Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a designer, photographer, producer. Man of many projects. Made in the U.S.A.
I work on a range of self-funded experiments that sometimes become companies. My last successful experiment was Snake Bite Co.
I’m currently working on creating vinyl toys, industrial design projects, underground bike clubs, commercial wall-art, and hand-made goods.
How did you get into design?
Basically, I owned a mac.
I was a young kid in college who had dreams of being the next James Bond. So in between criminal justice and abnormal psychology classes, I found myself playing around with the computers in the digital imaging lab. My previous knowledge of the Apple operating system and computers at the time helped me to learn the Adobe applications with a fair amount of ease and I realized I had more fun making images and using photoshop than learning about how the American Penal System works.
When I transferred to a university, my former classes had me headed right into design and advertising as a focus for a degree. I didn’t really get into design for real until my first job and then for real until many years after quitting. I still feel like I’m just getting into design every day.
Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer?
I’d say there’s 3.
- During my first job when I realized I knew absolutely nothing about actual graphic design. As a result, I devoured books, blogs, and magazines. I also learned to love criticism instead of shying away from it. GIVE ME YOUR WORST.
- When I started my own agency. This is when I realized I didn’t have the safety net of selling an idea to someone “on my team.” I had a crash course in business and entrepreneurship as well as utilizing my ability to communicate to people about fleshing out a concept and potential solution instead of only what the logo should look like. I was also supremely accomplished at faking damn near everything in order to “secure the bag”. No one ever really cared about the faking as long as they loved the end solution.
- When I designed a physical product. I simultaneously realized how powerful and transferable a designer’s abilities are and how brutally blunt and unamused the industries that make things out of raw materials can be. Designers, above almost all other professions, need to learn quickly and understand what the fuck is going on with businesses that do not suffer fools gladly. Faking is also valuable here as well. Google search is your friend.
Outside of other design, what sorts of things inspire you and influence your work?
Shit man… everything? Music, films, climbing, running, eating, drinking, sentimentalism. Fine art and the art world at large is a massive influence in the past 5 years. I enjoy finding inspiration in the mundane. My biggest influence in design – at the moment – are institutional types of things: Currency, government seals, badges and emblems, NASA, top-secret security briefings and redacted paperwork.
Form follows function. Concept is King. Style is shit.
What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
Read voraciously. Take every gig. Second-guess everything you make. Work with your hands.
What makes the design process at your agency studio different?
Well, the starkest difference from other studios is that it’s me and I don’t work at or for any other studios.
Aside from that, I’m not really a big fan of client work and will most likely recommend a larger firm to do your website, logo, and brochure.
If you are a client, I won’t ever ask what you think the logo/album cover/website should look like. I want to hear about your inspiration and passion for what you do; it’s my job to transform your work into visual communication. If you’re good at what you do, 9 times out of 19 (this was a typo, but probably more accurate odds) the client will forget about what they wanted and fall in love with your original work.
Assuming it is original.
Which it most likely is not.
And that’s okay.
What makes a great designer?
When your work creates an emotional response out of anyone.
How do you know you’ve succeeded?
When you have the freedom to choose what you want to do on any given day.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a designer?
Time management and focus. I want to do everything.
What about being in St. Louis that inspires you?
An inherent and unspoken humility that you can’t find in other places. A uniquely American authenticity and a real experience that creates envy in more popular cities where everyone was born elsewhere. Living in a city that is the eternal underdog. Realizing at the right age that you don’t have to go elsewhere to live your life.
Kevin Kelly makes things that create happiness, passion, purpose and general welfare to the largest amount of people possible so that they can pass it on to everyone they meet.