SAM SMALL DESIGNER

Freelance Designer in Kansas City

Sam Small works as a freelance designer in Kansas City. One of the things Sam talked to me about durning the interview is how much he enjoys trying to mix both digital and analog concepts together for an outcome. Not only did he teach me a few things thoughout the interview, he was also a great designer to speak with.

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Designer Sam Small

What 1st got you interested in Design?

I was really into skateboarding when I was younger. I used to go to skate shops and buy as many graphic stickers and decals as possible. I would collect these things and put them on everything. I loved how every design was unique, and though it was something so disposable as a sticker, it still had so much impact when it was smacked on a blank wall or on the bottom of a brand new skateboard deck. Gradually I became more interested in the artwork on skateboard decks. When I was young, I was always building things or creating in one way or another. In highschool, I focused heavily on fine art and the analog side of making - painting, ceramics, and glass blowing.

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Where did you go to school?

I actually started at Columbus College of Art and Design for my foundations year. I heard good things from friends who had attended the school. However, I learned most graduates from the design department were landing jobs in advertising. I was searching for a more conceptual approach to design and learning all of the fundamentals. I transferred to KCAI where I got the conceptual backing I was looking for, along with design fundamentals and opportunities to learn about emerging technologies, which I was super into. Where have you worked for?

Where have you interned and worked for?

I have interned for La Cucaracha a letterpress and screen print shop. Bernstein-Rein an ad agency - working on Hostess, McDonalds, LPL Financial, Met Life, etc. Also working in contract with them after internship. Kansas City Art Institute as a Communications Design Team Member. My last intership was for Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art doing print & digital signage. I started working for Hufft Projects doing modern architecture and design studio work that was focused on branding, signage & wayfinding, digital design Then I started working for myself as a freelance designer since 2011 off and on till now as full time.On the sideI also work on a project, Special Edition Co. that is a collaborative art and design collective with myself and Trent Roach.

Grocer Warehouse
Grocer Warehouse

What has been your most successful experience in relation to design?

My personal successful experiences would be that Stefan Sagmeister liked and reposted work of mine on Instagram. I have been a huge fan of his for a long time and have collected all his work. It was a big deal to me to see he was reposting my work. It was that WOW moment.I also consider getting to work collaboratively with artists and designers all over the world as a very sucessful experience. This is actually a huge success for me in my mind, because I am so drawn to different means of making and different cultures and how that can all sort of merge to create incredible outcomes.

What prepared you for your first job?

Internships!! Doing freelance for friends or friends of friends throughout school on projects that I liked to gain more experience. An open mind to new experiences and problem solving scenarios. Some of which you may not necessarily be comfortable with right off the bat, but will diversify your holistic knowledge of design in the future.

Do you have a specialty in design?

I view myself as a holistic designer. I enjoy working across the board one everything from print to digital, but my personal passion right now really focuses on web and UI/UX design. Regardless, I’m always aiming to offer clear and efficient user experiences, whether on the web or in a branding project. I think about it all holistically.

Is there anything new you’re learning? How do your stay current?

I am constantly learning new things. I check out tech and design blogs, including Product Hunt and It’s Nice That quite frequently to stay on top of emerging technologies and new design trends. I also have sort of curated my social media platforms both followers and content, to align with my interests, so when I log on and browse through, it’s more of a mood board of inspiration.

Bunker Branding
Bunker Branding

What has been your most successful experience in relation to design?

My personal successful experiences would be that Stefan Sagmeister liked and reposted work of mine on Instagram. I have been a huge fan of his for a long time and have collected all his work. It was a big deal to me to see he was reposting my work. It was that WOW moment.I also consider getting to work collaboratively with artists and designers all over the world as a very sucessful experience. This is actually a huge success for me in my mind, because I am so drawn to different means of making and different cultures and how that can all sort of merge to create incredible outcomes.

What prepared you for your first job?

Internships!! Doing freelance for friends or friends of friends throughout school on projects that I liked to gain more experience. An open mind to new experiences and problem solving scenarios. Some of which you may not necessarily be comfortable with right off the bat, but will diversify your holistic knowledge of design in the future.

What are the biggest challenges so far with your career?

That’s tough. One of the biggest challenges so far with my career was probably determining the direction I wanted to move forward after school. A degree in design offers a pretty diverse set of opportunities, and I loved design as a whole. So it was tough figuring out if I wanted to jump into a more specialized design field, or something much more open ended and flexible.

How you would describe your design research?

For digital projects, I research the market broadly and develop a full understanding of the site or product mission at hand. This helps guide early low fidelity wire framing and developing the structure of the project. For branding, I also start with style guides, but I often find myself gathering content much more organically with branding projects. Some images I use might not be straight up design inspiration. I find that thinking outside the box of traditional research often hinders much more unique and diverse outcomes. personal successful experiences would be that Stefan Sagmeister liked and reposted work of mine on Instagram. I have been a huge fan of his for a long time and have collected all his work. It was a big deal to me to see he was reposting my work. It was that WOW moment.I also consider getting to work collaboratively with artists and designers all over the world as a very sucessful experience. This is actually a huge success for me in my mind, because I am so drawn to different means of making and different cultures and how that can all sort of merge to create incredible outcomes.

Statuary Collection

What makes a successful designer?

A succssful deigner takes understanding how to approach a design problem from many different perspectives. Empathy and understanding the end user is extremely important when it comes to successful design. Regardless of the project type, the design you produce is likely still going to be utilized by an end user in some format. Considering all aspects of this experience is important in being a succesful designer.

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Push boundaries in design and don’t just follow the norm. Try out new design software and search for ways to expand your toolset. Think about how your design will create lasting effect and impact the world. Don’t be afraid of new experiences - embrace them so that you have a new skill set.