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Margo Chase is one of the most influential graphic designers of our time. Over the past 20 years, Margo's highly expressive work has been seen in movie posters for Bram Stoker's Dracula; on album covers for top performers like Cher, Madonna, and Prince; and in ads for brands such as Starbucks, Target, and Procter & Gamble. With a background in biology, Margo migrated to the world of graphic design, where she brought a unique, organic quality to logos, lettering, and identity design. Never one to live life passively, Margo has developed a love for competitive aerobatic flying in her own high-performance plane. This installment of Creative Inspirations takes viewers inside the studio, portfolio, and adrenaline-pumped lifestyle of this inspired and inspiring designer.
(Music Playing) Lynda Weinman: Hi! I'm so excited to interview Margo Chase who's a fantastic designer and we've just enjoyed profiling you so much in this series, so thank you so much for agreeing to be part of it. Margo Chase: Thanks for having me, it's been great! Lynda Weinman: Well, you've made a transition from an individual designer and an individual contributor to now owning a company. Can you talk a little bit about that? Margo Chase: In the beginning, working in the music business, I was really hoping somebody would hire me that I get a great job as an art director for Warner Brothers or something.
That really just didn't happen. I got a few offers and they really just didn't seem -- by the time I got the offers, they just didn't really seem like what I wanted to do. They started to seem kind of confining, because by then, doing my own business was -- I was a freelance, really, with a couple of assistants. But the freedom of that was really clear to me at that point. So I got attached to that idea that I could make my own decisions and work for who I wanted to work for. So I started to consider that what I was really doing was a business, but I knew nothing about running a business.
That became really clear after a few years of trying to do it. I sort of had the idea that if we were busy, then we were probably okay financially and that became obvious that after a while that wasn't true. So it's much more about making sure that you charge enough to cover the time you spend and the music business made that pretty difficult, because that very specifically set budgets for lots of work. I'm kind of a perfectionist, so I would tend to spend way more time than we could really afford, trying to make the thing look better. So I ended up having to hire some consultants to come in and teach me how to run a company and how to manage bookkeeping and do all that kind of stuff.
Eventually, I realized, I'm really bad at that stuff and I really don't like it. So it became really clear to me, what I needed to do is hire other people who are really good at the stuff that I'm not good at. That's really been kind of what I've tried to do for the last 20 years and I've been doing it now. If I find somebody who, I think, is fantastic, I try to hire them to help me with that thing. Lynda Weinman: Do you also hire other creatives? Margo Chase: Oh! Absolutely, yeah. I mean, absolutely, I have some really talented designers, and then, I depend on them. I mean, to be honest, I don't do as much design now as I used to, spend a lot of time in meetings with clients and a lot of time selling the design work we do, I mean, in a literal sense, really, I mean, walking in, doing a presentation about who we are as a company and what we do to try to win the business and then talking to them strategically about the project and what kind of work we should do.
So I do a lot of the upfront work along with Chris, sort of, positioning the project, the research, the strategy and then a lot of the preliminary concept work. Sometimes, the concept stuff happens in collaboration with one of the art directors. Then, once that, sort of, gets approved and often it gets handed off, so often the work is completely done by someone else. I tend to try to hang on to the logo pieces still, because I love doing that part. Lynda Weinman: It seems like you have a lot of confidence in your gut, when you love something, you know to go in that direction, does that still guides you today? Margo Chase: Yeah.
Most of the time that's a good indication, sometimes not, but I had to learn a lot about what the design business is really about and the music business doesn't really teach you that. I mean, it was really fun to do design in the music business, because it's very much about how cool can you make it, it's about self-expression and you get a chance to really explore your own voice as a designer, like who am I about, what do I think is important. In someways, that's great to have as an opportunity when you're young, but in someways that's really not what we're up to.
What we're really up to is design its commercial art, its design as in the service of someone else's problem. I think, if the better you can be at understanding that problem and adapting your abilities to that problem, the more successful you are and the better you're doing your job, I think. Lynda Weinman: Well, in someways, when you're at the part of your career where you're working for other people, you're learning to please them. And then when you make the transition to working directly with clients, you're learning to please your clients. Margo Chase: Yeah. Lynda Weinman: And so how have you refined your own ability to understand what a client wants and needs and how does that drive the kind of work that you do? Margo Chase: Well, yeah! I don't think I'm a basically kind of a stubborn and opinionative person, which helps a lot.
I mean, I think, that certainly you can end up with one of those jobs where you don't have very much power and those can be really frustrating. I think, the beauty of running your own business is that you actually do get to make decisions about who you work for and you can choose clients who actually do trust you and will allow you to do what you know is right. I've been in situations where I have to just bite my tongue, where I know that what they are suggesting we do, just doesn't make sense, but it's not my decision.
So the best thing I can do is just say, you hired me to tell you what I think and you hired me to give you my best work and here it is, and if you don't like it, then it's your money. After a certain point, you just have to go, sorry, it's your money, and we'll do what you're paying us to do. And I hate doing that, but we do it. Lynda Weinman: When you're interviewing young designers, what are you looking for in a portfolio? Margo Chase: I look for somebody who has a broad interest and that can be demonstrated in their portfolio.
So that might be graphic design plus cine-photography or graphic design and paintings or some other collage work that they do or something. I love it when I see a portfolio that is clearly not a formulaic, okay, we did the design project and here's the logo and then here's the sketches that develop it and here's something it turned into and then here's that again, which is the way that some of the schools actually require, suggest that you present your portfolio.
So I always tend to ask people, well, what you do on the side, do you do anything for yourself, like do you do anything that interests you, and hopefully finding out that they do something else. One really good example is, one of the art directors that works for me now, when he brought his portfolio and he actually had worked for a couple of other companies and he had done sort of this wide spectrum of kind of work. So he had like posters from Texas for like rodeos.
Then he had some animated After Effects things that he had done for an entertainment client here. He does painting, so he had some of that in his book. It was just a really interesting -- a collecting mix of work and all of it was good. It was all really clever, it didn't look like all the same kind of style, it was very unique and fresh. I thought, okay, he cares me, he's smart, they're thinking about the work, they are not hindered by media. He can use the computer, but he can also use his hands.
So I found that to be really a great example of something I'm looking for. I just saw that in an intern -- I had an intern coming in interview, couple of weeks ago he decided to take another job, which made me sad. But he had a really nice portfolio. He'd been doing a lot of print work as a student. So he actually had solved some real world problems, which I thought was really good for someone coming right out of school. So he could tell me, oh, yeah, we had a $2,000 budget to print this thing. So I knew I could only do it in two colors, but I chose one of them to be a fluorescent, and I thought, Oh! That's great! He's really thinking about, okay, here's the end result and how can I use that creatively.
So that is another really good example. Things that are a bad portfolio would be one that I saw, kind of, recently too, where they had put together a bound book of their work, but the pagination was wrong. So you saw two pages of a project and then you saw the other page of something else and then there was that project again, and they said, oh, yeah, the pagination didn't work out right. And I am thinking, so why didn't you fix it? Why would you walk in an interview with a book that's put together wrong? Lynda Weinman: Well, those are great insights.
We want to thank you so much for spending time with us. It's been very inspiring to hear your stories and see your work. Thank you again so much! Margo Chase: Yeah, thanks! You're welcome! It's been really fun, it was great to meet you too. Lynda Weinman: You too.
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