You never forget your first

Graphic design professor that is.
Stephen, a seasoned graphic designer/art director in DC, was my first professor in my graphic design program at BU’s CDIA. After a few months together, we bid him farewell this past Monday. It kind of felt like we were the baby birds leaving our mom’s nest for the first time. Silly analogy I know, but you get the point. Stephen made a big impression on me and I grew a lot as a beginning designer.
Besides my basic knowledge, he was the first one to introduce me to its history and all the design greats…Paul Rand (original logo designer), Milton Glaser (Push Pin Studio co-founder), Lester Beall, Paula Scher (rule breaker), Louis Dazinger, Saul Bass, Elizabeth Gilbert, Tom Waites, Herb Lubalin, Bradbury Thompson, Keith Haring, Neville Brody, Stefan Sagmeister (wild, entrepreneurial designer), Ellen Lupton (type black belt), and one of my absolute favorites…the wonderful Doyald Young (beautiful type designer/illustrator). Stephen was there for all our firsts, ranging from kerning to masking, our first crits, learning the Pantone system, and “mastering” bezier handles. It was a wild ride. And, we managed to have many laughs along the way… a key ingredient to fun learning experience and staying slightly sane.
Here’s a list of my major takeaways from class with Stephen…
  • Design is a BALANCE between content and form. You can’t just produce flashy designs without substance behind them.
  • In this field you are either a HAND (designer) or a BRAIN (art director leading ideas and strategy). It’s important to find where you fall to develop those specific skills.
  • The computer is just a TOOL. It’s good to draft things by hand at first (although he admitted he does it now all on the computer). Don’t just default to crazy effects in the computer – if you want a distressed look, grab a piece of paper and rub it on the pavement. Or crumple it into a ball. Looking for an image of something in particular? Hold a photo shoot. The possibilities are endless, so think boundlessly (but within budget of course).
  • Get involved in a design DIALOGUE on multiple platforms. Stephen’s the one who encouraged us to all start blogs, so that’s what brings me here today to bestow you with my wisdom and wit.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of doing RESEARCH. Never skip this step since it’s critical to coming up with good ideas. Good ideas also come from looking at other designer’s work for inspiration and even everyday moments like taking a walk in your neighborhood. Always be very OBSERVANT of your surroundings, and take pictures or notes to remember what you find.
  • Sketch, sketch, SKETCH. This gets the mind thinking and is a great way to get a visual concept started before executing in the computer and it gives you something you can even show to your client to get them on the same page.
  • KEEP UP with industry practices, news, and tools by readings books, websites, and magazines. Some of Stephen’s picks: Thinking With Type, Photoshop Bible, The Vignelli Canon, Stop Stealing Sheep and Find Out How Type Works, etc.
  • Continuously use the computer tools (Adobe platforms and the like) to EXERCISE your muscle memory on how to use them. This gets you conditioned to think in those terms and speaking that language. This is like exercising any muscle, you must keep working it.
  • Learn to MASTER three things: Pantone color system, using the pen tool, and masking
  • AVOID three things: drop shadows, type on paths (in most cases), and text straight out the box (without kerning, etc.)
  • If you have to rework a piece, always think about what design assets you can REPURPOSE. If the type worked, keep it. It will save you time in the end to not have to re-do everything.
  • A little COMPETITION among classmates and colleagues is a good thing. Too much is never good. Use a healthy amount of competitive to keep you striving for producing the best work you can.
  • Learn how to have OWNERSHIP in a team dynamic. Many client projects require working with others but this can be difficult in terms of maintaining your vision and sanity. But this is the reality, so you must make the best of it for yourself.
  • The client is the CLIENT, and they are always right. This is a customer service based industry, so like many industries, you have to keep that top of mind.
  • “Have fun with it”… AKA, make it work!!!

Visit Stephen’s blog here.


One thought on “You never forget your first

  1. Stephen Egts says:

    Wow. Those were really kind words. Your class was amazing and I wish I could continue on with you until the end. Just know that I am never going to be far away–even when you get out of school. You are very talented and I’m glad to see someone pays attention to all my blah, blah, blah:)

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