If you’re a designstudent there are usually classes that are mandatory to take. Studying theBauhaus movement and the Mid Century design era in art history class wassomething that many designers can relate to passing (or failing). The Bauhaus movement included distinction between fine and applied arts in efforts toreunite creativity and manufacturing. It was founded with the idea of all arts,including architecture, and would eventually be brought together giving an holisticapproach to design and shedding light on why one begins to create.
Steve Wolf,born and raised in Central Nebraska continues to practice graphic artsprofessionally, winning awards such as Austin ADDY and ADDY Silver. Steve Wolf Designs, a sophisticatedillustration and design agency has grown from his talents. Moving to the big city in Austin, Texas, hecontinues his practice as design director, business developer, accountant andall in one design man. You can see a detailed and vintage approach to his portfolio including a more recent project where he designed for the Adobe Live series, "I designed live for two hours over three days. It was definitely a challenge but I had a lot of fun". We sit down with Steve and discuss the next generation of talent,how he began his creative journey and what advice he can give to the nextgraphic prodigy.
Let’s start with your story, How did you begin yourcreative journey? I actually wanted to be an Industrial Designer duringhigh school and when I went off to college in Nebraska. In college, I took alot of fine art classes such as drawing and painting because I have alwaysloved making art my whole life and wanted to continue practicing this craft.One day, my college professor stopped me in the hall and invited me to agraphic design meeting. I went with no expectations or any knowledge of graphicdesign. After hearing all of the possibilities graphic design had to offer, Iinstantly fell in love and knew this was actually the path I was looking forall along! I graduated with a degree in graphic design and have been in thisfield for roughly 8 years now.
Who or what influenced your beginning designs? Ourdesign program in college focused on the classic heavyweight designers duringthe Bauhaus movement and up to the mid century design era. Paul Rand, SaulBass, Ikko Tanaka, Lance Wyman and Alvin Lustig where some of the designers westudied that really inspired me to do the design work I do today. I wanted tobe just like them so I would stay up late every other night reading andresearching about these guys until I started to develop my own style based offof these legends.
Did you work for anyone prior starting your venture? Yes,I worked at a sports trading card company in Dallas called Panini America, amarketing agency in Nebraska called SCORR marketing, and an advertising companyin Austin called GSD&M.
Did you have co-founders, where they other designer’s,and how did you split up the roles, who does what? My wife Danielle helped me from the verybeginning with contracts, clientcommunication and emails. She helped me on the business side of things while Ifocused on design. Within the past year, we have added another member to theteam who helps with business management.
How do you measure your success, what is the criterionyou measure? I measure my success based on how I feel about my work. IfI can see that I am improving my ideas and execution, I see that as growth. Iam always trying out new ideas and processes so when I am able to implementthese into my work and see them live in the world, I see that as success.
What does it mean to be a creative leader? Firstoff, becoming a creative leader is not typicallysomething you can expect from someone without practice and hard work, but it isa skill which can, and should, learn. Creative leaders are not afraid to askquestions about why things are the way they are, they are not afraid to try newtechniques and break away from the norm, they push the boundaries of what hasalready been done, and they are steady and self-assured. They see new problemsas a challenge to overcome and an opportunity to create something unique thatcould influence and inspire people.
Okay, walk me through a design process. Where do youstart? I first start off by getting as much information about theproject I am working on from the client and I also learn about the client andget to know them on a personal level. Understanding the clients is just asimportant as understanding the project. Each person is different and has theirown vision and needs. After discussing the project, I spend long periods oftime researching. This includes reading books, getting on Pinterest and otherdesign boards, learning about the genre I am working in, seeing what has beendone before, scouting out competitors and seeing their executions, and gettinginspiration from everyday things such as nature and architecture.
Afterthe research phase, I start sketching or in some cases go directly onto thecomputer depending on the project. I start to bring the ideas to life on thecomputer and go through many options before narrowing it down to two or three.Once the final directions are established, I present them to the client. I willmake changes to the design if needed and once approved, I send over the finalfiles. Throughout all of this, I am constantly talking to my clients and I keepresearching even when I am designing.
With the advent of publishing platforms and socialmedia, what is your go to for sharing? I always post my work toInstagram and have found the most success through this platform. I also usePinterest, Dribbble, and Behance to share my work.
On that topic, have you found with the increase ofcreatives out there and the diversity of other's portfolios, has it beendifficult in getting your work out there? I don’t think so. As long asyou stay true to what you make and keep improving, your work will get noticedand stand out from the rest even though there are many sites out there. Comingup with original ideas for a unique style can really help you stand out fromthe crowd.
Have you experienced any challenges with landingclients? When I first started out, I would go through long periodswithout any clients. When this happened, I used this time to develop my styleand work on personal projects. The more I designed and shared my work, I slowlygot a steady stream of clients to work with. After I landed a few clients, Iwas able to build off of that for the next opportunity. Now, I am able to get asteady stream of opportunities.
What other creatives do you look up too, who is yourmotivational creative influence? Like I said earlier, the greatdesigners such as Paul Rand and Saul Bass are still influencing me still tothis day! It amazes me that their work is still relevant and ground breakingeven in today’s world.
Any recommendations for those who choose the agencyscene and eventually look to break out? Grind, Grind, Grind. I did thisfor over two years and learned that patience and hard work is key. It will bethe hardest thing you have ever done but it can definitely be worth it in thelong run. During your transition, it gets tough to balance both. After your jobat the agency, you come straight home to work even more! The trick is to treatthe freelance work as a passion project instead of work. You will enjoy workingon the outside work so much that you want to do more and more. Anotherrecommendation is to try to find a balance between agency work, freelance work,and relaxation. Without taking a break here and there, you will get burned outreally fast and end up going one way or the other.