October 8, 2018No Comments

002 — Creative Thoughts with Nick Longo

[vc_row row_height_percent="0" override_padding="yes" h_padding="5" top_padding="0" bottom_padding="0" back_color="color-nhtu" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" column_width_percent="100" border_color="accent" border_style="solid" mobile_visibility="yes" shift_y="0" z_index="0"][vc_column width="1/3"][vc_empty_space empty_h="3"][vc_column_text]CREATIVE THOUGHTS WITH

Nick Longo

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][vc_separator sep_color="color-xsdn" el_height="3px"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][vc_column_text]Owner at Longo Designs, Professor, Speaker, and Cohost on Deeply Graphic Design Cast[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][vc_single_image media="66491" media_width_percent="22"][vc_empty_space empty_h="3" medium_visibility="yes" mobile_visibility="yes"][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_percent="100" position_vertical="bottom" align_horizontal="align_right" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" medium_width="0" mobile_width="0" shift_x="0" shift_y="0" shift_y_down="0" z_index="0" width="2/3"][vc_single_image media="66501" media_width_percent="100" alignment="center"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent="0" override_padding="yes" h_padding="5" top_padding="0" bottom_padding="0" back_color="color-nhtu" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" column_width_percent="100" border_color="accent" border_style="solid" desktop_visibility="yes" medium_visibility="yes" shift_y="0" z_index="0"][vc_column width="1/3"][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_column_text]CREATIVE THOUGHTS WITH

Nick Longo

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="3" mobile_visibility="yes"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1" desktop_visibility="yes" medium_visibility="yes"][vc_separator sep_color="color-xsdn" el_height="3px"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][vc_column_text]Owner at Longo Designs, Professor, Speaker,and Cohost on Deeply Graphic Design Cast[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="0"][vc_single_image media="66491" media_width_percent="22"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1" medium_visibility="yes" mobile_visibility="yes"][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_percent="100" position_vertical="bottom" align_horizontal="align_right" override_padding="yes" column_padding="0" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" medium_width="0" mobile_width="0" shift_x="0" shift_y="0" shift_y_down="0" z_index="0" width="2/3"][vc_single_image media="66501" media_width_percent="100" alignment="center"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row unlock_row="" row_height_percent="0" override_padding="yes" h_padding="5" top_padding="2" bottom_padding="0" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" column_width_percent="100" mobile_visibility="yes" shift_y="0" z_index="0"][vc_column width="3/4"][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_column_text]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

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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![/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_percent="100" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" medium_width="0" mobile_width="0" shift_x="0" shift_y="0" shift_y_down="0" z_index="0" sticky="yes" width="1/4"][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_separator sep_color="color-prif" el_height="3px"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][vc_column_text]

SHARE:

[/vc_column_text][uncode_share layout="multiple" bigger="yes"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row unlock_row="" row_height_percent="0" override_padding="yes" h_padding="5" top_padding="2" bottom_padding="0" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" column_width_percent="100" desktop_visibility="yes" medium_visibility="yes" shift_y="0" z_index="0"][vc_column width="3/4"][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_column_text]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
[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_separator sep_color="color-prif" el_height="3px"][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_column_text]

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![/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="2" mobile_visibility="yes"][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_percent="100" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" medium_width="0" mobile_width="0" shift_x="0" shift_y="0" shift_y_down="0" z_index="0" sticky="yes" width="1/4"][vc_separator sep_color="color-prif" el_height="3px"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][vc_column_text]

SHARE:

[/vc_column_text][uncode_share layout="multiple" bigger="yes"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent="0" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" column_width_percent="100" mobile_visibility="yes" shift_y="0" z_index="0"][vc_column width="1/1"][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][/vc_column][/vc_row]

June 8, 2018No Comments

001 — Creative Thoughts with Erik Reagan

[vc_row row_height_percent="0" override_padding="yes" h_padding="5" top_padding="0" bottom_padding="0" back_color="color-nhtu" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" column_width_percent="100" border_color="accent" border_style="solid" mobile_visibility="yes" shift_y="0" z_index="0"][vc_column width="1/3"][vc_empty_space empty_h="3"][vc_column_text]CREATIVE THOUGHTS WITH

Erik Reagan

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="3" mobile_visibility="yes"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1" desktop_visibility="yes" medium_visibility="yes"][vc_separator sep_color="color-xsdn" el_height="3px"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][vc_column_text]Co-Founder & Operations Director of Focus Lab LLC[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][vc_single_image media="66297" media_width_percent="22"][vc_empty_space empty_h="3" medium_visibility="yes" mobile_visibility="yes"][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_percent="100" position_vertical="bottom" align_horizontal="align_right" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" medium_width="0" mobile_width="0" shift_x="0" shift_y="0" shift_y_down="0" z_index="0" width="2/3"][vc_single_image media="66344" media_width_percent="100" alignment="center"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent="0" override_padding="yes" h_padding="5" top_padding="0" bottom_padding="0" back_color="color-nhtu" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" column_width_percent="100" border_color="accent" border_style="solid" desktop_visibility="yes" medium_visibility="yes" shift_y="0" z_index="0"][vc_column width="1/3"][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_column_text]CREATIVE THOUGHTS WITH

Erik Reagan

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="3" mobile_visibility="yes"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1" desktop_visibility="yes" medium_visibility="yes"][vc_separator sep_color="color-xsdn" el_height="3px"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][vc_column_text]Co-Founder & Operations Director of Focus Lab LLC[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="0"][vc_single_image media="66297" media_width_percent="22"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1" medium_visibility="yes" mobile_visibility="yes"][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_percent="100" position_vertical="bottom" align_horizontal="align_right" override_padding="yes" column_padding="0" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" medium_width="0" mobile_width="0" shift_x="0" shift_y="0" shift_y_down="0" z_index="0" width="2/3"][vc_single_image media="66344" media_width_percent="100" alignment="center"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row unlock_row="" row_height_percent="0" override_padding="yes" h_padding="5" top_padding="2" bottom_padding="0" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" column_width_percent="100" mobile_visibility="yes" shift_y="0" z_index="0"][vc_column width="3/4"][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_column_text]It is my pleasure to introduce you to Erik Reagan, the Co-Founder and Operations Director at Focus Lab, a creative studio, in Savannah, Georgia. Erik and co-founder Bill Kenney launched Focus Lab in 2010 and have been rocking the design world ever since. You can read up on their “Origins” story here

Why is Focus Lab so great? For starters, they have over 100,000 followers on Dribbble and Instagram combined. Erik and Bill utilize those platforms to both share their latest work and discuss the process behind it. That information provides young designers with valuable insights.  They also pioneered Sidecar, a learning resource and marketplace for creative professionals built for designers by designers. On top of that, they’re latest endeavor is Quokka, a new online platform for creating and managing professional proposals. Quokka is currently in private beta mode but you can sign up for updates here.

Erik and I first connected on Twitter and he was gracious enough to take me up on my offer to do an interview. Erik is one of my favorite creative professionals to follow and I’m thrilled to share my discussion with him.

You can follow Erik here:
TwitterInstagramMediumNewsletter[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="3"][vc_separator sep_color="color-prif" el_height="3px"][vc_empty_space empty_h="3"][vc_column_text]

You and Bill launched Focus Lab in 2010. After several years of working together how do you balance your leadership roles?

In the first few years we didn’t really give a lot of thought to distinct leadership roles. Over time we recognized some natural strengths, thought, and started leveraging them intentionally. Initially Bill focused heavily on leading our design efforts while I focused on leading our development efforts. But we realized we needed someone doing more “business-y” things with more intention. So we decided that I would scale down my development work and time and focus on very purposefully building a strong business foundation. That’s mostly continued to today where I am responsible for our Operations while Bill is our Creative Director.

 

Since Focus Lab’s inception and throughout your journey there is no doubt you’ve picked up a lot of industry experience. Now, you’re sharing that wisdom through Sidecar. How did this design resource center come about and where do you see it going?

Sidecar was originally an idea for us to sell CMS plugins and create a revenue stream that wasn’t tied to client services. We tabled that idea after some research though. It wasn’t right for us at the time. A couple of years later we revisited the idea of creating a new revenue stream. We found a great opportunity in creating a place where we could sell helpful tools and assets to our fellow design community members while coupling that with educational content. We launched Sidecar two years ago and it’s been wonderful to have it out there!

As with most “side projects,” we had a lot of ideas for Sidecar that didn’t make it into the 2015 launch. This year we’re launching a new version of the Sidecar site that realizes more of this original vision. Our team is beyond excited to ship this!

 

We first connected via Twitter after I shared your Medium article “5 Confessions of This Public Speaker ”. When it comes to public speaking and presenting, what tips or advice can you give? What struggles did you face and how did you overcome them?

I love teaching in any format. The main reason is that I learn so much when I do it. My simplest tip for public speaking is to just give it a try somewhere. There are organizations like ToastMasters that provide a good entry point to practicing and learning the art. (I’ve never participated in a ToastMasters but I’ve heard good things.) There was also a book I read that really helped my speaking. It’s called Steal the Show and gave really practical pointers and steps to improving public speaking.

My main struggle in speaking has been overcoming imposter syndrome. The first time I was asked to speak about something my immediate thought was, “Why would anyone want to hear me talk about that? I’m not qualified to be a speaker.” But that inner voice was wrong. Most of us have some form of that inner voice. And we need to work hard to shut it down when it comes up.

 

What books or articles would you recommend reading for the young entrepreneur or graphic designer?

Entrepreneurship books I love to recommend are The E-Myth, Street Smarts, The Advantage, and EntreLeadership. For the graphic designer who isn’t worried about building a business I’d recommend QBQ!, IdeaSelling, and Crucial Conversations. These last three mostly center around communication which is an area that can be challenging for many in the creative services world.

 

Before Focus Lab, you were a worship leader at a church. How has religion and your faith influenced you in running a design agency?

I think there are two key ways my faith has influenced me running Focus Lab.

The first is that I don’t look to Focus Lab to set or define my worth. Whether the company succeeds or fails, whether it’s booming or busting, my sense of self-worth is intact all the same. I derive that sense of worth from Jesus and what I believe He did for me and you.

The second is simply how I treat people. I can’t claim I do this 100% of the time, but my goal is to treat people with compassion, respect, and love. That includes my team, our peers, and our clients alike. I recognize that these things aren’t unique to my faith, or to Jesus’ teachings, but I can tie my connection to these things to my faith directly.

 

Focus Lab has an impressive following on Dribbble and Instagram with over 100,000 followers combined. How have these social platforms influenced the way you run your company? (Side note: on an episode of Overtime, Bill talked about his early days on Dribbble and how to grow a following)

These tools fall into two main categories for me. There’s professional improvement and feedback (mostly Dribbble, particularly in its earlier days) and then there’s marketing. Instagram has mostly just been a marketing tool for us while Dribbble has been both marketing and development. The interview you mentioned in the question talks a good bit to that. I also wrote an article about how our use of Dribbble has affected Focus Lab. Lastly, Bill recently wrote an article that may be of interest which speaks to growing a design audience.

 

When was the first moment you realized you had something special with Focus Lab and felt like you were finally “off and running”?

This is a tough one. I’ve had many moments where I sit back and genuinely acknowledge that we have something special at Focus Lab—and that it’s not something that “just happened.” One event comes to mind from about 4 years ago. We posted a job opening for a designer and we were overwhelmed with literally hundreds of applicants. I think we were somewhere over 600 or so. Our team was something like 13 or 14 people at the time.

Six. Hundred. People. Wanted to work at Focus Lab. That was awe inspiring. It was a good reminder that we were building something people wanted to be a part of.

 

How do you find such exceptional talent at Focus Lab? What do you look for in an employee?

There’s an excellent book by Patrick Lencioni called The Ideal Team Player. In this book Lencioni describes three core traits that every great team member will have. They are humble, hungry, and smart.

The humble is fairly self-explanatory, but this is someone who knows they still have much to learn—no matter how far along in their career. The hunger comes in the form of wanting what’s ahead of them. It’s about a dissatisfaction with their own status quo and the drive to continually get better. The smart part is mostly about people smarts. It’s about soft skills and communication.

This book goes into detail on these three traits and I encourage everyone to read it. It will either help you become a better team member yourself, or help you find, hire, and/or develope team members who work for you.

So when it comes to finding team members like this, I think there are a few things that work for us. The main one, though, is that we’ve been working hard to build a company where great people want to work.

 

Between Focus Lab, Sidecar and Quokka how do you keep it all running so smoothly?

It’s easy to say it runs smoothly when you’re looking from the outside in. It’s not chaotic or falling apart by any means. But there are always things we’re trying to improve and smooth out. Your question brings out one of the things we’re still trying to figure out.

We aren’t running Focus Lab, Sidecar, and Quokka in the way I hope we can someday. It’s pretty difficult to balance them all. The general idea is that Sidecar and Quokka are treated like clients of Focus Lab (even though they’re brands within a single entity). One day I expect Sidecar and Quokka to have their own teams. But for now we’re all just one team working on all three where needed. That won’t work long-term though so we’re working on some ideas that we hope help make this smoother over time.

 

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

When I was coming up in school I hated reading. Nearly every reading assignment frustrated me and I dreaded having to do the work related to the reading. So I assumed I just hated reading as a whole. That stuck with me for a good while, until I was about 23 or 24.

I was encouraged to pick up a book about business or leadership (I can’t remember which one). I read it and it blew my mind. There were only ~150 pages but those pages were rich with content worth well beyond the $14.95 I probably paid for it. Immediately I fell in love with reading. I realized that it wasn’t reading that I hated. I just hated reading things I wasn’t interested in reading.

I’ve read a lot since then. And I can connect many ideas at Focus Lab to books I’ve either read or listened to. If I had to claim a “secret weapon” that Bill and I have discovered at Focus Lab, it would be reading great books that stretch, challenge, and teach us.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_percent="100" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" medium_width="0" mobile_width="0" shift_x="0" shift_y="0" shift_y_down="0" z_index="0" sticky="yes" width="1/4"][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_separator sep_color="color-prif" el_height="3px"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][vc_column_text]

SHARE:

[/vc_column_text][uncode_share layout="multiple" bigger="yes"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row unlock_row="" row_height_percent="0" override_padding="yes" h_padding="5" top_padding="2" bottom_padding="0" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" column_width_percent="100" desktop_visibility="yes" medium_visibility="yes" shift_y="0" z_index="0"][vc_column width="3/4"][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_column_text]It is my pleasure to introduce you to Erik Reagan, the Co-Founder and Operations Director at Focus Lab, a creative studio, in Savannah, Georgia. Erik and co-founder Bill Kenney launched Focus Lab in 2010 and have been rocking the design world ever since. You can read up on their “Origins” story here

Why is Focus Lab so great? For starters, they have over 100,000 followers on Dribbble and Instagram
combined. Erik and Bill utilize those platforms to both share their latest work and discuss the process behind it. That information provides young designers with valuable insights. They also pioneered Sidecar, a learning resource and marketplace for creative professionals built for designers by designers. On top of that, they’re latest endeavor is Quokka, a new online platform for creating and managing professional proposals. Quokka is currently in private beta mode but you can sign up for updates here.

Erik and I first connected on Twitter and he was gracious enough to take me up on my offer to do an interview. Erik is one of my favorite creative professionals to follow and I’m thrilled to share my discussion with him.

You can follow Erik here:
TwitterInstagram,
MediumNewsletter
[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_separator sep_color="color-prif" el_height="3px"][vc_empty_space empty_h="2"][vc_column_text]

You and Bill launched Focus Lab in 2010. After several years of working together how do you balance your leadership roles?

In the first few years we didn’t really give a lot of thought to distinct leadership roles. Over time we recognized some natural strengths, thought, and started leveraging them intentionally. Initially Bill focused heavily on leading our design efforts while I focused on leading our development efforts. But we realized we needed someone doing more “business-y” things with more intention. So we decided that I would scale down my development work and time and focus on very purposefully building a strong business foundation. That’s mostly continued to today where I am responsible for our Operations while Bill is our Creative Director.

 

Since Focus Lab’s inception and throughout your journey there is no doubt you’ve picked up a lot of industry experience. Now, you’re sharing that wisdom through Sidecar. How did this design resource center come about and where do you see it going?

Sidecar was originally an idea for us to sell CMS plugins and create a revenue stream that wasn’t tied to client services. We tabled that idea after some research though. It wasn’t right for us at the time. A couple of years later we revisited the idea of creating a new revenue stream. We found a great opportunity in creating a place where we could sell helpful tools and assets to our fellow design community members while coupling that with educational content. We launched Sidecar two years ago and it’s been wonderful to have it out there!

As with most “side projects,” we had a lot of ideas for Sidecar that didn’t make it into the 2015 launch. This year we’re launching a new version of the Sidecar site that realizes more of this original vision. Our team is beyond excited to ship this!

 

We first connected via Twitter after I shared your Medium article “5 Confessions of This Public Speaker ”. When it comes to public speaking and presenting, what tips or advice can you give? What struggles did you face and how did you overcome them?

I love teaching in any format. The main reason is that I learn so much when I do it. My simplest tip for public speaking is to just give it a try somewhere. There are organizations like ToastMasters that provide a good entry point to practicing and learning the art. (I’ve never participated in a ToastMasters but I’ve heard good things.) There was also a book I read that really helped my speaking. It’s called Steal the Show and gave really practical pointers and steps to improving public speaking.

My main struggle in speaking has been overcoming imposter syndrome. The first time I was asked to speak about something my immediate thought was, “Why would anyone want to hear me talk about that? I’m not qualified to be a speaker.” But that inner voice was wrong. Most of us have some form of that inner voice. And we need to work hard to shut it down when it comes up.

 

What books or articles would you recommend reading for the young entrepreneur or graphic designer?

Entrepreneurship books I love to recommend are The E-Myth, Street Smarts, The Advantage, and EntreLeadership. For the graphic designer who isn’t worried about building a business I’d recommend QBQ!, IdeaSelling, and Crucial Conversations. These last three mostly center around communication which is an area that can be challenging for many in the creative services world.

 

Before Focus Lab, you were a worship leader at a church. How has religion and your faith influenced you in running a design agency?

I think there are two key ways my faith has influenced me running Focus Lab.

The first is that I don’t look to Focus Lab to set or define my worth. Whether the company succeeds or fails, whether it’s booming or busting, my sense of self-worth is intact all the same. I derive that sense of worth from Jesus and what I believe He did for me and you.

The second is simply how I treat people. I can’t claim I do this 100% of the time, but my goal is to treat people with compassion, respect, and love. That includes my team, our peers, and our clients alike. I recognize that these things aren’t unique to my faith, or to Jesus’ teachings, but I can tie my connection to these things to my faith directly.

 

Focus Lab has an impressive following on Dribbble and Instagram with over 100,000 followers combined. How have these social platforms influenced the way you run your company? (Side note: on an episode of Overtime, Bill talked about his early days on Dribbble and how to grow a following)

These tools fall into two main categories for me. There’s professional improvement and feedback (mostly Dribbble, particularly in its earlier days) and then there’s marketing. Instagram has mostly just been a marketing tool for us while Dribbble has been both marketing and development. The interview you mentioned in the question talks a good bit to that. I also wrote an article about how our use of Dribbble has affected Focus Lab. Lastly, Bill recently wrote an article that may be of interest which speaks to growing a design audience.

 

When was the first moment you realized you had something special with Focus Lab and felt like you were finally “off and running”?

This is a tough one. I’ve had many moments where I sit back and genuinely acknowledge that we have something special at Focus Lab—and that it’s not something that “just happened.” One event comes to mind from about 4 years ago. We posted a job opening for a designer and we were overwhelmed with literally hundreds of applicants. I think we were somewhere over 600 or so. Our team was something like 13 or 14 people at the time.

Six. Hundred. People. Wanted to work at Focus Lab. That was awe inspiring. It was a good reminder that we were building something people wanted to be a part of.

 

How do you find such exceptional talent at Focus Lab? What do you look for in an employee?

There’s an excellent book by Patrick Lencioni called The Ideal Team Player. In this book Lencioni describes three core traits that every great team member will have. They are humble, hungry, and smart.

The humble is fairly self-explanatory, but this is someone who knows they still have much to learn—no matter how far along in their career. The hunger comes in the form of wanting what’s ahead of them. It’s about a dissatisfaction with their own status quo and the drive to continually get better. The smart part is mostly about people smarts. It’s about soft skills and communication.

This book goes into detail on these three traits and I encourage everyone to read it. It will either help you become a better team member yourself, or help you find, hire, and/or develope team members who work for you.

So when it comes to finding team members like this, I think there are a few things that work for us. The main one, though, is that we’ve been working hard to build a company where great people want to work.

 

Between Focus Lab, Sidecar and Quokka how do you keep it all running so smoothly?

It’s easy to say it runs smoothly when you’re looking from the outside in. It’s not chaotic or falling apart by any means. But there are always things we’re trying to improve and smooth out. Your question brings out one of the things we’re still trying to figure out.

We aren’t running Focus Lab, Sidecar, and Quokka in the way I hope we can someday. It’s pretty difficult to balance them all. The general idea is that Sidecar and Quokka are treated like clients of Focus Lab (even though they’re brands within a single entity). One day I expect Sidecar and Quokka to have their own teams. But for now we’re all just one team working on all three where needed. That won’t work long-term though so we’re working on some ideas that we hope help make this smoother over time.

 

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

When I was coming up in school I hated reading. Nearly every reading assignment frustrated me and I dreaded having to do the work related to the reading. So I assumed I just hated reading as a whole. That stuck with me for a good while, until I was about 23 or 24.

I was encouraged to pick up a book about business or leadership (I can’t remember which one). I read it and it blew my mind. There were only ~150 pages but those pages were rich with content worth well beyond the $14.95 I probably paid for it. Immediately I fell in love with reading. I realized that it wasn’t reading that I hated. I just hated reading things I wasn’t interested in reading.

I’ve read a lot since then. And I can connect many ideas at Focus Lab to books I’ve either read or listened to. If I had to claim a “secret weapon” that Bill and I have discovered at Focus Lab, it would be reading great books that stretch, challenge, and teach us.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space empty_h="2" mobile_visibility="yes"][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_percent="100" overlay_alpha="50" gutter_size="3" medium_width="0" mobile_width="0" shift_x="0" shift_y="0" shift_y_down="0" z_index="0" sticky="yes" width="1/4"][vc_separator sep_color="color-prif" el_height="3px"][vc_empty_space empty_h="1"][vc_column_text]

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