Lance Craig has been working in the design biz for over a decade. Naturally, this has given him lots of knowledge about what it takes to make it as a designer – as well as what it takes to actually be a designer.
We were lucky enough to have him sit down with us, talk about his story and career, and share some tips and tricks on making it as a designer.
First off, let me ask you what you’re doing right now. Who is Lance the graphic designer?
I’m working at a startup called IfOnly.com. We sell unique experiences that connect people with celebrities in all types of fields, with a portion of proceeds going to charity.
I’m also doing some freelance work for another local startup in the car-sharing space.
What exactly is your role at IfOnly?
Officially it is simply “Designer,” but I have a hand in everything from our site’s UI/UX, off-site marketing and print collateral, and I shoot a lot of our product photography as well.
Craig’s work on the homepage of IfOnly.com
How would you describe IfOnly’s general aesthetic and how much do you think you’ve contributed to it since you joined the team?
We are refined and high-end while still being sharp and current. I, personally, came aboard at an early stage and have heavily shaped the look and feel of the brand, working closely with our CEO and other higher-ups.
Was this your first time creating the branding for a company like this?
Yes, definitely. It’s been great rolling out the brand elements across all types of media.
What past experience do you have with branding and design? What were some of your jobs leading up to this?
I began my first “real world” design job in New York actually. I ended up getting a job at a small studio in Chelsea and developed logos, business cards, and other collateral for some local businesses. One was a hair salon which was pretty fun. That was definitely a good crash course into the design world.
I moved to San Francisco shortly after my time in New York and eventually worked at Sony PlayStation for awhile. The design work I did there was interesting since the only gaming experience I had prior was mostly via Sega Genesis and the original NES. For them I was making mostly print collateral for conferences and events, in-store signage, and digital marketing assets.
Custom Stationery for IfOnly
And from there you moved to IfOnly?
From there I freelanced for Ditto, an online eyewear site that specializes in virtual try-ons, where you can see yourself wearing the frames before you buy.
Sounds like you’ve done a lot! Both in freelance and steady gigs. Is there anything you prefer about either of these methods of work or do you like to keep it a little bit of both?
Well the sort of freedom, flexibility, and variety of freelance is a big plus. The cool thing about design is you can take your problem solving skills and apply them to all types of industries. I just had lunch with a friend today and we were expressing our interest in movie title sequences, specifically the Bond films, and working more with motion. We’re both Roger Moore guys by the way …
So, yes, ultimately I prefer to keep a little bit of both.
Brand identity work for New Concepts Travel, a freelance job from Craig’s time in New York
What programs and apps are you using in your current work?
Mainly just Adobe, the big 3, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign.
Do you have a favorite among these or do you find that they each have their own special place?
They each have their own special place. Photoshop for site UI and mockups, Illustrator for icons, logos, and InDesign for all things print.
Did you actually go to school for art or graphic design?
Freelance film poster work from New York
That being said, what was your first job out of school?
Well, technically it was the New York thing I mentioned before but…
So you were always working in design? No forays into ice cream scooping or something of the like?
I do love ice cream but during my senior year of college I worked for a local bedding and home goods retailer named Unison. I was in charge of shipping out orders from their warehouse and assembling bed frames but I eventually ended up doing some design work for them as well. I also spent a couple of years working for American Apparel.
Being surrounded by all that Helvetica at American Apparel probably counts as a design job anyway, right!?
Alright, alright, so what was it that made you want to be a graphic designer in the first place?
Ah! It was definitely music. I loved how album cover art was laid out, with track titles, lyrics, photography, etc. That was before I even realized what graphic design was.
Do you remember any albums in particular that especially stood out?
Well, the Joan of Arc releases have definitely pushed the limit. Lyrics are type set in very abstract ways.
The album artwork that most inspired Craig: Joan of Arc’s How Memory Works and A Portable Model Of
Do you find that music continues to inform your work? Through what you see in album art or in the music that you listen to while working?
Not in the same way as before. I do come across album art once in awhile though that definitely stands out and inspires me to try new approaches.
Are there other things that currently inspire you? the work of your contemporaries, films, etc…
I love Dwell Magazine; they always do interesting things with the layout and type choices of their featured stories. Aside from that I try to keep up to date on what places like Pentagram, Hatch, Manual, etc. are doing in terms of branding.
I would say my style is just what I’ve been taught as being effective in graphic design: minimalism, simplicity, less is more. I try and refer to classic styles like Bauhaus and Swiss style when I’m working.
Some of Craig’s most recent freelance work in San Francisco
Do you think that maintaining a strong sense of personal style has helped you throughout your career?
I would say having a clean, clear style has definitely helped.
How much of your experience as a professional designer have you found to be about actually designing and how much about selling yourself and your work?
The more you freelance the more your time will be taken up by day-to-day stuff like invoicing, constantly getting more work. Thankfully I have been able to focus on actually designing. I would like to start my own studio at some point in the future though.
Are there any words of advice you might give to budding designers beginning a career in the field?
Just don’t over-design. Even when you have very heavy, layered work you can still keep it simple.
During my first couple of interviews when I moved here people kept saying how they liked my portfolio site – it’s just black text on a white background.