"Teamwork and manners go a long way."
Adam S. Wahler knows a thing or two about creating designs that make an impact. After all, he is the creative director of an agency that regularly works with Stella McCartney and Mastercard and creates designs that literally win awards.
To pick his brains about creating designs that resonate and growing our careers, we sat down with Wahler -- who also teaches at the prestigious School of Visual Arts -- to glean his top tips.
DesignRush: What inspired you to enter the design industry?
Adam Wahler: I think I was bred to do design and print production. My grandfather owned a type shop. My first memories of design were taking film negatives and making dylux proofs when I was five years old. These were the old-fashioned proofs that smelled like ammonia. Probably violated a bunch of child labor laws, but it was the '70s. I got breakfast and lunch from the Market Diner on 11th Avenue as payment.
DR: That's amazing. Was anyone else in your family a creative?
AW: My mother has been Executive Director of the Type Directors Club for 30 years, so when people asked who taught me typography, I always say Ed Benguiat. Ed showed me something and said, “Adam, this is Goudy Old Style, do not forget it.”
I never did.
DR: A great thing to have stuck with you, too!Take us through your creative process.
AW: My studio is in a beach house in Stamford, Connecticut. My process always starts off with grinding beans and making great coffee.
From there, I go to our research library, which has everything from an original Linotype Big Red type book to a large collection of annuals, design books, paper sample books and eclectic ephemera. I usually curate the records i am going to play and off I go. The music sets the tone for the projects. And it is vinyl only. But we do have a cassette player as well.
DR: That sounds so tranquil. We might be stopping by sometime...Outside of music and good coffee, is there anywhere you find inspiration in your day-to-day life?
AW: Most of my friends are designers, so we always talk about work.
But I also have an 18-year-old autistic son, so when I am working on a project that involves communicating concepts to a diverse audience, I test it out on him first. I like hearing his opinion since he thinks and communicates differently. I live out in the 'burbs, so I like to go for drives in the woods, play some music and think about projects. Honestly, I do my best thinking at the gym at 5:30 AM with headphones on and no distractions.
DR: We're sure he provides some amazing feedback, too. What projects of your own are you particularly proud of?
AW: There are several that I'm really proud of.
The Coin financial card was the first electronic wallet. It allowed the user to load up to 8 credit cards into one card that cycled through the stored cards with the simple touch of a button and utilized a dynamic mag stripe.
Our holiday card from 2016 was designed by Zipeng Zhu. I art directed with one simple directive, “Design whatever you want. The only limitation is it must be fully produced in our studio with no outsourcing.”
We work together to win Print Magazine’s Best in the East Region by producing an intricacy laser cut typographic centric card with custom colored fluorescent type and matching stickers which sealed a custom-made envelope.
DR: We LOVE that holiday card -- it's actually over in our Best Print Design section.
AW: Yes, it was a great project to work on. There are a few other projects that stand out to me, too.
We recently partnered with Jagermeister to create a custom tap machine for the band Slayer, which was prominently featured on an episode of Jimmy Fallon when Slayer was a guest performer.
I created and installed custom door graphics for Stella McCartney when she opened her first NYC boutique in the Meatpacking District. The client came to our studio, said they have been working on it for six months and no one could solve the production issues. I said no problem. Produced and installed it the same day, and got thanks and a big hug from Stella. It made my day.
DR: We're sure quick turnaround like that is a big bonus for all your clients. Tell us a little more about yourself. You have the day off. What can we find you doing?
AW: I basically do three things when not working.
- Drive my 1967 Triumph TR4a around town.
- Listen to records.
- Watch movies.
I really do not take days off. If I get home from work early, my wife’s first question is always “Is it slow in the studio, should I be worried?"
I would not call myself a workaholic, I just love my job. As Thoreau said, “Live the life you always imagined.”
I get to work with the most talented people in the world, go to the beach, listen to an eclectic mix of records and drink great coffee.
DR: Not a bad life at all. With all that inspiration, do you even get designer's block? If so, how do you beat it?
AW: My wife exiles me to my movie room in the basement. I smoke and think. She usually finds me staring at the ceiling talking to myself. Last time I told her I was building a structure from a dieline I created in my mind.
As she would say, she can never become a professional therapist, even though she has a Masters in Social Work. She has two patients: me and my son. She knows all of my clients, and I think they socialize with us for an informal session with her, rather than to talk art and design with me.
DR: Hey, whatever gets them in the door! What quote or mantra motivates you in your work?
AW: Whenever I need motivation, there is only one thing for me. The film version of Henry V with Kenneth Branagh. I actually have it on my phone and my laptop when I travel. The St. Crispin’s Day speech before the battle of Azincourt is what drives me and what motivates the studio.
The ability of a small group of people to work together for a common goal against great odds is something that inspires everyone.
DR: Great movie, great reference! Alright, we'll wrap this up -- do you have any final thoughts, comments, or words of wisdom you’d like to share with someone in the industry?
AW: I think that delivering work on time is paramount to a successful career. People neglect time management and do not realize that when they are late, it makes others work harder and longer. Teamwork and manners go a long way in producing creative and successful projects.