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    Interview with Allan Peters of Target

    If you’re one of the hundreds of people who was fortunate enough to see Allan Peters speak at an AIGA chapter recently, you know he likes bicycles, family, Minnesota, retro video games, ping-pong and Jesus, not necessarily in that order. Peters started off working for small design firms in Minneapolis, earned his chops at BBDO and is now making his mark as associate creative director for Target, where he revitalized the company’s core brand imagery and designed the iconic Threshold logo. Peters gets geeked for design, for handcrafted American goodness and for the opportunity to try new things, all of which he chronicles on his well-known design blog, allanpeters.com. Scott Kirkwood interviews Peters for INform.

    When did you realize you wanted to be a graphic designer? What was it that drew you to the field?

    From as early as I can remember, I've always loved drawing. As I grew into an adult, I really wanted to be a fine artist but worried about the whole “starving artist” thing. About a year into college I learned about graphic design. Graphic design has always felt like the evolution of the Renaissance painter. The work has more exposure and more influence then a modern-day painting hanging in a gallery. That’s what drew me in like a mosquito to a bug zapper.

    What went into your decision to move from agency to in-house? And how has it been making that adjustment?

    The thought of going in-house initially scared me. I was worried that I’d have less variety and fewer opportunities to flex my creativity. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Target is a brand that demands good design. If it’s not designed well, it’s not getting produced. The variety hasn’t been a problem at Target. I work on everything from Shaun White campaigns to broadcast to Zambonis. I have so much more control over my work now. If I get bad feedback on a project, I just call the person who gave me the feedback and I get the situation resolved without having to worry about losing a client or my job. It’s been the best move of my career.

    So many designers dream of working for Target or Apple or another company that truly values design from the inside out. Can you talk about some of the advantages of working at Target and perhaps some of the challenges as well?

    Advantages:

    • Work-life balance
    • Better projects
    • More respect (not a vendor)
    • Room to experiment
    • Time to pitch unassigned projects
    • Better timelines
    • More variety

    Disadvantages:

    • No booze at work (agency style)
    • Dress code (rarely enforced)

    Can you share the details of a Target project that you’re working on right now?

    Everything I’m currently working on is top secret, but I can talk a little bit about one project that I’m particularly proud of—the Hello Neighbor social campaign, created when Target launched its first 200 stores in Canada. I worked on the project with Sage Rider and Ryan Meis last spring. The reason I’m so pumped about it is because there was no brief. I was inspired by a broadcast campaign and a set of travel posters; it was an idea I came up with while taking a shower. Within 14 hours, I pitched it, got approval and budget and was on the phone with the illustrator executing the work.

    I love the Target brand, and when the stores do well, it reflects back on me. That’s why I push hard to innovate rather then waiting for assignments. Who wouldn’t want to chart their own course? After all, we are artists.

    On your blog and in the talks you’ve given across the county, it’s obvious that you’re in love with Minneapolis. In an age when so many of us can work from anywhere, how important is it for designers to connect with their local community?

    I’ve always lived by the saying “surround yourself with people who inspire and challenge you.” Minneapolis is jam-packed with some of the most talented creatives in the world. That includes 75 designers at Target who make my work stronger through insight and collaboration.

    Outside of the office we have a strong design community with annual poster and T-shirt shows as well as one of the largest AIGA chapters in the country. We don’t mess around in Minnesota. It may be cold here, but that just gives us an excuse to stay inside all winter perfecting our craft (and playing ping-pong).

    You clearly love old-school American design, typography, packaging and branding. What is it about that style that you find so compelling?

    Computers have sped up the design process. Clients expect revisions the next morning or sometimes within the next hour. With this increase in efficiency has come a decrease in craftsmanship. In the early part of the century, designers took their time and did things right. Every detail was treated with care. I don’t necessarily love “retro” or “old-school” design—I love well-crafted work that’s made with passion and respect.

    Allan Peters was recently appointed in-house ambassador of AIGA’s “INitiative” program. He will lead the newly formed “INitiative” committee, which will help shape content for the program at both the national and chapter levels.

    About the Author: 

    Scott Kirkwood began his publishing career in Troy, Michigan, editing coupon books (yes, coupon books) but ever since moving to Washington, DC, in 1994 he’s been writing and editing for nonprofit organizations including the Humane Society of the United States and the Child Welfare League of America. For the last eight years he’s worked at the National Parks Conservation Association, where he oversees the group’s magazine and other publications. And even though it’s impossible to pick a favorite national park, he knows you’ll insist on asking, so he’ll reluctantly say Zion National Park in Utah.

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