The Great Migration: How These Graphic Design Grads Are Making Their Mark in California
Creatives often associate a certain location with the pinnacle of their craft. Painters and sculptors may gravitate to the streets of Paris or Venice, while writers beat feet to Chicago or New York. For many graphic designers, that place is California, and for the last two years, a growing number of graduates from KCAD’s Graphic Design program have landed in positions at prominent companies along the Golden State’s coast.
Many of the alumni have broken into the design industry. Ben Biondo (’12), Matt Fouty (’14), and Travis Martin (’12) have all recently taken jobs with 160over90, while Kayley Elder (’13) and Issac Daniels (’14) are working at Ruhm Luxury Marketing and Visual Supply Company, respectively, and Alexa Edgerton (’12) has landed at Rent Control Inc. Meanwhile, Steve Schultz (’12) wound up at LA-based skateboard company The Berrics.
The motivations behind the trek westward vary. For some it’s always been a dream. Others, like Fouty are hunting for new experiences and a chance to stretch their professional legs into markets beyond West Michigan.
Fouty and his family soaking up the So-Cal sun (credit: Matt Fouty)
“I think a lot of us are out there looking for something different,” says Fouty. “The design scene in Grand Rapids is really dominated by a few large companies that every agency does work for. They’re doing great work; it’s just a bit harder to get a broader perspective.”
160over90 is a trendy branding agency in Newport Beach that does work for the likes of UCLA, the University of Oregon, and the Philadelphia Eagles. The firm is headquartered in Philadelphia, which gives its Newport Beach office a good combination of midwestern work ethic and sandals-and-shorts sort of Californian freedom.
The 160/90 crew (credit: Matt Fouty)
Change of pace aside, it’s no secret that the troves of opportunities out west are shadowed by the fierce competition, creating an environment where even top talent can get lost in the shuffle. But challenging doesn’t mean impossible. Between the KCAD alumni who work in California, a common thread emerges: networking.
Landing work out here means putting yourself out there, making connections, and seizing opportunities when they come, says Isaac Daniels. Daniels ultimately landed his job at the Oakland-based Visual Supply Company (VSCO) – a company best known for its professional suite of video and photo filters – through participating in the American Advertising Awards (formerly known as the ADDYs).
“Our professors were very adamant that we submit work to the ADDY Awards every year,” Daniels says. “I submitted a piece, and through that I got to meet some local creatives out here. One of them was a photographer friend who helped me get in with VSCO.”
Daniels at work for Visual Supply Company (credit: Carter Moore)
Following an event in Grand Rapids, Daniels’ friend invited him to hang out with some of VSCO’s staff at a local brewery, where he met the company’s CEO, Joel Flory.
“I kept his business card in my wallet for the next year because I knew I wanted to work there,” Daniels says.
The same philosophy on networking holds true for students’ portfolios, especially when it comes to building a diverse body of strategized work.
“KCAD really put a lot on designers to be able talk through their work and have a good rational for what they’re doing and be able to back it up with strategy,” says Fouty. “We’re doing that all the time at 160over90.”
“What they taught me was how to think, try, and experiment, and not to be afraid to fail because it’s not going to come out right the first time,” adds Daniels.
Break time equals a little rooftop bike time for Daniels (credit: JP Chookaszian)
A diverse portfolio and broad experience impacted another KCAD transplant, Steve Schultz, first-hand. Schultz works as part of an in-house design team at The Berrics, a skateboarding media company based in Los Angeles. Between runs on the massive internal skate park, Schultz, who began as an intern, helps produce the company’s original content, including videos and events.
“They knew that I wasn’t just some kid interested in working for a skateboard company,” he says. “I had a well versed body of work that they could identify with on a much bigger level.”
These opportunities aren’t limited to California, or to those in the Graphic Design program. Companies across the globe are looking to hire creatives who are capable of taking a project from concept to reality and who are deeply passionate about their craft. And perhaps even beyond those attributes and skills, there lies something more fundamental: dedication.
“All the people I know that moved out here were the hardest workers in the program,” says Schultz. “If you’re willing to put in the work, then you can land anything.”