last week i had the opportunity to meet with a designer that i’m a big fan of, mike perry. mike runs his own studio out of brooklyn where he designs for clients such as urban outfitters, the new york times magazine, and zoo york. he has also published two books: hand job, a book about hand-drawn typography, and over & over, a catalog of hand-drawn patterns. you can check out his amazing work right here. for those of you who would rather read the interview rather than listen, i’ve transcribed highlights from mike’s interview below, but you can listen to the full podcast by clicking “play” below. you can also check out mike in the design by the book video series. -samantha huba
Interview with Mike Perry
Design*Sponge: What made you want to become a graphic designer?
Mike Perry: I didn’t really go into college thinking I wanted to be a graphic designer. I initially went in to study painting, got into the program and just wasn’t really excited about how I was pushing myself with the work. My school forced a design class on everybody, to sort of expose us to all the different subjects of design and the career opportunities. It was a really good course, and I was excited by the possibilities that design offered to me, which I looked at as the ability to make anything as opposed to the painting program where I felt like I could only make paintings. Once those two things came together I just kind of clicked in, it made sense, and I haven’t looked back since.
DS: How did you start out?
MP: I needed a job, and the thing about making sort of untraditional graphic design in college, and living in a town that didn’t really support people who are doing design/art crossbreeds; I mean there’s definitely places in Minneapolis that have those work environments, but they’re far and few between; and those were the coveted jobs. So when I graduated, I would go to interviews and people would be like “What are you showing me? We can’t hire you. I mean, it’s cool and all, but this isn’t a bank logo, we can’t show this stuff to our clients. We need traditional work.” And that was pretty had to hear after school, especially when you’re in school and you feel really supported and excited about what you’re doing. You get put out in the world and you’re devastated by that harsh reality.
There’s this thing in Minneapolis called the Walker Internship and I applied for that. I was in the phone book calling everyone, looking for jobs. Then a group of friends and I who were all unemployed decided to pull our unemployment efforts together and started a design studio. Which obviously didn’t work because it was six of us hanging out without jobs instead of just one of us. And the whole time I’m applying to jobs and in my rejection letter for the Walker Internship this one guy told me to get in contact with one of the previous interns who worked at Urban Outfitters. I had this one teacher who had worked at Urban and she called them up and said that I was going to send my portfolio, sent it off, didn’t hear anything for four months. Then I got a phone call one day and I was in the door. It was a long treacherous process.
DS: What designers or websites do you look to for inspiration?
MP: Recently I’ve been thinking about how when I listen to music, I wish that my work looked like the way their music sounds. It’s a hard thing to visualize but there’s some things about their work that I really try to have come across in my own.
I’m also really interested in science and the abstract ideas that come from that. My brother is a Bio-medical engineer and I recently realized that we kind of do the same thing. We’re both on the search to discover things. There’s a WNYC show called Radio Lab and they are very good at visually describing the science world. The way they describe these things is really inspiring to me because the pictures they create in my head really inspire me.
DS: What gave you the idea to create Hand Job and Over & Over and how did you go about having them published?
MP: Hand Job came out of the desire just to make a book, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I had a bunch of ideas floating around in my head and went to my bookshelves and checked out all the books I like. I emailed one of the editors at Princeton Architectural Press, introduced myself, sent some of my work, told her the ideas I had and she somehow wrote me back. I pitched four basic ideas and in those four ideas a book about hand drawn typography was in there and they just jumped on it. It was definitely an instance of right time right place.
DS: What are you working on now?
MP: I actually had a meeting with Princeton last week and proposed three new book ideas and they liked all of them. I’m working on an illustration for Computer Arts today which is a UK magazine, and the next two issues of my magazine. I’m also working with d*s for a projects for the New York Public Library.
DS: What advice do you have for young graphic designers who are looking to start their own business?
MP: Keep your overhead low, and hustle. It kind of helps, maybe to have a job first for a little while. There’s so much to learn from those environments, things you may not even know that you need to learn. Work on your telephone skills, and have a website. People need to see your work and know that you exist. You have to change the way you think about money. You need to know about contracts and, you know, all those things they don’t really teach you in school.
DS: When you’re not using hand-drawn type, what’s your default font?
MP: My default is Locator by ProcessTypeFoundry.com
DS: As a freelance artist and business owner, how do you market yourself?
MP: The Internet is the most important thing, I’ve had a website for about seven years, so that really helps. That means I have seven years of people looking at it and book-marking pieces, and I think that has a huge impact on success. The books going out into the world have been huge. They’ve been really helpful, in a way I hadn’t really anticipated. And then just, emailing people, keeping in contact. The best thing you can do is constantly remind people you exist.
DS: Where do you see your work going in the future?
MP: Just more. I definitely want to do larger scale projects. I want to see what that’s all about. I also really want to do interiors. I like the challenge that would come from doing a whole space, it sounds really exciting. More books, I have a running joke that I want to make so many books in five years that I can sit on them like a chair. Just to keep making stuff, that’s the plan.