"The people that you surround yourself with are what will really shape you."
Starting up a business with close friends based on similar passions seems like a distant dream for most. For Rishi Shourie, co-founder and creative director of the San Francisco-based agency Character, that dream is a reality -- one that landed his design agency opportunities with Nike, Oculus, Adobe, Levi's and many more.
He sat down with us to talk about his transition into the creative director role, the rigorous demands and bountiful rewards of such a position, the importance of a designer's first job and the qualities every successful designer should strive to achieve.
DesignRush: What was it about the design industry that inspired you to enter it?
Rishi Shourie: Ever since I was young I enjoyed being creative and was drawn to painting and drawing. I remember being fascinated by my grandfather's portrait sketches.
While attending art school, I was both a design and illustration major but Ben Pham (then college friend and now Character partner) helped sway me to pursue design as a major.
DR: Where do you find inspiration in your daily life?
RS: That one’s easy -- I find it in architecture. The infinitely different uses of physical space can really transform a mood or experience and that inspires the way I approach the design process. Being surrounded by talented people every day also certainly helps with inspiration.
DR: Are there any designers or brands that provide you with inspiration?
RS: The people and brands that inspire me range from architects and furniture designers to designers who have pushed their craft. Some of those include Oscar Niemeyer, John Pawson, Mark Farrow, Ellsworth Kelly, e15, Barber & Osgerby, and Josef Müller-Brockmann.
DR: Those are some powerful names! What types of design did you get started producing?
RS: In the very beginning, my interests and focus were on traditional graphic design. Learning the printing techniques and methods was interesting and having a finished physical product was always satisfying. Now that I work on creating brands, I’ve branched out and tend to gravitate towards multiple types of design at once.
DR: You're currently the creative director at Character. Did your friends have a role in that transition?
RS: Yes, back in 1999, my college friends Ben, Tish, and I founded Character. We combined our experiences in advertising, corporate design, and editorial to create the unique and versatile firm that Character is today.
The first job we landed was with Pottery Barn Kids and back then we played every role from design to creative direction. Over the years of growing as an agency, I naturally transitioned into the role of creative director.
DR: What does your day-to-day look like as the creative director?
RS: Being a creative director entails working, supporting, and ultimately guiding a team to an end solution. A big part of that is mentoring designers and encouraging them to push their limits to create the best work possible.
I’m involved in all aspects of the business. Often times, that means I’m managing anywhere from seven to 10 projects or brands at once. My main focus is on working closely with clients and fostering the teams at Character to create meaningful brands.
DR: You’ve got a lot on your plate now. What advice do you have for young designers who are looking for their first job?
RS: In my opinion, your first job is your most important job. The work that you do, the clients that you work on, and the people that you surround yourself with are what will really shape you and help decide your future trajectory. Make sure to choose a job that will challenge you and push your limits.
DR: Great advice! What qualities have helped you grow in your career?
RS: I grew in my career because I was detail-oriented, always curious, never backed down from a challenge, and stayed relevant in an ever-changing industry. I would also advise to be your own worst critic and stay humble.
DR: We know it's not always all work and no play. Do you have a personal project that tapped into a passion of yours?
RS: In my spare time, I design for a record label, Public Release Records, which is owned by a good friend of mine. I’m passionate about the music and it’s always been fun and gratifying to work with close friends.
DR: Tell us a little more about yourself -- what can we find you doing in your time off?
RS: On any given weekend you can find me hanging out at the park with my Pomeranian named Cowboy, exploring the San Francisco food scene, shooting a game of pool, and/or staying out until the wee hours of the night absorbing the sounds of some of my favorite artists.
DR: Sounds like a good time! What trends do you suppose we'll be seeing from brands throughout 2018?
RS: I’d say that brands are now much closer to their audience, which allows them to interact with consumers directly in real-time and stay relevant. I think brands will continue to stray away from “one size fits all” blanket advertising campaigns and move towards more personalized types with one-on-one dialogue driven by data insights.
DR: Any final thoughts, comments, or words of wisdom you'd like to share with someone in the industry?
RS: You must be willing to constantly challenge yourself to reinvent in order to stay relevant.
Looking for more industry leader insight? Sign up for our newsletter!