When you find something good, don’t let it go! We’ve found something downright awesome in ASIDE PROJECT STUDIO and George Middlebrooks. My wife Sarah went through design school with George and they graduated together however many odd years ago. Sarah’s never had much love for web design… she’s a total print girl, so when it came time to design our website she gave George a call. This was all 6 years ago when she started The Happy Envelope and we’ve been holding onto George ever since. We recently did a pretty ambitious web upgrade to start selling customized digital cards from our site and George manned the ship from start to finish. He’s our go-to guy for all web projects and you should definitely check him out when you get a chance! Sarah recently sent him a few questions to pick his brain and here’s what we got back:
1. How did aside project studio begin?
I started doing freelance work in my junior year in the UT Graphic Design program – mostly small websites and album artwork for musician friends – and have kept it up for over 10 years, still focusing on websites and identities for small businesses and packaging and marketing materials for musicians.The name is a sly reference to the fact that I’ve always done specialized freelance work in addition to holding a full-time design job “side projects.” Since I do a variety of types of “projects” – design work, as well as photography and music – the name’s purposefully not too specific.
2. What inspires your design aesthetic?
Ultimately, my goal is for any aesthetic in my work to reflect what the client wants or needs to communicate. If that happens, then the design works.
In general, I respond to forms (physical and artistic) and objects that are simple, functional and utilitarian—from a single-speed bicycle, to an iPhone, to an old guitar. All of these things inform my design decisions, because they reflect a certain way by which I try to live. Visually, it’s no different: I am most inspired by the blur of an accidental photograph, minimalist paintings and especially Reid Miles’ clean, modern utility of the classic Blue Note album covers from the mid-20th century. If anything, I’ve taken most undeniable and significant design cues from that work— big, bold typography that speaks loudly without shouting over the music.
I also create other types of art and use them to feed one another. My home office doubles as a recording studio of sorts, and is filled with guitars, keyboards and drums. When I find myself blocked while searching for a design solution, I’ll often take a break and shift my brain into music-making, or go for a walk with a camera and take a few photos. Sometimes that’s just the thing to open up the dam and let the design ideas flow. Sometimes it just results in a new song or a nice photograph.
3. What are your favorite kinds of projects to work on?
I most enjoy designing cd packaging (as long as it’s a type of music i enjoy listening to!), as it allows me to draw direct inspiration from the source. It’s easiest if I’m already familiar with the artist or band, but usually I’ll play an album a couple dozen times during the course of the project – to the point that I’m able tofind the right typeface or imagery toallow the music to speak visually. Sometimes I’m able to collaborate directly with the musician to meld our respective concepts into something even greater.
I’m also a junkie for new knowledge or skills, so I appreciate any type of project where I can learn something new, be it a technical skill, a way to make my working process more efficient, or just to learn about a new client’s business or industry. Learning something new means evolving and adapting, which should be important for any designer.
4. What are some trends that you’re loving/hating right now?
In spite of my previous professions of love for simple and minimal things, I also love designs that have a high degree of complexity. There seems to be a surging interest among designers in informational graphics lately, which is great – they usually involve a pattern or visual system which is not only nice to look at on a surface level, but also invites the viewer to decode something deeper.
I’m also happy to see continued interest in letterpress printing, and the development of new aesthetics based on it. Anyone who works with type should have a basic understanding of this fundamental of design, and anyone who keeps this lost art alive is a hero to me.
5. If I weren’t a graphic designer, I would be…
A teacher. I can’t imagine myself doing anything professionally other than something design-related, but I still mull over the idea of going back to school to be able to teach, and share knowledge with upcoming young artists and designers.