Success Ideas and Tips from Master Graphic Designer, Dave Mason


Success Secrets from Dave Mason:

  • Doing solid work is the table stakes to be in this game.
  • It’s what kind of person you are that finally gets you where you want to be.
  • Being articulate and communicating well verbally is a big deal.






Dave’s thoughts on going into business:
I didn’t think anybody else would hire me. (Laughter) I graduated from my two-year community college design program, and I was self-aware enough to know I was an idiot, and only an idiot would hire another idiot. (Laughter) So the only other option was to start my own business. I just thought that way. Of course I had the encouragement of my girlfriend at the time (now my wife and the Mother of my three children). If I was ever going to be on my own, that was the time. She pointed out that I had nothing to lose.

Looking back, it was a logical thing to do. There was no risk to speak of at that point, and it didn’t cost anything to start. The technology was quite different. In fact there wasn’t any. It was in 1984 and the first Macintosh had just been born. The entry-level paste-up job I was trained for at school was basically eliminated the year I graduated. Although I didn’t like the pre-Mac ways of doing things anyway.

Those went away, thankfully, since I didn’t want to use them anyway. In hindsight starting my business was the smartest thing I’ve ever done.





Dave’s views on getting started in business:

I just sat and stared on the phone, hoping something would happen. (Laughter) Actually it was a combination. I did a lot of illustration when I first started out. I managed to schlep my portfolio around, and started meeting people. It’s basically the people who you know, right?

I ended up meeting a guy who needed an annual report. I did that. Too cheaply though. It turned into a nightmare. I think I ended up paying about $5,000.00 to finish that job. But, it started the ball rolling. From then I door-knocked, all the regular routes people use to get business.

Personal accomplishments:

In life, my family is my greatest joy – my kids and especially my wife. I know it sounds like a cliché, but that’s the way it is.

This weekend, I am taking my 8 yr. old daughter to New York. We’re gonna go play. And, she’ll be experiencing New York for the first time. And I’ll get to experience that through her eyes. That’s the sort of thing that gets me going. And, we have a house out on the east coast. In the summer we go kayaking and playing there. You know, you have to get away from everything once in a while.

But in terms of business, I have been able to do what I love to do all this time, and I’m actually getting paid for it! It’s like dream come true. I am living the life most people on the planet never live. I am very grateful for that.










What would you do differently?

I would charge more money. (Laughter) Honestly, I don’t know if there is much I would do differently. I’ve been pretty damned lucky. I have great business partners. Great clients. I make a great living at this—I still enjoy it to this day. I just cannot think that I would do anything much differently at all.

Views on partnering:

I think that in any successful partnership, you have people who are not the same. When people are the same in a partnership, the likelihood of failing is much higher.

We each have different strengths and different weaknesses. And, we each know what those are. In a group setting, people naturally gravitate to those who are best at something and let others handle the things that they’re not so good at. It’s not a formal arrangement. It’s just natural. One of us may be better at certain things than the others, and vice versa. It is a natural structure that started to evolve.





What it takes to achieve business success:

We’re pretty lucky. The phone rings from time-to-time on its own now. We can just stare at it, and one day it will ring. (Laughter) But obviously we try to do great work. To me, that is the strongest marketing you can do. Because when you do good work for people and you treat them well, and they have a good time working with you, they will say great things about you. So a lot of our works comes from referrals, word-of-mouth referrals. Of course we market ourselves broadly from time to time through various means, but word of mouth referral seems to do well for us.

I don’t know that a lot of clients have come to us from appearing in annuals. Some have, definitely, but most come through recommendations of satisfied clients. Doing solid work is the table stakes to be in this game. And it’s what kind of person you are that finally gets you where you want to be.





Dave’s thoughts on achieving balance:

The design aspect of things still energizes me after all these years. Beyond that, I am as physically active as I can be. I try to play hockey a couple of times a week.

On the intellectual side, I go to conferences, but not specifically design conferences. Mostly I go to things like TED, or Idea City that encompass design in some aspects, but not all. They deal with broader issues and a wide variety of topics. And that gets me pretty jazzed.

And, I have three kids: 15, 12, and 8. That’s energizing in itself.




On the importance of being articulate

I just had a kid in here this morning looking for a job. You know, a lot of these kids are very talented, in terms of producing what looks like finished goods.

You’ve seen their finished booklets. They’re very, very competent at that. But what I tell these kids is, “If you can’t speak; if you can’t write; if you can’t articulate your thoughts in words; your experience in graphic design is going to be very hard. Being articulate and communicating well verbally is a big deal. I’ve seen a lot of people who are unable to do that and they’ve pretty much plateaued. But the strongest designers that I know, the people that I admire the most are extremely articulate.



What Dave looks for in a new designer:

For a young person coming up, we always ask “did you write this?” and if the answer is “yes,” and if it is well written, I get the sense that they’re going to progress. If their work is visually good, it’s immaculately presented, but they’re also able to express thoughts and intelligence beyond simply grabbing something off a website or putting “ipsum dolar” in place. It’s got to be about more than just the look.




The importance of reading and writing:

As far as how to get there? It’s just like everything else, I tell them to practice it. If they read a lot, they can probably write. So, READ. That’s what I tell my own kids. (Laughter) Reading is absolutely essential. If all you’re doing is looking at stuff and not reading, you’ll be able to create the look, but you won’t be able to understand the meaning. When you’re dealing with a client, they may have no idea how the finished project might manifest itself. They may have a strategy and thoughts, but our job is to make those thoughts understandable, and communicate them visually.

And these days there’s motion graphics and sound, and everything else. The tools are all there. It’s our job to make those things come to life. So, the advice I would give a kid on how to get to there? Well, you’ve got to read and you’ve got to write. Practice. Learn to spell. (Laughter). Spell-check doesn’t catch everything.

About Dave Mason:

Dave Mason was raised in England and Canada, where he formed his own design firm in 1984. After twelve years of specializing in corporate communication design, he and co-founders Greg and Pat Samata formed SamataMason Inc. in 1995. His work has been honored in numerous national and international competitions and publications including The Mead Annual Report Show, The AR100 Annual Report Show, The American Center for Design 100 Show, Communication Arts, Graphis, Print and How Magazine. He has served as a juror for many design competitions and he is a frequent guest speaker at industry functions and design schools throughout North America. Dave is a past-president of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, BC Chapter, a member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts and a co-founder of OpinionLab, Inc., the leader in VoC (voice of customer) intelligence systems for the web.

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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  • By Mimi 22 Apr 2008

    AWESOME work by all! Thanks for sharing! We tend to forget all the incredible talent out there!
    How come you didn’t interview me? HA! 🙂

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