Who are you and what do you do?
My birthname is Aaron Speropoulos, but at karaoke bars I’m gonna start going by: Fizzy Rosé.
I own and head up design (along with development, project management, creative strategy, marketing, HR, sales, accounting, and basically anything else) at Saint Soto, formerly known (by some) as bigtoygun.
If I’m breaking it down into a string of words that makes some sort of sense, Saint Soto is: a scalable, indie creative shop that mainly focuses on brand refinement & intuitive digital experiences.
When I say “scalable”, I mean the shop doesn’t have full-time employees. But I don’t like being labeled as a “freelancer” so that’s why I’m saying all this other stuff.
Instead of hiring full-timers and being responsible for that overhead and constant payroll, I choose to collaborate with a small pool of hand-selected creatives on projects based on their skillset(s) and the specific needs of said-project.
How did you get into design?
Honestly, it came from being bored in church as a kid. And from not having a lot of friends either. I spent a good amount of time in my room or in the pews of church drawing. By the time I was halfway thru high school and started getting the ever-present question about what I planned on picking as a major in college – the original plan of being a marine biologist from the midwest that had seen the ocean all of once in my life had left my skull and I leaned-in to this thing I heard about called: graphic design.
I always loved the creative genius behind advertising – in print and on TV. So, I was naturally drawn toward that career path before I even knew it existed. Then I found out people got paid to come up with those things and it was a back up plan to being a professional football player that seemed to fit when football no longer did.
Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer?
Not necessarily one point sticks out – as a designer, that is. I’ve always worked at learning new techniques & trying to push myself into becoming a better designer in some form, but there is an that experience shaped me more as a business person which led to my designer-career-path as we currently know it.
About 3 years into my career, I was living (for free) with a friend out in the county, and trekking that 45 minute commute each way everyday to work for not a lot of money. This was in the wake of the Recession, and I got laid off from an agency – that actually no longer exists – so I was forced to hoof it and make money on my own with this weird skillset I had gained from my more formative academic years shortly prior to this happening.
It really sucked. Nobody was hiring and it forced me to get out of my comfort zone, and also out of my own way, and kinda believe in what I can do (design-wise) for people. Or at least fake believing in what I could do. But, somewhere along the line I never stopped so it kinda just stuck from that point on.
Outside of other design, what sorts of things inspire you and influence your work?
There are A LOT of things that could qualify as an answer to this question, but I’ve found traveling and music have been the biggest influences to my work.
Travel because it opens my mind to new perspectives based on cultural norms in that particular region. Advertisements & branding in Paris are FAR different than what I see in places like Peru or Mexico. Those designers are influenced by everyday norms that are vastly different than my everyday norm. Even going places like Portland or Venice Beach give me a new surge of creative influence & energy than I get in my day-to-day around STL.
Music influences me because it forces me to see the creative process in a different way. When an artist or band is trying to convey a feeling or an emotion or a story, they are using a completely different medium to do so. But, the process is the same. The need to speak to an audience is the same. The task of successfully communicating a message in a creative way is the same. But, the means of doing so is completely foreign to what I do daily. And, in the end, people choose to like it or not. There are stark parallels in our individual crafts, but in the same note they couldn’t be more opposite.
What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
Be patient and hustle.
There needs to be patience in honing your craft and understanding that even though it takes a certain amount of inherent talent to be a solid designer, the x-factor is how hard you’re willing to work to start separating yourself from the average.
Be patient in allowing yourself the opportunity to F up and learn from your mistakes, but be impatient in your work ethic and hunger to get back in and apply what you’ve learned to the next piece of work you’re creating.
What makes the design process at your agency studio different?
Seriously, when broken down –in my opinion, the design/creative process has the same bones as the agency down the street. How I approach it and work with my clients is what separates me. My style and solutions are what make me different. I can’t define that. It’s something that clicks when I’m in the room with a potential client. Maybe this is a question I need to work on so I can start taking some clients away from Mike Spakowski.
What makes a great designer?
Good eyes and ears.
You gotta be able to see something and be like “No. That doesn’t work” and then quickly figure out what does. So, have an eye for what works and what doesn’t.
In the same note, listen to people. A lot of times they’re telling what they like and don’t like without specifically saying so. Picking up on that sort of stuff, and presenting something to them and explaining that you did it because they said “X” goes a tremendously long way in the business relationship you’re building with that particular client.
If you’re constantly talking and not listening, then you’re just creating what you want to make and that’s “art”. Being commissioned by a client and designing within the vacuum of their constraints (i.e. budget, taste, brand guidelines, time constraints, color palette, whatever) then you’re listening to all the limitations and bringing that into the final product they’re paying you for. They’re part of the process… and their voice needs to be heard. To me, design is a collaborative effort and I’m being paid to navigate and then execute-upon that effort.
How do you know you’ve succeeded?
When I decided that I don’t have to buy into the “Big, Fast & Famous” concept to be considered a success. Success is defined differently by each and every person. And those people don’t define me or my success.Just because society has conditioned us to believe that we’re not successful until we reach at least 2 of the 3 things mentioned above, doesn’t mean that’s right either. At the risk of sounding all Tony Robbins-y: we all define our own success.
For me, that meant I had to do some serious work internally to determine my definition of success. And I decided that success – to me – is defined by “striving to reach my potential each and every day”. Some days I do that. And others I get absolutely zero accomplished. But if I’m regularly nailing the first one and not happy with the second one, then it doesn’t matter how many followers or likes I have, or the size of the number in my bank account or how quick I reached a certain level/goal in my business or career… I’m successful in my own eyes.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a designer?
Comparing myself to other designers I see as more talented. I always see the greatness in their work and the flaws in my own. So, not being my own worst enemy is – and will probably always be – my biggest challenge.
What about being in St. Louis inspires you?
I dunno………The Arch & Mike Spakowski?
No, in all seriousness (because, let’s be really real here: Mike Spakowski does NOT inspire me*), STL inspires me with their grit.
We aren’t exactly considered the gold standard for creative or design – compared to the usual suspects like L.A. or NYC. But, we kinda DGAF. We’re here just doing our thing and doing it as best we can, and as a whole, I believe that’s starting to make us get noticed more and more every year.
And, as a community, we really support each other in these efforts. There’s always somebody around asking how “this is going” or talking about “that” and offering up encouragement. And there’s never a shortage of people willing to help you out. I think that says a lot about our values as humans and being a true definition of the word “community”. I’d say that really inspires me.
*JK. I love Mike Spakowski and he DOES inspire me.
Photo by Ashley Fisher Photography