Russell Shaw is an independent, Atlanta-based designer. His concentrations include illustration, graphic design, logo and branding design, book layouts, user interface/experience, and video. He has done work for organizations like Microsoft, AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” SweetWater Brewery, The W Atlanta – Midtown, Bearin.
We have a few questions.
1 – First of all I would like to thank on behalf of the team Falle for accepting to do this interview, it is a great pleasure for us. I start wondering when he began his interest in design and communication?
I have been interested in art and illustration for as far back as I can possibly remember. I was constantly drawing on everything that I could find. It started out as just general kid stuff – dragons, knights, football players, animals, etc. – but by middle school it changed to more intricate pieces – plans for city blocks, architectural blueprints, grid systems and patterns. And then when I got into high school, thankfully my school had a great focus on the arts, and so I was able to take classes in fine art painting and drawing, graphic design, and film photography. As far as my interest in communication is concerned, I have always been passionate about storytelling.
2 – Which artists have served and will serve as a reference?
The thought leaders in design that influence me greatly are Stefan Sagmeister, Frank Chimero, Chipp Kidd, David Airey, Khoi Vinh, Matias Corea, Jessica Walsh, and Mark Weaver. But I have to add that there are other individuals – not directly in the world of design – that influence me work just as much; I believe that inspiration can be found everywhere, even from fields that are not directly related to my own. And so I believe that the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger, Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell – as well as the poetry of Neruda, Frost, Cummings, O’Hara – and the array of music from Sinatra and Ella to Jay Z to Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers inspire me just as much as other designers.
3 – How do you define your work?
If it is a creative endeavor, then I am interested in incorporating it into my work – be that branding, illustrating, filmmaking, typesetting, packaging, copywriting, etc. The main thing that I want my work to show is the idea of empathy. I want people to connect with and feel something when they engage with the work.
4 – How did you develop your style of work?
“Style” troubles me. On the one hand, I try to not have one set and determined stylistic aesthetic for all of my projects; I want my work to strive for timelessness outside of style and trend. On the other hand, I am very aware that I have developed some style standards that I tend towards. I believe they come from having a fine arts background and being obsessed with turn-of-the-century literature – which makes my style a little old world. I also come from the American South, which brings with it a strong bent towards things like chalk art, hand-painted signs, earth tones and natural textures and serifs and whatnot.
5 – How would you describe your day-to-day?
Every day is different depending on whom I am meeting, if I am working in someone’s office, or filming a project. But typically I just wake up, put on the coffee, and set into work for the next twelve hours or so. Then I try and always make time to meet up with friends at night for dinner to unwind. Ensuring some down time with friends is so important for relieving burnout, so that I can do it all again the next day!
6 – Tell us how was the process of creating a corporate brand architectonics.
For Architectonics, after some planning sessions with the client, I knew that the small architecture firm would want something super modern and clean, but that also showed their dedicated artistic process. So I opted to design a unique typeface to the logo’s wordmark, to show the personal craftsmanship of the brand – yet also make it a very angular typeface that felt as if it were a blueprint itself. The “a” of the type was then taken to make the icon, and surrounded by angular gradients that matched the types of sharp degrees found in some of the firm’s funky, modern buildings.
7 – What do you consider your best work yet?
What a tough question! Typically, whatever is my latest project is my favorite project – anything before it tends to seem juvenile after a while. Right now, my favorite work is probably my letterpress prints for Bearings.
8 – Tell us five lessons that you consider important
First, business sense is as important as design sense; focus on learning how to network, how to sell ideas, how to sell yourself, and be professional and on top of your work. Second, don’t worry about what is trendy; it’s a waste of time. Third, find an interest in something that has nothing to do with graphic design; having interests in other areas will stretch your imagination and give you a way to relax after a long day of hard design decisions. Fourth, what you say “no” to defines you; some projects or clients should not be a part of your work because they are not creative projects, or are for pursuits which are not beneficial for society. Money is not a good motivator to take on a project. Take on projects that better your creativity and better your community. Fifth, don’t take the work too serious. Design should make us happy. So have some fun with it.
9 – How do you define advertising in the United States? It’s too crowded?
It’s pretty crowded, but I don’t think it is too crowded by any means. I think those that want to get into it, and get creative about how to get into it, will succeed with little problem. The Internet is still relatively brand new to the world – a little over two decades, compared to the history of civilization, is not much time at all. So I think we are still in a pivotal era of defining what advertising looks like in this new digital space. Some people think that just means banner ads and pop ups and emails – and honestly, I find that type of advertising to be the same old, traditional-style crap that created the disgusting landscape of billboard and outdoor advertising. But there are people who are innovating advertising online and figuring out how to launch a viral project that is shared simply because the content is good, and that excites me. Social sharing invites a space for a re-definition of good advertising.
10 – Tell us which sites you frequently access
I use Twitter, Behance, Pinterest and WordPress (for my blog) almost daily. The design sites I draw from regularly are The Fox is Black, Abduzeedo, and AIGA. I also have a few music blogs that I follow closely – like Pitchfork, NPR, Sound on the Sound, and Thanks Captain Obvious.
11 – What are your hobbies?
My main interests are music, food and photography. I go to concerts regularly and love staying on top of what is new in music; I enjoy tracking down the new fine dining spots in the city as well as learning to cook new things; and while I am not a professional photographer, I find it a lot of fun to occasionally go out and shoot photos for recreational purposes.
12 – What books do you enjoy reading?
The book’s that have defined me: “The Shape of Design” by Frank Chimero; “Change by Design” by Tim Brown; “The Tipping Point,” “Blink,” and “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell; “The Cheese Monkeys,” by Chipp Kidd; all of Fitzgerald’s short stories; “Franny and Zooey” by J.D. Salinger; and “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway.
13 – What every designer needs to do to improve the world?
Take on work that you believe in – even if you have to lower your rates sometimes to do so. Often times the best projects can’t afford the work, but the work would give those projects an amazing platform, and so I would encourage people to take on some organizations as a type of societal investment.
14 – You graduated at some college Graphic Design? Tell us how was the beginning of his career.
I have a bachelor’s of fine arts with emphasis in Graphic Design, and a minor in Marketing. Honestly, though, I don’t know that my college degree influences my day-to-day life that much. The majority of work that I do comes out of self-taught processes, or things that I have learned how to do since college – the design world is always changing, so we must always be learning. I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked about my college degree; in design, your portfolio is everything. Even though I guess I have the credentials, it’s amazing how people really just care about what you can do, and a lot less about where and what you studied. Doing is way more important.