Graphic Design Interview by Courtny Cotten
I love to share stories about design with fellow creatives, so naturally when my buddy Courtny Cotten asked to interview with him on his blog, I was excited and glad to participate.
Courtny is an incredible designer from Indianapolis, Indiana, and is a proud member of the Indy chapter of AIGA | the professional organization for design. He has a fine portfolio of identities and interfaces even though he is at the beginning of what is sure to be a long career.
Here’s a bit about Courtny from his site: I am a graphic designer focused on delivering beautiful and practical solutions. I have experience in a broad range of design disciplines: print, 3D, video, as well as web. My current passion is emerging information technologies, user interface design, as well as communication architecture. I work and play in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The interview is no longer published, but you can read it here:
What spurred you to begin your career in design? Friends, family, or an undying childhood passion?
Honestly, I am very fortunate by means of how certain I have always been in what I want to do with my career. Early on, I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer even though essentially I really didn’t even know what that meant. I knew I wanted to create. Armed with the advantage of a tangible goal, I have always emphasized nearly all of my working efforts toward that general goal.
The passion and desire to be a successful designer needs to be undying, because without the ambition to move forward a designer can quickly find their career or creative fervor to be stagnant.
That being said, my current goal of being a “Design Thinker” are a far cry from my 4 year old aspirations to be simply an artist. I found it difficult to find influence anywhere other than intrinsically early on. I didn’t know any designers growing up, so it really was an outbound effort to see what it meant to be a creative professional. I found less than motivational feedback when explaining to my teachers my dreams and ambitions. All too often it was followed up by “You know that is a really competitive industry” or something like, “So you’re saying you want to just draw pictures?” which I tried not to find too discouraging. Without the internet at the time it was much more difficult to get abstract info about any given field. Luckily family was always supportive and an honest voice in motivating me to pursue the long seeded goal.
Looking at your portfolio, one cannot help but notice your affinity towards vibrant color and the usage of collage. Do you find that your design prowess is leaning towards a particular style?
Anyone really will adhere to a certain style when they enter the field. My first exposure to design in the sense that I regard it, was Surfing Magazine publication layout and advertisements, surfing/skating videos and tattoo art from Jason Harms at http://livewiretattoo.com. Naturally, in executing initial designs and layouts I would tend to lean toward techniques and style I had seen and become enamored with before. In trying to emulate these style I had seen before and knew well, I was able to perfect my technical capabilities. Having these styles and inspirations to adhere to gave me a way to practice using software and become familiar with what compositions worked and did not. I really emphasize trying to have a diversified skill set. I think in many ways this can be noted as a disadvantage (Lack of focus on a particular strength) but I have so much love for the whole design process including photography, web development, copywriting, and any production type scenarios otherwise.
Out of a desire to learn something new, I really try and change the work on my desktop up pretty often.
I do love a bright colored, tastefully designed look with an emphasis on illustration and typography. That would be my ideal “Design on Steroids” look so to speak. With consideration to all of those elements: color, composition, type and image, you’re bound to get a great result.
What is your workspace like (environment, inspirational decor, etc.)?
I really love to have inspirational surroundings. I like hanging pictures and prints, displaying art toys, skatedecks, books and and other 3D items of interest. Some of my best influential surrounding are local poster illustrators Halftone Def Studios (http://halftonedef.com), Dog and Pony Showprints (http://dogandponyshowprints.com), and legendary fine artist Dave Kinsey (http://kinseyvisual.com). Having plenty of books around for reference is great too. To see some great bookshelves check out Emprnt (http://emprnt.com). Here is an image of my home office: http://tinyurl.com/pcarteroffice
What are some of your research resources?
Inspiration comes from all over. One really good site for web design is called designmeltdown.com. I have subscriptions to several stock photography sites, and this can be used for reference if I am going to illustrate a project. Stock photography also helps at times to develop concepts if I am in a crunch. Recently, I have been into collecting vinyl design toys, but I’m not sure how much that is beneficial to my design. Other than that, design books, poster books, random Google searches, etc. Anywhere which the designer is successful in inspiring themselves is truly the best for them.
How do you (generally) approach a project? For some it is difficult to begin, and other’s creativity flows easily. How do you cope with the need for on–demand creativity in such a fast paced career?
It tends to vary from project to project, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. It usually begins with a creating a creative brief in conjunction with meeting with the client. It’s essential to get all of the information needed, because there are so many variations of opinion, and it’s really hard to nail someone down on what they want as a look or a feel. Usually it helps to get keywords from your client so you can refer back to them throughout the process and make sure you remain on point. After you have gathered the info, thumbnails are a great way to organize your thoughts. This is a time when any idea is truly a good idea. Just throw it all out on the table and see what makes sense. 10 – 15 thumbnails will usually get you to a good concept. A good concept is essential to any successful project, because without it you may just be making something look pretty without having a message, and that isn’t really doing the job to the best extent.
Once you have a solid concept and game plan, you can move about your computer pretty easily.
This also helps cut wasted time out of your process, because you are functioning with a true goal in mind. You are avidly involved with the Jacksonville AIGA. How has your involvement there provided connections, opportunities, and experiences that you could not have received otherwise? Personally, how has design shaped your life and what have been some of the defining moments in your young career? For fun, what do you enjoy doing when not getting a pixel sunburn? Life has many facets and surely design is a small fraction of yours.
Among our audience will surely be student designer’s. What is the single biggest piece of advice you can offer to those wishing to make a career and lifestyle around design and visual communication?
I would say always refer back to the basics. Things like good use of positive and negative space, always mind your margins, be conscious of good color choices, and typography (DON’T USE PAPYRUS!!!). Make sure your resolution is always crisp, and that you are proud of the product you are putting out. Sometimes I think of a designer that I admire and wonder what they would think about what I have done with the space on the page. It truly is a blank canvas, and the possibilities are endless. It just depend on how far you are willing to go with it. Never stop learning. Never stop pushing yourself to go further, and never be scared to experiment. So long as you experiment doesn’t turn into an eye sore because there wasn’t enough thought put into it. The best advice I can give, is never give up. Great designers didn’t become great by settling for mediocrity.