One Minute With…
Hey Ryan, thanks for taking time to chat with One Minute With. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
Hey, thanks for considering me interesting enough to interview!
My name’s Ryan Hamrick, and I’m a designer, letterer, illustrator and writer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I have a beautiful wife, two amazing kids and a brand new Shiba Inu puppy, who, if you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you know about as well as I do.
My work has taken me on a kind of interesting path, actually. Throughout my career, there’s always been a lot of branding work in my mix, but early on, UI projects were typically what I spent most of my time with. At some point though, I really fell in love with custom type and lettering, and started spending all my free time with it. My first few personal experiments with it, like my Pittsburgh Sketch for instance, went over fairly well, and kind of kick-started me on a path to actually making a little money doing it. Which is awesome yet a bit inconceivable still to me.
With UI design, you’re designing what is ultimately a product, which seems a little easier to allocate value to, but with lettering, I sometimes still catch myself thinking like, “Wait, people will actually pay me to do this stuff?!” It’s pretty incredible.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Ryan Hamrick.
Oh man, okay. So, I typically get up at 4:30 every morning, throw some clothes on and stumble downstairs to flip the switch on the coffee maker.
I know a lot of designers out there stay up all night burning the 3am oil, and I used to do the same thing. At some point, though, it was like a switch was flipped, and suddenly, I couldn’t stay up as late anymore, nor could I make myself sleep in. Like ever. So I decided to stop fighting it and start going to bed earlier with my wife (which is totally what I should have been doing all along, because guys, there’s an unfathomable amount of value there), and getting up earlier to get that work time in. When you have kids, quiet, alone time in the house is precious, so sometimes that means out-earlying them to get it.
Anyway, back on track, I get a couple hours of work in until it’s time to wake my wife up with coffee and breakfast (do this, your significant other is so worth it). We chat for a bit, and then it’s time for everyone to get ready. She gets herself to work, I get the kids off to school/preschool and then it’s work time again. The pup will pretty much sleep in his little bed in my office for the majority of the morning, which is awesome. I try to bust ass until the kids get home or need picked up in the afternoon, because after that, counting on getting quality work done is like expecting a storm cloud to produce whiskey.
Soon, it’s time for dinner, picking up, and catching up with my wife and talking about our days. Hers is always more interesting with talk of other adults and such, but mine is always more entertaining.
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’ve always been “designing” in one way or another. A friend and I were going to be comic book artists in grade school until we were certain our skateboarding careers were going to take off and put that on hold. Probably for the best, since those comics were so horrible.
From the age of about 16, I started playing with Photoshop when I could and really just messing around trying to teach myself the software. I’d do a logo here or there for friends and family, but nothing too serious. I think I always thought it would be really cool to use those programs for a living, but that never seemed very feasible. Out of high school, I went to a local college to study graphic design, but dropped out half-way through my second semester to work more — at Cracker Barrel. Yeah, I don’t know.
I slowly progressed from job to job and at one point I was even managing an entire eight-store district of Sprint stores. I’d design print collateral to keep in my stores, a few logos here and there, but didn’t really have a ton of time for anything else.
If I had to pinpoint one “defining moment” in my career, it would only have been a little over a year ago. I was working full time as Editor in Chief of knowyourcell.com as it were, and my wife had just accepted an amazing new position at the company she’s with now. Things had positioned themselves just perfectly, and we were in a good enough place financially for me to take the leap and begin designing full time as a freelancer.
The extra time and effort I’ve been able to put in since then has allowed me to learn so incredibly much. If I hadn’t had the time to force myself to learn the things I’ve learned or meet the people I’ve met, I’d still be designing shitty logos on the side.
How do you approach a new project? What’s your creative process like?
Well, my creative process varies quite a bit depending on the project. Plus, I’m constantly learning and trying new things. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve approached any of my last five or so projects in the same way.
With lettering and branding work, there’s a lot of sketching at first, of course. Almost always with pencil, but then lately, I’ve been really trying to force myself into actually stroking things out with some sort of brush pen, which is super new to me. I find that I really get the most out of a project when I completely throw myself out of my comfort zone and try something fun and different.
With UI projects, I’m not much of a paper & pencil wire-framer. I tend to jump straight into pixel-perfect mockups after I get an idea in my head, just because this amazing software we have to work with these days makes it so easy to modify and iterate quickly.
I’ve also joked on Twitter before that my creative/iterative process goes a lot like: Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. Perfect. Funny, but usually that’s totally the way it goes.
When you’re not designing awesome stuff, you write about design and your design processes on your blog – How important is it, do you feel, to contribute back to the community which fostered you as a designer?
I’m not sure how helpful I am to the community yet, but I’d really like to be. When I first started working on my lettering for example, I was pretty shocked at just how little was out there in the way of helpful resources for getting started. I wondered if there was some sort of secret pact among letterers to not share the secrets of the craft with outsiders or something, haha.
I’m at a spot right now where I feel like I’ve come up with some pretty solid formulas for making these things, but then at the same time, I don’t quite feel like I’m to a level of expertise yet where I should really be telling other people how they should do it, if that makes sense.
At the end of the day, though, I feel like it is really important to help and share any tips and tricks I’ve found or come up with. I’m not precious about any of these ideas or anything, and if someone else can benefit a bit from my trials and errors, then I just think that’s pretty dope.
You are, as you put it, a “stay-at-home dadsigner”. How do you balance work and family life?
That’s awesome that you picked that up, I think I’ve only said that like twice before, lol.
It’s really easy to do a terrible job separating your work and home lives when…you work from home. If you’re not careful, you can quickly find yourself working all the time, which is a very bad hole to get into.
I’ve found that having very separate spaces for where I work and where I spend time with my family is extremely helpful in mentally dividing the two. I’m fortunate enough to have room in my place for a studio that I can allow to just be a studio and not have to use it for anything else. So when it’s family time, I’m not in there.
If at all possible, have a place where you only do work, and stay the hell away from it when it’s time to “punch out” for the day.
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?
Wow, great question. So many talented people doing such incredible stuff right now.
As a guy with a family and a full house, I guess the the typical go-to response would be to trade places with one of these kids that are killin’ it out in the Bay Area, busting their asses and working day and night designing stunning products for the biggest names in Silicon Valley.
But honestly, I don’t think I’d give up even a day with these people I’m lucky enough to call mine. I guess I’ll just take the easy way out and say that it’d be particularly cool to spend a day as one of the many astoundingly talented designers living and working in beautiful Brooklyn. I love New York in general, and if it weren’t for the whole Winter thing it shares with my current climate, it would be at the very top of my list of places I’d love to finally settle into for the long haul.
What design tools could you not live without?
Of course, I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t give a ton of credit to the almighty Photoshop and Illustrator. As creative and innovative people, we’re often pretty hard on Adobe for its shortcomings, but dudes, imagine doing the things we do in a program as limited as Paint or something. We’re pretty fortunate to have these tools.
As far as non-digital stuff goes, a couple of fairly recent additions to the arsenal that are really making things tons of fun are the Dot Grid sketchbooks from Behance’s creativesoutfitter.com, and the amazing Tombow dual brush pens. Awesome for quickly roughing out lettering ideas and practicing my stroke work.
And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
Try everything. I had no idea how to draw letters a year ago (like, for real, at least). In fact, I even wrote on my Tumblr recently about how I used to absolutely despise handwriting in school, lol. But I just decided one day that I wanted to try it, so I did. It took me a while to get comfortable with it, but if I’d never tried, not only would I have missed out on what’s become a real passion in my life, but my branding and other design work would’ve struggled for it.
The only other thing would be to always keep learning. No matter how established or good you become, you can always still learn something from anyone. Keep an open mind and don’t be a dick to people. If you don’t respect what others bring to the table, the thing you might learn from them is that you’re not as big of a deal as you think you are. :)