This Christmas eve I bring you the gift of a wonderful interview with the very talented Robert True. Not only is Robert a prodigious member of the Minted team, but he is also an active member of our design community. You likely know his work by the name Waui Design and its signature character illustrations and clean type-face. I know you will enjoying getting to know Robert as much as I did.
Robert is a family man at heart and says that his work is inspired by his three-year-old son Jayce and his loving girlfriend Animae.
At age nine, you wanted to be?
I wanted to be an illustrator for Mad Magazine’s Spy vs. Spy. I think that was around the time when I really started to be more structured creatively with anything I drew. I didn’t read much as a kid or have an attention span for anything but for some reason that magazine hit the nail on the head for me. That and Gumby. I drew a lot of Gumby’s back in the day too.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a designer?
I grew up drawing and copying cartoon characters from books, but I never really thought of it as something I was good enough at to go very far with it. I remember being in art class in high school and there were other kids there drawing X-Men and Marvel comics dead-on. I was like “wow, these guys are so good at drawing and all I have is this lame panda I did”. I wasn’t really exposed too much to a wide range of art. All of the art I saw was very detailed and elaborate, but I didn’t know you could be simple and be still deemed an artist.
I think it first hit me as something I could do when I was doing websites for music artists. I had to learn to code sites and use Photoshop so that I could promote the artists I was working with musically at the time. At one point, while designing an album cover, I thought to myself, “wow, moving this text around this photo is really fun.” I found out how much of a real difference altering typefaces, colors, and layouts all mattered. After that I found myself doing more and more album artwork, flyers and websites. That’s when I really started to geek out on design.
Do you have any formal design training?
Aside from a one-day InDesign training crash course I went to for a previous employer – I am pretty much self-taught. It is kind of intimidating working around people such as Annie Clark who can name every typeface ever created and have such a deep education about the necessary technique for successful design, but at the same time it’s a good thing because then I get to pick her brain whenever I like. I think it keeps me on my toes though being so design insecure because I don’t want to get lazy or comfortable. I like to push myself and try new things and constantly elevate my ability and style. I’m more of a “learn through doing” kind of person any way. So the real world experience is better training for me than any class I could sit in on. I would get bored easily and start doodling and slacking off.
How would you describe your style?
I’m not sure how to label myself exactly. I have many styles of work that I personally enjoy and you might find a little bit of each in what I do. Some may call that eclectic. Personally I think I’m always evolving and trying to grow and perfect my style. Some designers such as Karly’s Oscar + Emma have such a distinct style you can almost always spot her work a mile away. Or another one is iso50. His work is so recognizable by the vintage look and feel that you can usually pin it right away. But me… I’m a long way away from achieving that in my work. I’m not where I want to be yet. I’m clean, simple, and modern, yet reaching for that timeless feel to my work. I’m trying to tie it all together and make something fresh, new, and all my own.
Finding your style is very important for design happiness. One thing I’ve learned from all the contract work I’ve done is to try and keep your portfolio geared more towards what you want to do. That way when people see your work and want to contract you, it’ll most likely be them wanting something similar to what they saw in your portfolio. If you post a lame website you did in your portfolio, that you hated doing, there’s a chance you’ll get a job in the future doing another lame site just like it.
What is your normal workflow or process like?
Excitement. Stress. Depression. Relief. Repeat.
It largely depends on if it’s for a client or for myself. Deadlines play into a work process heavily. Do I have time to research? Or do I need to throw this together? Whichever path I start on, once I have what I need to begin, I rack my brain on how I can do this differently.
Such as – All of these logos are coming out all lowercase. Let me see if I can’t remedy the world’s pain with a title case logo or all uppercase. All of these websites are too clean and basic. Let’s see if I can make it pop with some more color or maybe some textures. Everyone’s going honeysuckle – Let’s go seafoam. Design can get really boring if you do the same thing everytime. I count browsing blogs and magazines as part of my workflow. It’s my study time.
Once you have whatever you need, then take it all to a sketchpad or design program and lay-it out quickly. Draw any pieces in a raw form that you want just to get them down. Move the pieces into their general location and start toying with colors, types, effects, etc. I tend to spend the most time on the illustrations if they’re present in the piece. Making them come to life with a look on their face or something that will show an emotion.
Once I’ve gone crazy with all of that for a while – then I tend to start removing whatever isn’t really needed there. Enough to where it’s stripped down to the most basic message that I want to get across. Then walk away and visit it later on and see if at first glance that message pops out immediately or not. If so, I’m done. If not, decide what is in the way of the message or what is missing and needs to be added. Basic tinkering takes up a lot of design time.
How many iterations does it take for a design to become final?
It really depends – piece to piece, but typically it will take quite a few. The initial idea usually doesn’t take long to get down. Inspiration hits you like lightening and all you can do is channel it as quickly as you can into your design. But once you have thrown it onto the canvas – now you step back and take a look at it and say, “Hmmm… what do I do now? Move this piece here? Change this color a bit? Maybe let’s switch it to a portrait from a landscape?” Those kinds of tweaks and alterations can take hours. Sometimes if you’re crazy enough and don’t have a deadline it can take far longer than it should have. And in most cases probably ends up looking close to your original design any way. I think as a designer, your biggest worry is, “will they like it?” because nine times out of 10 this is going to be for someone else. So yeah… I can make a big fuss over a few pixels for a few hours at times.
What tools, techniques, and mindsets do you find absolutely essential?
Your imagination. If that fails, then Google images or your book of choice. Anything that will help you get the ball rolling. Usually getting an idea isn’t a big problem, but as I’ve said, if you have to get into something new then you definitely need to do your research. And of course, above all, keep positive and make sure that you’re enjoying what you’re doing. It will come across in your work for sure.
Your modern designs always stand out – how do you make sure you keep such a strong design identity?
I try my hardest not to look too much at what other people are doing. Relying mainly on my own direction and concepts. You can’t hide in a cave and ignore the world, but I think it’s important to keep your influences from taking over your own thought. If I looked at Paul Frank’s work all day I’d only draw monkeys like Julius. I have InDesign open a lot. I’m always making up random things regardless of if it’s for a project or not. It’s no different than having a sketchbook. If you stay on your own design then you’ll just stay in that mode of thought and it’ll be true to what you do. Andres Montano is a perfect example of that. His designs are a page right out of his sketchbooks. That guy will always have his style. And that comes from just sticking to it and what you love.
Being a big Twitter-er, Tweet New Year is my favorite – tell me about how you did such a cute little bird!
For minted’s holiday challenge, I had so many ideas, but at the same time was getting stumped on what I really wanted to do. I came up with a lot of über modern pieces for the challenge but was really looking for something with more heart. I kept thinking of the idea of “ringing in the New Year” and thought of all of the singing that comes along with the holidays. I decided that instead of “ringing” I was going to use “singing in the New Year”.
That was the basic idea behind Tweet New Year. I just was trying to find a different way to bring a smile to someone’s face looking at it. I’m always trying to draw that feeling for them to give them an emotional reaction. It was very bold, bright and cheery. It came out very modern as a whole but I’d like to hope that there was some classic feeling that came across to the viewer as well.
Do you have a favorite font?
Right now I’d have to say Liebe Erika. It is a fantastically hand drawn typeface created by Ulrike Wilhelm.
I’ve used it in a few minted challenges thus far as well as for some client projects. I think it has so much character and there are huge glyph sets that accompany it. I love any font that shows character when you want that little extra bit of flavor for your piece. If I’m illustrating a character on a piece I might go with a san serif as to avoid conflict between elements, but if it’s more of a type design then I usually lean more towards a serif or slab serif to really give more feeling to the piece. Farao is another one I use that has so much character to it. I love any typeface that can bring out feeling.
Favorite color? Or favorite color right now?
I love blues, yellows, and browns a lot right now. That is the palette I’ve been going with lately. Being from Santa Cruz, that beach feeling is really embedded into your psyche. But coming to San Francisco, it’s so cold and it feels like its fall for 85% of the year, so that tends to make me think in browns and oranges as well.
Sadly no. Due to heavy computer usage, I have completely lost the ability to write anything legible. I am a total fail now at using my hands for writing. I recently wrote a thank you note to someone and I think I have become one of those “chicken scratch” writers. It makes me sad because I used to write so well. I just don’t have time for it now in this 21st century life we live in. And when it comes to drawing… I do it all on the touchpad of my MacBook with my fingertip. If only I could write like that.
Favorite design tool?
17” Macbook Pro with CS5. I mainly use InDesign. Sometimes Illustrator, for well, illustrating. And, Dreamweaver if I’m doing anything web. Also occasionally, but seldom these days, Flash. I want to get into Catalyst in the future though.
Are you sending out a Christmas card? If so, what is it like?
Of course! It is the third year in a row that we are sending one out with just our son Jayce’s picture on it. No matter how hard we try, we are so lazy about getting a family portrait taken for a card. So it is once again our son smiling as big as he can. I was so busy this year I had to take our cheapie point and shoot camera last minute and do an impromptu photoshoot in the bedroom of him bouncing about on the bed in his sleeper with his best pal Curious George in his hand. I added a nice “Peace Love & Joy” greeting done in Farao with a simple banner below it in Mrs. Eaves All Small Caps.
What design trends do you think will emerge this spring/summer?
Just like with fashion, vintage is very in. I think that will keep going for a while. Perhaps the super modern look is too sterile and the urge to have more nostalgia for better times is at hand. You’ve seen Archer go beyond crazy on the type side of things. I think that will leave once people discover that there are plenty more friendly typefaces out there to fill that void. But as a whole I appreciate it greatly because of that direction. We need more feeling in work. I like that Sydney Newsom, Emily Potts and others have done totally hand drawn pieces. It shows a lot of heart. I hope people keep reaching into themselves and pulling out fresh ideas and aren’t afraid to show themselves in their work. That’s what makes it yours!
What is your least favorite recent design trend?
I’m not sure if I follow trends as much as I should. I see in advertising design a lot of confusion. Either they’re copying Apple or they’re reaching back to swoosh’s like Capitol One (like we’re still in the 90’s). I think my least favorite design trend is trends in general. The second something becomes a trend then you’re unable to create a distinct piece of work. With everyone online sharing their design these days (dribble, tumblr, pinterest, etc) you’re bombarded with design and it’s hard to keep it from soaking in some and changing your course or style. I try to keep away from those things more and more these days. I don’t want to be influenced that much.
What was your favorite Minted design challenge ?
I always love the children’s birthday party challenges since I’m very much into illustration. It’s fun to try to channel your inner-child spirit to create amazing birthday party scenes for an invitation. These were some I was happy with from the Make a Wish challenge.
How does living in the Bay Area influence your design?
The Bay Area is so versatile. You can go down one street and see a beautifully historic Taqueria and down another see a finely polished Museum. Its diverse culture just brings about diverse design. Especially in San Francisco it’s so condensed that it’s nearly every other building that you feel that change in scenery. There is so much history all over – from Oakland to San Jose down to Santa Cruz. I love that there is so much to draw from at every turn. It’s such a fine mix of styles. I think that definitely plays on my design because it gives me such a wide array to chose from in my work.
What are the places in Santa Cruz that you would recommend a visitor check out?
Wow, there are so many. Caffé Pergolesi is a must have for any coffee lover. It is a perfect place to study, work, read a book, or hang out. A new addition to town is The Penny Ice Creamery. They make totally organic ice cream, using only fresh seasonal ingredients.
Taqueria Michoacan is the best Mexican food in town hands down. If you like Chinese food then Golden Buddha is your spot. Twin Lakes beach or Capitola beach are both amazing. If you go to Capitola beach go to Pizza My Heart. It’s the original location for that pizzeria – which therefore makes it the best one!
What’s currently inspiring you?
Since my son was born – that’s really what inspires me. I think that’s what makes me try so hard to find feeling in my work. He makes me so happy and he has so much heart. I think I draw a lot from that. It’s helped me out in my illustration and shown me that that is the direction I want to go with my career. If I can make something he enjoys then I’ll be happy. I love that Stacey Day put Charlie and Lola in her interview. That show is super cool all the way around. Love me some pink milk!
What’s your design philosophy?
Design with feeling. Don’t create just to create. Create what you feel. If you’re not feeling anything then don’t create. Go read a book instead. Basically, just have fun doing design. If you’re not having fun then don’t do it.
Who are your design heroes?
Right now I aim to follow Paul Frank or Simone Legno. Their Paul Frank and Toki Doki lines are amazing and are right in line with Sanrio. I want to create characters that are limitless for apparel, bags, notebooks, toys, etc. I would love to do that for a living.
I recently did a run of toddler shirt prints for a design called Nerd Life. It is a character of mine named Penne the Penguin and it has him wearing a red bowtie and glasses while holding a red balloon.
When I received the shirts in the mail I brought them home and pulled out a 4T shirt for my son to put it on him. The way his face lit up was amazing. That made me feel really good to have him run to the mirror, look at himself, then turn to me and point at it smiling.
Where do you like to shop? What are your favorite stores?
Being a parent – it’s hard to shop. I used to splurge on myself but I have to be selfless now. So that means a lot of Target in my life. If I were to splurge it would be at a vintage store or online at a threadless or what not. I like to geek out on graphic tee’s.
Do you have a favorite graphic designer?
I really admire the old RKO Radio cartoons for Disney, like Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland. The way they brought those stories to life was amazing. They’ve truly stood the test of time. That’s what I’ve been striving for is to make timeless pieces.
Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
Always Disneyland. Whenever we can afford it we’ll go to Disneyworld one day. And hopefully see the other Disneylands throughout the world one day as well.
There’s just something magical about being able to step inside of all of these childhood fantasies come to life. It really plays on your imagination. We try to go during non-peak times of the year so that we can enjoy it and not be bombarded with huge lines and crowds. That definitely hinders that experience. But it’s truly an amazing place. And to bring our son there and see his reaction as well just makes it all the more special to visit.
What can’t you travel without?
My family of course! Besides them – my must have is music. That and some coffee to keep me awake! ☺
Do you have any hobbies of note?
Before I started designing I was going for a career in music production. Since my son was born I kind of had to give that up. I don’t have much time for it now, but I occasionally spend some time in Pro Tools with my Triton keyboard, etc making beats and recording with some artists like platinum German pop artist Anh Thu Doan from the Preluders as well as some other local artists to the Bay Area. Just more for fun now though since the hours of the music business are far too demanding to share with raising a child.
What can’t you live without?
My MacBook and music.
Biggest self indulgence?
Movies. Techie junk. Oh and junk food. If I need to get a design done in a pinch I might drink a couple tall Red Bulls and eat an ice cream bar or something.
What piece of art would you most like to own?
Nerdimal for sure.
What’s on your playlist when you’re designing?
Wow. Everything and anything. 2010 belonged mainly to Toro y Moi. That and Drake. There’s a lot of Beatles in there as well. From mainstream to underground – it’s all in rotation. Neon Indian, Washed Out, M.I.A., Animal Collective, Snoop, Air, Aaliyah, Sade, 80’s music, Huey Lewis & The News, Daft Punk, Debussy, Morrisey/The Smiths… It’s seriously random. I have some ADD issues. But music and design go hand in hand and it is an essential piece of the puzzle for anyone. I’m definitely influenced by music in my design.
How does working at Minted influence your entries?
In so many ways – mainly due to working with other designers in the field like The Social Type, Alex Elko, Annie Clark, Jody Wody, Andres Montano, Alison Michaels, etc. If work permits we try to critique each other’s work. It’s nice to get all of the feedback I can in person. I think being in the stationery environment daily keeps me in the right frame of mind as well. I just have to mention that the minted meet-up in the office was awesome. I love all of the designers in the minted community.
There are so many talented designers there – whether seasoned or newbie. I love Sarah Lenger, Stacey Day, Amy Ehman, Brandy Brown, Mandy Gordon, Karley Depew… too many to name. Just everyone… keep up the good work you guys!
What advice would you give a new designer?
Keep trying. Keep learning. Make it a point to design every day. Try stepping out of your safe zone and doing something totally different like designing an instruction manual or a cereal box or a magazine article. There’s so much I have learned just through doing.
I think it’s important just to have a broad understanding of design so that you can pull from it for whatever project you’re working on. Having that ace up your sleeve is always nice in a bind. Like, “oh yeah! I can use that pattern technique I used for that cook book and now use it to apply on this apparel companies shirt tag.”
Lastly, know your audience. Who is this for? What do they like? How can you make this do exactly what it needs to do to be successful? You can’t design a successful wedding suite without stepping into the mind of a woman who wants the perfect extension of her beauty to be spread far and wide to announce her marriage. You can’t put together a children’s book without understanding levels of age development, educational trends, etc. You can’t brand a business without knowing their market. What you design is almost always going to be for someone else. So please make sure they like it and that it works for them and their needs. If not, they won’t be happy and you won’t get work. Part of designing for a living means pleasing others. It’s still your work, but you have to understand how to apply your style to this product while still keeping their vision as well. Until you’re Andy Warhol you can’t just do as you please ☺
Thanks so much for taking the time Robert and a very Merry Christmas to all and a Tweet New Year!
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