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Kit Hinrichs is one of the most accomplished and respected graphic designers and illustrators of the last fifty years. A master of corporate communications and a consummate visual storyteller, he has been awarded the highest honor in his field: the AIGA Medal. Formerly a partner in the legendary design firm Pentagram, he is reinventing himself (again) with a new endeavor called Studio Hinrichs. In this Creative Inspirations documentary, Kit shares highlights of recent projects, his renowned collection of American flags and American flag memorabilia, as well as the irrefutable wisdom of one who has stayed at the top of his game for five decades.
(Music playing.) Lynda Weinman: Hello! I am Lynda Weinman, and I am so happy to be here today with Kit Hinrichs from Studio Hinrichs in San Francisco. Thanks for joining us. Kit Hinrichs: It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you. Lynda: Well, I happen to know, because we both have an Art Center College of Design affiliation that's a little bit different, but I happen to know that you are passionate about education, as am I. Would you like to talk at all about how you see education changing for the graphic designer in today's Digital Age? Kit: I oftentimes compare when I entered the field as being - there was cave painting and then I entered the field.
A lot of things have transpired within that 40-year period of time; from it being very much of craft in the way in which things were put together, and now there is so much technological aspect to things that are required of kids when they go through school that I think it's important that we not lose the creative thinking part of it in the process of trying to put as much technical information into it.
So, whether we need to change the period of time that kids are in school, whether we need to adjust whether it's in a single place, whether there is more distance learning, whether it's just ways of which that can happen, I think that's going to be the new paradigm of where we go forward with this. Lynda: I totally agree, and I think it's difficult to actually know how to gain that type of experience. What do you do to foster your own creative thinking, and that of your staff, and what do you recommend for people in order to hone that ability in themselves? Kit: Well, one of the things that I find with so many of a number of young interns who've come, and who work, and oftentimes stay with me for several years, they have so much technical knowledge that they have learned at the time, which actually enriches my part of the field.
At the same time, they oftentimes have not had as much time to spend on kind of the creative thinking. That doesn't change. You still need to work first with ideas before you get into executing them. So, I am am always trying to say, "Be sure that we have the right idea before we decide on what typeface and what photographer and what illustrator or whatever it's going to be, along the way." It's so easy to rush into things without having a clear idea of where we are going. Maybe there's just this experience of having done it for so long, but that still, to me, is a key moment of why we are in the field and how we stay ahead in the field.
Lynda: I know that you do have an internship program. Can you talk a little bit about what that's been like? Kit: To a certain extent, I think because the field itself has changed - you used to graduate from school, you went out and got your first job, your entry level job, because of the economy, to a certain extent, the requirements of just hiring someone and having to go through all the process of coming in as an entry level person, the opportunity to come in as an intern, whether you are still in school and learning things to help you while you are in school or it's your first job out of school, we think that's a very important aspect.
Whatever you learn in school is an entry to the field, and I think the field is where you really get the master's degree. Lynda: What are you looking for as you are hiring young designers and young interns? What kind of skills do you value over others? Kit: There is a number of things in that, and it hasn't really changed that much, even though the technological side of things is a crucial aspect of their entry level into the field today. Typography, to me, is one of the things that still is a very important part of it, because that is the kind of glue that puts everything together, so I work very much on that.
It is about ideas, and so I always love to see the kind of ideas that they are working with. One of the other things: some people think it's only the portfolio that they bring, but now, to me, it's as much how they work and react and communicate with you is as important to me, because I can help foster their skills in their portfolio, but I can't make them someone who really can communicate well and understand and talk well with people and are civil with their mates in the office, or with clients.
In many cases, they may well be the voice of the office, the face of the office when they go out, and it's important that they actually represent who we are. So, we look very much at their character, as they go forward. I wish I could teach all of that. Usually it comes in far ahead of before they come to us. Lynda: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. Now, when I was speaking to you before we started this interview, you made a comment that was memorable to me, and it was, we are in a down economy and I think I asked the question, "Are you busy?" and you said, "Oh yes, I am always busy. I am not only busy with work, but when I don't have work, I do my own work." I thought that was really profound and something I would love for you to talk about and something that I think a lot of designers who are new to the field might not understand, that it's not only paid client work that one should keep busy with, but the importance of doing work during down times.
Can you talk a little bit about that? Kit: We are always in a learning mode, no matter where you are in your career; whether you just came out of school or whether you are 40 years in the field, as I am, I think we are always learning and doing things. So, it's important to me not just to be busy, but to be busy doing something that actually expands your mind. So, I have other things. One, I do a lot of pro bono work, so I am busy doing things that hopefully help other people in the process.
So, that's one aspect of it. There are some times that I may not being paid for working with a client, but I will expand that job to expand the possibility of more work that may happen with that client by adding that extra effort. Third, I am an American flag collector. I have collected for 40 years and enjoy that process - not only in collecting, but also I put on exhibitions, work with my son in doing that, which has been fabulous, and I just really enjoy the knowledge that I've learned in the process of that particular aspect of my life.
Lynda: In addition to being a renowned graphic designer, you are also a businessman, and you have been a businessman most of your career, in the business of design. And I think as the world is shifting towards so many designers needing to go off on their own and establish themselves rather than working for big firms, we're sort of seeing the decentralization of the field, in a way. Anything that you Lynda: would like to share about the business of design, Kit: Sure! Lynda: things that people should keep in mind? Kit: Sure! Kit: Your clients oftentimes come to you not because you may be the best talent that is out there, but they trust that you are involved in their business; you care about their business.
That's a very important thing, and why we may pick a doctor, we may pick a plumber, we may pick a designer: because they are interested in what we are doing and how they can help us. I think if you have that attitude, it comes through to your clients, whether they are potential clients or clients you already have. It's a very important part of, I'll call it "repeat business." They trust you; you know you are doing the right thing, and you have to genuinely care about that.
It's not something you just pay lip service to, but it's a very important side of things. I learned a little bit. I have had people say, "Oh, you are an icon," and then I always kind of cringe at that, in that my father used to say to me, "Don't believe your own press releases." I think it's a very important part that we always have an understanding of who we are in the field, who we are with, and we are equal to everybody that we work with. One of the other things that has changed in the world a bit from when we started in it: we really work in teams and work with other people.
It is not a star business where you are the only one who is doing it. You really have to work with a number of people. You have to work collaboratively, because the world is too complicated now to do something only on your won. You need to be able to extend your vision to them, to have them share that vision of where they are going, and to be able to make that happen. That, to me, is one of the best things that I can do in business, and that has really helped in the clients I work with and the people I work with, in creating the work we do.
Lynda: Well, my last question is going to be about the economic downturn and how it's affected the graphic arts. Also, there's sort of a new movement afoot because of the more global economy, and there is a lot of what's called crowdsourcing today, where there are websites where you can get a logo designed for $100. There is a very different kind of competitive climate going on. So, do you have any advice? Clearly, you have been able to maintain your stature and your business and you had the advantage of emerging in a whole different economic climate and time, truthfully, so that you could build a reputation.
Your career path is probably really different than what people today would experience, b ut do you have any thoughts about how to make yourself stand part in this highly competitive new age? Kit: One, I don't think there are any silver bullets, for, "Here's the five things you do and they always work, and you always will be successful doing so." But I think that there are things that you do do that engage your clientele, or your potential clientele in doing things. But to take advantage of every opportunity that is out there.
Sometimes they seem like, "Oh well, I can't take job on because it doesn't pay enough money." It's important for us to always be busy doing interesting things, and you never know where clients come from. So, I am always engaged at all levels, whether I am doing a major program for an international client, which may in turn open on to other clientele, or a very small local company that we'll do work for - the opportunity is there to be able to raise your visibility by doing interesting work all the time and always being idea-based.
The idea-based thing is what really continually drives things. When I was at school, we always talked about doing things with strength. Never do things that are kind of wishy-washy or middle of the road; you always did things with strength. Even if they were wrong, you did them with strength; you made a statement. And I have always done that. I have never tried to just kind of slide through with things. I have always tried to make very clear statements with what we do, and that has kept me in stead during the downturn.
I'd love to say there were other things in there that do that, but a good portion of that is really doing what I've always done, and that's kept me working. Lynda: I think it's a great advice, and I want to thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us. It's really been a treat. Thank you! Kit: It's been a pleasure. Thank you, Lynda!
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