||What has kept you in the
Graphic Design business for over 25 years?
Passion. That is the answer in its simplest form.
From the time I was a small kid I was passionate
about art. I knew it was the path I wanted to take
for a career. After 27 years in this profession
I am still excited about what I do each day. A long
time ago I realized I was not the "designer
in a cubicle" type of person. Still, along
the way I selected job opportunities – as art
director for a group of medical publications, art
director of a small ad agency and creative director
of a clothing company – that would provide
me the skills and knowledge to have a successful
independent design career in the future.
As I often say, "It's not that I don't play
well with others; it's just that I want to choose
where, when and with whom I play". Being an
independent designer, particularly one specializing
in identity design, gives me an incredible freedom
to work with a wide variety of clients, including
grass roots nonprofit groups, one person start-ups
and major corporations. Each project is a welcomed
challenge. Because of the variety of client types
my work is never boring. Not being bored keeps the
passion alive. I would not be happy doing work a
chimpanzee could be trained to produce. That freedom
also allows me to work from wherever I may be at
the time. Years ago I mentioned that I would be
perfectly happy designing T-shirts on a tropical
beach. With the technology of today that is actually
||Are there any designers who
have influenced your design passion?
Glaser has been the major design influence in
my career. As a high school senior in 1974 finding
his book "Graphic Design" gave a name
to the direction I wanted to take my art and design
interests. It also showed me that someone could
actually make a living with their artistic endeavors
in a world of "you'll never be able to make
a living as an artist" doubters. The simplicity
and strength projected by Glaser's graphic design
works are something I try to achieve in most of
my identity efforts. Other designers having a major
impact on me have been Paul
Chermayeff and Tom
Geismar. These individuals are largely responsible
for bringing graphic design out of what
had often previously been referred to as commercial
art. Their impact on the industry is huge and, I'm
always somewhat amazed, when I mention their names
to young designers – or students – today
the response is often a "Huh?".
One of my college professors, Roy Paul Nelson –
who wrote the book "The Design of Advertising"
– also had a great deal of influence on my
design career. He was the individual who convinced
me to get out of a frustrating Fine Arts School
experience and into a program of advertising and
publication design. The change in education direction
forced me into course work in writing, marketing,
typography, copywriting, public relations, marketing
and other aspects of the business of design.
I was much more prepared for a career in the industry
due to his mentoring.
||Why does logo design interest
Attempting to convey as much information as possible
about a business, organization or event with the
simplest of graphic elements and/or type is always
an exciting challenge to me. In my own work, playing
with letterforms, manipulating graphic images, or
combining the two uniquely to establish an effective
identity involves strategy, art, design, a dose
of theatre, research, playfulness, a bit of cleverness,
a pinch of engineering, some understanding of business
marketing, knowledge of advertising principles,
and many other recipe ingredients.
I get a great deal of personal satisfaction when
an unsuspected "brain fart" – usually
when in the shower, driving my car, gardening, sleeping
or doing something else unrelated to design –
suddenly presents the solution to a client's business
identity crisis. That "a-ha!" moment makes
any frustration, or struggle, in the context of
the concept development for a project very worthwhile.
Occasionally I create one design, and present it
as an only option to the client, knowing it is the
design to represent their company or organization.
In about 80-85% of identity projects the final logo
for a client evolves from my initial concept.
||What is your favorite design
project to date?
That is like asking a parent to select their favorite
child. Many projects for nonprofit causes over the
years come to mind. I think that is because I'd
rather work for free with a nonprofit client in
whose cause I truly believe, than for a big budget
client I don't like. Among such design projects
one pro bono effort stands out. It's the logo for
the Seacoast AIDS Walk in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
A friend asked me to create a design for the event.
I knew my first very simple effort was the perfect
identity for the event and it was the only one I
presented to a thrilled event organizer. They have
used it for several years now.
I'm partial to other designs for a variety of reasons.
My own identity has served me well for almost a
decade now and has a timeless quality to it. The
logo for my friend, and former hairstylist, Jeff
Maul appears in nearly a dozen design books and
is responsible for bringing a number of clients
my way. Two heavy law books creating the letterform
"S", for the firm Samuels Yoelin, is one
of my most simplistic designs and evolved out of
one the most trying "design by committee"
procedures of my career. The identity for Kidstuff
PR was literally created overnight and is evidence
of what can develop under extreme deadline pressure.
Black Dog Furniture Design and DataDork probably
best convey my personality, and the fun I have as
||What are your greatest frustrations
as a designer?
The almost constant need to educate the potential
client, or existing client, about the process of
design is always frustrating. Justifying the value
– or cost – of design, in a cyber world
of bargain basement Internet "design"
firms, just adds to that challenge. Those aggravations
were recently combined in correspondence with a
potential client after providing an estimate for
a corporate identity for his business. He responded
to my estimate with "I realize the scope of
what you are referring to, however what I am looking
for is a simple stylized logo, the likes of which
could be done in a few quick minutes with the right
program, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, etc.". I
immediately had to accept that this was not a client
for me. Educating a willing client can be very satisfying
experience and tempers some previous frustrations.
Educating designers to take pride, and establish
true value, in their own work is a frustration as
well. The only thing worse than a potential client
who does not value the efforts of a professional
graphic designer is a designer who doesn't appreciate
the value of their own time and work. If a designer
is going to make a living in the profession they
need to be establishing a living wage for themselves
– not undercutting the competition just to
get the job and then making less than minimum wage
for their efforts.
Annoyances, rather than frustrations, are those
with a computer and software who call themselves
designers and the Internet "design mills"
offering discounted services. Computers and software
don't make someone a designer. They are just some
of the tools of the trade. I always encourage those
who truly wish to be designers to educate themselves
as much as possible about all aspects of the design
profession by whatever means are at their disposal.
A designer needs to pick the education path that
works best for them given their circumstances, desires
and personal goals. Designers should not look at
the discount design services as competition. Put
yourself on a higher level than the low-balling
Internet options by offering personalized services,
backed by talent, skills, knowledge and professionalism.
||What advice would you give
to design students starting out in the business?
My initial advice would be to read my book.
Seriously, the complaints I hear most from design
students about their education experience is not
being prepared for the business and marketing aspects
of the industry, and not being knowledgeable when
it comes to the history of graphic design. Much
of the blame for these complaints must be placed
on the schools where the students are getting their
education. However, the students themselves need
to accept a great deal of responsibility for not
doing enough research when selecting their school,
not demanding more of the educational institution
they are attending and not actively seeking out
the information they need to be prepared for the
business of design.
One of my pet peeves is the designer who can't write
a complete sentence. How can a designer expect to
be offered the job they desire when they are not
able to write an intelligent cover letter? How does
the designer who wants to strike out on their own
plan to excel when they can't write their own marketing
materials or even a professional e-mail message
to a client? Learn to write. A designer who is able
to write well is worth their weight in gold.
Just out of school 25 years ago, due to very challenging
economic conditions and no job possibilities, I
began working as an independent designer. I would
not recommend that design students, just out of
school, take such a route in starting their career.
Seek out employment opportunities in the real world
of design firms, ad agencies and in-house design
departments. Once in those positions, become a "sponge"
and soak up all the information possible about the
business of design.
When a designer is ready to go out on their own
I do suggest they pay a great deal of attention
to their own "gut instinct" – it
will always be one of their best personal business
A designer's education never ends. As I write in
Savvy Designer's Guide to Success": "the
real world will kick you in the rear end as you
walk out those school doors for the last time –
and your design education will finally begin".
||To purchase Jeff Fisher's The
Savvy Designer's Guide to Success please click
||For information about Jeff Fisher