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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) Margo Chase: So the first ten years of my career as a designer I spent doing almost exclusively work in the music business, and it was great. I mean, it was a great way to start out as a designer. I got into it kind of accidentally though, it wasn't something intentional. I was kind of couch surfing in Los Angeles when I got out of graduate school, and I ended up interviewing with somebody who had friends who worked for Warner Bros Records, and he said, you should go over there to the music department and interview, because they are always looking for people who can do cool logos or things for album covers.
I thought, oh, that sounds like a great thing, I will go do that. I did, and the first couple of projects they gave me were really lame jobs. I mean, for bands you have never heard of, like Gospel covers and things for really small distribution, and nothing that cool. But it didn't really matter at that point, I was just really happy to get projects and happy to get freelance work. Warner Bros at that point had a pretty amazing roster; they had Madonna, they had Prince, they had lots of really great bands. So I got a chance to really work with some pretty visible artists.
Then over the years you get sort of even more well-known -- if you do a project for somebody who is a visible artist in the music business, your name gets out there as a designer, and so you get more work from other labels, which is what happened. I had friends in the music business by then and they would all move to different labels, so then I started doing work for Giffen and for Virgin Records and for Columbia, and Sony, all the different labels, and it kept me really busy for ten years. But music business is a challenge for a lot of reasons too. I mean, it's great for a single or a small studio, with a couple of people, but the budgets are pretty small, and so you really can't grow a business in a serious way doing only music work, it's pretty challenging to do.
When I first started I didn't know any of that stuff, I hadn't really figured it all out, and I was just really happy to do cool work. Because people just kept saying, whatever you can do that's cool and different and hasn't been done before, that's what we want to see, and that's just a great opportunity for a designer to be in that position, to really get a chance to try to figure out who you are and what you are about, and find your voice as a designer. That's something that, when you go to work immediately in sort of a corporate environment, you really don't get an opportunity to do that. So I am really, really happy that I stumbled into that opportunity.
But after ten years I got kind of tired of doing the same sort of five inch square over and over again. By then the music business was changing too. It had become much more corporate, and so the opportunities for doing really unusual work were getting to be fewer and far between. So I had actually intentionally tried to change the direction of the company, and I really wanted to do consumer packaging and explore other projects, like interiors, retail, lots of the things that we are doing now, and I really had no experience in any design work much, outside of the music business.
You are really not asked to be part of a marketing conversation very often when you do design in a music business, it's really not -- they don't care. That's kind of depressing, because you really after a while start to realize that you are just being hired to decorate stuff. It's like, oh, just make it pretty, and as long as it looks pretty and cool, they are really happy, and to me that was really limiting, that was just like sort of one side of my brain. I love making things pretty and cool, but I feel like they ought to be pretty and cool for a reason or in a particular way, that helps somebody solve a business problem, or sell a product, or utilize some of the strengths.
Graphic designs are a really amazingly powerful tool, and that tool was only getting partially utilized, at least in my opinion, in the music business. So I spent actually quite a number of years trying to sort of intentionally change the direction of the business, and move from just doing music and entertainment based work. Then we are doing projects now that are really exciting to me for reasons beyond just the design. I mean, they are exciting because they use a side of my brain that requires -- that I think strategically about; how something is going to work, and who it's going to interest, it's been great, and I hope it continues for another 20 years, if I live that long.
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