Who are you and what do you do?
I am a designer, creative and entrepreneur who owns a small design firm focused on branding, identity + logo design, and the design and development of fully custom, search engine optimized, WordPress websites.
How did you get into the creative field?
Ever since I was a little kid I was creative. I used to build cities in blocks that covered the entire living room floor, and my mom would always carry crayons and paper in her purse for me when she needed to keep me occupied. She also nurtured my artistic side by enrolling me in art programs after school and during the summers. My first paying job was painting a large metal Harley Davidson logo in junior high, and by the time I was in high school, I was drawing comps for ads for a small Chicago-area marketing firm. I guess you could say I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist/designer and in the creative field.
Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer/creative?
My first defining moment in my career was getting two logos published in a LogoLounge book (Master Series, Initial & Crest Logos – 2010). They were my favorite design books (I have every single one!), and in college I used to go to the bookstore and dream of having work published in one. It really boosted my confidence as a designer, since like many, I always questioned if I was good enough. To date, I’ve been lucky to have 31 logos selected in LogoLounge publication with 12 making it into their last Book 10.
The second defining moment of my career was when a client called me to thank me for what we had done for his company. We had doubled their online leads, ultimately helping to increase their business by approximately 30% in one year. It really made me realize the importance of what we do, and the powerful effect it can have on the success our clients’ businesses.
Outside of other design, what sorts of things inspire you and influence your work?
Really anything creative. Music, food, movies, television, books, photography, art. The list goes on. I really love and admire how human beings can create things out of raw materials or really nothing at all. Just take an idea – and with skill and passion – turn it into something tasty, beautiful, engaging, visually stunning, captivating, or thought provoking.
What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
I would tell them, if they want to succeed in this field, they must have a REAL passion for it. I would tell them that if they don’t look at, and analyze, every single business card, ad, billboard, website, magazine, and any other designed piece they run into, they may not be in the right business. They also need to be naturally curious, and problem solvers – as that is essentially what we all do. Designers need to be able to simplify the complex and display it in a way that is easy to read and visually pleasing. Another good sign that someone may be successful in this industry is if they organize their skittles by color before eating them.
Do you have any habits or rituals that you do during your creative process.
I always write down a list of words that relate to the project I’m working on (for reference and in a search to find a creative solution), and I sketch, sketch, and sketch until I have some type of foundation to move forward. Once I’ve brought them into the computer, and completed the initial designs, I obsessively look at them, over and over the entire day and night.
What makes a great designer/creative?
Like I mentioned above, I think a natural curiosity and the ability to take the complex and make it simple, easy to follow and comprehend, and in some type of creative, memorable or clever way.
How do you know you’ve succeeded?
As a commercial designer, I know I’ve succeeded when my clients succeed. When the work I do successfully accomplishes their goals. I think it’s that simple.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a designer/creative?
As a small business owner (with only one other employee) my biggest challenge is taking care of the things I don’t like to do, like billing, tax paperwork, proposals, crap like that – really anything other than designing.
What about being in St. Louis that inspires you?
I am originally from up north, right outside of Chicago. I moved down here to be with my girlfriend at the time (now my wife). I’ve been here for close to 20 years, and I love it. St. Louis is just the right size. Large enough to always have something to do (sports, concerts, events, etc.), yet small enough to never have any REAL bad traffic. “Bad traffic” here is nothing compared to Chicago. At times, it can take you an hour to go a couple miles there.
I also love the culture and history here, but what inspires me most is the quality of creative coming out of this relatively small market. I really am a fan of so many other local designers and firms here. The stuff places like Toky, Atomicdust, and Almanac (to name a few) are turning out is second to none nationwide.
Justen Hong is the owner and head designer at Visual Lure, a graphic/web design company serving St. Louis, MO, St. Louis Metro East, Southern Illinois and beyond.