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Jeff Fisher, the Engineer of Creative Identity for the Portland, OR-based firm Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, has worked as a graphic design professional since the late 1970's. In 1995 he shifted the focus of his design work to identity design. He has since received over 475 regional, national and international graphic design awards for his logo and corporate identity efforts and his work has been featured in more than 75 publications on the design of logos, the business of graphic design, and small business marketing.The designer spends a great deal of time writing about aspects of design for industry publications and related web sites. He often speaks to student groups, business organizations and design conferences about the profession. Fisher is a member of the HOW Magazine Editorial Advisory Board and is also on the 2006 HOW Design Conference Advisory Council. His book, “The Savvy Designer's Guide to Success ( http://tinyurl.com/5o7ud ),” was released by HOW Design Books in late 2004. More information about Jeff Fisher LogoMotives is available at http://www.jfisherlogomotives.com
When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
From the time I was a young boy I was interested in drawing and painting. In high school I was the first student in the city to be put on independent study in art - which included silkscreen printing, jewelry design, pottery, painting and other forms. As a high school senior, in 1974, I came across a copy of Milton Glaser's new book "Graphic Design." The book gave a name to what I really wanted to do in regards to a potential career - and showed doubters that an individual could make a very decent living in such a profession.
Who or what inspires you?
Milton Glaser is probably the first designer who truly inspired me with his work - and it still has the same impact on me over 30 years later. Paul Rand, Art Chantry, Saul Bass, Ivan Chermayeff & Tom Geismar, Nigel Holmes, Seymour Chwast, Michael Schwab, and Rick Tharp have been great influences on my work and career. My college instructor Roy Paul Nelson provided me more inspiration than he will ever realize. I also get a lot of inspiration from the magazines I browse on a regular basis, travel, books I read, movies I view, art, my passion for gardening, and traveling around the world. The influence of foreign travel often seems to appear subconsciously in some future projects.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
Initially much of my drawing skills were self taught. The study of various art disciplines in high school provided a great base for my college education. At the University of Oregon I entered the graphic design track within the Fine Arts school - and was immediately frustrated by the restrictions of the faculty and the focus of many on their personal projects/interests. I considered quitting school until a friend suggested I speak with Roy Paul Nelson, a professor in the Journalism School. Nelson, who wrote the books "Design of Advertising" and "Publication Design" (among others) encouraged me to take the Journalism course work, which included ad design, publication design, cartooning, typography and other classes. I was also required to take journalistic writing, public relations writing, advertising copywriting and additional courses that have always been valuable in my work. At the same time, I maintained my Art History studies, including courses in architecture history, furniture design, interior design and museology. While in college I had an internship in exhibit design at the university's Museum of Art and was the graphic designer for the advertising department of the daily college newspaper.
How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
The "freshness" comes my way in the variety of projects. Prior to focusing on identity design I found myself getting bogged down by projects such as initially designing a publication and then producing it for at least a couple years. The jobs began to feel as if a chimpanzee could be trained to execute them and I was not challenged as a designer. Each new identity project brings a whole new set of requirements and challenges with it. Many times such projects are an introduction to an industry that is foreign to me. Literally having a global marketplace for my work, via the Internet, adds to keeping my work "fresh" after 27 years.
What are some of your current projects?
These days my work seems to be divided between writing and design. In addition to the never-ending, behind-the-scenes update of my own website, I am currently working on identity designs for a play, a deli, a motivational program for women and others. I typically design between 30 and 40 logos a year for a variety of organizations and businesses. I also write the monthly "Logo Notions" column for CreativeLatitude.com and contribute articles each month to the marketing web site Commpiled.com. In addition, I am currently writing articles for the sites CreativeRefuge.com and DiversityBuilder.com. Three different publishers have also expressed interest in having me write future books.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
The projects bringing me the greatest personal satisfaction are often the ones bringing me little, or no, income. There are a great many non-profit efforts I have completed over the years that have resulted in a lot of good being done for causes in which I have strong convictions or personal interests. I’d rather work for free with a nonprofit client in whose cause I truly believe, than for a big budget client I don’t like.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
At some point I would like to get involved directly with letterpress printing. It's always enjoy designing for letterpress and it is a real interest of mine. I would also like to get back to some of the art mediums in which I have worked in the past for pleasure and profit - drawing, painting, silkscreen printing, wood and linoleum block printing, pottery, raku, jewelry making and stained glass work. I feeling a real desire to spend some time and energy focusing on the fine arts at this stage in my career.
Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?
"Work less, charge more" is the advice I gave the audience of a session at the HOW Design Conference in New Orleans a few years ago - and I was serious about that comment. Most designers, or illustrators, initially (and continuously) undervalue their own work, and because of that fact find themselves having to work much longer - and much harder - to make a living. I also feel that designers should learn as much as possible, in traditional education situations or through self learning, about the business of design. Too many novices focus on what they consider the artistic aspects of what is actually an industry and career option. It's great to make things pretty. However, in the process you need to be able to make a living. One of the best ways to learn how (or how not) to be successful as a design business person is to spent some time working for someone else. In addition, to be successful in design or illustration I feel an individual must have a historical context for their work. Unfortunately, too few schools teach a solid history of design or illustration, and it is necessary for the student, or novice, to seek out much of that historical perspective on their own. I am constantly amazed how few graphic designers have an educated understanding of typography. For many, typography is simply font manipulation using a computer program - and it comes across in less than ideal design. I would also recommend that the novice not place restrictions or limitations on themselves and their career efforts. Clients, and others, will do enough of that for them. I often get emails from industry professionals expressing their frustration at not being able to find work or project in their local market. My first question - "Why are you limiting yourself to the local market? - is often something they have not even considered. Be a sponge; be constantly absorbing all that is available to learn about the business of design, the history of design, typography and other aspects of the profession. As I often say, "the real world will kick you in the ass as you walk out those school doors for the last time - and your design education will finally begin."
What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
There are several different levels of success to be considered with any design or illustration effort. The work needs to meet the requirements/goals of the client for whom it was created. The piece should also move the viewer to act/react in the desired manner. Then there is also the personal satisfaction of a job well done. The "gravy" is being recognized for the work with design awards or inclusion in an industry related book.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
In the mid-1990's I was experiencing a major career burn-out due to having taking on all design projects coming my way for the previous 17 years. In a conversation with my sister, the owner of an ad agency and public relations firm, she made the simple statement "Why aren't you doing what you enjoy the most?" Her off-the-cuff comment resulted in my primary focus changing to logo and identity design - an aspect of design I had thoroughly enjoyed since high school. My favorite forms of "self therapy," gardening and travel, are great tools in helping to avoid major burnout. Time spent writing and speaking also breaks up any monotony in my work and presents new creative outlets.
And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
I really don't watch a great deal of prime-time television. "The West Wing" is one of the few shows I watch on a regular basis. My new recent favorite show to be Tivo-ed weekly is chef/author Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel. I tend to watch a variety of shows on PBS, HGTV, the Food Network and a great many movies on DVD.
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