One week after I graduated from college in Ohio, I moved to New
York with my new wife Dorothy and began working as a design
assistant at Vignelli Associates. It was 1980, and I was the lowest
employee on the totem pole. Working in a design office in those
days was different. I never touched a computer. As I recall, the
office didn't even have a computer. In fact, we didn't have a fax
I spent most of my days putting thinner in rubber cement and taping
tissue paper over mechanical boards. Every once in a while I would
get to do a mechanical myself, usually following the direction of
one of the more experienced designers. I was working in New York
City for a designer I idolized and I was the happiest person on
earth. It so happened that we got an apartment that was three
blocks-literally, a 135 second walk-from the Vignelli office. Work
started at 9:30 a.m. I usually got up at around five minutes to 9
and still had time to pick up a doughnut on my way in.
Dorothy, on the other hand, had a corporate job downtown, in the
World Trade Center to be precise. She had to wake up before 6 to be
at work at 8. I literally slept three hours later than her every
morning. Every night Dorothy would go to bed at around 10 p.m. I
was still wide awake, and our apartment was so small it drove me
crazy. I had a key to the office. So I got in the habit of tucking
my wife in every night and going back to work to start another
shift, which often would last from 10 to 3 in the morning.
This went on for four years. Anything I've achieved in my career I
credit today to those four years. I loved working late at night. I
worked on office stuff, and I worked on personal projects. I played
music really loud and drank Mountain Dew. I would design anything:
invitations for my friends' parties, packaging for mix tapes,
one-of-a-kind birthday cards, and freebies for non-profits.
When Massimo Vignelli noticed I had extra time during the day, he
started giving me extra work. Things that would have taken two days
only took one, thanks to the night shift. The more work I did, the
faster I got, and the better I got. It never occurred to me to ask
for overtime. 25 years later, nearing 50 with three kids (and the
same wife), I can't tell you the last time I was awake at 3 in the
morning, intentionally, at least. So my advice to anyone starting a
career as a designer? Stay up late while you can. It pays
Partner, Pentagram Design New York
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I have been documenting typographic tattoos for more than ten years. So much can be expressed typographically—intimate messages etched in flesh. This
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Slice of Summer
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