One Minute With…
Hey Dan, thanks so much for joining me on OneMinuteWith – Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
Hey! My name is Dan Cassaro and I’m a designer and illustrator. I live in Brooklyn, New York – I grew up about a half hour outside the city, in Long Island – and, yeah, basically my meal ticket as of late has been doing lettering, typography and logos for different people. I share a studio space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with 3 other designers and illustrators. I’ve been there for about a year, and before that I used to just work outta home. It’s nice.
Ah, sweet. Do you collaborate, or bounce ideas off each other, or…?
I mean, we bounce ideas off each other, but we don’t actually collaborate on projects. I used to work at MTV, and when I left there and went out on my own, the biggest thing that I missed was just having someone to walk over and take a look at the screen over my shoulder, and having that again has been invaluable to me. I have a really hard time pulling the trigger when I have the final thing to send – I’m like “This one, or this one?”, so just to have someone else weigh in helps out a lot.
So how did you get into design?
It was by accident – I went to design school later in my life (I went back to school when I was 23, for design.) I didn’t really know what design was, I just knew that I wanted to do something with art, and graphic design sounded like a way you can do art and also get money from it. I fell in love with design, and, almost in spite of myself, I got into lettering and typography – That wasn’t really something that I had planned to get into, but it seemed to be the thing that I ended up enjoying more, and more people would take note when I would do that, so I just went in that direction.
And if you hadn’t become a designer, what do you think you’d be doing with your life?
I think I’d do something else with art. Most creative people get into what they get into, and then they learn to love it, because they’re creative people. I think that I could have done any number of things. I think that I could have been a photographer, a musician – I don’t know how successful I would have been at those things, but I think that I could have gotten into those things and really enjoyed them, because I have an interest in all those other areas. It just happens to be that design is what my meal ticket is right now, y’know?
Yeah, absolutely. I guess I first discovered your work almost exactly a year ago, with your Young Guns win. Do you think design accolades like that are important, or just more designery backslapping?
As far as design awards you can win, Young Guns is one of the better ones – I think people take note of it, and it has a really good pedigree of people who have won it before. It’s also a really fun thing, because they throw great parties and they’re very willing to meet each other, and other designers. I actually got tied in with the community a bit more after winning that, because I’d go to their events and talk to other people. So yeah, it’s one of the better ones to win.
And as for the smaller ones?
Y’know, that stuff becomes less important to you as you get older. It’s fun to win that stuff, and then after a while, you don’t feel like spending the $50 or $100 all of the time. But I feel super lucky – Young Guns was a fun one to win.
So, a lot of your work is typography. Does sketching play an important role in your process?
That’s a tricky question for me. I do a lot of sketches, but my sketches are so loose that I would say that my sketching happens on the computer. I’ll do loose sketches with the tablet, and I think that works in my benefit, because if I do a really detailed sketch, then I think that I’m limiting myself when I do the final project, and I get really tied to that. But if I’m more blind and loosey-goosey about it, then I open myself up to happy accidents happening more. So yeah, I never stay too tied to my sketch – Most of my final products end up not much like my original sketch. Which is difficult for client work, but y’know, it’s a good way to work, I think.
Much of your work has a retro style to it – Do you think trendy work is important, or are you aiming for timeless design?
I think that a lot of the stuff I’m doing now would probably be considered “trendy”. But I also know, at the heart of it, that good lettering is good lettering. If something has rough edges and it has, y’know, crazy archiving to make it look like an old stamp, or to make it look like it’s screenprinted, but, at the core, there’s good lettering, that totally has nothing to do with trends or anything like that. Trendy design is one thing, but you still need timeless design at the core.
I think a lot of people will have heard about your road trip around the US. Outside of leading to your font, Highway, did that trip impact on you as a designer and/or a person?
Yeah, it was just a really good excuse to get out of my comfort zone. You’re growing any time you take a chance, do something that you’re not sure will work out, that might be a disaster. So it wasn’t just taking a trip, it was, y’know, quitting my job, going freelance, buying a camper on eBay – All these things are risky, so stepping outside my comfort zone was a chance for me to grow.
But it was also just getting to go and see the country. I try to pull a lot of influence from history, and being able to see a lot of that Americana and American history first-hand had a great impact on me. And, uh, yeah, it was just an excuse to just do something I had always wanted to do, which was to drive across the country. That said, it was a big sigh of relief when I pulled the camper back into Brooklyn – I was like, “I did it! I didn’t get arrested! I didn’t crash my car!”
There were tons of good stuff that came out of it. I got bitten by the bug, and I just want to do it again. We took the camper out this summer, and we’re gonna do it again. We might do another cross-country trip in it, if the thing doesn’t fall apart.
There are a lot of designer collaborations out there, but I must say, 50 and 50 is easily one of my favourite. What was the motivation behind it? Is there an end-goal for it, or was it just something you set up for fun?
Well, it was just for the fun of it in the beginning – It actually started out as a personal project and I was gonna do them all myself. Before the trip, my girlfriend and I had done a lot of travelling anyway – just around the United States – and my plan was that when I would go to a new state, I would do the motto myself. But then I realised that this was a crazy amount of work, and there was a good chance I’d never go to, y’know, Alaska. So, I thought it would add a great dimension to the project if I got 50 different designers to do their home state, and then it just sorta took off from there.
It became this great way for me to meet a ton of designers, and to help promote their work. The plan was always to either make a book or have a show, and next month, we’re actually gonna have a show at the Ace Hotel in New York, where we’re gonna show all the pieces, have a big party… It’ll be nice.
Now for the serious, hard-hitting stuff. You recently switched your Twitter username from @YoungJerks to @Dan_Cassaro. Is “Young Jerks” dead now?
Well, my avatar still says Young Jerks…
Okay, fine, that is true. But, y’know, are you trying to move away from it a little bit – Trying to become less Young Jerks, more… “you”?
Um… a little bit. It was, like, a little bit of an issue. There was a thing where people would think that Young Jerks was a design studio with, y’know, lots of jerks, when it was only me – Only one jerk. And then I thought that maybe it looked a little bit more credible, to have my name, rather than to be just Young Jerks. Also, I’m 31 years old, so y’know, that “young” thing was becoming… um…
…And “Old Jerks” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Yeah, yeah, not at all. So yeah, I’m not rid of it completely, but yeah, I just thought it made sense – It was a logical progression.
Was it hard letting go to the username?
A little bit, yeah. People were mad at me about it too! It was like, y’know, it was like seeing your dad cry or something. I dunno, people were like “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS???”
If, in some Freaky Friday-like situation, you could live the life of another designer, illustrator or creative, for a day, who would it be, and why?
Hmmm… So I’m definitely gonna go with Bruce Springsteen. The question is what day. And I’m sorta torn between the Born to Run tour and the Born in the USA tour. I think that I like the music better on Born to Run, but I think that the songs on Born in the USA would be more fun to play, so I think I would do a day on tour on Born in the USA.
How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet?
Oh man.. I mean, I can pay my bills now, so for now, for me, that’s enough success – That I can show my parents that I went to art school, and that I’m paying the bills right now – That counts as a big success for me. But I also think about 20 years down the line, and what I’m gonna be doing – I don’t really know if I’d consider myself successful. But I think that the fact that I can pay my bills right now, doing creative work, is a huge win. I’m pretty happy with that.
And where do you see 20 years down the line? Even 5, 10 years in the future?
Right now, I can’t imagine doing anything that isn’t at least associated with design. So yeah, hopefully I’ll still be involved in this. But I’m not really planning for the future, so we’ll see what happens.
Okay, so this is a bit of a morbid question, but if you died tomorrow, would you be happy with the impact you had left on the world?
Yeah, that is a morbid question. But yeah, I think so. I probably would have had a different answer if you had asked me that, like, 5, 6, 7 years ago, but I feel pretty happy with where I am now and the relationships I have in my life, so I would be okay with it. But, I mean, I don’t want to die…
Of course – I mean, I’m not saying that you should.. Anyway, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
Please yourself. In a really selfish way, I think you should just please yourself, in your work, and how you put yourself out there. Don’t worry about your audience. When you’re doing personal work, you are your own audience, so you should just please yourself. My experience has been that when I have worked really hard to make myself happy with my work, it makes other people happy as well, because people aren’t that different. Any projects that I pour my heart into for my own benefit has ended up the same way for other people.
And lastly, the question on everybody’s lips… Any opinion on cats?
OH, I FINALLY GOT A GOOD QUESTION. I love cats. Um… I think that they’re cute. I have two of them. I love them both equally. I would get more if I could, but then people would think I was crazy.
Fan of cat GIFs on the internet? Is that your sorta thing?
Yeah, yeah… I mean, that’s everyone’s thing, right? Everyone likes that. Who doesn’t like that? I like cats on the computer, I like cats in real life. Should I elaborate more?
I like to pet them. I like their soft bellies.
Many thanks to Dan for taking some time to talk to One Minute With. I really enjoyed interviewing him, and hopefully you enjoyed reading it!
Why not check out Dan’s site, and follow him on Dribbble and Twitter?