Success Ideas and Tips from Master Graphic Designer, Agustin Garza

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).

This article is published by Will Sherwood | The Sherwood Group |Website Design | Graphic Design | Marketing Communications: The Sherwood Group has over 30 years of experience working with all sorts of companies, small and large. Our clients range from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 firms, in nearly every business sector, from across the street to around the world (and yes, even Europe, China, and South America). Our goal is to create advertising,  graphic design, website design, and marketing communication that still looks fresh and relevant 10-15 years later. Our mission is to stir your imagination and leave your competition shaken and wondering,  Now what do we do?”  We are located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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Please comment. We’d like to know if you found this article informative or helpful?



  • By LinkCreative 04 Dec 2008

    Great Read, Thanks for sharing!

  • By evenas 22 Jul 2009

    I worked with Agustin at Rod Dyer’s studio many years ago. Back then, there was a very distinct difference between “production” artists and “designers”. The two would interact on specific jobs but we rarely interacted on a social level. The designers would lunch together leaving us “production” folk to finish the work. Agustin was the first designer to break that routine. I was about 21 at the time when I was invited to have lunch with Agustin and his lovely wife at they home close by. They treated me as a peer, as a fellow “graphics” person and more importantly, as a friend. Agustin was always a kind, compassionate and understanding person. It takes more than just talent to run a business and survive these hard times. With building relationships as his base, I can clearly see why so many years later he has been successful. I regret losing contact with him but I was very happy to see his name in your blog!
    Allan Evenas
    Evenas Graphic Design, Inc.

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