within this site and practice with my clients for years to come.

And then there was light

Last weekend I built a light box. Over years I’ve talked about building one to photograph and catalog my portfolio. After a few decades in the business you end up with tons of samples, and they take up an awful lot of space in your house. In my never-ending quest to minimize my life, I’m finally taking care of this stuff.

The set-up is simple. I used an old moving box that has been in the rafters in the garage for years as the walls. To diffuse the light, I cut up an old piece of plastic, also from the garage. Using the kids’ lamps and bright soft white bulbs, the light box created a pleasing glow.

I shot pictures for almost 3 hours on Saturday. There’s still a ton of Photoshopping to be done, of course, because unlike my photographer friends, I cannot create the in-camera magic the way they can. That’s what separates us ordinary folks from the professionals.

Design in Texas

Quite possibly, AIGA-Texas’ 1986 tome Design in Texas had more influence on me than any other book. More than Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Alan Fletcher, or any of the numerous books I’ve previously cited here.

I stumbled onto this book during Christmas break after I had finished Intro to Design Comm as a sophomore at Tech. By this time, I had drunk the Kool-Aid and been fully indoctrinated into the Cult of Good Design.

Being a good young designer, I trolled the bookstores, and grocery stores for that matter, seeking out finely designed ephemera. At the now defunct Bookstop, I found Design in Texas, and life would never be the same.

Not sure why it hit me, but I pulled the book down off the bookcase last night and thumbed through it. My heroes still live in here, with their work coming to life on every page. You know there’s work from Fred Woodward in there, long before he reinvented magazine design at Rolling Stone. I thought Woody Pirtle was a genius. Still do.

The book is also evidence that some of the premiere photographers on the planet are here in Texas. In Houston, in particular.

And of course, brilliant design work from all over the state, but primarily from Dallas.

Dallas was exploding back then, and where I figured I’d end up after graduation. Being a Creative Giant, Stan Richards would bring me on as a power forward for the company basketball team and then we would make history. Didn’t really work out that way. He did hire a girl from my class, though.

There are lots of people in the book I’ve met over the years, some are merely acquaintances, others can I proudly call friends. Many I’ve had the honor and pleasure to collaborate with.

I used this book as a guide to look for a job after graduation. If you were in Design in Texas, I wanted to work for you. I interviewed with Chris Hill (a great story for another time), who taught me a valuable lesson in humility. I wrote to Jerry Herring to try and get in with him. He wrote me back what is quite possibly the nicest rejection letter ever. Beautiful stationery. I held on to that letter for years and told his son, Stephen, about it over lunch one day a couple of years ago. He was mortified.

Texas needs another book like this. Another time capsule, if for nothing else. Another book that will fire up the imagination of a young designer here in the Great State of Texas.

Advertising Emergencies

Dave Trott posted a piece recently about taking the creation of adverts too seriously. He’s spot on.

Who hasn’t gotten that call, usually after hours, from your client/marketing manager/whoever, screaming, with their hair on fire about missing a deadline. Something fell through the cracks. Someone bought an insertion and didn’t bother letting anyone else know. Armageddon was at hand.

Your career might not survive, but it’s not like anyone has ever died because an ad wasn’t released on time.

This isn’t open heart surgery after all.

None of what I say is to minimize the work we do. Quite the contrary, I whole heartedly believe creative marketing work is more valuable than ever.

But people freak out about marketing work. They really, really, really stress out about things. Why is that?

Like so much of life, it goes back to confidence. Confidence is the antidote to stress. If you feel confident about your ability to get things done, why stress out about them.

Early in my career I almost died because of an advertising emergency. We were pushing a deadline and needed to get film up to the publisher in Chicago. I was voluntold to deliver the film to the FedEx up at the airport, the last pick up of the day. Doors close at 9:00.

It was after 8:00 when I hopped onto the tollway up to Intercontinental. And, of course, a huge thunderstorm was blowing in. One of those storms where the windshield wipers have a hard time keeping up with the ocean of rain coming down.

I’m driving like a madman. Minutes are ticking off as I start to hydroplane. I start to lose control of the car. I have never been so scarred in my life.

Right there and then I decide to slow down. I might miss the last flight out. I might have some explaining to do the next morning, but it beats being in an accident over some film.

Nothing we do is worth that kind of worry.

I made it in time and drove home slowly.

There is no such thing as an advertising emergency. Get your act together, do the work, follow through, communicate. Just do your job and you’ll alleviate all the emergencies.