Interview: Dress Code

Dress Code is a design studio in New York. They work in branding, print, motion, web, and any other design service you could possibly imagine. Dress Code received notoriety after designing the identity for MTV’s VMA identity in 2005 as well as for their book, “Never Sleep.”

What are your design backgrounds?

Dan: I got into design through writing graffiti as a kid growing up in suburban Ohio. I wasn’t super talented at writing but fell in love with letters and taught myself illustrator to streamline the process of drawing. Design seemed like a viable career path, so I applied to the design program at the college I was attending in Ohio, only to get rejected twice. Determined to make it, and because I wasn’t sure what else I could do with my life, I moved to California to study graphic design at California College of the Arts. From there I did a bunch of internships and freelance work before ending up at MTV—where I worked as a designer before stepping away to concentrate on dress code full time with Andre in 2007.

Andre: I grew up in Bulgaria where my father is a graphic designer so he was my main influence. I would watch him do paste ups, write calligraphy and develop photos at our house. I ended up migrating to Seattle with my moms and enrolled into a high school program called Sammamish Graphics. There, I worked in a student based printshop where I learned offset, screen-priting and pre-press. Eventually I ended up going to college in San Francisco at the California College of the Arts. As a student I started working at a web shop called odopod which helped me get a grasp on interactive design. Eventually I followed Dan to New York and got a job at the on-air design department at MTV doing motion graphics. The following year we started teaching design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. In 2007 we started our studio.

What led you to starting Dress Code?

We had wanted to start our own business since college but we not ready at the time. After working for a few years we naively thought that we had enough skills between the two of us to start a company. In hindsight we didn’t really know enough but we figured it out as we went along. We knew if we failed we could just get other jobs, so there really was nothing to lose. But the desire of being in control of our careers pushed us to start our own company.

Never Sleep was a big project for you. What in particular inspired you to do the book?

We had just gone through the whole process of graduating and finding jobs and realized there wasn’t a ton of info out there to guide us through the transition from school to work. So we decided to write down our experiences and accompanied this with advice from our friends and mentors — 2 years afterwards Never Sleep was born.

What is the one thing you hope people take away from Never Sleep?

Probably that everyone sucks in the beginning. Neither of us were the most talented kids in school but by persistently working we slowly improved over the years. Also that failing is OK — our book is filled to the brim with bad work and failures. Our hope is that young designers can relate to our struggles and don’t repeat the same mistakes.

What did you complain about most during design school?

D: To be honest I have a pretty shitty memory so I don’t remember much complaining. But if pressed, I would probably say that we were given too much work.

A: Personally, I wish I had the luxury of not working during school. Having more time to devote to experimenting in different medias. While in school I was interested in sound, video and photography but I could only scratch the surface because most of my time was devoted to graphic design.

Do you find your writing ability to be a big advantage as a designer?

Yes, the fact that we can both write has helped us immensely—both as designers and in the context of business. It’s another skill-set we can rely on to articulate our ideas and hopefully to make a few people smile. Neither one of us were trained writers but just try to make each other laugh, if we can do that then we have something.

What is the most difficult thing about doing a book lecture?

D: We do a fair amount of these things, so the biggest challenge for me is to keep it fresh by adding a new bit here or there so that it doesn’t get stale or robotic.

A: Talking to people with stinky breath.

If you could give one piece of advice to young designers, what would it be?

We get asked this question a lot and the answer we have been giving lately is to always have a side hustle. Something on the side that is a new avenue or subject matter to explore creatively. We started as print designers but have continued to evolve and expand our skills to web, branding, motion graphics, direction, teaching and writing. Pushing ourselves into new disciplines makes it so that we rarely get bored creatively. And eventually as we perfect these crafts they become revenue streams we can rely on financially.

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