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Chris Ro

Graphic Designer of ADearFriend and Blogger at GraphicHug

Primary design concentration:


Most preferred tool for designing:

That's a tough one. I’d say touch and sensitivity.

1. How and why did you choose to become a designer?

This is a tough one. I do not think it was ever an obvious career choice. I think I kind of slid into it. I think I did not know but I should have known from an early age that I needed or should be a designer. There is this book called Flow, from an author I do not remember his name unfortunately, but he talks about processes where you get into this state called "flow." It is where the world disappears. You can't hear anything. You are so absorbed in what you are doing that time disappears. And the more you can find of these type of activities, the better your life will be. Well, not to say that this happened all the time as a youth. But I found, I could disappear quite easily for hours at a time and not even notice when doing something creative. Something with my hands. Making, shaping, molding, sculpting, drawing something. So my point is, I think the signs were there. I just did not pick up on them or even legitimately think that it could become a career. So eventually, pieces all fell into place and now I realize, I do not think I would be happier doing anything else!

2. Challenges you encounter as a designer and how do you deal with them?

I think one of the biggest challenges I come across in every project is this notion of "feeling." I think I am constantly trying to carve or shape an atmosphere or feeling about the work; and often times, I am on the mark or completely way off. But it seems with age, I seem to be bridging the gap on a slightly more frequent basis, knock on wood. But I really think the gift of being a designer is the ability to imagine the thoughts, thinkings, sightings, viewings of other human beings and foster a dialogue in such a manner. The ability to encase that imagination in the formal output of a design project. I mean, it does not happen this way all the time, but I'd like to think that we are very much dialogue facilitators. And this is a challenge in and of itself. But I think in some strange way, it is an ironic situation. We as designers, are by necessity very sensitive and need to capture the feelings, the expressions, the needs of other people. And yet our industry is so criticism focused. People write about design. They criticize design. A designer lives and breathes by criticism. So it is a funny situation to be in. But I think that is what makes a successful designer though. The ability to think and place themselves in a number of situations. One of the biggest challenges I have and always seem to face is the business aspect of design. It is an ironic situation but in order to survive, I have needed and will continue to need to improve my business and operation skills. It is a fact I have long avoided but need to look a bit more closely in the face.

3. Your definition of an “elegant solution,” that is, good design?

I wonder if "elegant" solution ever really applies? I think for some it does and for others, they are not looking for the elegant solution. I think good design is for lack of any better words, the right solution. I think you can push for what you believe is the "right" solution but this discounts the other half. When both sides, problem and problem solver, can come together and agree on one solution, I think this is good design. But I think something can be said for functionality. Getting the job done, as opposed to doing that same job with a bit of flair. A bit of emotion. A bit of who you are. I think every designer will handle the same problem differently. And I think this is a lot of the joy in being a human being. So let me see if I can make sense of this. I'd say, when one solution can be agreed upon, this is good. But I would say it becomes even better, when both sides, can step above the functional requirement at hand, and insert some of what makes them individual into the result. We are not in need of just another solution.

4. From skills to values, what makes a designer successful?

I think some designers forget about the necessity of practice. Not the practice. But just practice in general. The daily act of making something. Using your eyes, your hands, and syncing them to produce something. I think sometimes, form making and craft are forgotten. And this is natural. It happens. But I believe that the emphasis has shifted often times. And it seems, that the further we progress in our careers, sometimes craft is forgotten. I think some of this can be attributed to the fast nature of our industry and not ever really being engrossed long enough to harness a craft. I also believe that in many cases, it is always the conceptual component that is easier to sell. But I believe that in many cases, it is very healthy to continue to practice and to develop a sense of craft. A sense of individual craft. I also believe that form communicates in ways that go beyond words. And I think this is sometimes easily forgotten. But sometimes, the most difficult conversations are solved with a very strong formal solution. There are words in the details.

5. How do you stay motivated and grow personally and professionally as a designer?

I think I touched on this in the above question. I think that it is difficult; but I think if you can, physically practice design. Practice form making. Practice and hone a craft, this is all very healthy. Keep making something. It only facilitates further growth. I was reading some place, and I cannot remember who said this, maybe it was John Berger, how important the process of making is. I think he equated it to the hitting of a baseball. In thought, one can do this. In imagination, one can do this. But in the physical act of attempting this, one will not be able to do so immediately. It takes a certain sense of synchronization and coordinated effort that honestly only develops over time. It takes time to get there. And I think the same can be said in design. One should continuously seek to finesse their own design. I think this can be as easy as keeping a sketchbook. Yes, this probably has been exclaimed a great many times since school. But I believe it is true. These days, a sketchbook can encompass numerous forms.

6. For those aspiring to become a designer, whatever the discipline,what is your advice?

Once again, I think I touched on this in the above two questions. Practice. Learn. Develop. I think repetition goes many ways to making one a stronger designer. I think also, it helps to rethink your thoughts. If that makes sense. I think Edward DeBono touches upon some of this in some of his writings. He is constantly seeking a process or a way of approaching problems that comes up with results that have never been thought of before. A way to think on a different axis that can help facilitate a result or a solution that is not of the normal mindset. A way to think differently. And I think a lot of his approach is just simply to look at problems differently. Start off by approaching and observing without conventions, without pre-existing conditions. I also think that there is a certain naive nature that beginning designers should embrace. If people tell you Do not do this, or Do do this, I think it is healthy to question why. I think it is even better to try doing the wrong thing and see why it is wrong or why it really is not wrong? I think in school, especially in typography class, there is always right and wrong. No no's. Yes yes. Etc. But what really is wrong? I think I enjoy seeing the work of designers who do not necessarily ascribe to these rules. Or have learned the rules so well, they know how to efficiently break them.

7. What is your quest in design?

This is a really difficult question. One that I am grappling with for quite some time. In all honesty, I have a real fear of aging in graphic design. I see our profession, at least from the hands-on perspective, as having a real shelf life. Meaning: I do not see many graphic designers actively practicing past the age of forty. This is definitely sort of a gross generalization but I have seen it time and time again. So I wonder, what will happen to me in the not too distant future. I think I can only safely say, I hope to practice to the best of my ability. For as long as I can. I would love to be an old man, still rocking it. Still kicking it. But eventually, and perhaps this sounds cliché, I would like to eventually give. To help somebody. Or some people. I do not know how this will manifest itself. But I think one thought has always been something that has been on my mind. So perhaps, one day, it can be a situation where I can give. And give something design related. Who knows. I think the only thing I can affirmatively say at this point in time, is that I am pretty excited about the future. And I would like to maintain that feeling for as long as I live.

Chris Ro is a graphic designer at studio ADearFriend. He contributes to the blog GraphicHug. He recommends A Day in the Life by The Beatles, Graphic Design Manual: Principles and Practice by Armin Hofmann, and the film Tony Takitani by Jun Ichikawa.

Image courtesy of Chris Ro.

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