The Quest for Knowledge

Other people may claim it, but I really do have the best job in the world. My job is to inspire those who inspire me and to help talented people advance their careers. The opportunity to see something or someone new gets me into the office each morning, and I am constantly reminded of the immeasurable creative talent our industry employs every day.

My company's main challenge is to remain useful and relevant to an increasingly diverse group of people who utilize creative thinking to connect clients and causes with their audiences. Being creative on-demand certainly has its rewards and challenges, and most of us got into this field because of our desire to craft messages and objects. But I've come to discover that one of the best benefits of designing for a living is the opportunity for lifelong learning—not just keeping up with software updates, but learning about people, business and society. Visual communications really is a great career choice for the perpetually curious, as each design project has a unique set of issues to explore.


Communication Arts annuals.

I often tell students that to be successful they need to be cultural sponges. And while my wish is that everybody will read Communication Arts, there's so much more going on outside of visual communications that can be a tremendous source of inspiration—such as fine art, dance, music, architecture, history, science. A great deal of what we in design do is to reflect culture back to society. To do that effectively we have to know what's going on. And that doesn't happen by skimming People magazine, but by reading more critical books, magazines, newspapers and blogs. The more we increase our awareness, the more opportunities we have to connect with a potential audience by making visual associations from seemingly disparate ideas. This is one of the few professions in which everything we experience can ultimately help us produce better work and why simply receiving a college education in design will never adequately prepare creatives for a successful career.

If I knew 35 years ago how important writing would be to my career, I might have paid more attention in my high school English classes.

Regrets? Like many in our profession, my interest was in communicating visually and I focused my education on using materials to create imagery. If I knew 35 years ago how important writing would be to my career, I might have paid more attention in my high school English classes. Back then I just didn't see English or writing as that important. I'm reminded of that irony every time I sit down in front of the keyboard.

Another regret was initially not letting the smart people I hired do their job. When I joined CA in 1986, my biggest fear was screwing up a good thing. Consequently, I tried to micro-manage everything. Trying to be coach and quarterback meant I wasn't giving either role my complete attention. Fortunately, a loyal staff stuck it out until I learned to let go and work collaboratively.

Publishing a magazine has proven to be a lot more complicated than running a small design office. While I do miss the greater variety of graphic design work in my own practice, running and designing a business has been a fascinating challenge, and the occasional sleepless night has been a reasonable price to pay for the opportunity to be exposed to such a wide variety of new ideas every single day.