Assistant Art Director, Two West Designs/Sandbox
Robben hadn’t always seen himself as a graphic designer. In fact, at one point he was referred to as a graphic designer while in college and found himself feeling almost offended by the comment because that was not what he was training to do.
However, after completing 4 of the 5 years required towards a Landscape
Architecture degree at K-State, he discovered while completing projects the process was more of an engineered experience than a creative one, which he didn’t especially enjoy.
During one of his summer internships, he was exposed to Photoshop while working on a presentation for a project. Unexpectedly, he considered pursuing a Graphic Design degree but the graphich design department wouldn’t accept many of his transfer credits so he ended up working more in multi-media and video, which led him to a degree in Mass Communications with a specialty in radio and TV.
After completing his degree at Kansas State University, Robben obtained a job in the advertising industry at ER Marketing. Although he doesn’t have a dream client, he does have a dream category. He would love to work on a campaign for either a large sporting goods chain or an outdoor outfitting company. Companies such as REI, Northface, Marmot, Wilson Athletics or Nike would align with his love of nature and the outdoors.
His current employer, Two West, recently merged with 5 other agencies across 8 cities to form a new agency called Sandbox. The merger increased the agency’s size from 65 local employees to a little over 450, company wide.
Creativity is what guides me
and is what I truly enjoy,
more so than an actual love
of graphic design.
What project are you the most proud of?
The project I am most proud of is a pro-bono project I did for the Advertising Club of Kansas City for their career day (see left). The reason it’s my favorite is because it’s a culmination of all the things that I really like about design. I feel like I arrived at a very simple solution with a twist. It’s something that still makes me proud that I worked on it. It wasn’t a project for one of those clients that I dreamed of working on, but it was a creative solution that I was able to arrive at without overdoing it, trying to do too much with it. It was a simple, clever, clear message and it was successful at winning quite a few awards at the same time.
If you weren’t a graphic designer, what would you be doing?
I would probably be doing something similar to what I originally started studying, landscape architecture.
What’s the greatest number of projects you have worked on at once?
Probably 5 or 6.
As a designer, what is your pet peeve?
To see repetition in work. If somebody is applying their own style over and over again. When you look at their portfolio and it’s different clients across the board but it kind of all blends together because it’s like they are in a rut and they have a certain style and you can immediately look at the third thing they did and immediately know that person did that because it’s more about them than it is the project. To try to do too much. Things need to be simple and clear, get the point across and communicate something and if there’s too many things happening then it’s just cluttered and overwhelming.
What personal skills do you have that you think helps you in design?
It’s a combination of being able to think creatively, problem solve and manage time. I think problem solving is the biggest asset to getting to the result and executing whatever that assignment is because you have to attack it from different angles and every project is different. He also credits being able to mentor new designers with problem solving to help them become better designers as a positive skill.
Do you also have personal skills that work against being a good designer? What?
I think creative people in general have a tendency to be procrastinators. We also tend to be more emotional type creatures and we get wrapped up in what we have created, so honest critiques can make us defensive.
At the beginning of your career, if you knew then what you know now, what would you tell yourself?
I would tell myself to be more patient for things. I made some job switches throughout my career that were based on the thought that I needed to have advancement, or I needed that next thing or a particular resume checkbox, or something that I thought was going to advance me instead of continuing to stick with it and let opportunities unfold.
What is your favorite thing about being a designer
My favorite part is problem solving. My dad is an engineer and my mom is an artist. So I really feel that I have my dad’s skills of problem solvingand that’s something that I enjoy. I attack a problem and try to find a unique solution because it’s easy to come up with the expected. To take things and look at it with a twist, put it on it’s ear and find something that’s a little more and something that other people probably wouldn’t think of but when they see it they think ‘well that’s clever’ or ‘that’s cool’. To find that solution is where I get most excited.
What inspires you when you get stuck?
Putting the pencil down, shutting the computer, walking away and going to do other things because inspiration is all around us. I can find inspiration on something I see on TV, go outside and go on a hike, play with your kid. I think the brain block is going to get worse the more you keep beating your head against the wall. When I come back at it with a fresh perspective I am more efficient and the new ideas will come.
What is the biggest design risk you have taken?
I worked on a holiday campaign for Sprint, which is a very conservative company. Everybody else was taking risks and being edgy. So we came up with a concept called “Break Tradition”. Not only was the name itself leading to do things differently, and to approach it from an unexpected angle, but also all the graphics and the colors weren’t traditional. The pallet was fresh, it was bright and cheerful. There were aspects of it that made it feel like it was holiday-ish, it had a winter element to it but everything had a twist. Internally we thought it was very brilliant but they didn’t like it. They shot it down pretty quick.