Dan Mahaney & Pat Egger
As I walk up to the Normal Human studio I know I'm at the right place thanks to the unique window art that welcomes you at the entrance. Serving as a gallery, studio and lounge area you can tell hundreds if not thousands of hours have been spent in this building by Pat and Dan building their dream of Normal Human. Pat and Dan have been life long friends and now business partners. Dan has a degree in advertising and Pat has a degree in Print Making along with a Masters of Fine Arts. They started the clothing company by combining Dan's Typography skills and interest in words with Pats unique and eye-catching illustrations. Starting by printing shirts in the basement of Pat's house and selling them by doing pop up shops on First Fridays helped them grow into a store down in West Port where they sell locally made products and their own shirts and prints. Hard working, welcoming, and creative are just a few words to describe the Yin and Yang combo of Normal Human.
How did you guys get introduced to art/design?
Dan: The interest in visual art has been there for as long as I can remember in my life. And then when college came around that's when my interest into design started because its a question of what am I going to do with the rest of my life? How can I make money doing something that I enjoy? And I don't mean make it big, I mean just survive.
Pat: In grade school I liked to draw, being into weird creative fictions and putting them on paper. Like Dan getting into college and enrolling into fine arts with that interest still from high school and grade school, I fell into print making. I really enjoyed and did feel like I could make a living some how. Print making is so applicable, and it combines both what I really enjoy, the image making, with the practical application of it.
Not every design is going to be perfect.
Where did you graduate from?
Pat: I graduated from KU with a degree in Printmaking and proceeded to Grad School.
Dan: I went to Southwest Missouri State and graduated with an Advertising degree. I went and started my freshman year in some sort of design, but changed my major to advertising but still with the thought I would go into an art direction or graphic design related position.
Who/What inspires you?
Pat: Funny and weird people inspire me; just people in general. As far as certain artists and art works, there are a few drawers that I feel like I really fall into such as Shel Silverstein and Bill Waterson. Bill's comic Calvin and Hobbs inspired me a lot as a young artist.
Dan: I'm interested in terms of phrase and it comes from an interest in letters that comes from my advertising educations. When I took creative advertising in college with Melissa Bernett, one thing she drove into us is concept and not just design for design's sake. You have to put thought into advertising in particular. You're marrying two separate ideas. Kind of like when you're coming up with a logo, you bring at least two ideas together.
What do you wish you knew before you got your first design related job?
Dan: I thought I would get a job at a design agency and if it goes great, I'd be able to design stuff and make money.Everything isn't going to be something that I love. I knew that going into it because you hear horror stories, but what I didn't anticipate was how much work it'd be doing that, 8 hours of work every day is going to completely drain me and I'm not going to want to do anything. Its not that its not worth it, I would never want to work a job other than in advertising but I wish I would've known.
Pat: Accepting failure is going to be a huge part of it. It's not going to be roses and cherries all the time no matter what way you take whether its an advertising job or even our switch to running our own business. Either way it's going to not work out in some shape or form and you just have to accept that and just keep working hard. It does pan out if you have that mentality of "Hey it's ok, not everything works out." Still take risks, though, and throw caution to the wind.
Which part of design do you guys enjoy most?
Dan: The end where it all clicks is the point I like the most.
Pat: The thing I like about design is where my artist aesthetic, or impulses as a creator, maker and mark maker get realized. Kind of like what Dan was saying, that moment of when it is finally working for a client’s concept or our own concept and you get the crowd response of “this is great” or it solves the design problem.
Dan: There are also the parts where, for us, we have that instant gratification when we make a design apply it to a shirt or print and having a physical thing and also seeing a stranger wearing your shirt. Not only did we design that and print it, but there’s a good chance we personally sold it to that person.
What trait would you say makes a good artist or designer?
Pat: Someone who is hardworking and puts in massive amounts of hours to the craft. I feel like its rare people just shit out great ideas, just like that, because most of them take a lot of critique and rethinking.
Dan: Going back to what Pat was saying about not every design is going to be perfect, I think compromise is sort of a dirty word in the industry. You have to make compromises such as working with deadlines or you make something like a load of t-shirts and nobody buys them even though you thought it was awesome and would sell well. You have to be able to deal with that mentally.
Pat: Someone who's not following strict standards that's vital to keep it fresh. I feel new concepts or trends get pioneered by someone who is like "not for me, I'll try this" and it really works out. So you have to be creative and trust yourself.
What is the most challenging thing about both of your jobs?
Dan: Working with Pat.
Pat: That's a good point, actually. To have a successful business, we've had two of us working and that's huge. I cant imagine doing this by myself, but at the same time it's like being married through business.
You have to make it work in business and compromise and appreciate each other even when there are differences. Dan and I are very yin and yang, we balance each other out. Also, finding the resilience that Dan was talking about to keep working every day.
Dan: Staying motivated and looking farther down the line. Looking at what we do need immediately can be difficult, too. It's not any different when you own your business. I was like, "We like shirts, lets start screen printing," but then there"s a billion things you don"t consider like taxes, accounting, and dealing with customers. All the extra work isn't why we got into it but it's part of the job.
It's not going to be roses and cherries all the time.
Advice to seniors about to graduate?
Dan: Don't expect to get your dream job as your first job. There's a lucky few who will go to Barkley and find success there, but there's just as many, if not more, there who are going to Barkley and fail or going to get a job at some start up agency that ends up failing. Don't expect that to happen.
Pat: Don't be applying for jobs for other people like your parents. Go with your decisions and do stuff for you because there's a lot of pressure from others, but at the same time you have to just do what you want. You can't edit yourself for what someone wants you to do.
Dan: Also, If you find a job that you're into, show that to your employer without expecting anything in return. I say that as an employer more than a former advertising employee. Volunteer to work extra without expecting to get paid and genuinely want to do that. Which is very clear in an agency setting where they're hiring 3 or 4 designers in a year and they'll have a direct comparison of people who have a direct job description and who approach it completely different.
Pat: To not expect praise or increases in pay which is huge, if you're into it you should be about it but not in a braggy way. Keep your head down and work.
Dan: just because you're boss isn't saying "Thanks for doing that extra thing," doesn't mean it goes unnoticed.