One Minute With…
Hi Matt, thanks for taking time to chat with One Minute With. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
I am a designer and illustrator living in North Carolina. I have a wife, 3 kids and a German Shepherd. Up until about 6 months ago I’d always worked in small brand shops and agencies…I was at Facebook for 3 months from March-June on a contract and am now on my own running a small design studio.
I’m a hybrid designer and illustrator. I think my design work tends to lean on the illustrative side and I’ve been told is heavily “American” whatever that means :) I think that what I really try to do in my work is have it be well thought out and meaningful. Really solving the problem at hand vs. just decorating. I tend to be a pretty instinctive designer, rather than really formal or process focused.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Matt Stevens.
Well, it’s pretty different these days than it’s ever been, meaning, most of my career has been very much a routine and more of a set schedule. Being on my own has been a challenge to embrace every day being different.
I usually get up and say hello to my family, wade through my children, make it upstairs to my office and answer emails and figure out what I’ll be working on for the day. Hit up Twitter, etc. to see what’s going on then dive in on something. My book project means that books are still selling so a few days a week I package up some books, head by the post office on my way to the coffee shop in the afternoon and work from there for a bit – I really need to get out of the house by that point…
Sometimes I have meetings or lunches sprinkled in there, and at some point during the day, I take my dog for a walk.
How did you get into design? Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer?
I think like most in this industry, I was very interested in art and creativity from an early age. I think around late elementary or middle school, I learned there was this thing called a logo, and someone got to design it. My interest kind of grew from there, but I was always drawing, etc.
I would say my defining point probably came just a few years back. I realized no one was going to bring to me the kind of work I wanted to do and provide me the projects that interested me so I started doing a lot of personal and self initiated projects…that has provided a lot of new opportunities in this connected world and has been a new chapter for me.
How do you approach a new project? What’s your creative process like?
I think for self-initiated stuff, I just try to have a few things going, so that at any given time I can move to something that interests me most at the time…
In general, I usually begin with research. It doesn’t have to be anything formal, but looking at relevant things tends to help. I always start with sketching. They don’t have to be great sketches or anything super tight, but it’s really important for me to establish basic ideas and composition in that form. The times I try and skip over that, I always regret it and it ends up being more difficult. If it’s an illustration, I typically work right over top of my sketch in Illustrator.
It also helps for me to do something and then move away from it. It’s good to get some time away and come back with fresh eyes – You see things that you didn’t see before. Some things hold up and others look terrible the next day.
You’ve recently been involved in the awesome design for JJ’s Red Hots. How did you find the experience of such a huge project? What new challenges did it bring?
I loved that project and it represents probably my favorite thing to do in design: to take an idea or a brand and have to communicate it and reinterpret it in a lot of forms. I find it very satisfying to be able to build something and then influence how that thing lives in physical space, online, in printed form, on apparel, etc. It’s a testament to the client as well that it went as well as it did. We got on the same page early on and really had a good feeling for what the brand is and how it needed to be built so there was a lot of trust.
As far as challenges, it was just a lot of little pieces to manage, so again, a testament to the client and the people I worked with that it went smoothly and we had a great result.
You’ve got a great, retro-inspired style with a brilliant textural quality to it. Did you try and develop this style, or was it something that evolved? How important do you think maintaining a style is?
I think much of it is just letting the things that I love start to show through in my work… I’ve done lots of clean, corporate work for most of my career, so when I started to do personal work, I gravitated towards things that interested in me and were my own personal taste, so I guess those kinds of things just start to show up and to feel right. It’s not something I tried to achieve or had to figure out. I guess it’s all those influences in your life and things that you’ve seen and loved and they just start to bleed through.
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… Well, I’ll have to give two:
One – Christoph Neimann. I just think his work is so smart and he does such a variety of things. Stylistically it’s all over the place but also feels very much the same because of its intelligence and wit. Always amazed by what he does.
My second would be Aaron Draplin. I love that he is a no nonsense kind of designer. He’s very much who he is and puts it out there very honestly. He’s built a whole personal brand by putting himself out there and doing work that matters to him, unapologetically… People come and see him speak, because of his passion and honesty. I also love the side ventures he’s created with Field Notes, etc.
On my about page on my website, I have a whole list of people, so that’s why it’s tough to choose, but those two are first that come to mind…
What design tools could you not live without?
Sketchbook, my camera (Lumix GF-1), Illustrator and Photoshop.
I really don’t have a go-to sketchbook. I’ve used a lot of different things – as long as it lays pretty flat, and is about 6×9 inches. I end up getting spiral bound stuff a lot, because I can fold it completely back.
And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
If you don’t know what kind of work you want to do, try lots of things when you’re young to figure it out. If you know what kind of work you want to do, find ways to do it, even if you have to make it up and do it for free.
Do the kind of work you want to do, make it really great and put it out where people can see it.