January 30th, 2009

Be A Two-Headed Monster

By Jimm Lasser

Who are you?

Answer that question before you start to work.

School will teach you about kerning and Paul Rand, but they cannot teach you the thing that will determine whether you will be good or great. That thing is up to you. In fact, it is you. Your work needs to have your unique point of view.

Go to a party. One full of people. People holding drinks and pretzel sticks and conversation. Who are you drawn to? Who stands out? Those who express something interesting, charming, reactive; i.e. NOT the standard boring banter about weather. They are the ones you are attracted to.

To stand out, you need two heads. One is the head you fill with all the fundamental skills you learned in school. Exacto cutting, font spotting, use of the word “juxtaposition,” etc. This is the head everyone can fill if they take the standard creative professional path. But to really kick-ass and stand out at the party, you need to develop a second head which you should fill with the unique you.

Your work will stand out if you have a point of view. Everybody has unique life experiences that give them a special outlook on the world and you will find your POV in experiences that have nothing to do with your career. In fact, the more divergent these things are, the better. Maybe you were raised by a military family, or you once loved baseball, or you immigrated to the United States when you were very young. All of these experiences shaped who you are and how you see the world.

Before I was an art director, I was a lawyer. Also I have a manic interest in history and politics. These pieces form my second head, the real Jimm, and guide me when I solve creative problems. This is the core of what makes my work my own. It makes the work interesting. It makes the work human.

Law school shaped the way I communicate. I was taught to make dense concepts simple enough to relate to a jury. My choice of words, colors and images is often direct and straight to the point.

My love of history and politics lead me to create sharpastoast.com, where I supply the world’s nerds with cool T-shirts. These designs come straight from my second head and are informed by my love of history and politics. In these cases I am able to create primarily on instinct because the work is so personal to me.

Designers are professional communicators. Good creative work feels like a conversation between two people, and the more personal you can make your work, the more people it will touch. Everything starts with a knowledge of self. When this mixes with your craft, you will begin to create the work you always wanted to.

In the film “Boogie Nights,” Don Cheedle’s character, Buck Swope, spends a large part of the film socializing in different clothing styles and it is getting him down. He can’t figure out which style fits his true self: Rick James or Rhinestone Cowboy. Finally his friend, Maurice, clues him into the solution:

“Do what you dig.”

Jimm Lasser, Esq. (1974 – ) On the stormy morning of Sunday, December 9, 1974, Nancy Lasser, wife of Alan, gave birth to a boy. He was born on a bed of poles covered with corn husks. The baby was named Jimm, after Comedian Red Foxx. The birth took place in the Lasser’s rough-hewn cabin in Winnetka near Chicago, Illinois. Alan Lasser was a dermatologist and a farmer. Nancy Lasser had little or no accounting schooling and could not write French poetry. Jimm spent a short amount of time in a log schoolhouse, before graduating from the University of Michigan, Vanderbilt University School of Law, and the Portfolio Center. Jimm attended school dressed in a raccoon cap, buckskin clothes, and pants so short that several inches of his calves were exposed. Jimm earned his first dollar ferrying passengers on a Lake Michigan steamer, and designing T-shirts for the 84-year old James Toast at sharpastoast.com. He spoke out against the Dred Scott Decision, has won many decorations for valor in battle, and is now a “creative person of interest” at Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Oregon.

This essay first appeared in Never Sleep, a book written by Andre Andreev and G. Dan Covert, published by de.MO. Summary: There is a major disconnect between the life of a design student and the transition to being a design professional. To demystify the transition, we share the failures, successes, and surprises during our years in college and progression into the field: the creative process, monetary problems, internships, interviews, mistakes, and personal relationships.