About a week ago, we stumbled upon a 24 year-old graphic designer who goes by the moniker of 57 Even. Unlike a lot of other designers his age (or even those far past his age), 57 Even's work was demonstrating something often sought but less infrequently attained: an empathetic relationship with the client, the product, and the consumer.
Considering his clients are often trying to reach the segment of buyers that he himself is a part of, it could be that this empathy is a basic reaction to his current situation, a natural narcissism that happens to serve him well in his chosen profession. However; whether he's working for HP, MTV, or skate/snowboard companies, one thing seems to stand out about finished product: it talks. And in the desperate quest to find a way to get 18 to twenty-somethings to listen, talking is a compelling quality.
Regardless of the circumstances that add up to the results of his creativity, the fact remains that 57 Even, for a freelancing young gun, offers something that all designers would do well to have. Read on to try, like us, to determine what that is.
Joshspear.com: What led you, initially, to graphic design?
57 Even: Graphic design was something that I realized I was already doing late in high school. I got there through a mix of the fine arts (drawing, painting, sculpture, jewelry making, poetry, graffiti, pottery) and computer-based experiments (HTML, digital imaging, ascii, ansi, web design), forged with an incessant desire to create and an inability to sleep.
JS: You started working on freelance projects when you were only 16- what sort of projects were you working on then, and how has it progressed?
57: Initially it was really roundabout jobs; logos for my parent’s friends businesses, illustrations for various magazine articles. I was even commissioned to do a Winamp skin during the dot com boom – it paid really well, more than I make now.
JS: You do a ton of work in several areas- fashion, illustration, interactive, print, branding/identity- do you have a favorite, and why (or why not)?
57: I prefer solutions which span mediums, where I can brand a campaign and develop all the various extensions. Apparel graphics, if I had to choose, are my "˜favorite' because the t-shirt is the modern canvas. I like to think about how my solutions interact with society and the consumer.
JS: What do you think has been the most important factor in your success so far?
57: The willingness to learn mediums and tackle enormous tasks without any previous experience in various sects. I've done my first bike, snowboard, skateboard, bandana, shoe, toy, catalog, playing card, dvd, digipac, fashion
line, product line and racing jersey in the last two years. It's about finding a solution that is appropriate for the market. Whether it has been done before becomes completely secondary and you can really refine things when you have a fresh perspective. A lot of companies come to me because they're stuck in a rut, either conceptually or artistically, I help my clients develop both aesthetic and theoretical approaches so the consumer can have a complete experience with the brand.
JS: This is maybe a risky question to ask… but in your opinion, what do the young designers today have that gives them an edge on the older designers (and vice versa)?
57: Not to assume I can sum this up in it's entirety, but there are two factors we must consider: 1) Their immaturity. The same reason artists take breaks from paintings, so they can return with a critical eye to the then unfamiliar forms. 2) Designers today can do anything, instantly. I've worked with a lot of slightly older creatives who had to hand set, press-on type. I spend that same amount of time creating 4-5 hand kerned digital pieces, combining advanced and traditional media. Technology has provided the modernmulti-tool designer with an independent, international publishing platform, allowing us to define ourselves with a few clicks of the mouse. I get emails from China at 2AM, Denmark at 4AM — it's incredible to wake up and imagine what's in my inbox.
JS: Have any scary, to-the-last-second deadline stories?
57: Every deadline. Not really, but I tweak things even when saving them for final output- an inability on my part to ever be completely done with a piece. It comes down to what's really important for the media. I can tweak highlights for two hours but if it is for newsprint, the dot gain will ruin the contrast anyway. Last week I booted my computer up and the hard drive didn't turn on. My heart sank; everything I've ever done, over 400GB, gone. Sure, I have backups of various points, but nothing recent. I restarted and everything came right up, so I backed it up immediately. You just have to be ok with letting digital things go and remember it's provided you with the ability to do even better.
JS: What’s your favorite thing coming out of the design/art world right now?
57: Anything eighties. I have a huge hang up with that time period — I love every idiosyncratic, tear-wrenching color combo.
JS: What are you doing when you’re not designing?
57: Reading, searching for the right high speed mash-up, blogging, bmxing, drawing, or socializing. Eating, drinking, all the Freudian stuff. I tend to never stop designing, but it's something I am trying to work on, for my girlfriend's sake.
JS: I get the feeling that you’re a bit of a sneakerhead. What are you feeling this season?
57: Outrageous and unthinkable material, pattern, and color combinations. Marty McFly status high-tops with the tongues out, icey soles, lasered, color-depth leather, neon croc skin and horse hair. "Have your Grandma thinking you've lost your mind" type kicks. With 18K gold lace lock; good, old fashioned decadence.
JS: Are you hoping to become more heavily involved in the sneaker industry in the future?
57: Most definitely — I've been working on some shoe designs for various clients and I hope to handle a full production release soon. I've done a lot of research on the industry and its consumers and am really ready to kick some doors in. The down side is the expensive sneaker habit I developed in working for Sole Collector magazine on several projects.
JS: Speaking of the future — what’s next for you?
57: Thankfully, I cannot say specifically. People are calling from countries and companies I hadn't even dreamt of a year back. Five months ago I went completely freelance and hope to expand my clientele as we move into my first year of independence. I am shopping some home dÃ©cor ideas around, as well as fashion lines. We'll see what happens.
Thanks for the interview.