DESIGN DIRECTOR AT TATUM DESIGN
BFA, Visual Communications 1982
What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? Reading fiction, has always been a source of creativity and imagery from which I find inspiration. Fascinated, well no, but reading a book and conjuring up the characters, a scenario, or landscape is fascinating to me. I find that some of the limited series on cable are fascinating, as well as, documentary films. How do they feed my work—it allows my mind to be free of design. I have always found that I enjoy following design and that appreciating good design is important, but letting it go is also important. Spending time outside design and its various fields, is truly good for me. I am less concerned with the various trends, but aware of them, and challenged to design with more seemingly original solutions.
Biggest single influence: “I would have to say the architect Sambo Mockbee. His architecture, proved that acknowledging one’s southern sensibilities when appropriate, is unique when mixed with sophistication.”
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking? I would have to say the architect Sambo Mockbee. His architecture, proved that acknowledging one’s southern sensibilities when appropriate, is unique when mixed with sophistication. I had the great fortune to have a photo shoot with Sambo and spend a few days with him in the black belt region. Also, Phil Sankey one of my very first employers was a fantastic bauhaus designer. He had worked for Vignelli in NYC. A true renaissance man, well versed on so many subjects, he also had incredible grace and tact.
What project or design problem have you faced (in the past or recently) that seemed to be a “failure” but was perhaps an extremely valuable learning experience? I had a packaging design, that “in my gut” I knew was right for the client—playful, elegant, sophisticated and very conceptual, but I allowed myself to be talked out of it because the management at the time, thought it would be too hard of a sale. That was my failure, in that I should have stuck to my guns. I still keep it on my inspiration board, so that I can be reminded that it was a mistake to back down.
“Spending time outside design and its various fields, is truly good for me. I am less concerned with the various trends, but aware of them, and challenged to design with more seemingly original solutions.”
You were the design director for Slaughter Hanson / Slaughter Group for 23 years, Cayenne Creative for 6 years and now Tatum Design. What is the most interesting or perhaps rewarding part of your work as a design director? Are there any specific projects you are extremely proud of and would like to share? What a lot of folks probably do not realize, is that I still design and do my own projects wherever I have been employed. I do not simply lay a ground work, concept or inspiration for the designers, and not also handle assignments myself—so that is a challenge. Shifting gears in the middle of my own design work to help solve or move another designers work forward, is not my strong suit. I simply have not had that luxury. When I started at Slaughter Hanson I was a young designer, and as I grew and fell into that role, I was task with overseeing the art directors: their typography, photography direction and worked at “folding in” their advertising projects into the conceptual branding work I had been laying out on the design end or vice versa. The creative director still wanted me to do the design work, so that was an interesting arrangement. I often say that as design director—I directed myself.
Part 2: I am extremely proud of a good many design projects, but I suppose one of my favorites was the Veterans Memorial Foundation Book, Identifying Courage. I remember that the copywriter asked what the book was going to look like—I replied, heartbreaking. This was not a book about the wars of the 20th century, it was about the Alabamians that fought in those wars. Actually, it was just a small sampling of their stories. I felt it needed to be much more personal—if the reader knew for example: that it was stories of a boy from Tarrant that did not receive a University of Alabama baseball scholarship, so instead he was sent to Vietnam and died 30+ days in country, or the kid that cut your grass every summer, or the teen that manned the hot dog stand at the local ballpark, or the Coca Cola delivery man from Dothan,whom had once dreamed of becoming a pilot now that would be truly impactful.
Do you think there is a difference between working in design with women or with men? I feel that women tend to have a better eye for design and understand its subtly.
While you were in school at AU, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? I do not remember a specific project, but I assume it would be my senior project.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? Perhaps I wish that I had known that you did the equivalent of your senior project—every two weeks, although I might have changed my major if I had known that bit of information.
Would you recommend some resources that young designer might find useful. Design inspiration websites, design annuals, AIGA winners archives—all the usual means. Look at international work as well.
What should young designers avoid doing when applying for positions in the field? Showing too little work. I received a portfolio the other day with only 5 pieces and it simply is not enough to gauge one’s abilities with so few designs.
Designer responded to questions in 2018 via email.