Interview: Jonathan Sample

Jonathan Sample is a Creative Director and Designer specializing in brand and product development. He has designed for the likes of Mattel, Disney, HBO, Showtime, AMC, CBS, NFL, HGTV, Warner Brothers and others as well as numerous A-list celebrity clients (who will remain nameless.) In addition to his design work, he is the force behind the creative retail concept, Fresh Pressed® in Los Feliz.

How did you become interested in design?

For some of us, design is just in us. It is the way our minds’ problem solve and function. Everything we see is appreciated for its design quality or requires a design modification. This can either be an asset or a liability depending upon how you work it into your life. The more experience I gather, the more I realize just how much this comes into play in my existence. I was lucky that both of my parents were creative during my younger years so I was allowed and encouraged to explore and embrace art and design from early on rather than be directed into something that I would inevitably have not liked to do.

What is right/wrong with the design industry?

Software in the wrong people’s hands. The proliferation of uneducated people who call themselves “Graphic Designers.” Designers that allow themselves to work for less than they are worth thus depreciating their craft as a whole. Design by (hierarchical) committee.

What are the most important things you have learned as a professional (Design or otherwise)?

1) Lead the Client
The client is not always right. In fact, more often than not, they will choose the design that you almost didn’t include in the presentation because it was your least favorite. It is your responsibility to intelligently guide them in the right direction and save them from themselves. You are the trained and competent professional. That said, the client’s wants and needs are right (for them or their business) and it is important to take them into account in the development of design rather than override them with your preferences.

2) Work with Contracts
Entering into work without a solid contract can be a recipe for disaster. Many people are uneasy about tarnishing an otherwise good relationship with uncomfortable speak about terms and such. But,  the important thing to note is that a contract is an agreement made by two or more parties PRIOR to the real discomfort that may or may not come down the road. A contract establishes the rules of conduct for both parties to work by and be governed by should there be a disagreement during the period of work.

What do you think about the untrained Photoshop wizards?

While they may have some specific use in the industry (like retouching), their masquerading as legitimate designers have negative effects on the industry that are much farther reaching than most people realize. Sadly similar to those uninsured motorists who we all end up paying for in higher insurance premiums, their often low resolution, CMYK or just bad design ends up costing clients more than they bargained for in printing and production fees. In addition, it is the people who actually know what they are doing in production or design that need to explain to these clients why their logo is not printable or requires a lot of time and energy modify.

And the spec-work aspect of the design industry?

Spec work lowers the overall value of the design industry. Those who know the value of design are willing to pay for it. Reserve the free work for non-profits, promotion and contests. Doing work on spec means you are a hobbyist or desperate. Use your design skills to come up with a clever marketing campaign for yourself instead.

Obviously, not all jobs are worth doing, how do you choose whether to take a job or decline?

A Decent Budget + Organized Client + Reasonable Deadline – Approval Committee = A Good Job.

Use your gut and be wary of something that sounds too good. Don’t fall into the traps of “This is going to be such great exposure for you” or “if this goes well we’ll have a bunch more work for you.” Take each job because it is good and focus on it alone. Clients that start the conversation out by saying they are going to be easy usually have the most opinion which often equals revisions galore.

Many designers are pack-rats or collectors, do you collect anything?

Endless amounts of artifacts that need constant space management. I am particularly drawn to metal in the form of industrial-era, art deco mechanical and mid-century pieces. It’s a design disease.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about opening their own studio?

If you are able to, partner with someone who will handle the business itself which will give you freedom to handle the design end. There are a remarkable amount of things required to run a legitimate business and it is important to be able to share the burden of paperwork, financial contracts and scheduling with another person. If you do it yourself, it can be hard to enjoy the pure design end of the business and if you’re not on top of paperwork it can become far from fun very quickly.

By all means, keep your overhead low and run lean. It may not seem very glamorous to design out of a second bedroom or garage but neither is starting off your month with a stack of bills that need to be paid. Give yourself some room to breathe and build some level of success as well as a client base before making the leap to developing a full fledged studio.

What do you find most entry-level designers are lacking?

Production skills and a working knowledge of the world around them! It is ridiculous that our design schools have decided that it is not a priority for the designers that will one day lead the industry to know what they are designing toward. Very few entry-level designers that I have personally encountered know anything about print mechanicals, PMS or any color space for printing. I benefited greatly from one particular instructor that I had named Dave Moon who often made his students spend more time on preparation for print and print mechanicals than he did on the creative itself. Shortly thereafter, I was fortunate enough to mature as a designer under the tutelage of Margo Chase who always pushed the limits of print which required a good working knowledge of processes in order to exploit their limitations for the benefit of the end product.

If I had one recommendation for students and young designers it would be to spend some time interning at a facility that will allow you to understand production. It may not be the most glamorous environment but the knowledge that you will give your career a good head start and make you stand out amongst your design peers.

What is the best/worst part of owning your own studio/business?

The uncreative end of things in the form of taxes, licenses and mountains of required paperwork.

What is your biggest success as a studio/business?

My work experience has offered me many opportunities to design for many great brands and many great people from celebrities and Fortune 500 companies to the local entrepreneur with a good idea and a lot of hope. If I had to choose one success from the bunch, it would be the development and, more importantly, the execution of my entrepreneurial idea, Fresh Pressed. In the three dedicated years that I’ve spent conceptualizing, developing, constructing and running the business, I have learned more about business, people and design than in all other professional endeavors combined.

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