CREATIVE THOUGHTS WITH

Nick Longo


Owner at Longo Designs, Professor, Speaker, and Cohost on Deeply Graphic Design Cast

CREATIVE THOUGHTS WITH

Nick Longo


Owner at Longo Designs, Professor, Speaker,and Cohost on Deeply Graphic Design Cast

I’m a big fan of Nick Longo and it’s hard not to be if you’re a Graphic Designer. If you hang around the design world long enough it’s almost a guarantee you will run into one of his podcasts, articles, speaking engagements or live streams. With over 20 years of experience, Nick shares his wisdom across many platforms helping young designers all over the world.

Nick’s been endorsed by Adobe as a senior lecturer, led workshops with General Assembly and is a design instructor at his alma mater, California State University-Northridge teaching senior graphic design courses. That’s enough to fill anyone’s plate but on top of that Nick co-hosts a very popular podcast called Deeply Graphic Design Cast, a design-driven podcast specializing in all aspects of graphic design. That’s not all, Nick is also a working professional and runs his own design agency called Longo Designs out of Los Angeles.

With such an impressive and extensive resume it’d be easy for an elite creative to get a big ego. However, Nick is one of the most charismatic and generous creative leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to. 

You can follow Nick here:
Longo Designs, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Behance, Dribbble,
Medium


Quite frankly, it seems like there isn’t a frontier in the creative realm that you haven’t tackled. What is your philosophy on marketing yourself and giving back to the design community?

I wish I can say I’ve figured out how to market myself. It seems like ever evolving topic. If you keep your eye on marketing trends, you’ll get inspiration from great examples out there. I always try to keep the focus on my unique offering that sets me apart from others. You can’t just take a marketing strategy from someone and substitute it into your branding and marketing. Figure out what makes you different and what a client might find as a huge benefit working with you. Make a list of all these benefits and let it be the inspiration for everything you use to market yourself. Make sure you can back these up with strong examples and rationale. Great creative and design is almost expected, so use this opportunity to showcase your communication and copywriting skills. Designers need to “talk” to potential clients with clear and concise copy that  gives them some idea of your values and skills. Don’t design your website and marketing collateral to impress other designers, create it to attract the right clients!

As for giving back, that has become the most rewarding part of my career. It hit me, when I started teaching, that we all have knowledge to share with those next in line. I’ve always been extremely lucky and fortunate to have incredible mentors in my career. People who made such a difference and impact, that I carry their insight and enthusiasm with me with every project I tackle. When I became a teacher, I soon discovered my absolute joy in giving back. It kind of opened up a huge opportunity for me to use my experience and make a difference with the young designers I had the pleasure of working with. Then came the opportunity to join the Deeply Graphic Designcast, and that audience opened up to creatives all over the world. Nothing makes me more happy than hearing from listeners who take the time to write and let us know we helped them through a dilemma or offered some positive inspiration to keep hustling.

With both roles, I think back to every designer who took the time to answer an email, chat at a conference, or dropped some mind-blowing knowledge. I will always make the time to help someone out. Not only is it just a great feeling, but when you see (and witness) the difference it makes in someone, it’s beyond gratifying.


You successfully developed 1,000+ product launches in all industries while specializing in retail. In your opinion, why should designers or agencies have a niche?

There’s no easy way to answer this question. I like to think that each designer (or agency) grows into a specialty or niche naturally, through years of experience, triumphs and preference. I don’t believe you can just jump right into one and be successful at any “one” thing. The whole idea here is to identify some specialty you have and then hone in on that and particular area as you evolve.

You can’t rush this process. For me, it took several years to identify one particular area to focus on. In my first few years as a branding agency, I was heavily working in the toy and product industries as most of my experience was in this area. It was just a matter of association. Soon, I landed a few food and beverage brands. Luckily, our work was discovered by restaurant and brewery businesses, looking for a one-stop branding studio to handle their launch. Within a year or two, a good designer friend of mine said, “why don’t you promote  yourself as a food, beverage and restaurant branding studio?” I was like, “wow, why haven’t I thought of that!!”

To be honest, I was afraid of becoming a niche studio, it seemed so limiting. How would I keep the company alive with a limited pool of possible new clients? Then I found inspiration and confidence in so many boutique agencies out there with successful case studies in one particular area. So I began changing the conversation, on my website, on my marketing collateral and my elevator speech. I found that it opened more opportunities as I positioned myself as a specialist, which came with a newfound confidence that potential clients found reassuring. I still position the studio as a specialist and it has lead to some really awesome new projects, however I still entertain ANY creative project that comes along.

I think it important to say that your “specialty” doesn’t just have to be a specific industry or creative style.

Your specialty can be:

  • Packaging Design
  • Illustrative + Graphic Design
  • UI/UX Design
  • Rebranding or Brand Creation

Whatever it is, let it naturally evolve and you’ll discover exactly what makes you stand out!


You are one of the most prolific creative professionals working today. As business owner, professor, mentor, speaker, podcast host and designer how are you able to engage in such a diverse range of activities at such a high professional level?

Thanks, Matt. I appreciate you saying that. By far, the one factor that has helped me develop good time management skills in my previous agency experience prior to Longo Designs. I have been fortunate to work in some of the most energetic environments, with the most talented people. It’s SO important for any creative to work in a thriving environment where others rely on you. Not just for your creative abilities, but for your professionalism, scheduling, organization skills, willingness to compromise, flexibility and overall enthusiasm. My years in these scenarios has given me an arsenal of abilities to take on any challenge that comes my way. You need to know how embrace the things you can’t change and empower the things you can. Once I became one of the principles of the company, I soon learned how to juggle not only my responsibilities but all the obligations of our team. You’re juggling so many balls in the air, that it becomes second nature. Surrounded by coworkers that share those same skills, you become a well-oiled machine ready to take those attributes to the next endeavor.

Once Longo Designs started, I took all these competencies and just took off. I had a strong “whatever it takes” mentality thanks to my years of experience. It didn’t start with full plate of obligations and roles, but gradually each new role presented itself as an incredible new venture. Before this, I said no to every opportunity because my role was so demanding and I couldn’t take on anything more. But once my business started, I had this tenacity to take on anything that came my way. My teaching gig came about after being a quest speaker at my school. Two weeks later, a teaching opening presented itself and I took it.

The Podcast came about even more interestingly.  I was a listener and recognized that one of the hosts was no longer on the show. So I took the initiative and contacted the team to propose they try me out as a replacement host. This role has given me the ability to reach a global audience and have made some amazing friends along the way, including you! Each one of these opportunities came my way, through luck, or good timing maybe, but you have to be ready and prepare to take them and be successful. The professional skills you gain working for a company and absorbing all the incredible virtues you are exposed to will give you all the prowess to be professional!

Some tips I learned that I still use today:

  • Set a schedule. I don’t go to sleep without a checklist /agenda for the next day
  • Book time on your calendar, even if it’s doing research, billing, lunch, or a break.
  • Take care of yourself! Eat well, drink water and stretch!
  • Be efficient. Find ways to consolidate process flow & streamline your time.
  • Be cautious, don’t take on more than you can handle.


The Deeply Graphic DesignCast has amassed over 160 episodes to date. As a co-host, how has the show evolved over the years and what advice would you give to someone looking to start their own podcast?

The “Podcast Question” I get asked all the time! So important to talk about this, as it’s such a huge platform to get your voice or conversation out there. I don’t claim to be an expert here, but I’m aware of what seems to work, and what doesn’t. I’ve just launched a second podcast, so this is fresh in my mind!

First, have a unique offering. Be super specific with your topic. You want to be able to define your idea in one sentence. It should be crystal clear what your podcast is. Your name, tagline, artwork, topics, etc. should all be cohesive. If your mission is unclear, you’ll confuse the audience and gain no listeners.

Second, be authentically you! Being yourself is super important right from the beginning. Don’t try to be anything or anyone else. Even if you’re not that comfortable hearing your voice. Who cares, we all think that of ourselves. Just find your mission and launch!

Third, identify your super fan. Who is your exact audience? Make a list of the typical personas that might find your podcast entertaining or educational. What are these folks craving? What would inspire them?

Fourth, encourage participation. Be sure to have a proper forum for listeners to join in on the conversation. You can ask specific questions, share stories and enable a community of like-minded people to enhance the whole podcast experience.


How do you prep your students for the “real world” of working as a professional designer?

Before developing my current curriculum, I identified 3 main pillars to focus on; Design Talent, Design Strategy, and Design Professionalism. Each of these disciplines cover most of the necessary skill sets I believe young designers need to succeed in the workforce. I deliver my lectures and projects as if we are a small design team/agency. I want to get them used to the collaborative spirit of working together, a faster pace process and the feeling of responsibility and deadlines.

Design Talent – This revolves heavily on the design principles we all need to know. Layout, typography, color, hierarchy, etc. Not only do I focus specifically on these principles, but they are also injected into the other pillars when appropriate. One of the hardest aspects of this area to teach is “taste.” So I expose students each day with current design news, rebrands and buzz-worthy blogs to open up the discussion and get them talking. I bring in some design professionals and colleagues to show them that there is no one way to design. Everyone has different rules and processes they follow, so this full-spectrum of design allows each student to slowly develop their own design taste and preferences.

Design Strategy – This might be the area I stress the most! I think it’s SO important for a designer to be marketer with strategic thinking so they’re more than just a pixel pusher / order taker. We work tirelessly on building creative briefs, setting the brand positioning statement, doing deep dive into discovery and identifying brand archetypes BEFORE doing a single sketch or design.

Design Professionalism – Having a solid portfolio is almost a given after graduation. In order for a recent grad to stand out above other talent, they must shine as a professional as well. People don’t hire portfolios, they hire people. I really stress this so students understand the value of communication, strong values and building a solid reputation. I provide workshops on public speaking, LinkedIn bootcamps, and studio tours. Students get to witness the value of being professional as a creative. No one wants to work with an over sensitive creative. I make sure they don’t become one.


How does the design community in Los Angeles differ from other parts of the country?

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the design community of Los Angeles is. L.A. is like 5 different major cities with diverse interests in influences. That’s what makes L.A. a great place to live, but it hasn’t been the best for me personally when it comes to a strong design community. I do try to attend meetups and have become a huge fan of Connecting Things, an Orange County based creative meetup, put together by my friends Jen & Amy Hood and Josh Ariza. They do a great job bringing guest speakers and local designers together once a month. I have definitely expanded my creative “circle of trust” through events like this and others like Dribbble and AIGA.

 

Throughout your career you’ve partnered with UCLA, Wix, General Assembly and Adobe as a lecturer and/or teacher. You have a unique style and voice that is approachable and confident. Where does that come from?

I’d have to attribute this to my parents. My dad was a creative and my mom an educator. Kind of like the perfect storm to raise a child with a perfect blend of imagination and structure. Even with this upbringing, my voice didn’t really evolve until I had a few years under my belt, experiencing so many ups and downs in my career. My parents always nurtured gratitude and appreciation, so I guess it was only organic for me to share my experiences with the next generation in line.

I can easily think back to the handful of people in my history who gave me those little “memory burns” of enlightening advice. Insight I will never forget and still share with young designers today. When someone takes the time to empower you with their wisdom, in an authentic and personal way, you can’t help but be inspired to do the same one day. When I see the light bulb ignite over one of my students, or receive an email from a podcast friend with a wholehearted  “thank you.” I seriously think of my parents almost immediately. There’s a strong lineage there for sure.


What have you learned from being a teacher?

Wow Matt, where do I start? This could be a whole article on its own. I might even be a bit slaphappy on this one as I’m seriously the proudest instructor when it comes to my students. So let me break it down so I can truly respond!!

Appreciation – I became an educator 6 years ago. I had a preconceived assumption of what these students might be like. I thought they would be entitled, anxious, and not ready to do the hard work I has planning in my curriculum. I couldn’t be more wrong! They were beyond welcoming and enthusiastic. Over the years, they have completely changed my opinion by showcasing complete commitment to their studies.

The Desire to Learn – It’s so amazing to see young designers eager to learn! I’m continually blown away at how much people want to learn our craft and get to work. It’s made me a better educator, coming up with new projects, in-class challenges and more transparent conversations. I’ve learned that if you deliver a solid lesson with a strong foundation, students will take that information and run with it. I’ve also been fortunate to take some of these skills to the Adobe Live audience, sharing some of my lesson plans to a global audience. People are trying so hard to become professional designers. I’ve seen it and I appreciate it more than ever.

Preparation – Super simple… if you wing it, you’ll lose their attention. You have to prepare EVERY class session with a set agenda, room for flexibility and a emphasis on participation and conversation.

Change is Good – Students and trends change. So the curriculum has to dynamically change with the industry. The last thing I want is a bunch of my students out there in the job market with the same exact projects in their portfolios. I get project ideas from my clients, design blogs or even a Target run! I want to stay fresh for the students.

Don’t Take it Personally – Unfortunately, there are always some students that might not share your enthusiasm and passion. I used to take it so personally if a student didn’t take full advantage of the course I created and the dedication I bring to the classroom. Now, I realize, if they just want to drift through a semester, it’s their loss. That just gives me more time to spend with students who want to learn and appreciate our tenacity as educators.


What professional development books have a permanent spot on your bookshelf?

I’ll admit it, I’ve never been much of a reader. Thankfully, when I’ve needed to sharpen my skills or turn to someone who might have some insightful knowledge, I’ve turned to some worthwhile books to help me out.

The Archetypes of Branding – Recommended by young designer Stephen Maya, this book has changed the way I tackle all new branding initiatives. It’s chock full of useful and mind-blowing rationale to help identify a brand’s personality and what would drive a typical consumer, persuading them to buy the product. It’s like the secret sauce to brand development. Buy it. It will make you a stronger designer.

Brand by Hand – My friend Jon Contino has crafted an impressive book, documenting his journey as a graphic artist with his passion for pen and ink. He gave us a sneak peak while recording an episode of our podcast and it’s an unbelievable. I predict it’s going to be the next “must-have” for every designer.

Anything from Tim Ferriss – I love Tim’s approach on life hacks, tips from titans and efficiencies we can all appreciate. He does all the homework, testing and research to bring you some of the most solid and condensed advice in easy to read books, regardless of what industry you are in.


Freestyle: Please use this last part to share something we haven’t covered but would like the creative community to know about you!

Some parting notes:

Be passionate, not precious. Be adventurous, spirited and full of dedication. But don’t be precious in your design career. It means you’ve lost perspective and can’t see the work objectively anymore. Be cooperative and learn to compromise with your work teams. It should never be “your way or the highway.”

No one wants to work with an overly sensitive creative. The opportunities for creatives to rise the corporate ladder are greater than ever. You need to shatter the old myth that creatives are difficult to work with. In design, the goal is to understand the consumer and build a design solution that will strike a chord with the target audience. Personal preference has no place here.

Be Humble and Thankful. Being humble will get you a long way. I’ve always appreciated that in people and strive to keep that attribute. While you’re staying so positive, be thankful you have picked a creative career that can adapt and evolve as it continues to mature. Everyone I know it the industry thoroughly enjoys what they do. Make your own luck, develop a strong network and give back when you get where you’re going!

I’m a big fan of Nick Longo and it’s hard not to be if you’re a Graphic Designer. If you hang around the design world long enough it’s almost a guarantee you will run into one of his podcasts, articles, speaking engagements or live streams. With over 20 years of experience, Nick shares his wisdom across many platforms helping young designers all over the world.

Nick’s been endorsed by Adobe as a senior lecturer, led workshops with General Assembly and is a design instructor at his alma mater, California State University-Northridge teaching senior graphic design courses. That’s enough to fill anyone’s plate but on top of that Nick co-hosts a very popular podcast called Deeply Graphic Design Cast, a design-driven podcast specializing in all aspects of graphic design. That’s not all, Nick is also a working professional and runs his own design agency called Longo Designs out of Los Angeles.

With such an impressive and extensive resume it’d be easy for an elite creative to get a big ego. However, Nick is one of the most charismatic and generous creative leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to. 

You can follow Nick here:
Longo Designs, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Behance, Dribbble, Medium


Quite frankly, it seems like there isn’t a frontier in the creative realm that you haven’t tackled. What is your philosophy on marketing yourself and giving back to the design community?

I wish I can say I’ve figured out how to market myself. It seems like ever evolving topic. If you keep your eye on marketing trends, you’ll get inspiration from great examples out there. I always try to keep the focus on my unique offering that sets me apart from others. You can’t just take a marketing strategy from someone and substitute it into your branding and marketing. Figure out what makes you different and what a client might find as a huge benefit working with you. Make a list of all these benefits and let it be the inspiration for everything you use to market yourself. Make sure you can back these up with strong examples and rationale. Great creative and design is almost expected, so use this opportunity to showcase your communication and copywriting skills. Designers need to “talk” to potential clients with clear and concise copy that  gives them some idea of your values and skills. Don’t design your website and marketing collateral to impress other designers, create it to attract the right clients!

As for giving back, that has become the most rewarding part of my career. It hit me, when I started teaching, that we all have knowledge to share with those next in line. I’ve always been extremely lucky and fortunate to have incredible mentors in my career. People who made such a difference and impact, that I carry their insight and enthusiasm with me with every project I tackle. When I became a teacher, I soon discovered my absolute joy in giving back. It kind of opened up a huge opportunity for me to use my experience and make a difference with the young designers I had the pleasure of working with. Then came the opportunity to join the Deeply Graphic Designcast, and that audience opened up to creatives all over the world. Nothing makes me more happy than hearing from listeners who take the time to write and let us know we helped them through a dilemma or offered some positive inspiration to keep hustling.

With both roles, I think back to every designer who took the time to answer an email, chat at a conference, or dropped some mind-blowing knowledge. I will always make the time to help someone out. Not only is it just a great feeling, but when you see (and witness) the difference it makes in someone, it’s beyond gratifying.


You successfully developed 1,000+ product launches in all industries while specializing in retail. In your opinion, why should designers or agencies have a niche?

There’s no easy way to answer this question. I like to think that each designer (or agency) grows into a specialty or niche naturally, through years of experience, triumphs and preference. I don’t believe you can just jump right into one and be successful at any “one” thing. The whole idea here is to identify some specialty you have and then hone in on that and particular area as you evolve.

You can’t rush this process. For me, it took several years to identify one particular area to focus on. In my first few years as a branding agency, I was heavily working in the toy and product industries as most of my experience was in this area. It was just a matter of association. Soon, I landed a few food and beverage brands. Luckily, our work was discovered by restaurant and brewery businesses, looking for a one-stop branding studio to handle their launch. Within a year or two, a good designer friend of mine said, “why don’t you promote  yourself as a food, beverage and restaurant branding studio?” I was like, “wow, why haven’t I thought of that!!”

To be honest, I was afraid of becoming a niche studio, it seemed so limiting. How would I keep the company alive with a limited pool of possible new clients? Then I found inspiration and confidence in so many boutique agencies out there with successful case studies in one particular area. So I began changing the conversation, on my website, on my marketing collateral and my elevator speech. I found that it opened more opportunities as I positioned myself as a specialist, which came with a newfound confidence that potential clients found reassuring. I still position the studio as a specialist and it has lead to some really awesome new projects, however I still entertain ANY creative project that comes along.

I think it important to say that your “specialty” doesn’t just have to be a specific industry or creative style.

Your specialty can be:

  • Packaging Design
  • Illustrative + Graphic Design
  • UI/UX Design
  • Rebranding or Brand Creation

Whatever it is, let it naturally evolve and you’ll discover exactly what makes you stand out!


You are one of the most prolific creative professionals working today. As business owner, professor, mentor, speaker, podcast host and designer how are you able to engage in such a diverse range of activities at such a high professional level?

Thanks, Matt. I appreciate you saying that. By far, the one factor that has helped me develop good time management skills in my previous agency experience prior to Longo Designs. I have been fortunate to work in some of the most energetic environments, with the most talented people. It’s SO important for any creative to work in a thriving environment where others rely on you. Not just for your creative abilities, but for your professionalism, scheduling, organization skills, willingness to compromise, flexibility and overall enthusiasm. My years in these scenarios has given me an arsenal of abilities to take on any challenge that comes my way. You need to know how embrace the things you can’t change and empower the things you can. Once I became one of the principles of the company, I soon learned how to juggle not only my responsibilities but all the obligations of our team. You’re juggling so many balls in the air, that it becomes second nature. Surrounded by coworkers that share those same skills, you become a well-oiled machine ready to take those attributes to the next endeavor.

Once Longo Designs started, I took all these competencies and just took off. I had a strong “whatever it takes” mentality thanks to my years of experience. It didn’t start with full plate of obligations and roles, but gradually each new role presented itself as an incredible new venture. Before this, I said no to every opportunity because my role was so demanding and I couldn’t take on anything more. But once my business started, I had this tenacity to take on anything that came my way. My teaching gig came about after being a quest speaker at my school. Two weeks later, a teaching opening presented itself and I took it.

The Podcast came about even more interestingly.  I was a listener and recognized that one of the hosts was no longer on the show. So I took the initiative and contacted the team to propose they try me out as a replacement host. This role has given me the ability to reach a global audience and have made some amazing friends along the way, including you! Each one of these opportunities came my way, through luck, or good timing maybe, but you have to be ready and prepare to take them and be successful. The professional skills you gain working for a company and absorbing all the incredible virtues you are exposed to will give you all the prowess to be professional!

Some tips I learned that I still use today:

  • Set a schedule. I don’t go to sleep without a checklist /agenda for the next day
  • Book time on your calendar, even if it’s doing research, billing, lunch, or a break.
  • Take care of yourself! Eat well, drink water and stretch!
  • Be efficient. Find ways to consolidate process flow & streamline your time.
  • Be cautious, don’t take on more than you can handle.


The Deeply Graphic DesignCast has amassed over 160 episodes to date. As a co-host, how has the show evolved over the years and what advice would you give to someone looking to start their own podcast?

The “Podcast Question” I get asked all the time! So important to talk about this, as it’s such a huge platform to get your voice or conversation out there. I don’t claim to be an expert here, but I’m aware of what seems to work, and what doesn’t. I’ve just launched a second podcast, so this is fresh in my mind!

First, have a unique offering. Be super specific with your topic. You want to be able to define your idea in one sentence. It should be crystal clear what your podcast is. Your name, tagline, artwork, topics, etc. should all be cohesive. If your mission is unclear, you’ll confuse the audience and gain no listeners.

Second, be authentically you! Being yourself is super important right from the beginning. Don’t try to be anything or anyone else. Even if you’re not that comfortable hearing your voice. Who cares, we all think that of ourselves. Just find your mission and launch!

Third, identify your super fan. Who is your exact audience? Make a list of the typical personas that might find your podcast entertaining or educational. What are these folks craving? What would inspire them?

Fourth, encourage participation. Be sure to have a proper forum for listeners to join in on the conversation. You can ask specific questions, share stories and enable a community of like-minded people to enhance the whole podcast experience.


How do you prep your students for the “real world” of working as a professional designer?

Before developing my current curriculum, I identified 3 main pillars to focus on; Design Talent, Design Strategy, and Design Professionalism. Each of these disciplines cover most of the necessary skill sets I believe young designers need to succeed in the workforce. I deliver my lectures and projects as if we are a small design team/agency. I want to get them used to the collaborative spirit of working together, a faster pace process and the feeling of responsibility and deadlines.

Design Talent – This revolves heavily on the design principles we all need to know. Layout, typography, color, hierarchy, etc. Not only do I focus specifically on these principles, but they are also injected into the other pillars when appropriate. One of the hardest aspects of this area to teach is “taste.” So I expose students each day with current design news, rebrands and buzz-worthy blogs to open up the discussion and get them talking. I bring in some design professionals and colleagues to show them that there is no one way to design. Everyone has different rules and processes they follow, so this full-spectrum of design allows each student to slowly develop their own design taste and preferences.

Design Strategy – This might be the area I stress the most! I think it’s SO important for a designer to be marketer with strategic thinking so they’re more than just a pixel pusher / order taker. We work tirelessly on building creative briefs, setting the brand positioning statement, doing deep dive into discovery and identifying brand archetypes BEFORE doing a single sketch or design.

Design Professionalism – Having a solid portfolio is almost a given after graduation. In order for a recent grad to stand out above other talent, they must shine as a professional as well. People don’t hire portfolios, they hire people. I really stress this so students understand the value of communication, strong values and building a solid reputation. I provide workshops on public speaking, LinkedIn bootcamps, and studio tours. Students get to witness the value of being professional as a creative. No one wants to work with an over sensitive creative. I make sure they don’t become one.


How does the design community in Los Angeles differ from other parts of the country?

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the design community of Los Angeles is. L.A. is like 5 different major cities with diverse interests in influences. That’s what makes L.A. a great place to live, but it hasn’t been the best for me personally when it comes to a strong design community. I do try to attend meetups and have become a huge fan of Connecting Things, an Orange County based creative meetup, put together by my friends Jen & Amy Hood and Josh Ariza. They do a great job bringing guest speakers and local designers together once a month. I have definitely expanded my creative “circle of trust” through events like this and others like Dribbble and AIGA.


Throughout your career you’ve partnered with UCLA, Wix, General Assembly and Adobe as a lecturer and/or teacher. You have a unique style and voice that is approachable and confident. Where does that come from?

I’d have to attribute this to my parents. My dad was a creative and my mom an educator. Kind of like the perfect storm to raise a child with a perfect blend of imagination and structure. Even with this upbringing, my voice didn’t really evolve until I had a few years under my belt, experiencing so many ups and downs in my career. My parents always nurtured gratitude and appreciation, so I guess it was only organic for me to share my experiences with the next generation in line.

I can easily think back to the handful of people in my history who gave me those little “memory burns” of enlightening advice. Insight I will never forget and still share with young designers today. When someone takes the time to empower you with their wisdom, in an authentic and personal way, you can’t help but be inspired to do the same one day. When I see the light bulb ignite over one of my students, or receive an email from a podcast friend with a wholehearted  “thank you.” I seriously think of my parents almost immediately. There’s a strong lineage there for sure.


What have you learned from being a teacher?

Wow Matt, where do I start? This could be a whole article on its own. I might even be a bit slaphappy on this one as I’m seriously the proudest instructor when it comes to my students. So let me break it down so I can truly respond!!

Appreciation – I became an educator 6 years ago. I had a preconceived assumption of what these students might be like. I thought they would be entitled, anxious, and not ready to do the hard work I has planning in my curriculum. I couldn’t be more wrong! They were beyond welcoming and enthusiastic. Over the years, they have completely changed my opinion by showcasing complete commitment to their studies.

The Desire to Learn – It’s so amazing to see young designers eager to learn! I’m continually blown away at how much people want to learn our craft and get to work. It’s made me a better educator, coming up with new projects, in-class challenges and more transparent conversations. I’ve learned that if you deliver a solid lesson with a strong foundation, students will take that information and run with it. I’ve also been fortunate to take some of these skills to the Adobe Live audience, sharing some of my lesson plans to a global audience. People are trying so hard to become professional designers. I’ve seen it and I appreciate it more than ever.

Preparation – Super simple… if you wing it, you’ll lose their attention. You have to prepare EVERY class session with a set agenda, room for flexibility and a emphasis on participation and conversation.

Change is Good – Students and trends change. So the curriculum has to dynamically change with the industry. The last thing I want is a bunch of my students out there in the job market with the same exact projects in their portfolios. I get project ideas from my clients, design blogs or even a Target run! I want to stay fresh for the students.

Don’t Take it Personally – Unfortunately, there are always some students that might not share your enthusiasm and passion. I used to take it so personally if a student didn’t take full advantage of the course I created and the dedication I bring to the classroom. Now, I realize, if they just want to drift through a semester, it’s their loss. That just gives me more time to spend with students who want to learn and appreciate our tenacity as educators.


What professional development books have a permanent spot on your bookshelf?

I’ll admit it, I’ve never been much of a reader. Thankfully, when I’ve needed to sharpen my skills or turn to someone who might have some insightful knowledge, I’ve turned to some worthwhile books to help me out.

The Archetypes of Branding – Recommended by young designer Stephen Maya, this book has changed the way I tackle all new branding initiatives. It’s chock full of useful and mind-blowing rationale to help identify a brand’s personality and what would drive a typical consumer, persuading them to buy the product. It’s like the secret sauce to brand development. Buy it. It will make you a stronger designer.

Brand by Hand – My friend Jon Contino has crafted an impressive book, documenting his journey as a graphic artist with his passion for pen and ink. He gave us a sneak peak while recording an episode of our podcast and it’s an unbelievable. I predict it’s going to be the next “must-have” for every designer.

Anything from Tim Ferriss – I love Tim’s approach on life hacks, tips from titans and efficiencies we can all appreciate. He does all the homework, testing and research to bring you some of the most solid and condensed advice in easy to read books, regardless of what industry you are in.


Freestyle: Please use this last part to share something we haven’t covered but would like the creative community to know about you!

Some parting notes:

Be passionate, not precious. Be adventurous, spirited and full of dedication. But don’t be precious in your design career. It means you’ve lost perspective and can’t see the work objectively anymore. Be cooperative and learn to compromise with your work teams. It should never be “your way or the highway.”

No one wants to work with an overly sensitive creative. The opportunities for creatives to rise the corporate ladder are greater than ever. You need to shatter the old myth that creatives are difficult to work with. In design, the goal is to understand the consumer and build a design solution that will strike a chord with the target audience. Personal preference has no place here.

Be Humble and Thankful. Being humble will get you a long way. I’ve always appreciated that in people and strive to keep that attribute. While you’re staying so positive, be thankful you have picked a creative career that can adapt and evolve as it continues to mature. Everyone I know it the industry thoroughly enjoys what they do. Make your own luck, develop a strong network and give back when you get where you’re going!