JCCC Adjunct


Meet Michael Kidwell. He is an adjunct at Johnson County Community College while free lancing in his spare time. He has worked for Hallmark for many years and finally found what he was looking for out of graphic design, which was to teach. Kidwell loves to teach his students or in his words “buddies” how to create effective design.

Success is dumb luck. It’s really not good enough to have great work.

What brought you into this field?

The thing that lead me to graphic design was the need to understand it and have that control. I wanted the total product experience.

How do you find inspiration for designs or projects?

I find inspiration by conversation and from really understanding what is needed. So it goes by asking questions, on asking questions, on asking questions. That is where my design comes from understanding things and through research.

How has your career path lead you here?

Well at the time I was an industrial designer and I was pretty mad about all the crappy graphic designs that were being developed to promote the products I worked on. So I decided to teach myself something about graphic design and with that love, I knew at some point I wanted to teach. Long story short, I decided to quit my good job and go to graduate school. I taught some graphic design while I was in school and then decided I hated it and went back to work.

Did you find that this career has been hard on your social, family life? Are you surrounded by just a graphic design community?

Nearly all of my friends I know through my kids friends and none of them are designers but to be far I do have a lot of friends that are graphic designers too.

What or who is your greatest influence?

This may sound really weird but I don’t really have like a favorite designer. In the profession, people view other designers as rock stars like deities sometimes and I hate that. I hate that sort of following and I was never one of those people. Someone that I am inspired by and I think is really interesting is like David Carson. He was the one that actually redesigned Metropolis a number of years ago. He was not trained as a designer. He was a surfer and a sociologist. Everyone in one degree or another has copied him in one way or another. He has really cool youtube videos about how graphic design is cool but life is cooler. Another guy would be Erik Spiekermann just because he is tenacious, smart, and very opinionated.

What is your most favorite or most proud of design?

I’m never satisfied with anything. The work that I most like is when there is no client. When you work with a client on a design project there is a lot of compromise. There’s a conversation and then you somehow meet in the middle to get the job done. The work that I’m the proudest of are projects where people share your enthusiasm and passion. When they bring something to it and you bring something to it and you kind of meet in the middle where everything is wonderful. Some of the work I did for Hallmark was working with a writer. They tell you what the message is and then ask you what you see after you read it. I tell them my idea and they say “ya, that’s perfect” so one reinforces the other. That’s the work I’m proudest of. No project has its fill of that but some of the work I did for Hallmark was that way.

Were you ever scared you would lose your creativity? How do you sustain fresh ideas and designs?

No, everybody has times when they need to be refreshed. If you are studying graphic design then there is something in you that said you should try this. I think that spirit or that enthusiasm will always come back. It might not come back in design but it may be back as other things. I never get afraid of not being inspired or making something so much. It can be hard being on the spot and being asked to be creative in the moment. The key is to stay emerged in your culture.

What does a fresh design student need to succeed in the work force?

One thing is network and being connected and not relying on “oh I know this person and they are going to give me a job.” It’s just about knowing other people that do this kind of work and you have to be visible. One thing that was hard for me to understand when I graduated was that people weren’t going to come seek me out, because I was wonderful and waiting to be discovered. I actually had to go out and talk to people. The other thing is the work its self and your portfolio. You actually have to have credible work. Networking will give you an introduction, and a portfolio will confirm that you are actually somebody and that you are worth the trouble. The other thing is just luck. Success is dumb luck. It’s really not good enough to have great work.

Describe your creative process

Try not to be boring, going above and behind. No one likes to be bored. I look at tumbler, drop mark, and instagram after I have an idea, not to start an idea. I look at design constantly but I do not look for inspirational designs for my design.

What kind of typeface would I be?

This is a question you should really ask yourself. Don’t be inspired by other people’s work necessarily. Ask yourself questions, be inspired by asking yourself questions and finding the answers. That will lead you to what your design will end up looking like. Remember what the point is, why you are doing what you are doing. Don’t let other people’s opinions persuade you. Just to stay open and always be learning.

Why does there have to be so much feeling put into your design? Why can’t the design be blue if I want it to be blue?

You have to have a reason for the client because a lot of times you will be presenting work to somebody who is not a designer. The client does not understand design or care about design. The client will always say, “I want it to be orange, not blue.” You have to have a reason why you made it blue, so you can say, well I made it blue because your competitors are all using orange. By making this logo blue, you will stand out among your competitors. Even if you feel its arbitrary there is an underlying reason to why you choose blue. I guess you should ask yourself what that reason is.