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
Is Gotham the right type choice for the cornerstone of the Freedom Tower. Wermer argues that its application may not send the right signal.
Section: Inspiration -
Interview with Cathleen Mitchell
Chief Brand Strategist + Founder MM Brand Agency
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