Branding fanatics will definitely know the name Armin Vit. He’s the 1/2 of UnderConsideration LLC, the main reviewer for Brand New, founder of the Brand New (and Brand Nieuwe!) Conference and the list goes on and on. Here at Shillington we’re huge fans of his work in—and for—the design industry, and are super chuffed to interview him on the blog.
But let’s not ramble. We’ll dive straight in to learn more about Armin’s creative journey, the most surprising reader reaction on Brand New and what it’s like to have Michael Beirut as a mentor.
Tell us about your creative journey. After working at top agencies, what inspired you and your wife Bryony to start UnderConsideration and set up shop in Austin, TX?
I was a combination of things:
1) We started our business together in 2007 because we wanted to have a home-based business to be able to hang out with our then-baby (she’s now 9 years old!) and because we had always wanted to go on our own but our first kid was the main driving factor. Then…
2) By late 2008, we had an almost 2-year-old girl, living and working in a small, cold apartment in Brooklyn, and paying a half-a-million-dollar-mortgage to operate within a ten-block-radius because have you ever tried taking a stroller with a baby in the subway anywhere?
3) After going independent in 2007, we had built up two years worth of clients and a large enough following on our blogs that we figured we could do what we do from anywhere.
4) We were done with cold weather after living for 4 years in New York and 3 in Chicago.
5) We did some research, visited Austin in early January of 2009 where it was 80 degrees and sunny, saw a house we loved, made and offer, and, boom, by April we were living in Austin. Then the 2008 economic crisis caught up with us and we were stranded in Texas with no work! That’s when we realized we had to make our own projects happen.
I wouldn’t say “I’m driven” to it; it’s not a higher calling, to be honest. The less than stellar answer is that we are good at it, not a lot of people are doing it, and it’s something that’s both engaging and keeps us free from being in meetings. But to go beyond that… I’m a graphic design nerd. I’m not a music nerd, or a sports nerd, or some other kind of nerd. I love graphic design and I love that I get to make a living by cobbling together the type of content I’m interested in.
Brand New is one of our favourite student resources here at Shillington. The comments section sometimes goes pretty crazy! Can you tell us about the most surprising reaction you’ve had to one of your branding reviews?
Oh, good question. I should state that I read about 25% of the overall comments in every post; otherwise it’s a daunting task. But I would have to say it was the time when we turned the microscope unto ourselves after we redesigned our main UnderConsideration logo and website after 9 years and a very large percentage of the commenters HATED it. I expected some dissenters and that’s fine but it was a less-than-positive reaction that went beyond just critiquing a logo and instead critiquing a logo designed by a designer who critiques other people’s logos for a living (me) and it led to some interesting comments.
For Print Only is an amazing way to see how designers are best using print. Why were you inspired to create this platform? (One of our part-time teachers Buzz Studios was actually featured earlier this year!)
The original spark of inspiration for FPO is not very inspirational which is that we wanted a blog that was an excuse to put up pictures of print porn.
After that initial stroke of brilliance we then considered there had to be more to it than just close-up photos of letterpress — drool…– and that’s when we decided to gather all the print production data so that it was also a learning tool and to see how other designers solved production problems. A great side effect to FPO is that we get samples in the mail of a lot of the things we post so we have an armoire that is officially dubbed the “closet of cool shit” with the best samples from FPO.
The Brand New Conference is a direct extension of your blog. What’s the value of getting creatives together like this? Any ah-ha moments from past conferences?
Any time you have a group of people that are interested in a sub-culture of something else — in this case people who love logo/identities/branding within the field of graphic design — and you provide a venue where they can all share in that specific thing, it’s a formula for success. We all benefit from hearing from the best in the business and everyone that’s there understands the joys and pains of doing what we do so there is instant camaraderie. My biggest a-ha moment came courtesy of Brian Collins at the Amsterdam conference this past June when he asked everyone to pull out their phone and hold it up; he then pointed out how every single phone was exactly the same; and the contrast to ten years ago when every phone was dramatically different. It’s a great case that good design isn’t always good for culture and that it engenders sameness and kills bold, quirky ideas.
Michael Bierut is one of your mentors. How has he influenced your career? And more generally—what’s the biggest benefit of mentor/mentee relationships?
He gave me a job at the best design firm in the world! Obviously, more than that, just seeing how he handled client interactions was amazing. He never lost his cool, no matter how weird or annoying a client was being and even Pentagram has clients that go bonkers. He had a great balance of flexibility and conviction in the design solutions he was proposing that he always stayed true to the work he wanted to but without forcing anything unto a client. But he never said “I’m your mentor” and I never asked, so it was mostly me taking advantage that, damn, I was working with one of the best and it was my duty to learn as much as I could. He talks about something similar in his experience working with Massimo Vignelli; he just latched on to everything he did and said and took what was best for him. I’ve never really had a mentor/mentee relationship so I guess there is some value I’m missing but I think we should all be learning as much as possible from as many people as possible, even if they know it or not.
I’m not the biggest international design star but being invited to speak at places like Goa, Oslo, Zagreb, and others, is extremely fulfilling and rewarding. To think that someone says “I will pay you to come to the other side of the world so that our audience can hear what you have to say” is kind of mind-bending. To a certain degree it feeds my ego, I will not lie about that, but I like to think that it means that what I’ve done and how I’ve done may be of some value to others and that’s kinda cool.
What are you looking forward to for UnderConsideration?
Economic stability 12 months a year! We have high highs and low lows. It can get exhausting. We are working on it.
What was the biggest mistake you made as a junior designer? What do you wish you knew then?
Thinking that I knew everything and that what I do was more valuable than what others did. At my first job at a large internet consultancy we had a team meeting because morale was low and I remember saying “You need to take better care of us, the graphic designers, because if we are not happy, our design will suffer and if the design suffers it doesn’t matter what coders to do, they won’t be able to save it.”
I would have punched me in the face if I were my boss.
Graphic design is something you do, day in and day out, you put type and images and ideas together and feelings should be left at the door.
You also created the must-read portfolio resource, Flaunt. What would be your your #1 piece of advice to a recent design graduate?
Don’t give up! And don’t be ashamed to ask anyone and everyone for an interview or a portfolio review. The worst that can happen is they say “no” and that’s not a big deal, you move on to the next. Eventually someone will say “yes”, even if it’s out of pity and then BAM you knock them over with your amazing design skills and glowing personality. Which leads to me the next piece of advice: develop amazing design skills and a glowing personality.
Anything else you’d like to share?
PLEASE vote this election, especially if you are planning on voting for NOT Trump.