Left to right: Doug Ross, Michael Bertoni and Daniel Chamberlin, all of whom have offices at Cruzioworks.
Design is not a commodity, it’s a means of communication, an experience. As Steve Jobs famously pointed out, it’s how stuff works.
Graphic design specifically deals with visual form and presentation. It incorporates everything from traditional media like prints and photos to digital interfaces like mobile phones and websites, tying the way products and marketing materials work together with the way they look.
But for those doing the work, high visual intelligence is just the first of the necessary skills. Good designers have to be able to work with a wide variety of clients, all of whom have their own opinions, products and customers. It’s not enough to just be good at drawing. They also have to be good at reading clients’ minds, negotiating and billing.
“It’s hard,” says Daniel Chamberlin, a local designer and Santa Cruz native. “You have to be able to meet people in the middle. It’s a new relationship with each client, and you have to come out of your comfort zone.”
Chamberlin, whose background is in animation, says an important part of satisfying clients is letting go of your own pet ideas. “My favorites tend to be the ones that the client rejected,” he says with a chuckle. “People really want to be involved.”
Karla Hutton, a longtime designer and partner at Hutton–Sherer, agrees. “I always find that the best designers are the best listeners,” she says. “The marketing perspective needs to shape all of graphic design.”
Hutton, best known for her work on the city of Santa Cruz’s lighthouse logo and the red bull’s head logo for the Tannery, has helped to guide other local designers as well, including Todd Schafer, founder of Schafer Design and Web Worx.
Schafer’s work focuses on digital media and websites. He says there needs to be a balance between the aesthetic quality of a piece and its ability to communicate a message to the target market. He encourages people interested in graphic design to study broadly and keep learning, he says. “The more you know, the more diverse your work will be.”
And herein lies the true essence of graphic design: in one sense it is where business and art collide, and yet many designers prefer the commercial art world to that of fine art.
What is considered to be fine art “is not very democratic,” says Doug Ross, a freelance illustrator. “Whereas in the business world, if you have a good relationship with a client and they’re happy, then they just pay you and you move on.”
“Form follows function, and the function is to communicate,” says Michael Bertoni, a graphic designer best known for his work in helping to design the O’Neill logo. “We don’t just paint pretty posters.”
Bertoni, who grew up in Southern California, admits that business is harder to come by in Santa Cruz than bigger cities. “We have this culture of survival here,” he says. However, he believes it to be worth the struggle, saying that Santa Cruz presents people with “a better way of living,” one that he enjoys because it is more “organic and holistic” than other areas.
As a kid, Bertoni used to frequently outline the old O’Neill logo, unaware that years later he would help to redesign the company’s public face. “I just remember thinking how cool it looked,” he says. “When I got the job it was a dream come true.”
So while business dictates the focus of most graphic design, artistic creativity does still flourish, just in a unique way. “For me it’s about making things that didn’t exist,” says Ross. “It’s about novelty.”
Ross just finished a pamphlet for the O’Neill Sea Odyssey program, which teaches kids from underfunded schools about marine biology.
When asked about how the community could help support local designers, Ross answers, “I think they just need recognition. People don’t even know what the profession is.”