One Minute With…
Hi Zach, thanks for taking time to chat with One Minute With. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
No problem Conor. Thanks for wanting to speak with me. You’ve interviewed some heavy hitters, so it’s an honor. Well, my name is Zach Graham and I live in the beautifully disgusting city of Atlanta, GA. I’m currently working as a Senior Designer at Nebo.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Zach Graham.
Well, it sorta depends on the day I guess. A typical weekday involves dragging myself out of bed around 8am and heading into the Nebo office to do some web design. After work I generally just veg out on the couch with my wife for a little while. We will usually watch whatever show we are currently hooked on (lately it’s been The Killing and Saved by the Bell) or a Braves game if they’re playing. She gets up a couple hours earlier than I do, so I usually stay up a little later working on any personal or side projects I have going on.
Weekends tend to involve a little less work. My wife and I will usually hit up a few thrift or antique stores in the early afternoon. I try to squeeze in a few hours to go skateboarding. I’ve been obsessed with skating since I was 13, but my body is beginning to revolt against me the older I get.
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 honestly never even considered pursuing a career in design until mid way through my senior year in high school. At the time I was fully focused on skateboarding, so education or what I wanted to do for a living didn’t feel like a huge priority for me. I knew I didn’t really want to just be a normal working stiff, but I really had to clue what I actually did want to do. Some recruiters from the Art Institute came and talked to my art class one day. I had never really considered a creative path until then. I honestly think at the time, I really went for it because it seemed easier than going to a normal college. I probably thought I could just sorta wing it and continue to pursue skating.
It was sort of a happy accident that after I got there, I realized how much I actually did love design. I still skated a lot, but became increasingly interested in all things design. Over time that obsession has overshadowed my love for skateboarding. Which is good, my ankles and shins don’t get nearly as destroyed working on a poster as they did when I was trying to skate handrails.
How do you approach a new project? What’s your creative process like?
I’m generally all over the place. I think the only constant part of my process is stressing over miniscule details. In a perfect scenario, I would start by doing a little research on what I’m working on. Look into how others have succeeded in doing similar things and why they were successful. Getting inspiration for stuff is a slippery slope. With things like Dribbble and the countless design blogs, it’s easy to almost unintentionally rip someone else off. I try to blend a healthy amount of getting inspired by others actual design work, but also getting inspiration from things that are completely unrelated.
I don’t really do a whole lot of sketching, I generally just jump right into Illustrator.
I usually get my wife’s opinion on stuff I’m working on a lot. That woman doesn’t hold back, which is awesome. If something sucks, she will be pretty honest about it.
You’ve taken on quite a few personal projects, such as Love You Daily and Livin Sick. How important is it, in your opinion, to do work that makes you happy, rather than just the 9-5 stuff?
I think personal projects are super important for designers. Love You Daily has given me a opportunity to try out a lot of different things that I otherwise would have never tried. I feel like it has really helped me grow as a designer to do things that don’t involve a client. The 9-5 stuff is what pays the bills, but the stuff you have a passion for is what keeps you going. Ultimately I think that blending the two of those is every designer’s dream.
You’ve got a great, retro-based style, with a definite geometric twist. Where do you get inspiration?
Like most others, I get a lot of inspiration from my peers. I spend quite a bit of time combing design blogs or checking Dribbble, so that I can drool over other peoples work. Thrift and antique stores are also a great place for inspiration. I love looking at vintage packaging and typography. I’m sure the store owners aren’t super fond of me since I usually take more photos of stuff with my phone than make actual purchases. Skateboarding is another huge inspiration.
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?
Man, that’s a tough one. It’s a little scary to say anyone, cause what if their life actually sucks. I’m gonna take the lame route and just say I’d stay me. There are definitely a lot of dudes I’d like to be for a couple minutes just to know they’re tips and tricks. Overall, however, I’m super happy with being me.
What design tools could you not live without?
I’m probably pretty standard. Gotta have my MacBook loaded with Adobe software, pencils, pens, paper, and a scanner. I would probably cease to function if Google no longer existed. There are a ton of websites I check regularly, but without Google I’d be useless. It’s pretty much how I learn anything. Which is pretty scary now that I think of it.
And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
Experiment a lot and don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t worry about what other people are doing, just do work that is true to you. You can spend all day matching another persons style, but it’s never going to look as good as it would if you just did your own thing.