As many of you know, last summer I embarked on a new phase in my life by moving to Chicago…and the catalyst was participating in Firebelly Design’s Camp Firebelly. While there, I was able to work with/learn from Antonio García, and we’ve since stayed in touch. Antonio is a storyteller and design strategist who is currently working with the interaction design team at gravitytank, a Chicago-based innovation consultancy. He loves hip hop, horror movies, sushi, kawaii illustration and staying in hotels, but he’s also got a wicked sense of humor and is generally an all-around great guy. You can catch him at this weekend’s Wide Open at Rodan. But first! a little chat:
If I remember correctly, you grew up in the Chicago area: how did you get involved with the local hip hop scene? And how has DJing influenced your work?
I grew up in Arlington Heights (a northwest suburb of Chicago). But thanks to family friends who lived in city, I started listening to hip hop when I was just ten years old. This was ’89—rap’s golden era—and through those connections, I was exposed to all of hip hop’s elements: rapping, graffiti, breaking and DJing. In junior high and high school I started rapping with friends and buying drum machines, samplers and keyboards so I could make my own beats. When I started college at the Atlanta College of Art (now SCAD), I started writing graffiti. In the late 90s, Atlanta had a lot of “free” walls where graffiti artists could paint in broad daylight—which was fun, but I still liked bombing better…!
I didn’t actually start DJing until just a few years ago, but I’ve always loved sharing music with people and looking for sounds people haven’t heard yet. In that way, selecting music for other people—shaping the mood, making people dance/smile/feel good after a long week—is very similar to how I like to design. Both mediums are about discovery, delight, a call to action. People like soulful music because it resonates with them on an emotional level. And people are naturally drawn to emotive design because it’s authentic and provides meaning and clarity.
You recently started at gravitytank. What is it like working at an innovation consultancy as opposed to a small boutique design studio?
Working at gravitytank has been really interesting. I love it. My exposure to people with deep expertise in areas of ethnographic research, quantitative analysis, business strategy, industrial design, etc. has completely expanded the way I look at design challenges. And the level of experience there is so broad. Working collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams I’ve learned so much, so quickly. The firm has an truly global point of view and the scale and scope of the work is certainly bigger than anything I’d done prior which is exciting. The pace is different too. Most of our engagements last 6 to 8 weeks and team members remain dedicated to one project until it’s done—which is really refreshing. We have the resources and capacity to dive deep into our client’s problems and really immerse ourselves in understanding people’s needs. We also work very iteratively—using lots of techniques for rapid prototyping, storyboarding and agile development—which is a really smart way to make things clearer, faster.
Last time we talked, you and I were discussing the strategy behind design and how it factors into producing work for clients. How can designers start thinking more strategically about their work?
Strategy is really about thinking beyond the design itself. When you’re in school, things like budget, delivery channels, business models, market analysis, viability, competition and positioning don’t really factor into your thinking, learning, work or grades. Students aren’t generally held accountable for those factors until graduate programs. No one asks how a design will be distributed, what segmentation studies have been conducted, if the packaging is biodegradable (or necessary at all). So young designers enter the real world (a.k.a. the business world) where all that stuff matters to clients, and suddenly the people paying you to design for them want proof you’ve considered all the angles.
For lots of designers, making “good” design means creating something original, meaningful and compelling. And I strongly believe all of that matters and should be present in everything we make. But when we can offer clients a point of view on why our design will help their business/organizational needs, we demonstrate that what we do—our expertise—is so much more than just making things look better. Design thinking can have as big (or bigger) an impact on the bottom line as business thinking can. As companies, foundations and entrepreneurs continue to recognize design as a strategic advantage and powerful differentiator, they’ll pay more for it and include designers in their planning and thinking from the very beginning instead of as an afterthought, when it’s that much harder for design to make a real difference.
I know you’re a huge horror movie fan: do you go for the ones that are just plain comical or the purely terrifying?
I can probably find something to like in just about every horror movie I watch, but I get the most satisfaction when the gore looks real, the kills are inventive, the scares are solid and the ending is brutal. The easiest way for me to talk about why I love horror movies is a breakdown by country:
- US – In general, we suck at the genre. American filmmakers get too caught up with the antagonist’s backstory. Wasting too much time explaining and justifying evil origins and behavior is boring. Unexplained ghouls and incomprehensible sadism is terrifying. Too much reason and rationale = not scary. For a while, we just remade J-horror like The Ring (Ringu) and The Grudge (Ju-On) and regurgitated European successes like Spain’s REC but we always dumb it down and prop up the weakened stories with familiar American actors. Some recent exceptions include the Hostel series, The House of the Devil, Orphan, The Last House on the Left and Rob Zombie’s work.
- Japan – It’s all about the slow build in J-horror. And Japan favors two things most: traditional ghost stories (which require some additional cultural understanding to really appreciate them) and extreme, over-the-top violence. Favorites include Tokyo Gore Police, Audition and Three… Extremes (which also features films from China’s Fruit Chan and Korea’s Chan-wook Park.
- Scandinavia – lately Sweden and Norway are all about hot, young kids getting killed on holiday. I really liked Rovdyr, Cold Prey, Dead Snow and of course Let The Right One In, which is quite possible the best vampire movie I’ve seen in a really long time.
- Italy – The classics. No one does zombies like Deodato, Romero and Fulci and no mixes operatic lighting, vixens and violence quite like Argento and Bava.
- France – French horror films are my favorite. They’re actually more survival terror than anything else. The plots are tight. They’re told in real time or are extremely well-paced. Time isn’t wasted explaining why, the viewer is just dumped into the most raw, terrifying situations. There is nothing supernatural about the stories, human beings are being hunted by other human beings and the gore is so real and extreme. The best examples are Martyrs, Inside, High Tension, Trouble Everyday and Frontier(s).
Do you have any personal projects that you are currently working on?
I just found out some of my t-shirt graphics are going to be featured in an upcoming Index Book called TypoShirt One so I’ve been hustling on redesigning the website and online store for Good Night TV, a t-shirt company I started with my best friends back in 2005. Other than that, I’m busy training for my second Bank of America Marathon on October 10th and DJing here and there for fun.