“I’ve always enjoyed creating things. From spending countless hours spawned across the living room floor build Legos with my brother to making short films about time travel to tinkering around with a bootlegged copy of Photoshop, I can’t think of a time that I haven’t been taking part in some sort of world building in one medium or another. My brother and I spent a lot of time playing video games or creating our own tabletop games since it was exponentially cheaper than getting into Warhammer 40,000. We covered notebooks from cover to cover to serve as monster manuals, detailed world maps, and shop inventories. That was probably on the earlier side of when I began my attempts to design.”
Justin Mezzell, the co-founder of Super Team Deluxe teams up with another renowned designer, Rogie King, and started Super Team as a patch and pin collectible startup with an underlying idea about starting your next creative idea, with the following: “just do it, and do it with a team”. Justin’s focus on the small wins for companies and enjoyable cartoon, figures and intricate landscaping graphics allows for a particular optimistic tone to be set for its viewers. Mezzell previously worked for companies like Google, PayPal, Facebook, Twitter, and Disney and currently working full time at Code School has boosted him with a diversity in graphic outputs while meeting the needs for situational design, however the project's needs align.
As one scrolls through Super Team Deluxe site they can see the intense attention that was spent creating the brand, and one that seems to have a strong feeling of nostalgia for the 80-90’s kids (sorry Justin), bringing back their collection of characters and rubber line weights. Its blissful.
Partnering with Rogie King, Mezzell presents a bubbly idea that makes you smile. His background, while diverse, engulfs a creative beginning and a fearless attitude. First studying film, Mezzell’s ideal job seemed to align with vintage photography and graphics. “Since film was a huge part of my design fascination, I took a took a lot of inspiration from movie posters. I loved vintage posters, specifically those from pulpy science fiction or film noir. There was such a richness in their (inaccurate) view of the future in those old science fiction films—particularly the more mid-century ones”. When looking at the Supper Team Deluxe brand you can see the film influence in the bubbly typography, color scales and line weights.
Continuing into University, Mezzell focused on communication, taking an internship at Relevant Magazine. “At Relevant magazine and I had an amazing art director named Jeremy Kennedy who was willing to invest in a young kid like myself who didn’t even know that there were programs in the Creative Suite other than Photoshop. He was an incredible mentor and I owe a lot about learning what it means to be a teacher to him”, Mezzell shares. Justin’s early freelance career leveled him up quickly and he worked for large companies such as Google, PayPal, Facebook, Twitter and Disney crafting digital graphics that involved his take on marketing new products and the portraying new technologies in a humanistic and graphically optimistic approach.
As the Creative Director at Code School, Mezzell brings this same resonance for the digital educator. While his duties are fostering a creative culture for both current and prospective students, Mezzell still works at installing graphic standards and creative approaches to education. The team has a choreograph approach to their brand and how a student navigates the curriculum is exciting, primarily because of the use of illustrations and gradients. Compared to his other work, particular Super Team Deluxe, his intensity continues to resides in his graphics.
Sitting down with Mezzell we compare his day to day projects at Code School and dive into the story behind Super Team Deluxe. As we quickly view the pin's line up we noticed that much of the day to day objects that designers encounter are reflected in these pin designs. We first explore why he choose pins to be the 3D wearable medium what next is in store for Mezzel and his "Pizza Love" pin:
How do you balance working at Code School and starting Super Team Deluxe?
Since Rogie and I both work jobs separately from Super Team Deluxe, a lot actually! My days start relatively early, if it’s a pin drop day where we’re releasing new product, earlier than usual. A lot of the work that goes into Super Team we’re moonlighting in the evenings, so the day before, we’re probably up getting setup for the marketing for the pin releases. That can include anything from writing copy for each new pin, assembling and building out the email, creating all of the social imagery as well as accompanying copy, and prepping the actual pin orders (which is handled by my wife, Hannah). Once we push it live, I’m pretty hands off while I’m at work. It’s important to me, while I’m at Code School, to protect the integrity of the work I do there, so that’s typically when I’ll transition out and Rogie and Hannah are handling most things on the Super Team front.
My day at Code School is mostly centered on managing my team of creatives (in course illustration, UI/UX, video production and marketing). I spend a lot of time in UX research sitting in on a lot of interviews as well as building out a number of prototypes.
I’ll typically pick back up the Super Team mantle in the evenings after Hannah and I put the kids down. Rogie and I have spent a number of nights up into the wee hours of the morning fleshing out product ideas. I’ve seen the sun come up a time or two.
Early on who was your motivational creative influence?
I love the work that Ryan Putnam does. He’s constantly evolving his own style and seems to set aside plenty of time to dedicate to his craft. I also really admire to work of my good friend, Meg Robichaud. She’s always pushing herself to invent new styles and techniques and that really shows. Alex Griendling is another designer that loves story, and it’s such a huge part of his work. You can see little pieces of it coming through even the smallest of designs; regardless of whether or not every user knows it’s there. I love that attention to detail and commitment to the craft.
How did you launch Super Team Delux and what was the break out moment for this project?
That one’s a bit harder to say. I feel like, for Rogie and myself, the breakout moment was actually when we went live with the store. We had sort of thought that Super Team would be a really unique outlet to experiment with physical goods, but didn’t really put much weight in its success. We sort of thought that it rightly might land with some sort of whimper, we’d sell a few pins, but ultimately end up with a large collection of these things in my attic. After all, the motivation was, win or lose, to finally launch a project together; even if it was just to prove that we could. That we could hold true to our words and finally rally our resources to prioritize a joint project.
When we finally did push it live, the response was incredibly strong, particularly within this community that we love so much. It was pretty much the next day that we both realized that this was something we couldn’t ignore—something we had to ride out and experience just how far it could go.
How did you and Rogie King split up the roles in making this product, who does what?
At Super Team Deluxe, it’s just Rogie King and myself as co-founders. Currently, we split up roles by whatever seems like it fits best for the project. We’re both illustrators, and it’s a playground we both feel incredibly comfortable in. Oftentimes, we’re giving each other waves of creative feedback, punching holes in some concepts, or holding each other accountable for pushing ourselves creatively. Occasionally, I’ll start on a piece or a concept and Rogie may pick it up halfway through, make an edit or two here or there, and he may even finish it out. We’ve gotten pretty used to opening each other’s files and making edits. There’s a lot of trust there.
Aside from illustration, Rogie and I both come from the world of the web. We both do the web design for the shop as well as craft any other digital experiences that we think are fun. Rogie has a strong web development background, whereas I’m pretty fledgling, so he handles that front and I tinker about haphazardly.
What is your revision process like?
Rogie and I are both pretty on-the-fly with edits. Typically, things stay open as long as we want them to and we’re both going in and out of files making edits here and there. At some point, you do have to make the call to pronounce something “done”, or you’ll spend the next ten years making minuscule edits that no one will notice, all while paralyzed to ship. I tend to think about edits as sessions, since the time differences are pretty vast depending on the piece. Super Team Deluxe pins typically take around 3 sessions just to ensure that we’re pressure testing the concept and the render.
Sidebar: Working at Code School how do you define the Creative Director role, what is your day to day?
I believe Creative Directors are an easy role for people to fumble on, because most people think it’s just the next step in someone’s career. I don’t believe that that’s true. I think being a Creative Director might be the right next step for someone’s career, but the job title isn’t just about a bigger salary, it’s about moving from a craft-driven position to more managerial one. As a Creative Director, you’re expecting to not only critique, but to teach and to support those that work with you. It’s not enough to say “I don’t like this”, you’ve got to be able to be in it with those you work with and balance allowing room for them to come up with their own solutions with you supporting them on that journey. I think that there are a lot of bad, or perhaps uneducated Creative Directors out there. I know that because at times I’m one of them.
With the advent of publishing platforms and social media, what is your go to for sharing new pins from Super Team Deluxe?
I think it depends on the medium. We’ve seen a lot of success in talking to other designers by using those networks we use on a regular basis, like Dribbble. We do, however, seem to reach further audiences on more purely social platforms like Twitter. For more in-depth posts on process and/or product thinking, Medium has become a go-to resource for me.
Also, have you found with the increase in creative exposer and portfolio’s it has been difficult in getting your work out there? I personally don’t think so. I think it’s a great time to work in design. The community is incredibly strong and very social. Those are some fantastic ingredients for getting your work out and distributed. It might feel a little difficult to get noticed amongst the noise at times, but I think the benefits far outweigh the perceived drawbacks.
What is you take for young creatives that want to jump into freelancing right way?
Personally, I know I’ve alluded to this, but I believe that working within the context of a team is an undeniably valuable skill that everyone should experience. Going in to freelancing and working for yourself sounds really nice on paper, but I do think that if you jump straight to it, you could possibly miss out on some opportunities afforded to you in working as part of a larger whole.
Also, freelancing isn’t always as sexy as it’s made out to be. You’ve got finances to work through, taxes that need to find their rightful home, and a whole lot of operational planning. These shouldn’t sway you from ever ultimately freelancing, but they’re certainly part of the job description that are oft overlooked. There’s something really nice about being able to fuel a passion project while also working full-time elsewhere. There’s certainly not as much immediate pressure to mature that project into profitability.
Any recommendations for those who choose the agency scene and eventually look to break out?
I think learning how to work in a number of work situations is incredibly helpful. The few times that I have had to work in-house at an agency, it’s been pretty hectic. It actually reminds me of the time I spent working at a magazine. We had plenty of late nights and print week was a anything but a walk in the park, but I don’t regret the work ethic I learned in working with tight deadlines and having to hulk our way through creative sessions, even when it felt like the creativity wasn’t immediately flowing. There was a great sense of camaraderie on that team.
From my own experience, I’d say take that time to really understand and feel the tension in working with a team on a common vision. Soak up that time to hone in on efficient workflows and processes that work best for you. Find your goal for what you want to do someday, and don’t feel like you have to make that jump today. I think we have a tendency, as an industry, to be a bit too prescriptive when it comes to telling people when they need to make the leap at their start idea of their own personal freelance career. There’s a lot to be gained in working for other people, especially in working as a team.
What is that piece of inspiration that was important in your beginnings that you want to share to other upcoming creatives?
Don’t be afraid to jump into this industry with both feet. I know it can seem like the design conversation is one that’s been going on for a long time and you’re just stepping in when you’re new. I know that it can be daunting—terrifying, even—to figure out where you fit in in this big community. But you can. You do. All you have to do is be willing to be a part. Take some time to pour into the kind of work you love. You don’t have to be better than everyone else, you just have to be willing to find what it is that bring you joy. Figure out what excites you about being a part of this conversation.
And never neglect the community aspect. We’re not meant to do all of this alone. Get involved in community and pour into each other’s lives. Give feedback, engage in honest bi-directional critique. If you don’t know anyone in the community, reach out! Send someone you admire an email—it’s how Rogie and I met! I just sent him an email one day and told him that I’d love to learn from him, if he’d let me, and here we are now! Be bold and cannonball into community. You’ll be grateful you did.
Finally, what is next for you?
About the only thing that I know for certain is that I’m honored to be able to work with my friend on a project that’s really become something bigger than we could have imagined. Not only is it flexing us on illustration, but’s also affecting our project management, development, as well as copywriting skills. To be able to run (and occasionally fumble) with these disciplines and to do it with those you care about is a gift I already feel so lucky to be able to experience. We’re going to keep pushing Super Team Deluxe as we try to figure out just what it is and what it can be. We’re already pushing into new products and we’re so incredibly stoked on the potential of what we’re building that it keeps us up into the night planning and dreaming. We’re not done yet—not even close.