Chapter One: You Gotta Love the Smell of Ink
Just after graduating from college as a printmaker and design
student (age 21), I returned to Los Angeles (the last place on
earth I wanted to live at the time) because of a love interest.
Trying to get my bearings, I found a job at George Rice & Sons,
at the time, the best commercial printer in Los Angeles. I was
hired as the receptionist, but within a couple of months was
promoted to the print production department because they thought I
was knowledgeable about paper. Of course, all I really knew was
fine art printmaking papers, so it was trial by fire.
I was often asked to do the most tedious tasks, but I also met the
best designers in town and got to work on their projects. I stayed
another year before going to work at a design studio, but I look
back on the job as the perfect apprenticeship-in the classic
medieval tradition. To this day I have a soft spot for press checks
in the middle of the night and all those “blue collar” guys who
are, in fact such fine craftsmen. One learns that as high tech as
it gets, great printing happens in places that feel akin to a
Chapter Two: The Marlo Thomas Years
When I was about 26, I moved to New York City because I wanted to
try on a completely different life. Not knowing anyone there, I
pounded the pavement for six weeks, and had the good fortune of
seeing the best firms in the city. (In retrospect, it was like a
series of nerve-wracking studio tours.) I was hired by the firm
that is now Addison, to design annual reports for several
Fortune 500 companies. It was like an intense boot-camp
graduate school. Just picture our team staying up until 2:00 a.m.,
hand-cutting in a new ampersand on each and every mention of “Black
& Decker” in the 56-page Black & Decker annual report
mechanical, because the night before we went to press the client
decided he hated the ampersand in Univers (this was way before the
All I can say is that I was tested for a brain tumor before the
doctors realized that two months of non-stop dizziness was simply
due to intense fatigue. However, I will also always remember Len
Fury teaching me to determine when to invest in and when to let go
of a job before it drove me crazy. And that Les Segal taught me the
beauty of drawing ridiculously primitive, deliberately rough
sketches as he talked with CEOs-so they could imagine the solution,
as opposed to the details.
Chapter Three: What's Entrepreneurship, Anyway?
I returned to LA when I was 28 because I wanted a backyard and a
dog. As I was again trying to get my bearings, I started being
referred to clients to do projects. I finally figured out I'd
better design some damn letterhead so I could do some invoicing.
Thus I inadvertently started a design firm. But what did “a firm”
mean? The studio was located in Old Town Pasadena at a time when
our only neighbors were grungy thrift stores and seedy bars. For
the first year, we didn't have enough money to buy tape dispensers
so we just kept stacks of tape on our desks. For the first two
years, we had to walk down the block to make each Xerox copy. We
used my parents' old dining table as the conference table. (During
our first meeting with a CEO, one of the legs fell off.) Twenty-two
years, two dogs, four studio locations and many long hours later,
you could make a case that good design is always about paying dues.
I honestly wouldn't have done any of it any differently.
Principal KBDA Los Angeles, CA
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