"The less you know, the more you can learn."
Working at a huge agency is no walk in the park.
Being a creative director at a Huge agency is even harder. Just ask Jon Delman.
He sat down with us to talk the projects he's most proud of, how designers can move ahead in their careers, and why skateboard culture is his current obsession -- on and off the drawing board.
DesignRush: What inspired you to go into design?
Jon Delman: I have always had a love of art, drawing, painting and being creative. My parents are both creative people (my mom is an amazing quilter and my dad is a writer) so I was encouraged to draw a lot as a child and to explore new ways to be creative. I never felt limited by my mistakes and I think that was key. After college, when I was looking to start a career, I migrated to things that I enjoyed. I was already broke so I felt empowered to try jobs based on enjoyment and not with an idea of how much money I wanted to make or what title I wanted to ascend to. I had a friend in 1997 that was a web designer and he gave me a chance as a freelancer at a small shop in San Luis Obispo and I fell in love with it immediately. It has never felt like work, it has always been fun to create and have no pre-defined rules as to what I should be doing this job. I think the day it starts to feel like work, I will probably try something new.
DR: Take us through your creative process.
JD: I start with lots of questions. We are all highly influenced by our own experiences and biases so I want to create scenarios that challenge my own ideas. I have found the best projects are the ones where I take my time and really understand the problems before thinking about solutions. Once I think I have a firm grasp of what we are trying to accomplish, I go silent in meetings. Mostly to listen to other ideas, mostly to internally challenge my instincts. I write down my ideas and get them on paper as they come to me but don’t commit to any of them emotionally. I find that most creatives are racing to get their ideas out there that they fail to listen to new ideas and approaches. After a few days of “stewing” over ideas, I start designing. I usually start small and build from there. It’s rare that I get projects that have no assets or a pre-defined brand so there is always a building block to start from. As the project moves throughout the various cycles of test, compare, rethink, question assumptions again and eventually refine/present, things happen pretty organically.
DR: What are some projects of your own that you are particularly proud of?
JD: Professional design is a team sport and I nothing is done in isolation, nor do I think it should be. I get a lot of satisfaction out of the work that I do daily but on occasion, I have been fortunate enough to work on side projects with peers and friends. A few years ago, I worked with a very small team on an iPhone app/game, Hexagonal. It was a very simple concept and we had no funding so it was all nights and weekends. The work was so much fun and I learned so many things beyond design, like self-promotion, how to work within the iOS App Store, and some basic coding ideas. Unfortunately, it is no longer available for download but I still play the game on my phone. I might have the only copy left in the world.
DR: Where do you find inspiration in your day-to-day life?
JD: I live in a design-friendly area (near Oakland and the Bay Area) so there is design everywhere I look. I have a special place in my heart for typography so I see inspiration every day on my train ride home, walking through the city and even on strange little things like the menu at the coffee shop I go to before work each day.
DR: What are some of your favorite design tools and why?
JD: Photoshop and Illustrator used to be my favorite places to spend my days but in the past two years I have fallen in love with Sketch and Principle. The product-centric design approach and integration of animation and plug-ins has really changed me a designer and how I approach work. I spent a number of years in product companies so my approach was more focused on long-term iteration vs quick wins, but I am seeing a mixture of product and advertising because of these tools. Its a really great time to be a designer.
DR: What brands speak to you, design-wise?
JD: Skateboarding and skate culture have been a part of my life since I was seven or eight years old. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley and skateboarding was part of everything in my childhood world. From that scene, I fell in love with brands and branding, mostly how fragile the art is but how lasting the brand messaging is. I had t-shirts with popular brands reimagined to be skate references but you never lost the background brand message. I still love how powerful a solid brand can be. So naturally, I migrate to these types of designs and brands.
Right now, I am really interested in Converse and how different artists interpret the classic shape of the Chuck Taylor. It’s kind of obsessive but I love collecting Converse. Usually obscure ones or versions that I think push the brand to new and odd places.
DR: You have the day off. What can we find you doing?
JD: Family time is paramount. I never feel like I get to spend enough time with them. They are a simple reminder to me each morning and evening of how lucky I am. When I am not with them or at work, I am running. Long runs are where I reset my brain. It's a constant struggle to run distance so I am drawn to it. It's a lifelong challenge and I never seem to lose my love for it.
DR: Is there anything that helps you beat designer’s block?
JD: I don’t really think about creativity in that way. It's not a steady stream of ideas that happens in isolation. Design is the culmination of experiences, lots of time experimenting and so many failures. I enjoy failing more now that I ever have before. Maybe its a product of getting older but failure is so liberating and allows me to learn constantly in small doses. Design is 99 percent failure to find that 1 percent success. That conflict is what makes it exciting, makes it challenging and makes it worthwhile.
DR: What motto motivates you in your work?
JD: Don’t be afraid to let everyone know how little you actually know. The less you know, the more you can learn — and the more willing others are to teach.
DR: Any final thoughts, comments, or words of wisdom you’d like to share with someone in the industry?
JD: Enjoy what you do. If you are doing this work for any other reason beyond joy, you are going to burn out soon. Remember that we get paid to create art. It's a rare opportunity that most people don’t have, so turning it into a task seems like such a waste of a gift.
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