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A little more than half of the population of the Earth is female, yet only a little more than 14 percent of top executives are female. With a world of statistics against them, these inspirational women are models of global leadership. Taken as a whole, they embody an archetype of business inspiration that would benefit any gender:


5 Inspirational Women in Business

The Achiever

Listed as the 30th largest business in America by Forbes, Amway’s success in the United States rests largely on the shoulders of its regional president, Candace Matthews. Before Amway, she served as a marketing leader at SoftSheen for L’Oréal. With a MBA from Stanford, Matthews has been recognized numerous times in the industry, not the least of which is the 2009 Black Enterprise Magazine’s Corporate Executive of the Year. Matthews is known for her dual role as a driven leader and caring mentor. In an article for the Huffington Post, she attributes her determination to her parents and mentors, recommending to young women in business to find an honest mentor of their own.

The Money Maker

Although money is not everything, it is a good indicator of reputation. This puts Marissa Mayer at the head of the pack. The Yahoo! CEO is listed by CNBC as the highest paid female executive. After being hired from Google, Mayer has increased Yahoo!’s stock by 177 percent and its earnings by $9.5 billion. With Mayer there is no magic secret. She is successful because she is smart, driven and passionate, refusing to be made into a stereotype.

The Entrepreneur

Listed as the youngest self-made female billionaire in America by, Sara Blakely embodies the American dream. The founder of Spanx, Blakely sees mistakes as being just as important as success. She coaches young entrepreneurs of either gender to be unafraid of making mistakes. She says that the worst case scenario is that you become memorable. Now at the age of 44, Forbes places her net worth at $1.06 billion, which most would consider quite memorable.

The Rags to Riches Story

With only a few dollars in her pocket, Indra Nooyi came to the United States from India to earn a management degree. According to Real Business, she worked as a receptionist during the graveyard shift so she could buy her first business suit for an interview. Her hard work paid off, as Nooyi sits as the CEO of PepsiCo. Her advice to women in the workplace is simple: work twice as hard as your male, and any, counterparts.

The World Changer

Women in leadership roles have the ability to change the world’s beliefs. Global Vice-Chair of Public Policy at EY Beth Brooke-Marciniak understands this better than most. Named as one of the “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” seven times by Forbes, Brooke-Marciniak is a leader in diversity advocacy. Not only has she changed her own world, but she is committed to ushering in a new world of equality for everyone. Of the female business leader archetype, Brooke-Marciniak is the soul, calling for men and women to work together to eliminate workplace bias. Like many visionaries, she is calling for change now, not in some far-off future. She is looking toward a time when 50 percent of the population holds 50 percent of the leadership jobs.

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Everybody has thought about pursuing a creative field at one point or the other and many of us have been lucky enough to have careers that enable us to be creative. However, there are many ways to be creative even if you don’t work in any of the so-called creative fields.


How to create for a living image

As long as you’re introducing some kind of innovation in what you do, you’re being creative. The advantage of always trying out something new is that, sooner or later, you’re bound to hit upon something that works really well.

Try out the following tips. They can help you create for a living rather than just working for a living.

Wear something new.

This might seem like a strange suggestion to increase creativity but it’s very useful because everyone has to get dressed to go to work. Rather than wearing the same navy blue suits all the time, why not try something new? Creativity is one of those things that increases the more you do it. So if you’re creative in one aspect of your life, you’re likely to become creative in a different one as well.

Eat somewhere new.

Everyone gets caught up in the same patterns, taking the same food to work or ordering the same selections from the same places. We even tend to hang out with the same people when we go to work. Cliques form in all places, from high school cafeterias to break rooms at work. Why not try talking to someone new at work or going somewhere new to eat with them? Just start being adventurous in one way and you’ll find yourself becoming adventurous in other ways too.

Get a hobby.

Doing something creative in your spare time can be really relaxing and motivating. Take up ceramics. Meet new people. Start painting or drawing. Take your sketch pad and walk around the park until you find something you want to draw. Take some Tai Chi Qijong classes. You’ll start seeing yourself in a new way and others will too.

Start small at work.

If you’ve generally been following the same patterns at work, you probably don’t want to stun your coworkers with suggestions that will take a lot of effort. But there’s no harm in speaking up at meetings and suggesting small changes that you or others can make. Make sure that you phrase everything in a positive way which encourages people to agree with you.

Decorate your office space.

Most of us spend so much time working. From 9 to 5, we’re sitting in the same cubicles or offices. And yet, we don’t make any effort to make these spaces pleasant for ourselves. Get a print of your favorite artwork. Get a plant or two in brightly-colored pots. Pin up your favorite poem. If you’re not into art or poetry, there must be something you enjoy: music, movies, TV shows etc. It just helps to have something in your office space that reminds you of what you enjoy.

Contact us for more tips on how to create for a living.

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How to maximize your business through the use of micro sites…


What is a Micro Site?

Micro sites can be thought of as mini websites, usually ten pages or less, designed to provide specialized or in depth information about one specific product or service. Micro sites have their own navigation, very often their own domain and depending on its ultimate purpose it may or may not link back to the parent site. Subdomains are often used to isolate a micro site’s content while still maintaining brand relevance to the parent domain.

From an SEO stand point micro sites are useful due to their tightly focused, yet detailed content. This is also a good trait for Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising since relevancy can be established between keywords, ads and the micro site’s content, resulting in low bounce rates and higher conversion rates. When matched up with a very specific and relevant domain name and a check-out cart, a micro site can evolve into a highly efficient conversion site.

Can your business take advantage of a micro site’s specificity? It can, as long as you have a very specific product or service that you want to break out from your main website. What’s more, if you are able to acquire a domain name which closely matches the name of said product or service, you may be able to get a good page rank to quickly boost your sales.

Below are a few more micro site ideas for your business:

Product launches:
Micro sites offer a great opportunity to separate your new product or service from the white noise of the rest of your site. Micro sites product launches also look great on off-line media such as magazines, billboards, etc.

Excess inventory:
Micro sites capture your visitor’s attention much more than any link within your main site. Should you need to promote a particular product due to overstock, a micro site may be the perfect way to do it.

Holiday Sales:
Although by definition a micro site should have a tight focus, you may be able to develop a micro site with specialized holiday merchandise (the tight focus would be on the holiday). If this is the case, you may be able to develop a holiday micro site once and use it again and again, changing only the merchandise while maintaining a consistent site structure.

Highlighting a Particular Product:
You may also opt to create a micro site for a specific product which is selling particularly well or one that isn’t selling at all. Often time specificity and relevance can radically improve the conversion rate of a product or service. You may have a diamond in the rough somewhere in your inventory which could become a great seller in the spotlight of a micro site.

Although micro sites have a limited range of applications, they may just solve a very specific problem on your site. Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to discuss micro sites with you and how they may improve your bottom line.

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This article is provided here for your business success and creative inspiration by:

The Sherwood Group, located in Santa Clarita, California, just outside Los Angeles, has over 30 years of experience working with the graphic design, website design, and marketing communication challenges presented by clients, small and large. Our clients range from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies, through every business sector, from across the street to around the world. It’s not the size or industry that defines our clients. It’s their mindset.  Contact us by phone at 661-287-0017 or through our website so that we can help you think through your objectives and propose the best solution for your needs and your budget.

Social links (Like us on Facebook and we’ll return the favor):
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This year, web design tops all other internet marketing trends.


In an article from Startup Nation, they list 13 trends for 2013. Web design is listed first, followed by  five items that depend totally on graphic and web design. It’s clear that excellence in web design is finally taking center stage in Internet marketing circles as more and more users prefer visual marketing over plain text-based marketing. With the rise in popularity of image-based sites like Pinterest an Instagram, they join the already established video sharing sites like Youtube and Vimeo.

Here are the points with further discussion presented in the Startup Nation article:

  • Design Matters
  • Marketing Goes Visual
  • Parallax Design
  • Mobile Mobile Mobile
  • Video Video Video

Visual marketing a requirement

It appears it is no longer an option for marketers to invest in visuals for their marketing materials. Attractive visuals are now a vital piece of landing page design. It’s not just about making the page look pretty, either. It’s imperative that the images and videos are integrated nicely into the marketing message. All elements must contribute to the entire user experience.

Mobile marketing

Marketing in 2013 means having pages that are friendly for all possible devices. This, too, is no longer an option. In 2012, there were early adopters of responsive design and mobile-specific web pages. Now, businesses must choose or else be seen as antiquated and unwilling to change. It is now unacceptable to have to widen the browser view in order to read text. It must be delivered readable as-is, or it goes down a few notches in the user’s mind.


Remarketing is not just for big brands anymore. It has now hit mainstream small businesses. In order to cut costs and improve the investment in advertising, all marketers need to consider how to capture the audience the first time so that they can continue to deliver their brand message.

A remarketing campaign can be as simple as asking for the visitor’s email address before they start their shopping cart experience. In this way, shopping cart abandonment does not have to hurt businesses as badly, as it did in the past.

Internet marketing practices continue to evolve over time, and it is always exciting to modify methodologies as consumer demand changes.

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Using Social Media to Position Yourself as The Go To Expert
How to Get More Business by Using a QR Code on Your Business Cards
How to Stay Out of Spam Filters AND Run a Successful Email Marketing Campaign
4 Time-Saving Ways to Generate More Online Sales via Email
The Secret Source of Never-Ending Customers and Clients
How to Successfully Localize Your Business
Use Google+ And Improve Your Search Engine Rankings

This article is provided here for your business education and inspiration by:

The Sherwood Group, located in Santa Clarita, California, just outside Los Angeles, has over 30 years of experience working with the graphic design, website design, and marketing communication challenges presented by clients, small and large. Our clients range from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies, through every business sector, from across the street to around the world. It’s not the size or industry that defines our clients. It’s their mindset.  Contact us by phone at 661-287-0017 or through our website so that we can help you think through your objectives and propose the best solution for your needs and your budget.

Social links (Like us on Facebook and we’ll return the favor):
LinkedIn | Facebook Graphic & Web Design | Facebook Color Printing | Twitter

Professional links:
Video Introduction
| Graphic and Web Design Site | Online Printing Site

Comments: Please note that we reject all posts that are clearly leaving a comment simply to acquire a back link. Only comment if you have something of value to share with our other readers.

We’d like to know: What’s your take on the success of your Internet marketing?

Success Ideas and Tips from Master Graphic Designer, Agustin Garza:
  • Embrace the people you work with and the people you work for.  I think they will be your friends for life. Build relationships that are meaningful.
  • Make sure that you practice your career on the basis of the things you love and that bring joy to your life.
  • Whatever you do now, websites, logos, I don’t care what you do.  Those things are just professional tracks that wiggle around in time, but the above two things will always be there.

Early Career:

It’s always fun to go back in memory, isn’t it?

After I graduated from Art Center, my first job in Mexico City was at what was then Cato Johnson, the design arm of Young & Rubicam.  Soon after I took that position I realized that my professional aspirations would be best met in the US.

I came to Los Angeles to work for Rod Dyer, and I worked for Rod doing a bunch of film and music entertainment work.

Then I moved up to San Francisco to work for SBG on projects that were more interesting to me, mostly in corporate identity and communications.

Going Into Business:

I love working with people and feel quite comfortable in creative collaboration, but I’m driven by personal goals.  I find it hard to follow.  I like to be in control of business decisions, of the type of clients and projects to engage in.

But thinking about my early beginnings makes me reflect back on the days when I decided to start my own business.  It feels like many years.  I would say that the Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) initiative between Mexico and USA gave me the impulse I needed. It was a very hot business opportunity back in the mid-80’s.

Latin America and the US were trying to figure out how to create a more open market and that interested me a great deal.

So at the time, many of my clients were companies in the US doing business in Latin America and vice versa. I understood both cultures and found myself in a great position to offer insight to some of those companies looking for that kind of engagement in both markets.  And we did good work for that market and had great results. This gave me the confidence and the courage to carry on.

New Business Development at First:

Most of my success came from previous relationships. Most of the work, at that time certainly, and I think to a degree continues to be the case today, was built on relationships with people that placed their trust in us.  And then slowly we began to build a name, back in those days we were particularly associated with the inter-cultural arena. Which today is not exactly my business model. I would say 25% of our business would be categorized as intercultural, but the rest is more general market work.

At that time, I would say, relationships made that happen.

Business Development Today:

Is the same now. Most of our business comes from relationships. I think relationships are a critical source of business.  But you know, having said that, one must be on a constant look-out for business opportunities in the open market and try to find in them personal contacts that can leverage you in.

Often we get calls from people that have seen our work but don’t necessarily know us personally. But in general, the lighting match is a personal relationship.

People Who Have Influenced Agustin:

The most significant professional influences in my life have been the few, rare clients that I’ve worked with who have been a source of tremendous knowledge and inspiration.

As far as design influences, I would have to say probably Saul Bass and Jim Cross.

I worked on a few one-on-one projects with Saul.  But I never worked as an employee in his company, which I am very glad it worked that way because we often talked beyond the subject of the projects.  And that’s where his wisdom and great mind were most inspiring.

I never worked with Jim Cross either.  Although I would have loved to work with him, his influence has been inspiring and valuable to my design practice, very much so.

Favorite Accomplishments:

Well, there are the projects and then there are the accomplishments.

I would have to say that from a personal perspective, I am most proud of my family and friends.  I would really say that, because as an immigrant, the accomplishment of building a beautiful network of friends and family is very important because you’re here without any real infrastructure.  And you have to build your own.  And even though one’s extended family is always there for you, far away, they’re nevertheless, far away.

I’ve been married for 25 years to my partner in life and business and we have managed to build a strong family and a strong business unit, and I’m proud of that.  I think of that as the most important accomplishment.

Of course I’ve done some projects that I always enjoy talking about. One that has been a great pride is the opportunity to work on a brand identity for Mexico City and the City of Los Angeles at the same time. These are my two beloved homes.  And that would be one of my great satisfactions professionally.

On Doing Things Differently:

If I had to do it all over,  I would probably mix play with work more.  I’ve always practiced my profession with a rather formal intensity, separating the sheer joy of playing and having fun from the work process. Changing that would be something I would do differently from the beginning.

Agustin’s Thoughts on Coaches and Consultants:

I’ve never had a business coach, not because I don’t want to or have anything against that.  I just haven’t.  In terms of workshops I have done a couple of workshops.  But I have lost interest in the formulas a little bit. I haven’t really found the right match, but I tell you, I know it’s out there and I’m always open to learning.  At different times in my career, I have always thought about maybe reaching out to some program, but then I get kind of lazy or busy and not follow up.

But I would like to have an angel come down and say, “Ok, this is how you can improve your business, your productivity, your relationships with your employees, etc.”  I would love that.

Agustin’s Thoughts on The Keys to Success:

I often offer younger colleagues my thoughts.  I taught at Art Center for 11 years and I’m very involved with AIGA, so I’m constantly connecting.

I try to encourage younger colleagues to identify what makes them happy.  What gives them joy, and to weave that into their professional life.

In the design process one is obligated to research and engage deeply in the subject of the particular assignment.  This represents a great opportunity to enhance one’s knowledge and experience the things that really matter to you.

I also encourage them to connect with the people they work with, clients and co-workers alike.  Embrace their humanity.   Try to build relationships that are significant and are meaningful.

Agustin’s Toughest Challenge:

Shortly after 9/11 our business collapsed. We were deeply involved in the travel industry at the time and most of our clients went down quickly. Our cashflow went down as well and I couldn’t reinvent, or refocus, my business fast enough to preserve my team. I loved each one of them and admired their contribution, but could no longer afford to keep them, yet I mistakenly held on for longer than I could afford and fell into deep debt. Ultimately all these good people went their own way anyway. Oh well!

Outside Activities:

I’m very busy living life.  (Chuckling)  I do a lot of things.  I’m a lover of the desert so I travel to the deserts of the world, in particular the Sahara.  I do quite elaborate expeditions that last sometimes up to four weeks in the Sahara.  I love astronomy.  It’s one of my hobbies.  I run every other day.  I love art.  I have so many things that I love doing.

Advice to Someone Just Starting Out:

In our business there are so many industry tracks. There are so many ways to practice design that the only thing that brings it all together are basically two things, as I’ve already said:  Yourself and the people you work with.  That’s what matters the most.

Embrace the people you work with and the people you work for.  They can be your friends for life. Build relationships that are meaningful. Make sure that you practice your career on the basis of the things you love and that bring joy to your life.  Those are the two things. Whatever you do now, websites, logos, I don’t care what you do.  Those things are just professional tracks that wiggle around in time, but the above two things will always be there.

About Agustin

Agustin Garza has been active and influential in the design community for over 25 years. His firm, Garza Group Communications, is a leader in the field of intercultural communications, with a focus on strategic branding, position, and marketing communications for the real estate and destination markets worldwide.

Founded in 1987, Garza Group provides services for corporate, real estate/ destination, and consumer product clients, including the cities of Los Angeles and Mexico City, Jones Lang LaSalle, Catellus Development Corporation, American Express, Reichmann International, and Adheva.

Garza Group is known for effective branding solutions for cities and travel destinations, including the highly successful “See My LA” campaign that positioned Los Angeles locally and abroad, as well as some of Mexico City’s most compelling cultural tourism promotions. The firm’s pioneering marketing campaign for the 1991 Mexico Eclipse became Mexico’s first integrated advertising campaign to enter the permanent collection of the National Library of Congress.

Agustin Garza was born and raised in Mexico City. He taught Communication Design at Art Center College of Design for over a decade and was a founding professor of the school’s European campus. Mr. Garza served as president of the Los Angeles chapter of AIGA and is a member of Quórum (The Design Council of Mexico).

Interview by Will Sherwood, MA, MSP
CEO/Chief Creative Officer
The Sherwood Group, Graphic Design / Web Design

24402 Vista Ridge Drive
Santa Clarita, CA 91355

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Success Secrets from Margo Chase:

  • Pay attention to the business side as much as the design side.
  • First figure out what you do well. Then, stick to that and hire people to do the other things.
  • Involve clients in a discussion about their businesses and how design can help them achieve their goals.

Early beginnings:

I got started by accident really. I was a biology major in college, studying to be a veterinarian. And in the attempt to keep my grade point average high enough to get into one of the few really good graduate schools, I took an illustration class that turned out to be part of the graphic design curriculum. And I fell in love with it. It was the easiest A I ever earned.

As a result, I decided to change my major, and I went to graduate school in medical illustration which I thought would be the best of biology and the best of the creative part of design. I studied 2 years doing master’s work at the University of San Francisco, and realized it was not really either. It was not very creative, at least not in the sense that graphic design is, in terms of the self-expressive, problem-solving areas of design, which are the parts I love.
The more educational part of medical illustration is primarily to portray a particular surgical process, or a disease in a very understandable way for, say, medical students. And so the people doing that spent a lot of time in hospital basements, and it didn’t sound like a good job to me. So, I tried to get a job in design.

On starting a business:

I moved to Los Angeles, and started looking for a job in sales. And I ended up starting my own business. I really happened inadvertently. I was soliciting freelance projects where I could find them, and that gradually built into the firm I have now.

The first projects I got were for a publishing company called Rosebud Books, here in LA. They published primarily tourism books, and they owned Architectural Digest, and several other publications.

Margo’s move into entertainment design:

Shortly after I started working with Rosebud, some of the people on their staff left the company and went to work at Warner Records. They started hiring me to do logo design and lettering for album covers. That led into my doing, pretty much, full-time music oriented work as an independent designer. I never had a job offer from any of the labels, but I did a lot of work for Warner Bros. Records, Virgin Records, Sony, EMI, Capitol Records, you name it. In fact, for 10 years that’s about all I did. And, it absorbed the first 10 years of my career.

On how business comes to Margo’s studio:

A lot of the business comes to us from what I like to call “Magic Phone.” People who have heard about us in one way or another, or have seen our work somewhere, or have been recommended to us by someone just call. We have a person who does PR for us and we spend a lot of time cultivating current clients to increase the amount of work that we do for them. We also have several people who help us in new business development.

Margo’s thoughts on the secrets to her success.

I think the major key to my success is the fact that I’m stubborn. I’m competitive and I don’t like losing. I like being successful, and I don’t like doing things that I don’t do well. That’s probably true for most people who are successful, although I’m not necessarily sure that’s entirely true of designers in general. I believe it’s true of anyone who’s really good at what they do. They’re committed and maybe a little OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) about it.

Margo’s her favorite accomplishment.

I’m most proud of the fact that I have a business that’s successful and employs talented people, and that I get to come here every day and hang out with people I like.

Thougths on doing things differently:

I spent a lot of time, especially in entertainment, doing self-expressive, personal design. It was work that I really liked, but it wasn’t really contributing much to the business bottom line. The entertainment business doesn’t encourage that kind of thinking because strategy isn’t really required. It’s not the design that sell sthe music. The music sells the music, and the design is for the most part decorative.

If I could do it over again, I would have more quickly become involved with clients in a discussion about their businesses and about how design can help them achieve their goals, because I believe that design can have a huge influence on consumer behavior and on the success or failure of sales of certain products and of companies in general. Until I finished with entertainment, I never really got a chance to test my theories about that.

On working in entertainment graphics:

People don’t make money doing music packaging beyond a certain point. Because the album design has a minimal business impact on sales. It helps, but people don’t buy a Madonna album because of the album cover. They buy it because of Madonna. After a certain point, design can’t change people’s behavior, and therefore it’s not valued very highly.

Thoughts on the strategy side of graphic design :

I’ve always been interested to explore ideas about what design can do, the changes it can create. Now we focus much more on consumer products and brand development. These areas are places where design has a huge potential impact on the success. As a result, I think we’re getting a bigger playing field between the strategy and the creativity, which are the things I love most. I don’t feel that there are many designers in the world who are really good at understanding strategy and then are able to translate that strategy into design. There are design firms that really do well in one or the other, but few can really do the magic that happens when the two come together.

On the importance of business coaches:

Over the years we’ve hired consultants at different times, and they were really helpful in some ways. For example, we needed to watch how much money we were spending on payroll, and being aware of how much producing the work was actually costing us compared to what we were earning. These sorts of issues I had no idea about early on. I thought that if we were busy, things really must be good. (Laughter)

At different times, we worked with a couple of different kinds of coaches, from the basic business issues to working with people who are more experienced in marketing, and have helped us think about how we might market ourselves, how our clients marketing departments work, and in general, what marketing is all about.

On attending business seminars:

James Bradley, our president, went to the Harvard Business Conference last year, and I think it was really valuable for all of us, because he was able to bring back some amazing information and insights which have translated into immediate benefits for the firm.

Tips for someone new to the industry:

I’m not really sure I could suggest how someone might become a success in this industry. My path is not really repeatable, and maybe nobody’s path is. It’s not like there’s this process or success formula that someone could really follow. The only thing I can say is that someone new to the industry should first figure out what they do well. Stick to that, and hire people to do the other things.

On getting good clients:

In my view it’s really more difficult to get rid of bad clients than it is to find clients in general. There’s a lot of information out there on how find them, but I think finding good ones, or finding ones that are good for you, depends on the scope that you have, or the business acumen that you have. Finding clients who are a good fit for your kind of company, your size and skills and experience is really what it’s all about.

Additional advice:

I would say pay attention to the business side as much as the design side. I got a lot of recognition early in my career without doing any of the things I’ve been saying. (Laughter) A lot of my success was me being in the right place at the right time and being given the chance to work for really visible entertainers like Madonna and Prince. I was fortunate to be able to ride on their coat tails, and take advantage of an opportunity when it landed in my lap. That kind of recognition is almost impossible to get on purpose.

But you don’t have to have that sort of luck to be a business success. I have a lot of friends who run design firms who make way more money than I do, and they’re names you’ve probably never heard of. And, they’re quite happy.

Hobbies to stay balanced

I fly and I started competing in acrobatics this year. I do that on the weekend. I’ve been flying altogether for about 3 years since I got my pilots license, and I started flying acrobatics last year. It’s like a roller coaster on steroids.

About Margo:

Since founding Chase Design Group in 1986, Margo has consistently produced and led award-winning work in many areas of design. Recognized worldwide for her skill with custom typography and identity development, Margo is dedicated to creating client success through high-quality, intelligent creative. Her vision provides the fuel for Chase Design Group’s growth and achievement.

Success Secrets from Bill Thorburn:

  • It’s always been that feeling of passion and energy and excitement and learning, and growing. What more can you ask from a career?
  • I’ve always thought the best creatives were really, really, really humble at the end of the day, and very open-minded.
  • Build a strong foundation. Build the soul. Build the essence. If you don’t, you’re gonna’ be road-kill within 5 years.

Early beginnings:

I’m a little bit of an anomaly in the sense that I’ve never taken a design class in my life. And I might be a dying generation because of how important technology is in our execution. But, I have a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Minneapolis College for Art and Design. My focus was painting. At the time it was kind of funny. Design wasn’t as big a deal as it is now. I think if you were to go back to MCAD you would see that it’s flopped. It was probably 70% fine artist and 30% designers at that time. I graduated in 1984. My designer friends all dressed up in Yves St. Laurent ties and carried briefcases. They stood out back then. Of course now the designers wear jeans and t-shirts, just like the artists.

It was the first year of the Mac, 1984, and I remember them showing me a 3/4 view of a pie chart. And they kept moving one slice in and out, back and forth, going “Hey Thorby, check this out. How cool is this?” And I remember just laughing and thinking, “You’re paying for an education to do that?”

Anyway, I had worked in a small graphic services firm to get myself through college, and so I had done everything from printing to halftones and typesetting, you know, those foreign words these days. They did everything from typesetting to logo design and printing. It was the first job right out of high school. I was called a “printer’s devil” which comes from that rich heritage of tradition that printing has, all the way back to Guttenberg. But it was a term that was created by Ben Franklin. Basically a printer’s devil cleaned up the presses. I worked in the bindery and ultimately learned how to run a press and then how to do film and halftones.

Moving into design:

One day they said to me, “Aren’t you going to art school?” And I said, “I am.” And they said, “Here, do a logo for us.”

Ironically enough, when I left college I became a ski bum in Salt Lake City. And I saved enough money after 3 or 4 months to tour the West – do my Jack Kerouac stint. I was going to live in my car for 3 days and then shack up in a hotel and wash up and eat at buffets, and I figured I could be on the road for about 60 days and then come home back to Minneapolis.

At my first stint I landed at Lake Tahoe. I fell asleep in my car in a parking lot and I was awakened in the morning by a guy who was about my age. He invited me in for a cup of coffee. He was wondering what I was doing in his parking lot, and turns out, he was the owner of a type house in town. And of course back then, the type houses were the center of the universe, right? We’d send out our galleys every night and get them back.

We started having a cup of coffee and I said, “Hey, I’ve just been skiing in the mountains outside of Salt Lake City for 4 months. I’m going to do my little tour and then go back. So I have to get a real job.” He said, “Well, what do you do?”, I said, “Well, I’m trained as a fine artist, but I’ve been putzing around in commercial art for the last six years. So I’m not really sure.” He said, “Well there’s a lot of designers up here and there’s’ a lot of design positions up here that are open. I can send you to 3 interviews in the next hour if you want to.” He also said, “By the way there’s more skiing per capita here in Lake Tahoe than anywhere else in the world.”

Communication Arts: an epiphany:

And so I went off and I did my first interview. I went to a women’s office literally an hour later. I put my best turtleneck on and my best loafers and khakis. I had no portfolio and just went to introduce myself. As I was sitting in the lobby I started flipping through the stack of Communication Arts she had sitting there. I remember at that moment realizing what a jerk I’d been to the people that had pursued a degree in design. It was the beginning of Post Modern. I think the first issue that I looked at was a whole issue on what was going on in Texas and Dallas and with Woody Pirtle.

Right then, I had one of those epiphany moments. I realized at that point that this was my career. And this was exactly what I had been looking for as I grew up looking at album covers and reading Mad Magazine. You know what I mean? I was thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to do this stuff, but I never really put the pieces together.

Passion that never leaves:

It was a very powerful moment and it is still. It hasn’t left me to this day. I still feel more passionate and excited about my job today than I ever have and I think that’s the beauty of graphic design: it’s constantly evolving and changing.

Now I’ve been doing this for 25 years. And the passion has never left me from that first moment, that epiphany moment, of sitting in that small little design firm in Lake Tahoe looking at Communication Arts and just being blown away, really realizing that this was it! This was the thing I wanted to do. It’s always been that feeling of passion and energy and excitement and learning, and growing. And I think, “What more can you ask from a career?” That’s what keeps it so exciting.

Finding his way to Carmichael Lynch:

I spent about 4 years in Nevada. Then I moved back in ‘88, ’89. I don’t remember, but Minneapolis was just blossoming at that time. I was looking over my shoulder, saying, “Wow, what a hip place to live, to work.” I’d gotten my start in a career. And so I went back and I was hired by a shop in town.

A year later, I moved into an incredible position with incredible people at Dayton Hudson Marshall Field’s. It was just a wonderful time to be there. After 5 years, retail begins to repeat itself. You know what I mean? It’s spring; it’s very light; it’s very sheer; it’s very gossamer. It’s fall; it’s very rich; very jewel tone. Oh gosh, here’s a flower show. It’s gonna’ be a country theme. And holidays we’ll do a traditional one. The other side of retail is that it is fresh and a reflection of the culture at that moment. It also brings the destination and experience into the creative. It was a great place to develop a broader approach to the assignments that I was given.

So I went off and opened up my own design firm called Thorburn Design. And that went on for a couple of years. It was really great. We were doing work for Nike and Microsoft and ESPN and Neiman Marcus and we had some great accounts and we were getting some good buzz.

One day I got a phone call from the head of Carmicheal Lynch, Jack Supple, and he said, “We’re looking to create a design division.” That’s where the conversation started. It was a really nice marriage from day one. So Thorburn Design became Carmichael Lynch Thorburn, and now we’re back to The Thorburn Group.

On staying small in a big agency:

We’ve just worked with phenomenal clients, from Coca-Cola, to Harley Davidson, to Porsche, to Benjamin Moore to Formica, to Toys‘R Us. It’s just been wonderful, the brands we’ve been able to accumulate. We still keep it small. We utilize the infrastructure of the ad agency, but we’re a completely separate division. We run on our own separate profit and loss operation.

We go after our own accounts and we end up working a lot in partnership with our brothers in advertising and public relations. And you’ll understand what I’m saying, it took a big burden off of me. MIS, human resources, and accounting is all taken care of. I can plug into planners.

For a group of 15-20 people to be able to work on those kinds of brands and rebrand them and reposition them to have planners involved has been really a leveraging kind of value-added proposition that my firm brings to the equation that a lot of design firms don’t bring, and so it’s been kind of a blessing from that point of view.

On the other side, aesthetics have become so important. When I first started, 12 years ago, this was definitely a copywriter’s paradise. And now, all the young hot talent that’s coming here on the art director’s side, is very much aesthetically driven. I think we’ve become very inspirational in creating that vibe within this building.

I think clients are really looking for design opportunities in this climate. Build a strong foundation. Build the soul. Build the essence. If you don’t, there’s just so much information flying around out there you’re gonna’ get lost in the crowd and be brand road-kill within 5 years.

On new business development:

Typically a director of new business and an admin handle new business development. It’s fairly small and when the door has been opened, the director of brand strategy and I will go and present our work and our process and look for opportunities to partner with whomever it is we’re talking with.

Influences in the design world;

Coming from retail, I tend to lean more towards fashion and fashion designers. I love the Japanese. I love the Issey Miyake’s, the Yohji Yamamoto’s. And I still look to people like Isaac Mizrahi and what they’re doing. I also think art is really important to me and it still maintains an important aspect of how I get inspiration. I try to create a culture of what I would call enthusiasts and advocates. There’s so much going on in the world. There’s a kind of cross-pollination from everybody.

On the importance of sharing enthusiasm:

Tomorrow, we have a thing called Taco Talk. All the creatives get together about once a month. I go out and buy the tacos and they come in and everybody shares what’s got ’em excited. We’re all trying to find that epiphany moment like I found back in Lake Tahoe.

It’s still true today. There’s still that kind of fresh awakening that happens with current work and current designers, and the exciting stuff that’s going on, whether it’s film or design or fashion or art or architecture. So we try to build a culture around that and just let people share it and turn each other on. I think that’s the beauty of having a mid-sized design firm. There are enough people here that can create a community of shared values. It really becomes a catalyst, and we all inspire each other. I’m grateful for that.

My greatest hope is to create a culture that encourages others to succeed and do great work. As you know, that’s an ongoing challenge.

The keys to success:

If I was talking to a younger designer, I would say it’s really all about what’s in your heart and in your passion. I think this is a passion sport. It has nice longevity as a career and it gives people the opportunity to come in every day and grow and keep evolving. It’s a career that constantly unfolds as long as you stay true to your heart and your passion of wanting to do great work.

Would you do anything differently?

I don’t think so. I feel very grateful. I think the mistakes and the flounders worked their way up to what became successful. So if you don’t trip and fall a couple of times, you’ll never move forward. I think the mistakes I made were blessings in disguise.

On the value of consultants and training

I try to encourage my staff to go to as many trainings as they can, to go to one a year. Also, we have hired consultants on a couple of different levels, once to help us become better at new business, another to become better at presentations.

There are so many great conferences. You can pick your medicine: the Aspen Design Conference, GAIN. We have a great local chapter of AIGA here that does a design camp every year. There’s the HOW Design Conference, AIGA National. I leave it up to the individuals to figure out what they want to do. It could be weekend classes at the Community College or back at Minneapolis College of Art and Design or one of the other art schools in town to learn animation or grow deeper into programs. I’m a complete advocate of that and encourage my guys and gals to pursue that stuff diligently.

A thought for people just starting out:

Stay focused on the work and do great work, but never forget the relationship. I think those two things balance out a career of longevity and your reputation.

On the importance of staying in balance:

I try to stay active and ski or rollerblade or running or mountain biking. We also have a place up in northern Minnesota. You gotta’ recharge the batteries every now and then.

I have a friend from Paris. I explained that to him that he’d have to come up north, up to the lake with us. This was mid-June and believe it or not, we actually do get warm in this state. So he showed up with all this winter stuff and I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “Well you’re going up to the lake.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s up north” and he said, “Oh, I thought we were going up to the mountains.” So he’s brought his high altitude gear. No, this is lake country up here and there’s a lot of little shacks up there that people retreat to

I also think that when you retreat with your family you’ll have a balanced life. Sometimes you’ve just gotta’ turn it off and go float. That’s really what the lake represents for me.

Additional advice for someone just startingout:

Be passionate and stay pure to the work. Be humble. Realize there’s a lot to learn. Be open to learning because there’s a whole wide world out there. That’s what makes this such a great career, you’re always getting a little bit better, learning a little bit more. You have to be open to that. There has to be some humility to that. As much as you want to know it all, to be as good as you can be. Defend what you do. I’ve always thought the best creatives were really, really, really humble at the end of the day, and very open-minded.

About Bill Thorburn

Bill Thorburn, founding principal of The Thorburn Group, has 20 years of internationally recognized design expertise. He started with a fine arts degree from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and worked in the agency setting for several years before becoming design director for Dayton–Hudson’s–Marshall Fields. With The Thorburn Group, Bill exercises his vision for strategic, powerful, lasting design every day. His list of client work is impressive: Nike, Microsoft, Harley–Davidson, Neiman Marcus, Dayton’s, Coke, ESPN, and Porsche, just to name a few.

Bill’s design work is included in the permanent collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum of Art in London, and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. He has also had individual exhibits in Japan and London. TTG, Minneapolis, specializes in the design needs of clients looking to establish their identities and build their brands.

Interview by Will Sherwood, MA, MSP
CEO/Chief Creative Officer
The Sherwood Group, Graphic Design / Web Design

24402 Vista Ridge Drive
Santa Clarita, CA 91355

Contact Us

Follow Will Sherwood on Twitter?
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Success Secrets from Rick Valicenti:

  • If you do good work, challenging work, and work that is attentive to production values and craft, odds are you will continue to attract those kinds of projects.
  • You’re only given opportunities when you’re ready for them. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the learning.
  • Should you choose to hurry your life along or do it for the money, you’ll end up being pulled back, pulled aside or pulled into a place you don’t want to be.

Rick’s thoughts on patience when building and sustaining a career:

A lot of young people enter the profession with a great deal of promise, and exit shortly thereafter; wishing that the profession had fulfilled their promises. So, building and sustaining a career is an interesting question. I would say of the different qualities required, one of the most important is actually a simple one — as simple as patience. In other words, your portfolio won’t be complete after one year. It requires some patience. It also requires time, which is a bit different. Time allows you to discover who you are, how you see the world, and how you respond to opportunities. These qualities, combined with good people skills and interesting collaboration with other designers, clients and creative aptitudes that transcend the norm, can allow you to create a great life.

On getting good clients:

There are a couple of mantras that work and have proven themselves. One of them I learned from Michael Patrick Cronin, a designer in San Francisco. He said, “You get what you do.” If you do good work, challenging work, work that is attentive to production values and craft, work that is beautiful, poetic, sensual or compelling, odds are you will attract those kinds of projects when your work gets out to the world. People will ask, “Who did that?” The answer will lead back to you and other opportunities like those will follow. If the work you do is hurried, compromised, poorly crafted crap complete with messages of no value, odds are that’s what you get in return. And one day you will wake up and say, “How come am I getting such crap work?” It’s because that’s what you’re putting out there.

Rick’s thoughts on having faith in your creativity:

I think if you are patient and know that over time your work will be good, it will be. First, you must be true to yourself, true to the work you want to do, and to the level of care you want to devote to your work. Once you commit to that, I think that’s the biggest surrender you’ll have to make. It’s a big leap of faith because you are putting faith in your own ability. You’re putting faith in your own sensibilities and abilities to work with others to get the work done on time, and at the same time, make something of real value. It won’t be long before you’ll be rewarded with similar opportunities.

From what I have seen and experienced, every time I’ve chosen to hurry my life along or do it for the money, I’ve ended up being pulled back, pulled aside or pulled into a place I didn’t want to be. You can be proactive, but I think you have to be proactive in just making that leap of faith; that commitment to yourself; that commitment to the craft and to the continuum that we’re all in as we continue the trajectory and the tradition of the graphic design profession and art.

Thoughts on getting oriented to your location:

Before I became a graphic designer, I was a grad student of photography. I finished my graduate work at the University of Iowa. While there I took a letterpress class at the Writer’s Workshop. And, when I moved to Chicago, the photographic community seemed to be engaged in image making that I wasn’t either qualified for or interested in pursuing. It was very commercial work— hot dogs, corn flakes and beer. I’m sure there was better work going on in Chicago, but I really didn’t see it at first glance.

So, I decided maybe I needed to be on the other side. My other fascination was discovered in this letterpress class, and in some of my undergraduate work in design as a painting and drawing major. I went to various places only to discover I couldn’t get hired because I didn’t have a solid commercial background in design. However, I learned enough to generate a portfolio of magic marker renderings and key-line and paste up examples, which was enough to secure jobs that were production oriented and that fed me during my first two years in Chicago. And, with some good fortune, luck and a personal curiosity, I found myself at a design conference in 1978 and, finally, an opportunity to become an assistant to a very reputable designer here in Chicago who was in his late 50s, early 60s. His name was Bruce Beck. I stayed with Bruce for a little over three years, and when Bruce retired, I went out on my own.

Rick’s thoughts on getting started:

One of the first projects on my own was working as a freelancer of sorts. I wasn’t really working for other designers, but primarily as a textbook art director in a team of designers for a major Chicago textbook publisher. And, one thing lead to another. I started to secure lots of textbook work and work from smaller clients who needed identities, menus or what have you. Pretty soon I developed a reputation of being a good designer, easy to work with and reliable. And that’s what I’ve practiced ever since.

Working with Scitex:

The Scitex people actually wanted to start a school that taught people how to use Photoshop. They were looking at two designers in the final round. I remember one was April Greiman and the other was Thirst. As a fairly early adaptor to Photoshop, back in the days when there were no layers and only one undo, they gave us an opportunity to create magical images in a pretty straightforward piece. Now that was a fun project.

On the rewards of work:

Rewards for me come on a lot of levels. Looking back on all the work I’ve been involved with, whether it be individual or collaborative, I can’t say that this or that design has changed the complexion of contemporary society. There are very little examples of that kind of thing because the only one that comes to mind happened so long ago. I did that little ‘ear’ symbol in 1978. Maybe you’ve seen the little insignia at movie theatres or banks. It notifies/declares information access is available for the hearing impaired. Since then, the insignia has gone through all sorts of variations, as does any design over time. The original, however, was featured in I.D. Magazine and has become sort of a standard. That’s one little gem.

On icons and special projects:

Do I have an icon in my portfolio like Milton Glaser? Not yet. But, I do have work of mine in the Chicago community that is public and visible, and I think, it’s standing the test of time nicely, some better than others. We’re currently collaborating with an artist and group of architects on a 9/11 memorial for the victims from Hoboken, New Jersey. The memorial will be an island in the Hudson River. The island will be a kind of quiet destination, with very smart typographic narrative on the bridge. And, when you get there, each of the victims will be identified in a respectful way. This project continues to be a very good use of each of our gifts.

Rick’s thoughts on doing things differently:

Some have said that I should spell my name with an ‘s’ instead of a ‘c’ — Risk. But, I don’t feel that I take a lot of risks. It’s just been the natural way I’ve gone about doing things. And, I don’t know if I would do anything differently. Though, I would be curious to know, what would have happened if I would have landed in New York or London instead of Chicago?

On new business development:

Doing this interview is at the heart of my new business development program. I often tell my story to other people with the hope that they will pass it along. So far it’s worked. This year is the 20th anniversary of Thirst. At the end of 2007, we moved the studio back to the City proper which has brought us new energy and a reduced staff. The four of us in the studio now are planning to take a more aggressive and targeted stance toward business development which should be fun. All of us want to turn our direction to people, places, and things we’ve never explored.

Thoughts on the inspiration of attending workshops and seminars:

Absolutely I attend seminars and workshops. Having been a presenter or attendee at various conferences and workshops on four continents so far, has provided me with the opportunity to meet hundreds of designers, both in and outside of their environments.

Two years ago, I took Milton Glaser’s week-long course at the School of Visual Arts in New York. And, for the two summers prior, I attended the design inquiry at MCAD in Portland, Maine. The first year I enrolled as a participant; the second, I was invited to be a workshop leader. So, yes, I do try to stay fresh. By attending conferences one can become inspired. I also try to do as much creative work outside of the studio as I can; without the influence or permission of the client.

Giving back as a new business development strategy:

For the last 10 years, every five weeks or so I’ve traveled to a different university, college or AIGA chapter. That’s a lot of visitations, and for most, I don’t charge a fee. My reason for going is to share my work. I sit in on critiques and have assigned projects for the students to complete before I arrive. Then we review those projects while I’m there. It’s a good exchange of energy, I see the future generation of designers and get a lot of enjoyment out of doing it; hopefully the students do, too. Interestingly enough, over the years I’ve had the chance to continue to work with some of those people whom I’ve met. And occasionally designers I’ve met want to collaborate with me, or provide an opportunity, and it all works out.

Final thoughts for those just starting out:

I would just like to remind those who are just starting out that this is not an easy profession to stay completely excited with all the time. It is difficult, and it requires us to put ourselves out there. When we share an idea with someone, that idea comes under scrutiny. The scrutiny that it comes under often isn’t an endorsement of our idea. Sometimes it’s a harsh critique of our idea. And those ideas come from a special place within us. It hurts when your little baby of an idea gets kicked around. So the only message I can pass along is to enjoy the process; enjoy the learning. You are only given the opportunity when you are ready to take it. Find ways to conceal compromise. Reach out to other people. And, put some good things out into the world for us to see!

About Rick Valicenti of Thirst: A Design Collaborative

Rick forms relationships with his clients, and he earns their trust. What results is a personal conversation which draws on all of the clients’ experiences and fuses the boundaries between expression and promotion. While each individual piece may at times seem bizarre, slick, cold or inscrutable, the work as a whole has continuity, passion and depth. While Rick’s style has been emulated, the essence of his work is seldom recaptured.

Rick has juried countless design award competitions, including the Presidential Design Awards for the National Endowment for the Arts. His work is included in the permanent collection of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the 2006 Triennial, Design Life Now, and has been featured, critiqued and lauded in design publications worldwide, and has garnered awards from AR100, Graphis, CA, Print, Step, New York Art Directors Club, ACD100, Tokyo Art Directors and I.D. Magazine, among others. He has lectured extensively and exhibited his work around the world. Rick is a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), has served as president of the Society of Typographic Arts and was awarded the AIGA Chicago Fellow Award in 2004 for his steadfast commitment to the education of design’s future generations and the AIGA Medal in 2006, for his sustained contribution to design excellence and development of the profession. The Medal is the highest honor in the graphic design profession.

Rick Valicenti designs in collaboration with John Pobojewski, Bud Rodecker, Matt Daly, Tom Vack, Jeanne Gang/Studio Gang, and Janet Echleman.

Interview by Will Sherwood, MA, MSP
CEO/Chief Creative Officer
The Sherwood Group, Graphic Design / Web Design

24402 Vista Ridge Drive
Santa Clarita, CA 91355

Contact Us

Follow Will Sherwood on Twitter?
Connect with Will Sherwood on LinkedIn
The Sherwood Group’s Facebook page
Will Sherwood’s Facebook page
The Sherwood Group’s website


Success Secrets from Milton Glaser:

  • You have to work your ass off. You have to think about [work] as being the primary issue in your life. You have to pursue whatever talent you have and develop it.
  • I think entering award shows can be questionable because very often you don’t understand the vested interest that’s involved in putting them together. And they become a kind of trick of magazines and institutions to support their own efforts.
  • I’ve never had a new business development plan of any kind in place.


What does it take to succeed?

That is one of those cosmic questions that have absolutely no answer. And I’m going to be very evasive about general questions because I don’t believe many of them are answerable. They end up in jargon. They say, yes, hard work, conscientiousness, early talent, good luck, support of the mother, and all the rest of it. But it’s so rarely informative that I have to admit that I truly don’t know. The only thing I can think of was an illness in early childhood that forced me to become introspective. I rheumatic fever when I was a kid, about 8 years old. That kept me bedridden for about a year. It seems to me that there are trials that occur early, that provoke introspection, and that may be responsible for the commitment to your own invention.


Of all your work, what are you most gratified to have done?

I can’t say I am most gratified by anything. I think the issue for old-time professionals is sustaining. Right? What you want to do is keep working until you die. My great hope, and I’ve said this before, comes from an essay that I think is by, T.S. Eliot on the subject, where he says: “ The greatest blessing in life would be to die in the midst of work.”



Would you do anything differently?

Glaser: Oh, Probably thousands of things.

Sherwood: (Laugher) Anything that stands out?

Glaser: Not really. It’s so hard. As the Buddha says: “ Good yields evil. Evil yields good.” So it’s impossible to understand the consequence of any single action. As Groucho Marks said, “If I’d known I would live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” But, outside of that, I don’t know if I could have done anything else.


Views on business development:

Sherwood: Do you have a new business development program in place?

Glaser: I do not. I’ve never had a new business development plan of any kind in place.

Sherwood: Really? How do you get clients? By meeting people and networking?

Glaser: Stumbling into people. Doing work that people noticed.

Sherwood: I recall the coffee table book, “Milton Glaser: Graphic Design.” Do you think that helped you to become recognized? Perhaps award shows?

Glaser: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t even know how to answer that. I think people seeing your work helps your business.



On entering award shows:

I think entering award shows can be questionable because very often you don’t understand the vested interest that’s involved in putting them together. And they become a kind of trick of magazines and institutions to support their own efforts. And you have to be wary about it, although it is the way that people get noticed. It indicates that somebody approves of your work, and therefore it must have some credibility. But I haven’t done very much of it in recent years because I became well known enough without it.



Ongoing training:

Sherwood: Do you attend workshops or seminars? I know you give those on occasion. However, have you ever taken those to improve your skills?

Glaser: The only one I can think of recently was about 10 yrs ago. I took a workshop on how to make monoprints. And, I used the information that I learned to produce a series of drawings to illustrate Dante’s “The Divine Comedy.” That particular workshop was exceedingly useful to me.



On building and sustaining a career:

Sherwood: If someone new to our industry were to ask you how build and sustain a carrier, what would you say?

Glaser: (Laughter) Well, you have to work your ass off. You have to think about that as being the primary issue in your life. You have to pursue whatever talent you have and develop it. Oh, I don’t know. All of the banal things that people will tell you about your own energy and desire are true, but you simply have to work hard. I don’t think of work as my job. I think of it as my life. The engine of desire is what drives the accomplishment.


Additional thoughts:

Sherwood: Is there any additional advice you might give to someone just starting out?

Glaser: Not outside of working hard. I mean what else is there to do? And it’s probably very good from a business point of view to be nice to people to people that you meet because they may re-enter your life. And is suppose networking for business is an important part to sustaining a livelihood. I’ve never done it, but I suppose from a business point of view it’s an essential part of building your career.



About Milton Glaser:

Milton Glaser (b. 1929) is among the most celebrated graphic designers in the United States. He has had the distinction of one-man-shows at the Museum of Modern Art and the Georges Pompidou Center. In 2004 he was selected for the lifetime achievement award of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. As a Fulbright scholar, Glaser studied with the painter, Giorgio Morandi in Bologna, and is an articulate spokesman for the ethical practice of design. He cofounded Push Pin Studios in 1954 and founded Milton Glaser, Inc. in 1974, and continues to produce an astounding amount of work in many fields of design to this day.

Success Secrets from Michael Bierut:

  • Clients are most afraid that you’re going to go off and design something without really listening first.
  • Just keep asking questions: the more you ask, the more you’ll understand what the client is looking for in a designer.
  • Life’s too short to spend your time talking on the phone with people who make your knuckles white during the course of the conversation.

About Michael:

Michael Bierut is a partner in the New York office of the international consultancy Pentagram. His graphic design work has been collected by major museums around the world. He has served as the president of the AIGA’s New York chapter and of its national organization. He was elected to the Art Directors Hall of Fame in 2003, received the AIGA Medal in 2006, and received the Design Mind award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in 2008. He is a co-founder of the world’s biggest design blog,, the author of 79 Short Essays on Design from Princeton Architectural Press, and on the faculty of Yale University’s School of Art and School of Management.

Early Beginnings:

I decided when I was in high school that I wanted to become a graphic designer without ever having met one or really knowing that much about what they did. I liked art, and I particularly liked commercial art.

I’m from Ohio, and in my state the University of Cincinnati had a program in graphic design at their school of design. I got my degree there. And right after I graduated, I moved to New York and got my first job working with Massimo and Lella Vignelli at Vignelli Associates.

I worked there for over ten years and then joined Pentagram. That was my second, and last job.

The business structure at Pentagram:

Pentagram currently has 17 partners and probably just as many retired partners or ex-partners. So there’s an enormous body of work that’s been done on Pentagram’s behalf by people working at Pentagram for the past 35 or so years.

And because of that, our name is fairly well known, and a great deal of business comes from referrals.

But also, because of the way we’re structured, we actually don’t need that much work to stay busy and to run a good business. Our overhead is really low. We don’t have account executives or new business people.

Every one of those 17 partners is a working designer with clients. Each of the partners hires his or her own design team to support the work that they do.

Each team runs its own profit and loss. So each team is financially accountable, and tends to be very careful about how it uses money and how many people it hires to be as efficient as possible. As a result, each of those 17 studios within Pentagram really doesn’t need that much work to keep busy. It’s not like a typical multi-national firm that has a pyramid structure, where they need constant new business activity just to feed a big monster that consists of a lot of non-billing overhead people.

People who’ve influenced Michael’s work:

I could name thousands and thousands and thousands. While I was in school I interned for a guy in Cincinnati named Dan Bittman. He’s a star in Cincinnati, but isn’t as well known anywhere else, but he had a real influence on me. I also worked as an intern in Boston with Chris Pullman at WGBH. That had some influence on me I’d say. And then, I’ve been working in these two jobs, my first job for ten years with Lella and Massimo, and my second job, here at Pentagram, for 18 years and counting.

When I was younger I had dozens of heroes who ranged from the obvious people, like Paul Rand and Milton Glaser, to less obvious ones like Corita Kent and Don Trousdell. From classic designers like Armin Hofmann and Josef Müller-Brockman, all the way to great MAD magazine illustrators like Don Martin or Mort Drucker.

You can see I’ve always had very eclectic tastes and have admired lots of different people. And now at Pentagram, I have six partners that I work with side-by-side. They’re just as influential on me today as anyone else.

Favorite Accomplishment:

About 15 years ago, I was having a conversation with one of my partners, Paula Scher, and we were talking about our clients and our work and I remember saying back then, “If I only had a half dozen clients that I really liked, that I really liked talking to and who I really respected for the way that they made their money, and I really felt I was making a contribution through my talents, and that I could give the best of what I do, if I could just have six of those people, that would be all I’d ask for.”

I sort of dreamt about that for a while, and a few years ago, around seven years or so, I just decided life’s to short to spend my time talking on the phone to people who make my knuckles white while I’m having a conversation. I decided that I was not going to do that anymore.

I think I’m a very polite guy. I don’t have it in me to actually fire clients outright. You can probably tell that from the fact that I’ve only had two jobs and I’ve been married to the same woman for 28 years, and she’s the first girl I ever kissed. So I’m not much for breaking up with careers or with women or with clients.

I can’t say I went out and fired all of them. But one by one, I managed to trail off from doing things that I didn’t like. So if I’m proud of anything now, it’s that I have clients that I work with where the client is someone who I first met as long ago as 1981 or 1982, and I’ve done every single thing that they’ve ever commissioned a graphic designer to do between then and now.

When one of them comes back and they have some new project they think might be interesting for me, it’s always really, really nice to feel that I have those kind of relationships over the long term. I end up learning a lot from people like that who are smart and do interesting things and who introduce me to worlds that I wouldn’t have access to having just gone to design school.

Michael’s thoughts on the keys to success:

Most of the stuff we work with in our profession has some kind of text that goes along with it. Graphic design is about putting together words and pictures, and I’ve always sensed, even in design school, that a lot of designers weren’t into the words. To them, the words were just areas of gray space to be manipulated, moved around, and dispensed with.

I’ve always been a very faithful reader, even a compulsive reader, and I’ve found that if I read and try to understand what I’m working on, that the words gave me a surprising edge in the situation. At first I thought it was just other designers who weren’t reading the text, but then it turns out, a lot of times, that the clients haven’t read the text either.

It’s amazing how many people don’t take the time to actually read the stuff that they’re saying, the stuff that is so important and has to be designed and mass-produced and distributed to the public.

And a lot of times, if you engage with the content, you find out ways to design more precisely for the assignment. You find out ways to improve it. And sometimes you can make the suggestion to throw it out all together and replace it with something better.

The designers that I’ve always liked, the ones that I’ve always hired, the ones that I’ve liked working with, the ones that I respect, always seem to be ones that are very attuned to the content of what they’re working with, and connected to whom the audience is for that content.

I think there are plenty of designers out there who are good at resolving a formal composition. I’m not even sure I’m really that good at that to tell you the truth. But I’ve found that if you sort out the substance of the message, you end up getting a result that’s not just more effective, but actually might have more resonance with the people it’s intended to reach.

On doing things differently:

I have three kids, and if any of them proposed to me that they want to go directly after an MFA in design, I probably would try to stop them from doing it, to tell you the truth.

Instead, I would recommend that they get some general knowledge first. For example, right now my daughter’s about to graduate from a four-year liberal arts college, and she’s spent four years reading books and learning about everything. When I was her age, I was spending hours and hours and hours doing the kind of things one did in design school: hand lettering type, cutting things up with Xacto knives, hand painting color swatches, and cutting them out and combining them, things that people don’t do at all today in the computer world.

I spent literally months on end doing that sort of stuff and my daughter meanwhile has been reading the great books and communing with really intelligent professors and engaging in stimulating discussions with fellow students.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve been imagining that a time will come when I’ll be able to go back and do all that. And then you start to realize that point may never come. That would be my greatest regret I’d say.

The toughest thing Michael’s ever had to do:

The hardest thing to do is to own up to making a mistake. A few times in my life I’ve made big mistakes that, in some cases, have ended up costing me a lot of money. If I’ve gotten inspiration from where in these situations, I think it would be from the story of a structural engineer named William LeMessurier. He was the engineer for the Citicorp Tower in Manhattan. After it was finished and occupied, he realized that he had made a miscalculation that meant the building might topple over in a high wind. This is a career-ending mistake. But instead of covering his butt or calling in an army of lawyers to protect him, he simply went to the head of Citi and said he had made this mistake and he wanted to fix it. They were so disarmed by his forthrightness that they actually worked with him to fix the problem and he came out with his reputation intact. Being honest like that requires real bravery, but LeMessurier’s story proves that it’s worth it

Michael’s tips for getting new business:

I am really good at getting new business. And there are simple tricks for doing it. But sometimes I’m reluctant to tell many people these tricks because I feel like I’m able to go in and get a lot of work just because no one else seems to know them.

One is, if you spend a lot of time asking questions and are sincerely interested in the client and his or her business, a lot of times they’ll think that you’re really smart and you really “get them.” You may not be smart or get them at all, but because you’re open to the idea of learning about them, they’ll give you more credit than you perhaps deserve.

What to avoid in a new business pitch:

Most designers, when they’re going in to pitch a new client, have prepared very, very carefully. They’ve selected the portfolio they want to show, they get all their talking points worked out, and they’ve perhaps even researched the client in advance and actually are going to demonstrate their acumen by telling the client what kind of conclusions they’ve drawn about their business already.

All those things are worth doing, but a lot of times the result is they’re so eager to start rolling, that if they’ve got sixty minutes for the presentation, then they have sixty minutes worth of solid material to fill that, and then some.

I’ll go into meetings and I’ll put off the moment where I have to present my work as long as I possibly can. I’ll just keep asking questions and questions and questions and questions and of course, the more questions, the more they’re telling you what they’re looking for in a designer.

Thoughts on how to present your work to new prospects:

The more you talk with them, the more they tell you what they want to know about you. So, after you’ve asked a lot of questions, when you start showing them your work, you know what to focus on, things that you know now are relevant to their situation and that are answering questions that they have, that are in the spheres of interest to them.

I’m not sure why everyone doesn’t present this way, but every once in a while I’ll get a client who will tell me what the other presentations were like. And it’s funny to hear sometimes.

Dealing with prospect insecurities:

Clients just want to be sure they don’t make the wrong decision. And if they don’t have that much experience working with designers, they’ll go into a presentation ill at ease and feeling insecure. It’s just the way it is. For them it’s new and uncomfortable. It’s different from other situations in their life because they usually feel very capable and in command.

But when meeting with designers, they might not think they have any taste or know anything about design or something like that, right? They have a kind of fear and insecurity.

Most designers, when they’re pitching, when they’re selling themselves, think the way to allay the client’s insecurity is by demonstrating absolute confidence. They try to let the prospect know that they shouldn’t worry: “I really know what I’m doing. I’m a real expert. Look at all this stuff I’ve done. I really know your business. I spent time researching it. I’m on top of everything. You have nothing to fear. I’m really competent. You have no reason to worry.”

The prospects greatest fear:

And the problem is they miss the one over-arching fear that clients tend to have, that you’re not going to listen to them. That’s what they’re really afraid of. They’re afraid that you’re going to go off and design something, and not really listen to whatever it is they need. And, if you’ve managed to fill a sixty-minute presentation with sixty minutes worth of bragging about your skills, you’ve basically confirmed exactly what it is they’re most afraid of.

They’re not afraid that you’re a bad designer. They’re afraid you’re a good designer who is going to go off and do something that has nothing at all to do with what their problem is.

Thoughts on the importance of curiosity:

If you read a lot and you’re genuinely curious about the world, you’ll go far in this profession, because there simply aren’t that many people who are able to combine graphic design talent with genuine curiosity about the world.

The great thing about our profession is the nature of the designer/client relationship. You’re always put together with someone who is coming in with a new perspective. And I think designers complain about that sometimes. They say, “My biggest challenge is educating the client.” I never, ever talk about educating the client. I don’t believe in it.

Avoiding bad design:

In fact, when I see bad design, it’s not because the client hasn’t been educated. It’s because the designer hasn’t been educated by the client. I don’t mean taking orders from a hack client. I mean genuinely becoming sympathetic and interested with what the client is trying to communicate, what makes them interesting and special.

Success Secrets from Hillman Curtis:

  • There’s a lot to gain by approaching this field as craft that can be developed.
  • Do things you love to do. The Artist Series started out as a purely personal project and became a serious part of our business.
  • When you have the attitude of looking at the client as a collaborator and not as a hurdle, you’ll often find that every client is a good client.

Early beginnings:

Both my parents were high school teachers, my mother an art teacher and my step dad, history. My step dad also collected books and as a kid I was drawn to these huge poster books in his collection…mostly dealing with world war two propaganda. I would spend hours looking through the images. Big bold posters with strong imagery and often little or no text. I didn’t know it at the time but I was looking at graphic design. Later in my twenties, I was a Rock and Roll musician in San Francisco. I was on a couple of different labels, MCA was the last one, and my story is not uncommon; built up by A and R people, managers and agents and then unceremoniously dropped. I was 30 years old when MCA pulled the plug… I’d just gotten married, and after chasing the music thing for 10 years, working the odd jobs that go along with that – waiter, bartender, house painter, all that stuff – I decided that I was done. It was time to get a career of some sort.

The problem was I didn’t have a clue as to what that career would be. But during the time that I was in bands I was also the guy who made the posters and the flyers. I started with rub-on letters and so on and some of them were actually pretty good. I definitely drew on the bold and simple imagery of the propaganda posters I’d seen ten years earlier in my step-dads books. Other bands started asking me to design their posters and fliers and so when I got dropped I took what little money I had made in music and enrolled in a Photoshop class at a night school.

Because I was older than everyone there, even the teachers, I was desperate. When I started, I couldn’t move a mouse, but I picked it up really quickly. I got some internships and worked my way up. And after a year or two got hired as a contractor at Macromedia and eventually became the Art Director at there.

Hillman’s thoughts on going into business:

When I was at Macromedia, I learned a lot. It was really my first real job. And it was exciting. After six or seven months, I met Neville Brody, who came in to redesign the brand and identity of the company. Neville had this confidence and a sense of purpose. You immediately sensed that design was serious and that your work, the choices you made, had to be justified. He showed me that design was not to be taken lightly, and that if your were going to do you needed to do it without compromise.

What I experienced working briefly with Neville made me think about next steps. I’d been at Macromedia three years at this point…and I felt that I’d done what I could do there.

At the same time, my wife and I decided we wanted to live in a world city. San Francisco is a beautiful city, but small, slow with a provincial mind set. So we moved from san Francisco to New York city. I stayed at Macromedia, working long distance for a few months, but that clearly wasn’t going to work so I decided I’d give my own business a go. I sold what little stock I had in Macromedia and used it to fund the start of my company.

First clients:

In 1998, every one was interested in flash, and my business grew by word of mouth. Having come from Macromedia, and having been there when they acquired Flash, I knew a lot about the then new software. I had also designed and implemented the first Flash website for Macromedia, and I had a few other, high-profile Macromedia jobs under my belt that were Flash-based. It was a small portfolio, but it made it easier to get projects .

When I got to New York, I rented a desk at a design company called RazorFish. This turned out to be extremely beneficial to me both as a designer and as a person new to new york. The people at Razorfish welcomed me into their community and I remain grateful for that to this day.

It became very clear, very quickly that New York City was a big and intense place, but it had this incredibly tightknit and very supportive design community. As soon as I entered the community, I started to make contacts and get referrals and advice.

The first job I got was making small web ads for Intel through an ad agency called DSW out of Salt Lake City. I did those ads for a couple hundred bucks a pop.

This was around 1999-2000 and the dot com boom was just getting fired up. Pretty soon the projects got better and the rates got higher.

I’d worked hard to put myself in a good position and was able to take advantage of some of the opportunities. The dot com boom allowed me an opportunity to move from small flash ads to larger site design. And that’s where it continues today. I rarely do Flash anymore, just for prototyping and for components on larger website designs.

Business development today:

I’m in a fortunate position in that I’ve done some large jobs and they’ve turned out well. That has led to new design opportunities. My film work is growing quite well too. It’s followed a similar course starting small – with short personal films – and growing into commercials, and directing.

Influential figures in design:

I’ve been influenced by everyone who’s profiled in The Artist Series, a series of short films I did on designers. They were chosen specifically because of that.

I fund the series myself, and it’s a very personal work. One of the rules I made was that I would only interview people who had a direct influence on me as a designer, or somehow made it easier for me to become a designer.

I haven’t had time to interview a lot of the people whom I’d like to include in the series, though. One would be Neville Brody. Another would be Kyle Cooper. Another would be, if he were alive, Tibor Kalman.

Marketing to diverse audiences:

Quite often, people look to us or to me specifically for web design, or they come to the site simply for the films, and they have no idea we do both. But we just launched a redesign of our site…Hopefully it will be easier for people to understand that we do design and film (and occasionally write a book).

On my site, in the section on film, you can watch all of The Artist Series videos as well as short films and commercials. AIGA is also a good place to go to see The Artist Series, but it’s not the most current.

Turning personal work into serious business:

The Artist Series started with design, and now it’s expanded. I’ve produced shots on a film maker — Mark Romanek — and the one on the conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner. I am always looking to expand.

The Artist Series has led to commercial work as well. We probably did 10 or 12 web commercials for Adobe’s CS2 about a year and a half ago, plus one for BMW, a series for SVA, and four for Blackberry. This thing that started out as a purely personal project has become a serious part of our business.

Most outstanding accomplishments:

The Artist Series on Milton Glaser certainly is one of my favorites. It turned out particularly well. The new one on Sagmeister is very good. I particularly like the Mark Romanek piece. And the latest – Lawrence Weiner – is quite good. I am also excited by the dramatic films we’re doing.

So far we’ve done about 6 or 7 short films. We won “best dramatic film” from the last year’s Webby Awards. And this year we have three competing against each other.

I’m trying to focus on writing scripts and working with actors at this point. I’m still doing The Artist Series and the commercials, but my goal is to make a feature length film.

Hillman’s thoughts on the keys to success:

I’ve found something that I’m good at. I think that was part of it. Design and Film both utilize a lot of the skills and talents that I was fortunate enough to be born with. That’s not to say it always comes easy. It doesn’t. I’ve worked very hard over the last ten or twelve years. I often tell students or my interns that one reason I’ve been able to do what I’ve done in this industry is simply because I worked harder than other people. That’s changing as I get older, but for the first five or six years of my running my business was often 6am to 8pm, 5 or 6 nights a week.

I like doing commercial work, but I often struggle with it. I think all commercial artist do. There’s always a time in any given project where you question your values…or your choices.

Commercial work encourages me, or maybe even forces me, to explore other purely personal and artistic endeavors, such as the documentary film work and now the dramatic film work, which then in turn… feeds the commercial work.

It’s been an effort to move in directions that are pro-active and not reactive. In this business it’s easy to be reactive and go where the work is. For example, we designed the Yahoo! Home page and we worked with Yahoo! for three years designing or helping them conceptualize many different things.

That brought in a lot of phone calls from other companies that wanted the same thing. They wanted that same sort of portal design. And it would have been really easy to aggressively pursue that business, and probably quite profitable, and possibly very beneficial to the company. But it didn’t seem like the right path for me.

I fear complacency. It’s important to question your work, stay involved and engaged in the work.

On working with consultants:

Sometimes I question my need to keep my company very, very small. I’ve certainly had opportunities to grow bigger. And I suppose, I probably could have managed the business better and not had as much worry or stress. But I like the way a small company works and I still love the hands on designing, directing and editing. I’ve never been a natural manager.

Hillman’s thoughts on building and sustaining a career:

All I know is how I built my career. I may have benefited by coming in as an outsider, someone who hadn’t had schooling. I was always, and still am open-minded about the craft. I’ve never gotten cynical, and I know I’ll always have a lot to learn…which is good. For example I still have trouble identifying a lot of fonts. (Laughter.)

I always try to remind myself that whatever situation you find yourself in, there’s something there for you. There’s some building brick there for you personally, or for your career… something to learn. And that’s how, that’s really how I’ve always approached it.

It’s really about maintaining humility. It’s coming in and being quiet and very careful and thoughtful with the work and your responsibility to whatever brand or person you decide to work for.

On getting good clients:

That’s harder. I would say that almost every client is a good client. Some people might argue with me about that, but it’s how you relate to the client. I’ve always advocated including the client in the early stage, the middle stage, and the late stage of the design process. That seemed to work for me. I know that it doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s an attitude of looking at the client as a collaborator and not as a hurdle. That has made most of my clients really good clients.

If you’re looking for marquee clients who have big brands behind them, and are going to look really nice in your portfolio, that’s something that I don’t know that I can answer. I am attracted to that as well, but usually I am influenced more by how open or just plain nice someone is. I want to know I can work with someone…that’s the most important thing.

I think that no matter who the client is, we need to include them as creative partners in the process. I believe that everyone is creative and sometimes their creativity is manifested in different ways than my own. And, I shouldn’t take them for granted, and I should approach them with respect and be open to their ideas…to a point. Part of my job is listening and considering ideas and feedback and part of it involves saying no from time to time.

Outside activities:

Family is most important.. So my life now is maybe 9 to 6:00 at work, and then it’s all family.

I don’t play golf, and I don’t hunt or ski or anything like that. The main thing I do as a hobby is make my short movies. Working with the actors and writing scripts has become my main outlet.

I still do accept some speaking engagements. They help keep me on track too, because I have to think about what I’m going to talk about, and thinking about my speech reminds me of what’s important to the design or film that I’m doing at the moment.

Meeting new people is also refreshing.

Additional thoughts:

It’s a wonderful craft. There’s a lot to gain by approaching this field as craft that can be developed. It’s something you can grow with. And I think it’s a wonderful thing to be able to do as your life’s work. You just need to find ways to fight the cynicism that can come from doing commercial work. It’s easy to get cynical.

You have to believe that even in the driest and most bland corporate work, you can reach someone. And that’s sometimes hard to imagine or remember, but it’s there. What we do is concerned with communication…reaching people…and if you’re lucky, moving them.

About Hillman Curtis:

Hillman Curtis is the Principal and Chief Creative Officer of, inc., a digital design firm in New York City. His expert and innovative design solutions have garnered him and his company the multiple Communication Arts Awards of Excellence, the One Show Gold, Silver and Bronze, the South by Southwest Conference “Best Use of Design” and “Best of Show”, the New Media Invision Bronze, a Web Award, How magazine’s Top 10, and multiple Webby Awards.

Hillman was named as one of the top ten designers by the IPPA, included in the “ten most wanted” by IDN magazine, and as one of the “Worlds best Flash designers” by Create Online.

He has appeared as the keynote and featured speaker at design conferences worldwide and his work has been featured in a variety of major design publications. Hillman’s first book, Flash Web Design (New Riders, USA) has sold over to 100 thousand copies and has been translated into 14 languages. His second book, MTIV, Process, Inspiration and Practice for the New Media Designer, has become required reading at design schools worldwide. It’s currently in its third printing, and has been translated into 5 languages.

Hillman’s recent work includes major projects for AOL, Yahoo!, the American Institute of Graphic Designers as well as a documentary series on designers and artists and a series of short narrative films. Additionally, his music videos have been added to MTV2 USA, MTV Nordic, MTV European, MTV France, MTV Italy, and Much Music Canada.

His latest book, Hillman Curtis on Creating Short Films for the Web was released in September. Hillman is currently busy leading multiple design initiatives for Yahoo!, including the recent homepage redesign and My Yahoo concept designs. He is also producing online commercial documentaries (documercials) for Adobe, BMW and others and continues to write, direct and produce personal films.


Success Secrets from Mirko Ilic:

  • If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, they can never pay you enough.
  • It’s much easier to think for 8 hours and work for 2, than the opposite.
  • Follow your dream. Do whatever it takes. If it happens, that’s great. And if it doesn’t, at least you’ll know you tried. That’s how I built my business.
  • Getting good clients is like dating. It’s about building a personal relationship, building trust.


Early beginnings:

Going into art was just easier. I was not good at sports. I’m okay in mathematics and in most other things, but somehow art was much easier for me than anything else.  It was a simple decision.

When I first started out, at that time I was living in Yugoslavia, I was leaving my illustrations at different newspapers.  The first illustration that was published, didn’t even have my credit line. I was so eager to publish, that I was leaving the illustrations around without my name on them.

They liked them, (Laughter) but they didn’t know who to give the credit to. I showed up a week later and said, “Oh, that was my illustration.”  They said, “Great, do more.”

That was basically how I started, going round and knocking on the doors.  When you’re young and arrogant, you don’t have anything to lose. So why not?

NYT opEd: Pafko at the Wall (1992). Art direction, design, illustration: Mirko Ilic.
Pafko at the Wall

Broadway Book War

Russia Comes Apart

Starting his career:

I was born in a Communist country and the only employment available at that time was working for a government controlled company. So instead, I chose to freelance. I was one of the few, maybe even one of the first freelancers in my country.

Since I didn’t want to work for the government, it turned out that my first full-time job was when I became art director at Time magazine for all the international editions. I was 31 at the time.

I was there only 6 months. I quit, disagreeing with the look of the redesign of Time magazine. I was supposed to use the new look in Time International, which I was in charge of.  A few months later, I got an offer from the New York Times op-ed pages.




Influential figures from design:

During different periods, I’ve been influenced by different people.  As I grew up things changed, and over the years, I enjoyed many styles and many professions.

I gained lots of influence from European designers and illustrators because I was born there, but also from Americans.  I didn’t know much about famous designers, but the American underground had quite a huge influence on me too.

In 1972, I saw the illustration work of Brad Holland published in a Graphis Annual. It was so powerful. I figured that illustration was serious business and I started to pay much more attention.

Then around 1974 a friend of mine showed me Milton Glaser’s book. When I saw his work I thought, “Wow, I could be an illustrator and a designer at the same time!”  After that, I found my passion.







The Anatomy of Design
Gate-fold book by Mirko Ilic & Steven Heller uncovering the influences of graphic design (Rockport).

Thoughts on planning:

When I was 19, I made a list of the 10 most important comics. I promised myself that I would publish my work there, and everybody was laughing.  But by the time I was 26, I had published in all of those magazines.

When I came to the United States, I had a list that included The New York Times, Time magazine and Playboy.  (chuckling)

Apple’s Growing Ecosystems

This is a funny story.  My first week in New York, I got to do cover sketches for Time magazine.  During my second week I got to do an illustration for The New York Times.  But Playboy was in Chicago. So I didn’t get to do Playboy at that time.

Then, maybe three or four years ago I mentioned this fact to someone in an interview and I got call from Playboy! Now I’m regularly drawing and doing illustrations for them.


Mirko’s thoughts on changing directions:

I get bored doing one kind of thing for too long.  For example, I was doing editorial illustrations for a long time, but I wanted to do book design. And somehow I muscled myself into designing books.  Most often you need to have designed a book to be able to show around because everybody wants to see something before they give you a job. Fortunately for me, I stumbled into that first assignment and it got me started.

Then because I was designing books, I started to write books.  Then one of the people for whom I was designing a book, architect Adam Tihany, asked me if I wanted to graphically design a hotel with him. Of course I said, “Yes.”  And now I’m designing hotels, buildings and restaurants, and that is something that, if you’d asked me at that time, I would have said, “Are you crazy?”

But I like it.  And now I’m pursuing that.  And I’m getting some awards, and publishing some work here and there.

Le Cirque (restaurant)

Favorite accomplishments:

There is no one thing that’s my most favorite accomplishment.  The most exciting things, for me, tend to happen at first: my first illustration, my first designed book, my first cover for Time magazine, my first illustration for The New York Times. It’s all quite amazing. Those sorts of thrills allow me to run empty for quite some time.  (Laughter.)

There are some things that I like more than others, of course.  But I’m quite happy with a few of the books that I wrote. The Design of Dissent: Socially and Politically Driven Graphics, which I co-authored with Milton Glaser, is a kind of achievement which is very dear and important to me. Not to mention the pleasure of working with Milton.

Also, I’m very pleased with my latest book, The Anatomy of Design: Uncovering the Influences and Inspirations in Modern Graphic Design.” I did that one with Steven Heller. We managed to squeeze almost 2,000 pieces of art into the book, which is quite an achievement.

Energy Roundtable

Energy Independence

Mirko’s thoughts on lifelong education:

Throughout my life, I’ve done what I call continuous education – educating myself whenever I can. I notice how lots of kids, especially here in the United States, don’t know much about design history. We all stand on somebody’s shoulders.

I decided to create books for kids so they can learn a little bit about the past. And it’s quite achievement for somebody who can barely speak English and is dyslexic. (Laughter.)



The Sexual Male

Mirko’s thoughts on the keys to success:

In my class in school, there were two extremely talented kids who became my friends.  They were able to draw blindfolded. I figured that only way to equal them was to work harder and try to be brighter. Then I discovered that working is not enough.  One needs to think about what one is doing. I discovered that it’s much easier to think for 8 hours and work for 2, than the opposite.

Thinking about what I do before I sit in front of a white table or computer screen is really, really important. Then once when I have the idea, I work like a dog.  (Laughter.)

The Scent of War

Not Much Has Changed in a System that Failed

The Havoc in Yugoslavia


On doing things differently:

I would love to build, be an engineer and build bridges.  I think bridges are amazing.  They’re like birds that fly on the ground.  They connect people. They’re such positive things. They’re like sculptures, floating in air.  It’s quite amazing.

Mirko’s Toughest Challenge:

Probably the toughest creatively challenging period was in 1991 when civil war broke out in the former Yugoslavia. I managed to see my primary school in my small home town in Bosnia on CNN, which was showing Serbian militiamen killing women who lay face down on the sidewalk in front of the school. As war was spreading, I was glued to the television set for days and nights, trying to reach my mother on the phone, who was still living there. It was very hard to find reasons to draw or create pretty images.



Liberty and Justice

Mirko’s hobbies:

I collect old books.  I visit all the book fairs, and collect magazines.  I do research.  I’m especially interested in the 20’s and 30’s.  I have lots of Russian Dada. I enjoy old papers.  I enjoy touching them and playing with them.  And I think that’s my biggest hobby.

Thoughts for someone just starting out:

It’s very tricky because our industry is in a big shift. It doesn’t seem to have a clear future at this point in time. We are now focused on the promise of new technology while we’re forgetting that there are still ideas that might be left behind.

There seems to be too many vice presidents making the design decisions instead of the designers.

But one thing’s for sure, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, they can never pay you enough. You must feel pleasure.  You must feel like you want to wake somebody up and show them what you’ve done.  You must feel like you’d like to run out and say, “Look, look, look, look what I did.”  That kind of feeling is more important than any amount of money.

I think when one sees the design of another person and thinks, “Wow, why didn’t I come up with that one?”  That’s the kind of design you should strive to create.

SVA: To Help See Possibilities

Thoughts on getting good clients:

Getting good clients is like dating.  It’s about building a personal relationship, building trust.

It’s tough, especially today, when most of us communicate through the internet and we don’t even see the faces of the people we’re working with. And sometimes they’re just two blocks away.

If you like what your client is doing, if you like their product, and if they like what you’re doing, if they feel the same kind of honesty from you, I think you have a chance to build a relationship.  And look, I arrived in this country in 1986, and I still work with 5-10 of the people whom I met during the very first year.





Tihany Design (booklet)

Ideas for people just starting out:

Follow your dream. Do whatever it takes. If it happens, that’s great. And if it doesn’t happen, at least you’ll know you tried. That’s how I built my business. Now, of course, I’m old and tired, actually mostly lazy; I wait for the telephone to ring or the internet to beep.  Here and there I push a little bit, but mostly the telephone rings or the internet beeps.

Additional thoughts:

It’s very important to introduce new ideas into your design. When you’re listening to music, going out to the theater, visiting museums, socializing with friends, and so forth, you will accumulate additional ideas, and from some place other than looking at other designers’ work or at the design annuals. The best ideas come from cross-pollination. Not from just recycling the same crap again and again.

Sav Taj Crtez (All Those Drawings)

About Mirko Ilic:

Mirko Ilic published his first works in 1973, and has since been publishing comics and illustrations in magazines, such as Omladinski tjednik, Modra Lasta, Tina, Pitanja, and has become the art and comics editor of the students’ magazine Polet in 1976. That’s when he helped organize an informal organization of the comic book creators Novi kvadrat (The New Square), that has been widely connected to the Novi val musical movement in Zagreb. That connection also allowed Ilic to design album covers for some of the most prominent Yugoslav bands of the time, such as Bijelo dugme, U škripcu, Prljavo kazalište, Parni Valjak, Parlament, and many others. He also wrote the song Covjek za sutra on the first album of Prljavo kazalište, but he wasn’t given the credits for the authorship. Ilic appears in Sretno dijete, Igor Mirkovi?’s documentary about the Novi val movement in Zagreb, as one of the most prominent figures of the movement.

In 1977, Ilic started publishing his works in the established comics magazines outside Yugoslavia, such as Alter Alter, Métal Hurlant and Heavy Metal. In 1980, Novi kvadrat ceaseed to exist and Ilic entirely stopped working on comics, focusing upon illustration and graphic design. In 1982, he started working for the Italian magazine Panorama, as well as for the Croatian magazine Danas. in March 1986 he left Yugoslavia and went to New York “with $1,500 in the pocket and no idea what to do upon getting there.” He soon started publishing his illustrations in Time, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and many other prominent and influential newspapers and magazines. In 1991, he became art director of Time International, and the following year he became art director of the op-eds in The New York Times.

In 1993, Ilic became one of the co-founders of Oko & Mano Inc. graphic design studio, and in 1995 he founded Mirko Ilic Corp., a graphic design and 3-D computer graphics and motion picture title studio. In 1998, he created the title sequence for the romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail.

He is a co-author of several books about graphic design: Genius Moves: 100 Icons of Graphic Design, Handwritten – expressive lettering in digital age, and Anatomy of design (all of them co-authored with Steven Heller) and Design of Dissent (with Milton Glaser).

Mirko Ilic Corp.
207 E 32nd Street
New York, NY 10016
Tel. 212.481.9737
Fax. 212.481.7088
Best Life Magazine
Published: 2005
Art director: Chris Dougherty
Illustrator: Mirko Ilic Corp.
New York Times Op-Ed
Year: 1992
Title: Pafko at the Wall
Design: Mirko Ilic
Illustration: Mirko Ilic
New York Times Op-Ed
Year: 1992
Title: Broadway Book War
Art direction: Mirko Ilic
Design: Mirko Ilic
Illustration: Mirko Ilic
New York Times Op-Ed
Year: 1992
Title: Russia Comes Apart
Art direction: Mirko Ilic
Design: Mirko Ilic
Illustration: Mirko Ilic

Time Magazine cover “Canada”
Art Director: Rudolph Hoglund
Illustrator: Mirko Ilic

Time Magazine cover “Germany”
Art director: Mirko Ilic
Designer: Mirko Ilic

The Anatomy of Design
Art director : Mirko Ilic
Designers: Mirko Ilic, Kunal Bhat
Description: Gate-fold book by Mirko Ilic & Steven Heller uncovering the influences of graphic design (Rockport).
Client: Rockport

Apple’s Growing Ecosystems
Business Week
Published: 2007
Art Director: Steven Taylor
Illustrator: Mirko Ilic Corp.

Darfur poster
art director : Mirko Ilic
designers: Mirko Ilic, Daniel Young
description: Poster to help raise awareness of Darfur crisis
client: Paradoxy Products

Le Cirque (restaurant)
Art director : Mirko Ilic
Designer: Mirko Ilic
Description: plates, stationary, and other graphics for the restaurant
Client: Le Cirque

Energy Roundtable
Client: Stanford University
Art director: Amy Shroads
Illustrator: Mirko Ilic Corp.

Energy Independence
Client: Mother Jones magazine
Art director: Tim Luddy
Illustrator: Mirko Ilic Corp.

The Sexual Male
Playboy Magazine
Art director: Rob Wilson
Illustrator: Mirko Ilic Corp.

The Scent of War
Village Voice
Year 2002
Art director: Minh Uong
Illustrator: Mirko Ilic Corp.

Not Much Has Changed in a System that Failed
The New York Times, 2002
Art director: Tom Bodkin
Illustrator: Mirko Ilic Corp.

The Havoc in Yugoslavia
Published: 1996
The New York Times Book Review
Art director: Steven Heller
Illustrator: Mirko Ilic Corp.

Liberty and Justice
Village Voice
Art director: Min Uong
Illustrator : Mirko Ilic Corp.

SVA: To Help See Possibilities
Client: The School of Visual Arts
Creative director : Anthony P. Rhodes
Art director: Michael J. Walsh
Designer: Mirko Ilic
Illustrators: Youngmin Kim, Mirko Ilic

Tihany Design (booklet)
Client: Tihany Design
Art director : Mirko Ilic
Designer: Mirko Ilic
Description: Look-book & stationary set for interior-design firm

Sav Taj Crtez (All Those Drawings)
Client: Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rijeka, Croatia
Published: 2009
Art director: Mirko Ilic
Designer: Mirko Ilic
Illustrator: Mirko Ilic, Lauren de Napoli

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