1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
Around the second year of my college design education. The first year I didn’t care. I actually started studying graphic design because it seemed the path of least resistance at the time. I was a terrible student in high school and I barely graduated. I used to doodle the Metallica and Iron Maiden logos on my notebooks all the time so I figured a career that involved doing stuff like that wouldn’t be the worse and I figured there wouldn’t be a lot of tests of things to memorize.
So it was the first class that we designed an identity where it clicked and I saw how cool and fun it was to come up with a set of ingredients to create different applications. I also had no other skills or ambitions so I just followed that career path into my first design job, then my second, and 22 years later here I am.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
I went to college in Mexico City, which is where I was born and lived my whole life. I was able to get a job in the United States in Atlanta, GA, in 1999, which was the height of the original dot-com boom. My wife, then girlfriend was also studying design in Mexico but in a different university that she hated and got out midway to switch to Portfolio Center in Atlanta, which is why I ended up there.
The biggest hurdle was adjusting to U.S. life and customs and shifting from the metric system to inches… which is why I guess I now love picas more than anything because it’s a neutral measuring unit between the two. I also felt like I had a lot to prove, being an underdog and also because I needed my employer to keep me employed and sponsor my work visa.
From that point I just always strived to work harder than other designers and take any additional time needed to learn new skills and stay one step ahead of anyone who might be after my job because I couldn’t afford to lose it.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
Word of mouth. It never fails. You do a good job for someone and they will refer you or hire you again when they move to another job. I’m a very nice person to a fault and I try to never ever burn any bridges because you never know who might be your next big benefactor.
When I left Pentagram to start my own business (and my wife, previously girlfriend that I followed left her job as well), I would say that 90% of our clients came from referrals or direct connections from clients I worked while at Pentagram. All because I was nice to them. And I guess I did good design as well.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
See above. Do good work, above everything. But another big aspect is clear communication and establishing of expectations. When you are able to explain to clients what to expect from the design process and counsel them through it all, that’s the biggest thing you can do for them. Doing things that look nice is fine and assumed but I think it’s how you lead clients through the process that earns you their trust.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
All the time. You haven’t lived if you haven’t been paid late or not at all. It happens. It’s then a matter of putting stopgaps in place to not happening again. Don’t start a job until they sign a working agreement or make the first deposit; don’t hand off files until they have completed payment; don’t do business with someone that wants to have a design presentation at International House of Pancakes on a Saturday morning. I learned that one the hard way.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
5:00 am – 7:00 am: Write first post for Brand New
7:00 am – 7:30 am: Walk dogs
7:30 am – 9:00 am: Work out (and bathe and breakfast)
9:00 am – 12:00 pm: Write two other posts for Brand New, then whatever are the tasks of the day
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 pm – 5:00 pm: Big push of work (plus answering of any difficult emails)
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm: Prepare images for Brand New posts for the next day
6:00 pm – 7:30 pm: Dinner with the family
7:30 pm – 8:00 pm: Easy email answering
8:00 pm – 8:30 pm: Watch The Simpsons with my youngest kid (there is 32 seasons!)
8:30 pm – 9:00 pm (sometimes): More email answering
8:30 pm – 10:00 pm (most often): Watch TV
10:00 pm: Sleep
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
Don’t wait for inspiration or motivation, work your way through your job with dedication, determination, and routine. It’s not exciting or it may not sound like a creative way to do your job but if you nail down those three basic approaches, the good work flows more easily and generously.