In today’s show, Meghan talks with Ali House, a graphic designer working at Audigy Group. Learn how Ali got started in design, how he and other designers handle critique and why you should keep quiet when getting called to the principal’s office.
Read the transcript:
Hi. Today I’m talking to Ali. Ali is a graphic designer at Audigy Group, primarily focusing on business consumer marketing. So, Ali, thank you for joining us today. How are you?
I’m doing well. Thank you.
Yeah. Tell us a little bit about– well, actually, let’s start by, what’s your official job title here at Audigy?
I am a graphic designer.
A graphic designer, OK, so what is a day in the life of the graphic designer look like?
The daily life of a graphic designer involves design. [LAUGHTER]
I mean, for Audigy I’m mostly B to C focused. So we’re consumer-facing.
So B to C for those of us who don’t know is Business to Consumer?
Right. So I’m working on a lot of the member brands, and the clients that we work for are building out their collateral, their advertising campaigns, that kind of thing.
OK. How long have you been here?
I’ve been here for close to 4 and 1/2 years now. Wait, wait, no. That’s 3 and 1/2 years.
3 and 1/2 years. OK, so it seems longer. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad.
In Audigy years.
Yes, Yeah. Yeah. So in Audigy years, you’re like a–
An old man.
Yes, an old man. OK, what’s the most interesting thing that you’ve ever done for Audigy?
It would probably be one of the branding projects that we did for one of our members. Because it was really involved, and it was outside of the scope of my day-to-day stuff. And it really allowed me to get into some higher-level thinking things and working with a few more people on the team. I mean, my day typically is me working on stuff kind of by myself. You have the team around you, but you’re kind of just focused on your own.
Do you ever go to the team and show them– like you started on a project, and you’re like, is this good, or is this like really bad? Because I can imagine when you’re working on something that’s artistic, it’s either really good, or it sucks, right? Like that’s what I feel. That’s where my head would go. I’m like, this is either awesome, or it’s like so bad.
So do you ever share something with someone when you’re halfway through to get feedback? Or how do you– you he said your role is like pretty individual, but how do you go to other teammates and solicit advice or feedback?
I don’t do that too much. I probably should do that more.
So you’re kind of egotistical?
[LAUGHING] Maybe a little bit.
I’m just teasing you.
No, definitely a little bit. No, I guess I get too caught up in the comments or the different things that people say, like while I’m right in the middle of something. So I’ll try to finish it out as much as I can and get it to a place where I’m like, OK, this is the idea I’m trying to present, if I show it to somebody and they get it, then I’m like, OK, I’m on the right page. But otherwise, I could share it, and they’ll be like, oh, you know what? You should change that to blue. And that’s not even part of the equation at all. And then I’m like, oh, my whole world’s like turned upside down now. Because all I’m thinking about it blue.
Yeah. Yeah. I hear you. I can imagine that when you’re working with this many– you’re trying to please lots of masters here. And yet you’re a very creative person, right? And in many ways, what you’re working on is art, but you’re working on art that needs to be approved and validated by people that are not just you, right? So how do you handle that type of– must be sometimes harsh criticism of a piece of work or a piece of art that you’ve created, and you’re really proud of it, and you’ve put a lot of energy and just spent just a lot of time on making this perfect. And you’re really excited to present it, and you present it, and you’re just met with the most harsh criticism ever. I mean, how do you process that?
Designers all meet criticism in different ways. Artists meet criticism in different ways. I think the difference between how I handle things and maybe somebody else is that I’ve always looked at it as this work that I’m doing or this art that I’m creating is always for somebody else. And so in that sense, I can’t get too attached to it.
Ah. So it’s different than if you were creating a painting for your home and I came over and said, that painting is awful. You should have never done that. It’s different because you’re trying to interpret what someone else might want. And so their feedback– it’s not your original creative vision to do this thing anyway, maybe. And so to get that type of feedback on it isn’t as painful.
You just have to distance yourself from it. I mean, in most cases, I’d rather have somebody just come flat out and say, this is horrible. Because then I know I can start right back from the drawing board and go a different route or do something different that will hopefully get to the solution that we’re trying to get to.
So you talked to me a little bit about your most interesting project at Audigy, right? And that was the branding campaign that sounded like it had numerous steps and a lot of people involved in those iterations of the campaign. What made that so great.
I think what made it so great was you talked about being able to bring that vision to life for somebody else. Right after we started the project and we did some initial research–
Who’s we? Who were you working with?
So I was working with one of our senior designers, a project coordinator, a whole team of marketing people, marketing managers, that kind of thing. And of course, we shared notes. We did some research. And when we got the point that we were ready to present to the client after numerous iterations of that research and whatnot, it was met with a just complete, yes, this is exactly who we are. You guys got it. Please proceed with everything else.
And from that point on, the whole project was just a win left and right. And so that’s what made it, I think, really exciting, is because here is somebody with a really difficult problem. They couldn’t figure out who they were or what they were doing. And we were able to kind of guide them, get them in line, and get them on board with it.
So what types of conversations do you need to have with a prospective client in order to go through that discovery phase where you figure out from them in words who they are, and you take those words, and you make those words visuals?
I’d probably start asking about you and what your personality is like and some of the things you’re into. Because oftentimes, especially with like a small business owner and their brand, they’re almost one in the same. A lot of times what the business owner believes is kind of what the brand believes, maybe not so much for like a larger brand.
But I’d start asking about what are the things that you’re interested in? Are you a liberal-type person? Do you like art? Are you into modern furniture? What kind of brands do you follow? To kind of get a sense of what your tastes and preferences are.
And then from that point, then I can start to dig deeper. Well, you’re saying, well, oh, I’m very active. I’m like, oh, you ever heard of a brand called Jawbone? And you’re like, oh, yeah, actually, as a matter of fact, I’m wearing one.
And then I’m like, oh, well we start taking about, well, what do you like about Jawbone? Why do you follow their products? And then you start saying things like, oh, well, they communicate well with me. Their products are really solid, their quality. And it’s like, oh, quality. We’re talking about communications. So I start to try to build this kind of web of words and things to be able to start saying, OK, well, I think I kind of understand where you want to go, and here’s some people that are kind of doing the same thing you’re doing, so let’s start there.
Makes sense. Have you always been an artist? How did you choose to go into graphic design? Can you draw with a pencil?
I can draw with many things.
Can you paint? I’m just curious.
No. I hate painting. I can’t stand painting. I don’t have the patience for it. I took a painting class in school, like high school ones, and just trying to mix colors, it drives me over the moon. I cannot do it.
I love ink and just like pen and pencil kind of things. But yeah, I just do not paint. I’m not a painter.
Tell us about Milk Dud.
So Milk Dud was a part of a series of illustrations that I did for the month of October, which was dubbed Inktober. It’s an initiative that every day of the month for October, you draw an ink drawing. So you could just start out with a pen, or you could do pencil and then ink it, basically is like a term, a graphic term.
So this was probably like a couple of weeks into this, and I’m sitting at home, which I only draw these things at night, so I only had between like [8:00] and like [1:00] in the morning, basically. Because after my son went to bed, then that’s the time that I had to draw.
Do you just draw on the couch? Or do you sit at a table?
I draw on the couch. I draw next to my wife. Because if I’m off somewhere, then I can’t be like a part of the conversation with her, and she definitely wants me to be there– [LAUGHING]– to be present. So–
[LAUGHING] The things I do, right? No, I would just like sit in bed and just draw this stuff until I was done with it. And I just had this idea in my head about this really nerdy character but in the form of like a milk carton. So that’s how it came to be.
So I drew this guy, and he’s got these plaid pants and these really thick, black-framed glasses. And the one part that I really wanted to have fun with was he’s holding these flowers, and there’s one flower that’s drooped over and just like really sad looking, and then have him saying, “Let’s curdle.” Because he’s just like this pathetic guy who’s just like so cute. [LAUGHING]
Where did he come from? Where do you think he– do you identify with him at all?
Probably a little bit. I’m that guy with like the one droopy flower that’s all cute and romantic and everything, but then there’s always something that just undercuts the whole situation for me.
Well, I think your pants– like you put him in some very interesting pants. And you do tend to wear some pretty loud pants, don’t you?
I do. I like color. I like things in my wardrobe to kind of make statements I guess a little bit.
So when you were a kid, what were your artistic outlets? Or what did you do when you were a kid? Or what did you do for fun?
I don’t know. I was a troublemaker as a kid.
I did a lot of mischievous things. Other than sports and whatnot, I always hung out with the kids that were like not so good that were always like trying to like do things that they probably shouldn’t have been doing.
Were you ever suspended from school?
I was never suspended from school, but we had these things in like elementary and middle school, but mostly middle school. They’re called white slips. And it’s like once you got one of those, it was like a bad thing. Like you shouldn’t be doing that. You got in trouble with the principal or whatever. I got quite a few of those.
For what kind if stuff? You’re not a disrespectful person. But were you when you were younger?
I wasn’t disrespectful, I was just not very thoughtful.
So like one story that I’ll never forget is it was recess, and we’re out on the school yard. And I think it was my brilliant idea at the time to decide to like throw rocks at cars.
Kids do that.
Yeah, I guess. And it was like just about to be the end of recess, and sure enough, I pick up this rock, and I just like huck it. I chuck it over the fence. And it nails this truck. And the guy gets out of his truck, hops over the fence, and starts chasing us on the school playground. And I’m like running– we’re like running for our lives at this point, because we’re just like, oh, my God, this guys is gonna come and get us. We just did something totally stupid.
And luckily, he was met by like the recess attendant. And that was the last we saw him. Then like an hour into the day, I get this call from the teacher, Ali, you need to go see the principal.
So I go see the principle. She’s asking us, she’s like, so, I hear that you were throwing rocks at cars. She was like, whose idea was this? Were other people involved? And there was like two other friends of mine. And I’m like, oh, it was totally me. I’m so sorry. They didn’t do anything and this and that.
And I go and like talk to my friends after the fact, and they’re like, dude, we didn’t say anything, man. We didn’t even tell her that we did it. And I was like, dude, I just said that I was the one involved with it. And like I had totally got in trouble for it. Definitely got in trouble at home. It was not a good situation. But I definitely learned my lesson. [LAUGHING].
I can’t see you doing that. So what about first jobs? Like what was the first job that you were paid for?
I was a busboy or like a bag clerk, I guess. I don’t know what you call that, a bag boy?
At a golf course?
No, at a grocery store. [LAUGHING]
So you were a bagger. You only bagged groceries.
Yeah, that and getting those shopping carts.
What was the weather like? I always feel bad for the people around here who do the cart roundups in the winter, all rainy and like–
I can’t complain too much, because I did all that in San Diego, where it’s like springtime and summertime all year round.
Ah, OK. So was it a big grocery store or a small?
Yeah, it was an Albertsons. So that was like my first real paid job, like responsibility, that kind of thing.
Were you good at it?
I always try to be good at whatever I do. So I kind of have a competitive spirit, so I tried to be really good at it.
What does a good bagger do?
I don’t know.
Like what are the qualifications? You said you were good at it. What did you do that made you good at it?
I paid attention to when people had like cold foods together. I always like made sure I put colds together or like if there’s like meat, to put the meat separate. And then I always tried to make sure that I bagged them well enough that they’re not like super heavy or like they’re weighted on one side. Or like my biggest pet peeve even today is when you pick up the groceries, you put it in the car, and then it just like falls over the minute you get into the car. An then it goes everywhere in the trunk.
Are these paper or plastic bags that fall flat?
You gotta be good at both.
Did it bother you when someone said, I want double paper? So you had to put one inside of the other?
Yeah, that was pretty annoying. It was– well, I don’t want to comment on who would typically ask for that, but–
Who would typically ask for that?
[LAUGHING] It would typically be someone older.
So what brought you to this part– because you were in San Diego. And then you went to University of Oregon?
Oh, Oregon State. OK, sorry. So what made you go there?
It was the only college that I got accepted to. And I applied to quite a few, especially in San Diego. [LAUGHING] And then also, I just had to get away from parents.
It was the only school I was accepted–
Literally. Literally was the only school I got accepted to. Like I applied to San Diego State, my hometown. And I didn’t even get into that school. [LAUGHING]
So you were like, I’m going to have to move so I can get into a school.
Yeah. And I was all about it, too, because at the time, I was just so ready to get out and do that. It was for the better. It was for the better.
So then you went to the Art Institute Portland.
And how many years did you spend there?
So that was about five years.
Yeah. The thing I liked about that school was that they let you kind of be high-level on things. You don’t get to do that, really, on a day-to-day basis. But they also placed a big emphasis on corporate design, which I think a good majority of design is corporate. There’s obviously the Nikes and the Coca-Colas doing some fun things, but at some point, there still has to be some kind of dry, base stuff, and that base stuff is what helped me develop my skills and be able to do some of the more fun stuff.
Mhm. So finished that job or– excuse me, finished your schooling. And then what was the first job that you had in the graphic design field?
Oh, man, it was not a good time. It was about a year and like a couple months that I was out of school, and this student that I went to school with, or a classmate, she called me up one day and was like, hey, I need a designer. We’re trying to build out this division of this company. Do you want to come do it?
And so it was pretty much like a sealed deal. I would just have to go and meet the boss or something. And then it was good. So I started that job pretty quickly after that. About two weeks into that job, they fired the girl that hired me and gave me her job on top of my job. So here I am as a graphic designer and then also handling administrative duties for this “department”– I’m doing air quotes for the people who can’t see– to basically be this design company in this massive printing company that’s been around for like 100 years. And it just didn’t– it was so bad. It was so bad.
What was so bad about it?
It was the culture of the company. It wasn’t a place that you could grow. And for me, I don’t want to just turn and burn on a job. I want to be at a place and try to grow and try to learn some things about it. And there’s just really poor leadership and things that would happen on a day-to-day basis that I just didn’t agree with or communication that was not genuine.
And I mean, it just tore me apart. After a year of doing that, it was horrible. I mean, I was working probably close to like 10-hour days, commuting from Gresham to Tualitin every day and just hating my job. And it trickled over into home, too. And my wife was like, you need to either A, quit this job, or you need to suck it up and deal with it. And I quit because I just couldn’t do it anymore.
And is that when you came to Audigy?
That’s when I came to Audigy.
So you’ve been here three and a half years. So you would have started like 2012, summer of 2012?
Did my husband hire you?
At the time, I think he was senior writer.
So I met with him and Jess and Cory and Jennifer Bloom. And I walked into that interview, and I had it in my mind that I was not going to not get that job. And so I came with like these lists of questions. I mean, I never prepare like that for an interview of any sort. I mean, I tried to prepare for this one, and it probably wasn’t even that much.
But I came with like a list of questions, and after they were done, I just started going down the line and just started drilling them. And even to this day– this is like my little special thing that Nathan always says, dude, that was one of the best interviews I’ve ever been on. And I’m just like, I didn’t do anything. I mean, I just was like there. And I was just asking you questions. He’s just like, no, seriously.
Well, because it was the right fit, the right cultural fit. And you can kind of feel that, right?
Yeah. I mean, I think it was Cory that asked me this question– because Cory, he’s a quieter guy. And he hadn’t said anything the whole time. And I pretty much had a read on everybody in the room, like Jennifer Bloom, Nathan, and Jess. But just this Cory guy, I don’t know what he’s thinking. I don’t know like if he’s thinking I’m just like this turd, like I don’t know. Can I say that?
And so he asked me, he said something to the fact of like, so how do you like turn it off? How do you turn off this design thing? And how do you go back to your regular life? Or something like that.
And as soon as he asked that question, I was like, OK, I’m home. Because that’s how I am when it comes to this thing that I do. For me, it’s not just a job. It’s like I can’t turn it off. I do it all the time. I’m doing it in my sleep. And to hear that somebody was kind of of the same cloth, I was just like, OK, I’m here. This is where I want to be.
Nice. That’s a really good story.
Let’s say tomorrow you wake up. Money is no object. And you can do anything that you would like to do with that day. What would you choose? Don’t spend too much time thinking about it.
Oh, but you’d still go to work?
I’d still go to work. I love doing what I do. It would probably be my own business.
Oh, so you wouldn’t come here. [LAUGHING] You’d wake up in a totally different reality where you–
I do live in a different reality. It would definitely involve waking up with my son and being able to hang out with him for a little bit, because that’s one of the hardest parts about this, is that you don’t get to see your family much, especially in a true agency world.
So I would definitely make an effort to be able to hang out with him for like at least an hour or two. Then after that, I would probably be going to my place of work, which would be my own studio or a team, something like that, And the day would start with just a big pow-wow, just kind of like, hey, how’s everybody doing? What’s on tap for today? Do we have any issues?
And then I would just basically go into design world and doing things for clients that– I don’t know. I guess– I don’t know. I’d work for– I’d be doing stuff that would be like helping out like build systems and like–
I don’t know how to describe it. There’s a design out there. It’s like service design. And it’s kind of along those lines, where you’re kind of like designing– you’re not designing like the products. You’re not designing like the brand. You’re designing like the way it’s all supposed to work. It’s like a system type thing. And that’s like what I would love to do. That would be my perfect day.
But your perfect day, you don’t stay at work all– like you come home, right? What time do you leave?
What are you going to make? Burrito?
[LAUGHING] You know me too well.
I really like making– let’s see. I’d need time to make it, but I really love making chili and spaghetti. I make a really bomb five-alarm chili that is just like– it’ll knock your socks off. It’s so good. It’s like a Guy Fieri recipe. And it’s got like 20 different ingredients.
So I would come home, and if time was no issue, either, I’d sit there and prepare this food for like two hours, just like reflecting on the day of like sharing the stupid stories that my wife doesn’t want to hear with her and like hearing what she has to talk about. And then we’d all sit down and eat dinner as a family.
And then after that, I’d give Kian a bath or something like that. And then–
Yeah, chili’s pretty messy.
Yeah, well, my kid’s messy, too. But I’d get him a bath and get him in bed and just have like a moment with my wife and call it a day.
Thank you so much. You were a great interviewee.
It was my pleasure.