When Non-Designers Design Stuff
This week on Overtime, the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics logo is revealed, and you won’t believe who designed it… we dig into why it’s so controversial. Plus, get the inside scoop on a new productivity service that’s supposed to be “an extension of your mind”. Last but not least, illustrator Kirk Wallace drops by to talk about how unique and varied inspiration sources can actually lead to more interesting work!
Links mentioned in this episode
Meg: [Singing] Hey, it’s me, your host, Meg Lewis! Welcome back to Overtime, Dribbble’s weekly podcast where I give you design tips and more to help you make better things boop-y-doop bop bow. This week on Overtime, the new logo for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics comes out and designers are not happy about it. Ooh, plus is new bookmarking app [in Borat voice] My Mind – I can’t do a Borat voice because I’m so very the opposite of Borat – anyway, is My Mind really an extension of your mind? Or is it just adding more noise to the product landscape? Ooh, and our buddy Kirk Wallace hops on in to talk about how varied and unique inspiration actually leads to the most interesting work. You ready? Let’s go!
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Okay, did you see the new 2028 Los Angeles Olympics logo? Because I didn’t, and luckily somebody DM’d me and they were like, “Hey, Meg, you really should talk about this on the podcast because apparently designers are upset about it and bickering about it and having a lot of discussions.” Okay, so the way that this logo works is it’s coming up in eight short years, the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, and they released the logo for it just a few days ago and it says “L.A.” really big in the logo, of course, and the a and the “A” in L.A. has been designed by 28, because 2028 Olympics, 28 different individuals that are representing Los Angeles culture. So, you get musicians like Billie Eilish has designed one of the “A’s,” Reese Witherspoon, and then you have a streetwear designer, a tattoo artist, and of course, they’ve injected with some Olympic athletes that have designed “A’s”, like Chloe Kim and Gabby Douglas, Paralympians like Lex Gillette and Scout Bassett. And of course, actual artists like Steve Harrington is in there.
So, the critique is that, of course, as you can imagine what the critique from designers is, they’re featuring non-designers designing, so non-designers with definite prominence that are clearly successful enough on their own that are stealing our work. So, you knew this critique was coming. Go look at the logo, go look at the project, go see all of those “A’s” together. I mean, thinking about it, if you were trying to imagine what in the world Billie Eilish or Reese Witherspoon would have to add to the design landscape, you’re about to find out. And you know, I’m an optimist. I can’t help myself. It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would, like the Billy Eilish “A” actually looks like Billie Eilish probably figured out how to design it herself and did that, which is great. Good for you, Billie. It doesn’t look that bad, but it does definitely look like a non-designer made it.
But then if you look at ones, like some of them, like Gabby Douglas, who’s an Olympic gymnast, Gabby’s looks like she definitely paid a professional to do hers. It’s mostly illustrative and it features, it’s good. It’s really good. So, you know, I think the critique makes sense. I understand it. And I think that it’s valid and true. And it’s always scary whenever non-designers are being hired to design, especially if they’re successful people in general, and you know, we’re all just struggling to make it work as designers, especially during this tough year. I get it, and if somebody that’s not a designer is getting paid a lot to design and they already have a lot of money, mmm, yeah, that’s iffy. But I also know that throughout my career, because I’m a freelancer and always have been, there are many times where it becomes very prevalent, the fear of everybody’s better than me, or I have so much competition, or how dare they pay this person to do this when they could have paid me to do it. And it’s very easy as a designer, as somebody who’s self-employed, fighting, fighting for yourself, to slide into those moments of fear where you are scared that, you know, you’re not going to get any more work. And I think what I’ve learned throughout my career is that mindset is so damaging because when you let the fear take over, and the way that it even prevents you from doing work and taking action, I know a lot of people that tried to freelance but they got too scared, the fear took over, and it prevented them from working at all because they thought they wouldn’t get hired, they thought, “Where will the next project come from?” and so, then they stopped fighting for themselves because the fear took over and it prevented them from being able to fight for themselves. And you kind of have to let, what I’ve learned is, you have to let the fear drive you and push you harder.
So, I find that whenever things are going bad for me, I’m not getting work, like right now, or, you know, I lose projects, I let that fear, because the fear is there for sure, I let that push me. Every time I lose a job, I let it push me harder to do the things that are the most fulfilling to me. But that’s not to say that the people making the critique about this Olympics logo are wrong in any way or I’m saying that, “You’re just being fearful, how dare you?” Absolutely not. This isn’t just a yes or no, good or bad logo design. This is a complex conversation inside of a huge important impactful logo design project. I think strategy-wise, having a number of people representing the Los Angeles community or culture contributing to a brand design project is beautiful. But it’s not beautiful that extremely prominent, very successful people that have plenty of fame and success are taking jobs from people that could otherwise be doing it and, you know, being able to pay their bills, right, so it’s a complex issue. And it’s okay to have nuanced opinions and thought about it, and to have a little bit of thought that’s like, “Yes, there is good here, there is bad here,” and that’s okay.
I definitely don’t, you know, I’m not scared about actors stealing my job as a designer. I think it’s going to be okay. I think there’s room for everyone to succeed. If you as a creative person can just find the niche in the specific service, or style, or offering that you can offer the world that no other human can, then there’s room for you to succeed and to grow and to have your own little slice in the community, and I think if we all just work really hard to figure out what that is for ourselves, then there is truly room for everyone. So that’s a little bit of my nuanced critique of this L.A. Olympics logo.
Meg: Have you heard about My Mind yet? This is not an ad. I’m just going to review a product that I got a beta invite to and I want to talk about. I don’t believe I received a beta invite because I host this podcast. I did not receive anything for free. I joined the waitlist and I had to wait a long time and then I got let in. Who knows why I got let in? Was it a special favor? I don’t know. But I don’t think so, because I had to wait quite a while. So anyway, just want to prove to you that this is not sponsored.
Anyway, My Mind is basically a bookmarking tool that is supposedly an extension of your mind, which really roped me in with the description because I’m definitely one of those people where I have a chaotic brain with all of my “to-do’s” just sort of circling around in my brain all of the time. And all of the things I’m trying to remember are just swimming around up there, and it’s very exhausting, and I dislike it greatly. So, My Mind, basically what it’s really like is imagine taking the concept of bookmarking, but there’s an AI component, so whenever you bookmark something, it automatically reads the information and archives the information and creates tags for you, so that way you can go to the top of it and search for things like “recipe,” and it’ll show you all the recipes automatically without you having to do anything else. And then you could search for “boots” and it would show you all the boots you you’ve saved, and then you could search for “blue boots,” yes, I do have blue boots actually, and then it would just show you the blue boots that you saved. And that’s pretty cool. You could search for brand names or for the name of the product, whatever.
And what I think is nice for me, as a visual thinker, is that it’s all visual. So, it looks more similar to Pinterest in that the visual image of the screenshot of the website or article that you’ve saved is what’s at the forefront. And then the taggable information is hidden behind that, extended a layer. So, I think that’s pretty cool. And then you can add your own tags, so for me, I’m now using My Mind to plan Overtime episodes. So, as I’m casually searching for news stories throughout the week, I will save them to My Mind, and then I’ll tag it with Overtime, maybe an episode date, that kind of thing, and it’s really helpful for me for that. So, it’s an extension of your brain, meaning that for me, it’s all of the things that are swirling around in my brain all the friggin’ time that I can now put somewhere, and free my actual human brain from having to hold on to that thing, and I’m really excited about it.
I’ve only been using it for a few days, so I don’t have an end all review yet. I’m still on the free trial, and just so you know, there is a free trial period, but then you have to pay for it. And the paid plans are reasonable. It’s $5.99 or $9.99 a month at the moment, so it’s not so bad, I likely will continue to pay for it.
It’s important to also know that this product was created by a designer, Tobias van Schneider, who is a polarizing person on the internet. You know, I’m a part of design Twitter in then I’m a designer who’s on Twitter, but if you’re talking about the official quote/unquote “Design Twitter” that people tend to talk about a lot, I don’t think I’m really a part of that because I’m not a white man that has strong opinions on design, and I think that’s the stereotype, what people are speaking about when they critique design Twitter. I think it’s up to us if we want to redefine what that means, and I gladly accept that challenge, but Tobias is one of those people that’s like one of the captains of that world, and so, because of that, he’s very polarizing. A lot of people love Tobias or hate Tobias, and it’s a whole lifestyle that I’m not a part of. So, I want to call that out. I don’t really engage in those discussions because I don’t care about any of them, and I don’t know what anybody’s ever talking about. But it’s important to know that this product was created by Tobias, so I will just leave that information there and let you do what you will with it. I really don’t have an informed take on that because I don’t know what’s going on or what anyone’s talking about. So anyway, if you are interested in checking out My Mind, they’re still in the beta, so you have to sign up for the waitlist like I did but go to mymind.com and check it out.
Meg: Mmm, if we are all as creatives looking at similar inspiration or part of similar lifestyles and following the same people on the internet and sort of a part of a culture together, which is quite cute, but does that mean that we end up making work that looks quite similar? And should we actually start elevating the parts of us that make us different from other people? You know, I think so. But here with me today is someone who has opinions on this, plus a lot more, it’s illustrator Kirk Wallace. Hi, Kirk. Welcome, how are you doing? You’re still alive, that’s a good sign.
Kirk: I’m here, I’m good, I’m happy, and I appreciate you having me.
Meg: Excellent, thanks for being here. Let’s start by having you quickly just kind of give us an intro and describe what you do.
Kirk: Sure. Naturally, I’m a designer and illustrator, but I think more specifically, and maybe a little more interestingly, I guess I’m a commercial illustrator first and foremost. I’ve been focusing a lot the last few years on brand illustration and trying to sort of fuse my background in computer science and my very cleanly organized self with the more, I guess what you call creative self, and trying to take a better role with brands and really be in charge, and start kind of helping these brands define the way they want to look and why they want to look the way that they do. And so, I’ve been focusing on that the last two years or so. And I think a lot of my stuff is really character driven. It’s sort of whimsical and playful.
Meg: Definitely. And you cross a lot of boundaries, I think. I’m always interested in talking about labels and what we call ourselves as creative people. But I think you’ve done a really nice job of just taking charge of what you’re good at and calling yourself a bunch of different things and providing a bunch of different services. But you also have a computer science background, and you have a degree in computer science, so I’m interested because I know that you try to work that in as much as possible, but how the heck do you utilize a degree in Computer Science when it comes to making illustrations for a living.
Kirk: Yeah, I graduated computer science, you know, you’re like 12 years old when they tell you what you’re supposed to do for the rest of your life, and you’re like, “I guess computers are going to be the next big thing.” You know, I was born in ’88, so like, that puts you in the spectrum of where I was at when I was in eighth grade into high school and then college, and so computers were cool, I liked them, I liked robotics, I liked making things, you know, tinkering with stuff, and I thought that would be neat. When I graduated, I very quickly realized, like, I ended up taking a web development course, and that web development course spun into web design, and then I was like, “Oh, shoot. That’s what I wanted to do.” Like, I liked making things look nice, I liked organizing the cereal boxes when we’d go grocery shopping with my mom, when I was little, I liked making things look nice. So, I switched pretty quickly as soon as I graduated and became like, I guess I thought, I think I knew graphic design, I didn’t even know illustration was a thing yet, but I think because I spent so much of my life infatuated with computers and with tech, and even more than computers and tech, I like philosophy and logic and I like breaking things down into understandable chunks and solving problems in really pragmatic approaches.
So, it sort of just is very much an undertone, it’s just sort of the structural foundation of the way that I think, so more practically, you know, computers never get in the way for me. Like, I teach sometimes, and I know a lot of students, or even just people in general in illustration are like, “I don’t know how to use computers, I don’t do computers well, I don’t know how to zip things, I don’t know how to do this,” and the thing is, I think it’s very important to realize that any tool that you have, and for me, I chose a computer as my tool as a digital Illustrator, it never should get in the way. It should always work for you. Whenever there’s something that’s taking a lot of time, whether it’s exporting files or whatever, and realizing you can automate these things, and just making sure that workflows feel really good. So, I think that’s the most practical way in which it comes across.
Meg: I think a lot of [people], especially people that are less confident and/or earlier in their career, we have this notion of what it means to be an illustrator, of what it means to be a designer, and I feel like we’re all trying to figure out how to do it the right way, and we think we’re not doing it the right way, so we have to adopt very specific tools, or, you know, processes, like, people get really fixated on how they’re creating things. And I really like what you said about whatever tool you have is the best tool. And I think about that a lot because I think that attitude of saying, “No, whatever works for your brain, as long as the output is great,” like, as long as you’re able to get the output that you want to have, I think you should be able to use whatever process and whatever tools you’re comfortable with to get there, which I think is a great concept. And I think you’re doing a really awesome job of advocating for that, but also creating a unique career and offerings that you can give to the world that are specifically related to the way that your brain works, and that’s fascinating because you’re redefining what a lot of these traditional job descriptions can possibly mean.
Kirk: On top of process, also just the mentality of like, I came into illustration, like way from a side angle, not really knowing how to do it. I just knew I wanted to make things that looked interesting. You know, I eventually went back and got my MFA and illustration later just sort of as a way to feel legitimized, but I think that my really crooked way of coming into the industry was really beneficial because I think if I went to art school, so many teachers would have told me like, “Why do you have so many tangents?” and “You have no idea how your value structures are built,” and like, “You don’t know what you’re doing in so many ways.” And I think most really great stories of success for big business people or whatever, or people that have overcome a big feat, they often have some semblance of ignorance, or not really knowing what they’re doing or not understanding what the task they’re really trying to achieve is and how much of a pipe dream it is, so by coming into it from such a crooked angle, I think I was able to sort of subvert a lot of what people would have expected.
And also just from a confidence standpoint, I think way too many people would have said, “You need to get really good at charcoal,” or, “You need to get really good at painting,” or whatever, and I would have been turned away from it, I would have said, “I’m not good at art.” And I realized that instead, you know, you can figure out what you want to make and what kind of visual language you want to operate in and what stories you want to tell and then you can always go back I think, actually retroactively learning some of the rules and stuff.
Meg: Absolutely. And I think we all kind of, like I think, again, fitting into labels, I think a lot of creatives kind of feel like they need to fall into the role of a persona of what a designer traditionally is, for example of like, I’m trying to think of a generalized what a designer is, what are they inspired by, and it’d be like somebody who’s traveling to Japan or Iceland, if it’s 2014, nobody’s traveling now. My references are all very outdated.
Kirk: Yeah, “I’m a beer loving, you know, father designer that, you know, loves handcrafted coffee and oh my God, I live on coffee,” and that’s all, you know, very rarely will I try to be negative about any of that, but I have this really strong urge to reject, and in many ways I think it’s a fault of mine, but I get very snobby when it comes to trends or what I see a lot of people doing, and I just try to reject, and I think more than reject, I try to subvert and surprise. When everyone’s doing something, how can I follow that and learn from it, but also subvert it, flip it, change it, and try to kind of re-appropriate it or co-opt it and break it, and the more you can break, the more interesting. So yeah, to your point, I mean, it’s just gets so vanilla, right? And you start combing off the top of everything for references and resources and inspiration. You know, you think, “Oh, I’m getting these cool random things from manhole covers or lettering on an old sign,” and again, fine, it’s all fine. But it’s just not what I like, because it also just gets a little bit insufferable, right, like we designers can be very insufferable in many, many ways and illustrators as well, as we use them interchangeably, but I just am trying to always be as happy with myself as I can be. And that usually, yeah, challenging yourself is always more important than not doing what other people are doing. But just being like, “Is this what I want to be doing?”
Meg: Yes. Well, I mean, if we’re all inspired by the same thing and we’re all trying to fit this mold of what a creative person is, then that means we’re all going to have the same inspiration, which just means we all end up making work that looks the same. So, it seems very obvious, although I know this is a hard thing for most people to get through, is if you could just utilize your niche interests and bring that into your creative work, then that’s how you can create things for the world that no one else really can, because you’re taking all these interests that combined only you have. And so, I think the world would be so much more beautiful and varied visually if we could all do that. But I think that that’s the hard work, right, is to feel comfortable and safe enough for you to publicly show what those interests are.
Kirk: Yeah, we all have a visual makeup of DNA and just the things that we’d like, we have so much inspiration from whether you start at 18, or you start at 40, or 50, or 60, we have everything we need for inspiration, you just have to look backward or look inward. And that doesn’t mean you don’t take in new things, but the last thing you need to do is to go on, you know, top10designers.com and figure out what they’re doing. But I also understand that it’s really valuable to a lot of people to a certain extent, like I think for me, I started my career just copying people. Like, I copied everybody as much as I could, and I learned the language and figured out the basics. But as soon as I could, I knew that everything was going to end up coming through a lens of design, through illustration, and I knew that that was a failsafe, like I know I’m going to use whitespace, I know I’m going to do these things, I know I’m going to have a good typographical layout, so now if I can push away from that as much as I can, it’s going to make things [have] more interesting DNA, have more interesting visual product, and a more unique thing too. And if you can take all those things, make unique things for big brands, you know, when you’re working with McDonald’s, or Facebook, or these brands that really could use a push into getting a little bit more unique and interesting, unexpected is always the best way to go. And if you can push that into your career, it’s always a win, right?
Meg: So, in your mind, when we have this argument of “Should I be a generalist or a specialist,” what is your opinion on that?
Kirk: Well, I think you can do anything anytime, of course, but I think choosing a lane at a certain point is probably good. I think for me, and I can only speak on my own behalf of course, for myself, I think I’m probably specialized in a style and probably a thought, you know, like I specialize in the way that my brain works. That’s all that I can do. And so, I probably am style specific. I’m not a generalist in the sense that I can do, you know, oil and I can do pen and ink and stuff like that, I do what I do, and I do it well. I was thinking about this earlier, like, my process kind of stays the same, what ends up outcoming is generally the same. My color palettes typically stay in a similar world. I typically use Adobe Illustrator, Indigo, and Photoshop. I’m not the type that’s like, “I’m going to do some clay today and I’m going to, you know, scratch on walls tomorrow.” That process kind of stays the same, but I do get really general when it comes to what my offline life looks like. So, I try to mix that stuff up as much as I can. Like, I want, month to month, my brain to be different. I want to be into a certain type of show this week and a certain type of music another month, and I want to be really into a different decade of art in another and like, that’s the thing that I think I really try to vary a ton. And again, more practically, I think I generalize from industry, and I think that my style is specific and that style can be applied to certain tech companies, or certain kid companies, or certain food companies, or certain anything, but I wouldn’t personally ever want to be only in kid stuff or only in tech. I want to be in the style that I really enjoy in the moment and let that be good for the specifics.
Meg: Well, I think you said it perfectly in that you said that you’re a specialist in that it’s your brain is your brain, so that’s your specialty. I remember there’s, I may have mentioned this on this podcast before, but one of my favorite, most inspiring things I’ve ever heard in my career was this, I think was a 2010 TED talk Taika Waititi, who’s a director who did, trying to think of what most people know, like “Thor: Ragnarok,” which is the only one of his films I haven’t seen, “Jojo Rabbit,” “Hunt for the Wilder People,” which is one of my favorite films, but anyway, he said this wonderful thing during this TED Talk where he said that he was kind of at the beginning of his directing career at the time when he did this talk, but he said that he doesn’t really think of himself as necessarily a director, or a writer, or a producer, or an artist, or a comedian, he thinks of his career as his brain. So, whatever he needs to do in order to get the ideas out of his brain, he will become whatever he needs to become in order to do that. And that’s kind of the philosophy that I’ve taken with my career, and I definitely heard it in what you were saying is the greatest specialty we have is our brains because they are chemically different than anybody else’s brain. So, I think if we can just figure out what the heck that is, which I guess is the hard part, then we can create something for the world that nobody else can.
Kirk: Like you said on the internet and many times past, you know, even the e-book that you put out, and just those things of like, if you can document that, start writing those things down and become a little more confident, and then begin to lean on them more and always be changing. But yeah, just writing down these things, or listening to other people’s perspective on you and see people say, “Oh, Kirk, your work is really, whatever, it’s really colorful, it has a lot of really cool details, you can see a story in the characters,” I think listening to those people and sort of getting a little introspective, about that helps you understand. It’s hard to look inward and be like, “This is what I’m good at.” But if you can kind of listen to what other people think, you can sort of make those decisions a little bit as well.
But also, like we said earlier on in our intro, just surrendering and just doing what feels right and what you’re enjoying, and I know that I say that, but then it’s like, I know there’s so many people that are doing that and not getting a career. It’s really tough. It’s like you have to do all these things, possibly, maybe, and you have to get super lucky, and I’m not really happy with my career. Like on top of that, I’m so fortunate, but I’m like, “Also, I’m not completely fulfilled,” so it’s like I don’t know what to do. But all I know is, all you can do is be you, be unique, and try to enjoy what you’re doing as best as you can, and continue learning. Those sorts of things.
Meg: That is the best possible place we could leave this conversation, I think. Kirk, where can everybody find you on the internet?
Kirk: Yeah, I think if you search “bonehaus” on most things, you’ll find me, or if you type in Kirk Wallace and then either put designer or illustrator at the end, you’ll find me my website, bone.haus, and then same thing with Instagram, Dribbble, Behance, places like that. If you ever need me in any way, however I can help, I’ve been doing this for five years now, full-time freelance, and 10 years, you know, off and on. Let me help, however I can help, I would certainly like to do my best. Feel free to reach out. Don’t be shy, break down barriers, all that sort of stuff. And I’m always available.
Meg: Alright, Kirk, it was great to see you. Thanks for being here.
Kirk: Thank you.
Meg: That’s it for this week’s beautiful, shiny, and delightful episode of Dribbble Overtime. If you have a moment, please hop onto Apple Podcasts and rate this podcast because [begins fake crying] it really helps a lot, it truly does. Can you tell that I’m tearing up? I have a poor fake audio cry, don’t I? I’m not crying, I promise you. And if you have a moment, follow me on the internet too. I’m @yourbuddymeg or meglewis.com to find out more about me. Okay, bye, hear me next week!